Arts and Leisure

History Lover’s Gift Guide: The 16 Best New History Books for the Holidays

It’s always hard to buy books for book lovers because  you just don’t know if they’ve read them already. But you can’t go wrong if you buy a book just published. So here are 16 of the best new history books for the holidays — focusing on New England, of course.

Ben Franklin wouldn’t have missed any of these new history books

You can buy them with just a click — and help independent bookstores and The New England Historical Society.

The Indispensables: The Diverse Soldier-Mariners Who Shaped the Country, Formed the Navy, and Rowed Washington Across the Delaware


Patrick O’Donnell turns five years of research into a fast paced story of the solder-mariners from Marblehead, Mass. Known best for ferrying George Washington over the Delaware, they were a diverse band of brothers who knew they needed to work together in life-or-death circumstances. Led by John Glover, a trusted confidante of George Washington, they served as a highly-skilled special operations unit.

They saved the Continental Army from total destruction after the Battle of Long Island, and they ferried Washington and his army across the Delaware — a near-impossible feat.

Bestselling author Patrick O’Donnell tells a riveting story, bringing new stories to light about the white, black and red men of the Marblehead regiment. (He has written xxx books)

Mighty Storms of New England: The Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Blizzards, and Floods That Shaped the Region


Weather junkies will love this new history book about snowstorms, droughts, heat waves, tornadoes, blizzards and floods. Meteorologist Eric Fisher goes beyond the damage and loss caused by weather events. He also discusses how severe storms changed the course of history. New warning systems, government agencies and technologies developed in their aftermath.

Many New Englanders know Eric Fisher as the chief meteorologist for WBZ-TV and as a contributor to CBS News. He says few places on earth produce such varied weather as New England does. And that, he explains, is why the region breeds one of the highest concentrations of meteorologists in the United States.

Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty


Anderson Cooper’s last name may not be Vanderbilt, but he’s a true scion of the dynasty founded by his great-great-great grandfather, Cornelius Vanderbilt.

The CNN anchor teams up with New York Times bestselling historian Katharine Howe to write a new history book about his fabled family. Though Cornelius Vanderbilt — the “Commodore” — made his fortune in New York, the Vanderbilts frittered away their money in Bar Harbor, Maine, Shelburne Farms, Vt., and Newport, R.I.

Cooper brings an insider’s perspective to the triumphs and failures of the Vanderbilts. He takes us from the rough-and-tumble wharves of old Manhattan to the ornate summer palaces of Newport. He tells us about the secret Vanderbilts who lived on a floor of the Breakers and reveals that he attended Truman Capote’s famous “Black and White” ball at the Plaza Hotel in utero.

One critic described Vanderbilt as a “smart, soulful, page turner.” Another called it “the most interesting and most human of the books that I have read about the super-rich American families of the 19th century.”

Travels with George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy


A new history book from Nathaniel Philbrick is always good news in New England, though this one is a bit different. Philbrick, his wife Melissa and their dog followed the path taken by Washington during his presidential visits to the new nation. So the book reads as part history, part memoir and part travelogue. One reader noted the author and his wife “make pleasant company.”

Why do Washington’s travels matter? Because in 1789 the United States was still a loose, quarrelsome confederation. The former colonists didn’t think of themselves as Americans. Washington, beloved by all, set out to change that. He went from Mount Vernon to the new capital in New York and then took a month-long tour of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.  He ventured onto Long Island and then headed south. Travels with George includes extensive maps, pictures and documents along the way.

The Boston Globe called it “a lively, courageous, and masterful achievement.”

Letters From Red Farm: The Untold Story of the Friendship Between Helen Keller and Journalist Joseph Edgar Chamberlin


When Helen Keller was eight years old, she and Annie Sullivan visited Boston. There she met a man who would change her life: Joseph Edgar Chamberlin,  popular Boston Transcript columnist. Chamberlin owned Red Farm in Wrentham, Mass., and Keller visited often. So did artists and intellectuals of the day, like Louise Guiney, Fred Holland Day and Edward Everett Hale.

The book tells the story of Keller’s friendship with Chamberlin, who became her literary mentor. It also reintroduces Chamberlin to the public and explores how Keller grew interested in social activism. Letters From Red Farm, written by Chamberlin’s great-great-granddaughter, uses previously unpublished letters and new research.

Disability lawyer Haben Girma called the revelations in the book “stunning.” “The letters from Keller and her friends make her feel even more relatable to contemporary readers,” she wrote.

Bette Davis Black and White


Film star Bette Davis was a Yankee gal committed to civil rights for African Americans. Bette Davis Black and White tells the story of Davis’ outspoken advocacy for civil rights.  It also describes her black co-stars’ efforts to disrupt America’s racial fantasies.

The book analyzes four of her best known films against Americans’ historic attitudes about race. It includes testimonies from Davis’ black contemporaries and letters from her African-American fans,

University of Chicago Press has scheduled the book’s release for Dec. 13, 2021.

Reading the Gravestones of Old New England


Author John G.S. Hanson has walked through many an old New England graveyard and learned a thing or two along the way. During his explorations of old cemeteries he found an incredible range of poetic messages. They express not only emotions, but the culture, religion and literature of their age.

Hanson  identifies the texts and authors that inspired the messages carved in stone. He also interprets the tastes and beliefs of the survivors who did the choosing.

McFarland & Company has scheduled the book’s release for Nov. 5, 2021.

Passing Through the Fire: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in the Civil War


Civil War buffs and fans of Joshua Chamberlain will welcome this new history book about the hero of Gettysburg. It tells the story of his miraculous survival from battlefield surgery after getting hit in the groin with a bullet. While convalescing he considered leaving the Army. His decision to return affected the outcome of the war.

Passing Through the Fire follows Chamberlain’s during his Civil War years, from Maryland to Pennsylvania to Virginia. Author Brian Swartz takes the reader beyond the battlefield as well, reveals the real person behind the legend. He includes photos and maps  not seen by the “average Civil war” student.

“If you have an interest in the Civil War and its leadership this is a book must,” writes one happy reader.

The Isolation Artist: Scandal, Deception and the Last Days of Robert Indiana


Pop artist Robert Indiana had fame and lots and lots of money, but he died alone and uncared for in horrendous living conditions. Born Robert Clark in Indiana, he changed his last name and eventually moved to Vinalhaven Island in Maine. He wanted fame, and he got it with his iconic Love sculpture in 1965.

Indiana had no interest in the business of art, and so he surrounded himself with people to manage his life and career. When he died in 2018, suspicions arose about fraudulent artwork, elder abuse, a coerced will and an inconclusive autopsy.

Author Bob Keyes tells a fast-paced story of an artist’s life that straddled Downeast Maine and the unscrupulous world of high-end art.

Deliberate Evil: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Daniel Webster, and the 1830 Murder of a Salem Slave Trader


When a Salem slave trader was murdered in cold blood in 1830, the national press took notice. Not only did  two of the conspirators come from the wealthy and influential Crowninshield family, but Daniel Webster led the prosecution. A young Nathaniel Hawthorne knew several of the people involved in the murder. As always, he observed and took notes.

Edward J. Renehan, Jr., uses previously unavailable source materials about the murder, the investigations, the scandal-ridden trials and the grisly execution at the end. The Chicago Review Press has scheduled its release for Dec. 7, 2021.

Justice Rising: Robert Kennedy’s America in Black and White

In this new history book, Robert F. Kennedy belongs with Martin Luther King, Jr., James Baldwin and Cesar Chavez. Patricia Sullivan, a civil rights historian, presents Robert Kennedy at the center of the 1960s civil rights movement.

She tells how protests against Jim Crow started out as a political problem for the young attorney general, but then became a moral one. Under Kennedy, the Justice Department battled Southern resistance to voter registration and school desegregation.

Justice Rising is an eye-opening account of Kennedy’s vision and energy drove momentum for change. Until his death, he led what he called “the revolution within our gates, the struggle of the American Negro for full equality and full freedom.”

Historian Douglas Brinkley called Justice Rising “a profound and uplifting account of Robert F. Kennedy’s brave crusade for racial equality.”

The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III

George III, America’s last king, got a reputation for stupidity and evil that never went away. Until now. Historian Andrew Roberts shows how revolutionary propagandists like Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine gave George a bad rap.

In reality, George was wise, humane, and even enlightened. Unfortunately, he had talented enemies and incompetent ministers, and he suffered from debilitating mental illness and horrible luck. Roberts paints a nuanced portrait of George and describes his forgotten accomplishments.

The Best Ever! Parades in New England 1788-1940

Every New England town has a parade tradition, according to historian Jane Nylander, who specializes in domestic life in New England from the 1850s to the 1950s. She observes that those traditions tell us much about the culture, both locally and nationally.

Nylander, former president of the  Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, includes nearly 300 photos, some of them quite rare, in The Best Ever! They include the Federal Ship carried in the 1788 Ratification parade at New Haven, Conn., to 1940 when the parade tradition largely ended when World War II began.

It’s Better To Be Feared: The New England Patriots Dynasty and the Pursuit of Greatness


In this instant classic, Seth Wickersham tells the story of the most dominant — and secretive — NFL team ever. Wickersham, a Connecticut resident, is one of the country’s premier investigative sportswriters.

He has covered the Patriots since 2001, when Brady took over as starting quarterback. Drawing on hundreds of interviews and previously confidential documents, he presents the definitive account of the Patriots’ dynasty. The book is chock full of fresh and revealing information about the team’s two dominant personalities, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

Wickersham explores Belichick’s tactical brilliance, strange work habits, affection for his players and determination to dominate the league. He shines  especially in his portrait of Brady, though, taking the reader from Brady’s childhood in northern California to his split from the Patriots.

Even  for Jets fans, this New York Times bestseller is as hard to put down as a bowl of salted peanuts.

Two Centuries of Maine Shipbuilding

This lavishly illustrated book  begins with the dugout and birchbark canoes made by the Wabanaki and their ancestors. When Europeans began to settle in the 17th century, they immediately began building vessels and never really stopped.

Author Nathan Lipfert takes the reader from the first merchant and fishing vessels, through the great schooners, decline of deepwater sail, the steel shipyards and World War II all the way to the present.  Lipfert, curator emeritus of the Maine Maritime Museum, relies on a trove of resources about Maine’s historic industry. The book includes a bibliography, two appendices, a glossary and hundreds of illustrations.

The Peyton Place Murder: The True Crime Story Behind The Novel That Shocked The Nation


The Peyton Place Murder is not a sequel to the novel Peyton Place, but a new history book about the murder that inspired Grace Metalious to write her sensational best seller back in the 1950s. The murder, though, known as “the Sheep Pen Murder,” took place in Gilmanton, N.H., in the late 1940s.

Author Renee Mallett weaves together the story of Grace Metalious, who grew up poor in Manchester, N.H., and Barbara Roberts, the young woman who confessed to the killing.

This book is for anyone who enjoys reading about true crime and small-town life in new England.

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