5 New History Books

hamilton
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (6 Oct 2016)
The riveting life of Alexander Hamilton, an illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean who overcame all the odds to become George Washington’s aide-de-camp and the first Treasury Secretary of the United States.

Few figures in American history have been more hotly debated than Alexander Hamilton. In this masterful work, Chernow shows how the political and economic greatness of America today is the result of Hamilton’s willingness to champion ideas that were often wildly disputed during his time. He charts his titanic feuds with Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Monroe and Burr; his highly public affair with Maria Reynolds; his loving marriage to his loyal wife Eliza; and the famous and mysterious duel with Aaron Burr that led to his death in July 1804.

The book was adapted into a hugely successful Broadway musical – nominated for a record 16 Tony awards – which opens in London’s West End in September 2017.
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when paris sizzled
When Paris Sizzled by Mary McAuliffe (1 Nov 2016)

When Paris Sizzled vividly portrays the City of Light during the fabulous 1920s, les Annees folles, when Parisians emerged from the horrors of war to find that a new world greeted them-one that reverberated with the hard metallic clang of the assembly line, the roar of automobiles, and the beat of jazz. Mary McAuliffe traces a decade that saw seismic change on almost every front, from art and architecture to music, literature, fashion, entertainment, transportation, and, most notably, behavior. The epicenter of all this creativity, as well as of the era’s good times, was Montparnasse, where impoverished artists and writers found colleagues and cafes, and tourists discovered the Paris of their dreams. Major figures on the Paris scene-such as Gertrude Stein, Jean Cocteau, Picasso, Stravinsky, Diaghilev, and Proust-continued to hold sway, while others now came to prominence-including Ernest Hemingway, Coco Chanel, Cole Porter, and Josephine Baker, as well as Andre Citroen, Le Corbusier, Man Ray, Sylvia Beach, James Joyce, and the irrepressible Kiki of Montparnasse. Paris of the 1920s unquestionably sizzled. Yet rather than being a decade of unmitigated bliss, les Annees folles also saw an undercurrent of despair as well as the rise of ruthless organizations of the extreme right, aimed at annihilating whatever threatened tradition and order-a struggle that would escalate in the years ahead. Through rich illustrations and evocative narrative, Mary McAuliffe brings this vibrant era to life.

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The Bitter Taste of Victory: Life, Love and Art in the Ruins of the Reich by Lara Feigel (3 Nov 2016)
As the Second World War neared its conclusion, Germany was a nation reduced to rubble: 3.6 million German homes had been destroyed leaving 7.5 million people homeless; an apocalyptic landscape of flattened cities and desolate wastelands.

In May 1945 Germany surrendered, and Britain, America, Soviet Russia and France set about rebuilding their zones of occupation. Most urgent for the Allies in this divided, defeated country were food, water and sanitation, but from the start they were anxious to provide for the minds as well as the physical needs of the German people. Reconstruction was to be cultural as well as practical: denazification and re-education would be key to future peace and the arts crucial in modelling alternative, less militaristic, ways of life. Germany was to be reborn; its citizens as well as its cities were to be reconstructed; the mindset of the Third Reich was to be obliterated.

When, later that year, twenty-two senior Nazis were put in the dock at Nuremberg, writers and artists including Rebecca West, Evelyn Waugh, John Dos Passos and Laura Knight were there to tell the world about a trial intended to ensure that tyrannous dictators could never again enslave the people of Europe. And over the next four years, many of the foremost writers and filmmakers of their generation were dispatched by Britain and America to help rebuild the country their governments had spent years bombing. Among them, Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn, Marlene Dietrich, George Orwell, Lee Miller, W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Billy Wilder and Humphrey Jennings.

The Bitter Taste of Victory traces the experiences of these figures and through their individual stories offers an entirely fresh view of post-war Europe. Never before told, this is a brilliant, important and utterly mesmerising history of cultural transformation.

what the eye hears
What the Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing by Brian Seibert (22 Nov 2016)
The first authoritative history of tap dancing, one of the great art forms–along with jazz and musical comedy–created in America.

“What the Eye Hears “offers an authoritative account of the great American art of tap dancing. Brian Seibert, a dance critic for “The New York Times,” begins by exploring tap’s origins as a hybrid of the jig and clog dancing and dances brought from Africa by slaves. He tracks tap’s transfer to the stage through blackface minstrelsy and charts its growth as a cousin to jazz in the vaudeville circuits. Seibert chronicles tap’s spread to ubiquity on Broadway and in Hollywood, analyzes its decline after World War II, and celebrates its rediscovery and reinvention by new generations of American and international performers. In the process, we discover how the history of tap dancing is central to any meaningful account of American popular culture.

This is a story with a huge cast of characters, from Master Juba through Bill Robinson and Shirley Temple, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and Gene Kelly and Paul Draper to Gregory Hines and Savion Glover. Seibert traces the stylistic development of tap through individual practitioners and illuminates the cultural exchange between blacks and whites, the interplay of imitation and theft, as well as the moving story of African Americans in show business, wielding enormous influence as they grapple with the pain and pride of a complicated legacy. “What the Eye Hears “teaches us to see and hear the entire history of tap in its every step.

st-marks-is-dead
St Marks is Dead: The Many Lives of America’s Hippest Street (8 Dec 2016)
St. Marks Place in New York City has spawned countless artistic and political movements. Here Frank O’Hara caroused, Emma Goldman plotted, and the Velvet Underground wailed. But every generation of miscreant denizens believes that their era, and no other, marked the street’s apex. This idiosyncratic work of reportage tells the many layered history of the street-from its beginnings as Colonial Dutch Director-General Peter Stuyvesant’s pear orchard to today’s hipster playground-organized around those pivotal moments when critics declared “St. Marks is dead.” In a narrative enriched by hundreds of interviews and dozens of rare images, St. Marks native Ada Calhoun profiles iconic characters from W. H. Auden to Abbie Hoffman, from Keith Haring to the Beastie Boys, among many others. She argues that St. Marks has variously been an elite address, an immigrants’ haven, a mafia warzone, a hippie paradise, and a backdrop to the film Kids-but it has always been a place that outsiders call home. This idiosyncratic work offers a bold new perspective on gentrification, urban nostalgia, and the evolution of a community.

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