Summer Reading Challenge: American History

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 9.12.57 PM

From Memorial Day to Independence Day my patriotism swells, and for the past few years I have, therefore, found Summer to be a great season to reflect on our nation’s history by reading books in the American History genre, particularly works related to American military history.
Why not join me this year in some American History reading goals for this summer? I challenge you to join me. I’ve picked out a five books I plan to read this summer.

SUMMER 2016 American History Reading List
Valley Forge by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen – Historical fiction. Part of the George Washington trilogy. I recently read To Try Men’s Souls in this series. I’m hungry for more.
Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan by Doug Stanton – I have yet to much, if any, post-9/11 American military history so I picked this one out by an author I’ve previously enjoyed (In Harm’s Way).
Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew – I’ve always loved nail-biting submarine movies, like The Hunt for Red October, Crimson Tide, and U-571. But I have never read a good book on the subject. This one looks like it fits the bill.
Decision Points by George W. Bush – Grabbed this one for a buck at the library fundraiser. So far… not bad. Just a few chapters in, though.
Badger Boy by Elmer Kelton – Western Historical Fiction – Much more fiction than history, but Kelton seeks to also accurately educate the reader on Texas Ranger history. This is book 2 in his Texas Ranger series. Book 1, The Buckskin Line, totally rocked. Loved it.
So will you join me in making this a summer of patriotic reading? If these particular titles don’t interest you, then below is a list of books I’ve enjoyed in the past that you might consider.Many, if not most, are available at your local public library. Or if you prefer to own your own copies, I’ve found (especially if you have Amazon Prime) and to be excellent sites for purchasing books.
If you want to join us, go to the Facebook group I’ve set up titled “2016 Summer Reading Challenge: American History.” Hope to see you there!
Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick – Separate the wheat from the chaff in the remarkable story of the Pilgrims. Probes the profound hardship and suffering for the sake of religious freedom and economic dreams.
1776 by David McCullough – The title says it all. If you’ve never read McCullough, you are in for a treat. He is a phenomenal popular level historian.
Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis – Really helps you understanding the political tensions and historical background of the American Revolutionary period. Our Founding Fathers were united in the cause for freedom from the British crown, but not much else. A real eye opener for those who hold to a naive, idealistic view of the Founding Fathers. And yet, as a Christian, it increasingly affirms my view that God’s Providence oversaw the establishment of this amazingly blessed nation.
To Try Men’s Souls by Newt Gingrich and William R. Forstchen – A historical novel based on the true story of Washington crossing the Delaware. Gingrich and Forstchen make the characters come to life with imagined dialogue of key characters in the events, seeking to be true to their character and the setting. Very enjoyable approach to history, especially for those who consider reading history to be a dry exercise.
Manhunt by James Swanson – Easily one of my favorite history books of all time. A true page turner. You probably know the story of the assassination of Lincoln, but how well do you know the details of the hunt for his assassin? Hearing it in detail, and told so well, makes this book special.
Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard – For quite some time I was not really interested in this book because I had already read Manhunt by James Swanson and thought that it would basically rehash the same material. I was wrong and glad to see the difference. The two books would actually make a great combination, reading this one first. Manhunt zeroes in on the 11 days between the assassination of Lincoln and the killing of Booth. It is riveting. But Killing Lincoln spends the bulk of the book (well over 3/4s) on the events leading up to and including the assassination. I especially enjoyed the telling of the close of the war. Fantastic read.
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larsen– Fascinating historical account of the William Dodd family’s time in Berlin, when Dodd was U. S. Ambassador to Germany (mid-1933 to late 1937). Dodd and his family witnessed the rise of Hitler and Nazi power, as well as the early samples of Hitler’s despotic, cruel rule. Dodd’s first-hand experience led him to champion a strong interventionist position as well as prophetic accuracy concerning Hitler’s actions in regard to Jewish extermination and European domination. If Roosevelt’s government (as well as other European democracies) would have heeded this man’s dire warnings, millions of lives would have been spared.
     Especially riveting are chapters 52 and 53 in which Larson laments the remarkable descent into depravity and how it occurred unchallenged. It is frightening and should serve as a reminder of just how fragile democracy, and our rights, really are. “Throughout that first year in Germany, Dodd had been struck again and again by the strange indifference of the populace and of the moderate elements in the government to accept each new oppressive decree, each new act of violence, without protest. It was as if he had entered the dark forest of a fairy tale where all the rules of right and wrong were upended.”
To Hell and Back by Audie Murphy – It was with great anticipation that I picked up the first hand account of America’s most decorated WWII soldier, Audie Murphy. The short Irish Texan was gifted with a quick mind, endurance, determination,  grit, and courage. Story after story of battlefield drama fill the pages. If Audie’s version of the events weren’t backed up by eyewitnesses one would suspect that he might be guilty of not just stretching the truth, but inventing stories that feature himself as the hero. At one point I was honestly thinking, “There is no way one guy does that much, and there is no way that one man is that lucky.”
     So, provided that his stories are really true, which at this point I have no evidence to believe that they are not, his was truly a remarkable, amazing, almost unbelievable, military career. I love the ending of the book: “Gradually it becomes clear. I will find the kind of girl of whom I once dreamed. I will learn to look at life through uncynical eyes, to have faith, to know love. I will learn to work in peace as in war. And finally – finally, like countless others, I will learn to live again.”
Hitler in the Crosshairs by John Woodbridge and Maurice Possley – John Woodbridge, a professor of church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, tells the story of Teen Palm, who was a close friend of his father, Pastor Charles Woodbridge. Woodbridge led Palm to saving faith the Lord Jesus a few years before World War II.
     Teen went on to serve as an infantry officer in the war. In the process of liberating Munich, he actually lifted a prized souvenir: one of Hitler’s favorite pistols, a gold-plated Walther which had been a 50th birthday present to the dictator from the Walther family. Upon returning to the U. S., after the war, Palm presented the priceless pistol to Pastor Woodbridge as a gift.
     But the book is not really about the pistol. It is about the faith and heroism of Teen Palm. Because details are limited, and because Palm was a typical WWII veteran who preferred not to talk about his war experiences, the authors are not left with enough first-hand details of Palm’s experience to produce a lengthy volume around his compelling story. So a considerable amount of the book is a retelling of the events of the European theater in relation to Palm’s division. The lacking personal details are the weakness of this book. But do not be mistaken, I enjoyed this book.
Flags of our Fathers by James Bradley – I was so excited when I found out the movie was being made. But as much as I love Clint Eastwood (Director), it was, as often is the case, an example of how the movie could not come close to measuring up to the book. Read the book and skip the movie. Destined to be a WWII classic.
Flyboys: A True Story of Courage by James Bradley – They did not make a movie of this one. Thankfully. If you ever let political naysayers cause you to doubt the heroic war story of President George H. W. Bush, Bradley puts those doubts to rest. Bush is one of several war heroes who are chronicled in this outstanding WWII effort by Bradley.
Biggest Brother: The Life Of Major Dick Winters, The Man Who Led The Band of Brothers by Larry Alexander – After watching the HBO series, “Band of Brothers” I desperately wanted to learn more about this phenomenal American named Dick Winters. Larry Alexander scratched that itch. Warning: If you have read a lot of Stephen Ambrose on Easy Company then there is a lot of overlap, but Alexander still provides some insights into the man you won’t get from Ambrose.
Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose – If you are like me and loved the HBO series, “Band of Brothers” then this book is for you. That said, this is also one of those rare cases in which the screen version may actually have surpassed the book itself.
     I also read and enjoyed these other Ambrose WWII books (yes, I know Ambrose plagiarized a portion of The Wild Blue, but I still loved it):
> Citizen Soldiers: The U. S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany
> The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-45 (my favorite Ambrose WWII book)
> The VICTORS : Eisenhower and His Boys: The Men of World War II
In Harm’s Way: The Sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors by Doug Stanton – I am proud to say that I am Facebook friends with Harlan Twible, one of the survivors. He loves God and still looks healthy and active, well into his 90s. Warning: this book may give you nightmares. What these men went through is quite horrific and Stanton really puts you there with them.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand –  Every American should hear Louis Zamperini’s story. Hillenbrand tells it best. Hard to put this one down. Skip the theatrical version by Angelina Jolie and read this book instead.
In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnamby Robert S. McNamara with Brian VanDeMark -McNamara was the longest serving Secretary of State in U. S. history, having served under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.
     Almost without exception modern historians and the general population look back at the Vietnam War as a colossal failure in political and military execution. Such dogmatic hindsight declarations fail to appreciate the difficulties in navigating through the post-WWII, Cold War era. Less than two decades after burying hundreds of thousands of American boys, the nation had little stomach for another major sacrifice of youth. Yet the encroachment of communism in Southeast Asia was real, and was especially frightening in a nuclear age. How valuable was containment of the communist threat? Was it worth the deployment and potential death of thousands of young Americans?
     McNamara gives his first-hand account of the difficulty of making the decisions that led to the escalation of American involvement in Vietnam. This book is a very engaging trip into the mind of one of the architects of the American entrance into the Vietnam conflict. It served as a gentle reminder to me that it is much easier to be an armchair quarterback on American foreign policy than to actually be a player in the decision-making process that impacts thousands of lives.
Seal Team Six by Howard Wasdin and Stephen Templin – Anyone interested in getting the insider’s look of what it’s like to become and be a Navy Seal (at least one who served in the ’80s and ’90s) will love it. Because I have a personal connection to the Battle of Mogadishu, I was especially captivated by that portion of Wasdin’s story. Heroism, bravado, and optimism throughout. Shatters some myths perpetuated by Hollywood. Salty language (as expected).
The Best of Times: The Boom and Bust Years of America before and after Everything Changed by Haynes Johnson – The vast majority of the previous books I have listed deal with American History during wartime. But this deals book focuses on America in the 1990s. It was interesting, but I felt Johnson inserted his own opinion too much. The New York Times praised it: “Informed, balanced and . . . gripping. A vivid and reliable reminder of what we have been through.” Library Journal commented: “Ultimately, the Nineties, according to Johnson, will be remembered as a time of squandered opportunities despite U.S. global preeminence and a booming economy. Johnson at time preaches and belabors issues, but his clear writing and thought-provoking investigations should send this book up the best sellers lists. Strongly recommended for all public libraries.”
The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn – You may be surprised to see this one in an American History list, but if you read it you’ll understand the connection between the beginning of our nation and the tragedy of 9/11. Prior to reading it, I looked up the reviews on this book and found quite a bit of ammunition against it, primarily because of a rejection of the assumption that underlies the book: that the U.S.A. is a special nation in God’s eyes… a modern Israel. Therefore, it is hermeneutically incorrect to impose Isaiah 9.10 onto America in a double prophecy manner. Makes sense. But then I read the book.  Like many others, I was stunned by the facts surrounding 9/11 and the response of our country since then, including the facts and timing of the stock market crash in September of 2008. What I need to find is a point by point refutal of these amazing facts. I mean it’s one thing to deny the assumption underlying the book, but it’s another thing to explain away all the amazing “coincidences” that line up so…eerily.
Younger reader?
Try these titles:
Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane