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Recommended History ...
This week I am recommending the work of David Roman whose epic A History of Mankind is getting an enthusiastic following ... and some WWII titles
The newsletter format is starting to attract several other historians on Substack. It’s a great way to tell a long story in easily digestible pieces. One of the standout new (ish) arrivals is David Roman’s A History of Mankind. Yes - “The entire history of mankind, in regular instalments”.
Formerly with the Wall Street Journal, David writes lively and accessible history. But this is not dumbed-down stuff. The author of the recently published Emperor Whisperers: A Comparative History of Ancient Chinese and Western Philosophy has done his research and has the footnotes to prove it. This is the product of extensive reading, delving into the farthest recesses of human history.
David starts early and digs deep. In episode 82, just published, we are still over 500 years BCE and the Greeks have only just turned to Democracy…
An Englishman, an American and a Russian
Recently a couple of readers have asked me for recommendations on books from World War II. I cover a lot of memoirs from the war - “But which ones do you really recommend?”.
As it turns out I have featured a few authors very recently that I can confidently recommend to all. Not only are these fascinating tales but they are well written - and they have stood the test of time:
Edward Young: One of Our Submarines
There were relatively few members of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve in the submarine arm - and only one qualified top of his class to become a submarine captain. Before this Edward Young had overcome the terrifying experience of escaping from a submarine sunk in an accident, with over half the crew killed. He took HMS Storm out to the Far East for a successful series of patrols - and wrote a gripping memoir about it after the war.
“Right, are you all ready, Mr Morgan ?” “All ready, Captain.” This was it. I said: “Group up. Slow ahead together. Open main vents. Take her down to thirty feet.”
Until we met the enemy there would be no tenser moment for us than this first committing of our submarine to the deep.
Audie Murphy: To Hell and Back
Audie Murphy was the real deal. The undernourished kid from Texas who became the most decorated American soldier in World War II, then wrote a best-selling memoir about it, then starred in his own Hollywood biopic. Murphy honed his skill with a rifle while out hunting to feed his eleven brothers and sisters after his father left and his mother died.
Vassily Grossman: A Writer at War
Grossman wrote the novel ‘Life and Fate’ after the war, considered by many to be one of the great works of fiction of the 20th century, certainly one of the most significant artistic works to emerge from the war. His notes from his time touring the Soviet Union during the ‘Great Patriotic War’ are a graphic insight into the torments suffered by the Russians - and other ethnic groups - and how they found the means to fight back.