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History and Biographies

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Ellis has said that he wishes he had added John Jay to his quartet. If you want to try something more modern pick up Peter Zeihan The Accidental Superpower. He analyses the world since WWII and predicts the next fifteen years. The most interesting aspect is he feels the US is the most immune country to almost all possible world disasters.

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I read two history/biography books in the last couple of weeks. The first was Devil in the White City, Erik Larson's account of the World Exhibition of 1893 in Chicago and a serial killer who was preying on people coming to Chicago during that period. It's a fascinating read, and among other things, I learned that (1) the Ferris Wheel was invented by George Ferris for the World Exhibition, and (2) the first washing machine and the first zipper were also on display. I was really surprised to read that the zipper was invented that recently.

I also read David McCullough's biography The Wright Brothers, which was a great account of their background and efforts to built the world's first flying machine. Probably the most interesting thing I learned is that it took almost 5 years after their first flight for the world to believe that they had accomplished it.

Anyway, both good reads.

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I just finished Einstein: His Life and Universe, by Walter Isaacson. It does a great job of explaining Einstein's scientific theories and their impact, while at the same time revealing Einstein as a brilliant, lovable yet flawed human being. It's rather amazing that a man whose greatest breakthroughs were at the theoretical level, and hard for a layman to understand, was so renowned and revered by the general public.

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I just read Erik Larson's In the Garden of the Beasts, which is his account of Roosevelt's first ambassador to Nazi Germany, William Dodd. Dodd was a history professor with no prior diplomatic experience, and he went to Germany only a few months after Hitler had become Chancellor and before he had fully consolidated his power. About 90% of the book is about Dodd's first year in Germany, during which time Hitler eventually consolidated his power. Dodd eventually came to see just how horrific Hitler and the Nazis were, but it took a while for him to fully appreciate it and the top brass in the State Department did not like him or take his views very seriously. The book also spends a lot of time on the various dalliances of Dodd's daughter, Martha, who became very involved in the Berlin social scene and eventually ended up in a relationship with a Russian intelligence officer stationed in Berlin. It's a pretty good account of the period when other governments were trying to give Hitler and the Nazis the benefit of the doubt.

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On 10/9/2008 at 10:43 AM, TGO said:

Post your favorite (or least favorite) history books or biographies of historical figures, or just what you're reading now.

I'm currently working my way through McCullough's Truman. So far it is excellent.

Nine years after you, I just finished Truman.    He was president until a few years before I was born, and I never really knew a lot about his presidency other than the highlights.    What a decent, decent guy.     He really put current politicians to shame, with his honesty and genuine concern for others.      Reading this book made me wish we could go back to those times.     The book is exquisitely written, and though it's quite a tome (992 pages), it's well worth the time and effort.    

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Recently finished:

King Leopold's Ghost:  Details Belgium's colonization of the Congo in the early 1900's and describes the brutality used to strip the land of it's resources and the public relations efforts in Europe that mostly covered up the story.  Although just about Belgium and Congo it's a great proxy for all European colonization activities in Africa

 

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