Madison’s Hand; Revising the Constitutional Convention. By Mary Sarah Bilder. Harvard University Press, 2015. A serious investigation of the notes kept by James Madison’s during the Constitutional Convention that he “edited” several years later. Bancroft Prize.
The Saltwater Frontier; Indians and the Contest for the American Coast by Andrew Lipman. Yale University Press, 2015. A reminder of the importance of English and Dutch settlements in New England and New York, the importance of the Atlantic trade in the conflict, and also the alliances of Native Americans with the European empires. Bancroft Prize.
Border Law; The First Seminole War and the American Nationhood by Deborah Rose. Harvard University Press, 2015. Warfare between post-colonial American and the Native Americans in Georgia and Florida from 1816 to 1818. The role it played in shaping subsequent events along the southern border. Bancroft Prize.
Fortune’s Fool; The Life of John Wilkes Booth by Terry Alford Oxford University Press, 2015. How Booth became fixated on Lincoln and came to see the President as the singular cause of what he perceived to be the nation’s ills. American Book Awards (October 2015)
Custer’s Trials; A Life on the Frontier of a New America by T.J. Stiles. Knopf, 2015. George Armstrong Custer lived on the physical frontier but also in a frontier in time – the American West after our terrible civil war. American Book Awards (October 2015).
Romantic Outlaws; The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter, Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon. Random House, 2015. In 1797 Mary Woolstonecraft died after giving birth to her daughter, Mary Shelly. Both contributed to the battle against the injustices British women faced in the early nineteenth century. American Book Awards (October 2015).
Dietrich and Riefenstahl; Hollywood, Berlin, and a Century in Two Lives by Karin Wieland & Shelley Frisch, trans. Liveright, 2016, paper. A dual biography, one woman a captive of a Hollywood in which she lived uncomfortably and the other, a captive of Adolf Hitler’s personal power. American Book Awards (October 2015).
SPQR; A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard. Liveright, 2016 paper. Beard spends considerable time describing the period of the Roman kings before going on to the republic and empire. National Book Critics Award.
Give Us the Ballot; The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America by Ari Berman. Picador, 2016, paper. The struggle to see that the voting rights acts continue to be enforced, despite efforts to restrict access to the ballot. National Book Critics Award.
Ghettoside; A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy. Spiegel & Grau, 2015 paper. The story of an often ignored but common murder, one young black man slaying another. National Book Critics Award.
Dreamland; The True Story of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones. Bloomsbury Press, 2016 paper. The widespread prescribing of pain medications during the 1990s resulted in many new addicts. And the traffic in heroin from Mexico facilitated that addiction. Two classic instances of capitalism meeting a demand. National Book Critics Award.
What the Eye Hears; A History of Tap Dancing by Brian Seibert. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2016 paper. Tap dancing began as a hybrid of jig and clog dancing brought to North America by African slaves. National Book Critics Award.