I seem to stumble upon wonderful historical non-fiction rather than actively seek it out. A review will capture my interest or a book on display at the library will catch my eye and I will devour it in mere days. I haven’t read much about the history of the second World War but, what I have read has been bits and pieces, not about battles but about the ordinary people and the daily life during the war.
Twilight at the World of Tomorrow: Genius, Madness, Murder and the 1939 World’s Fair on the Brink of War by James Mauro. I’m fascinated by world’s fairs; the first one I read about was the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 in Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City; Bill Bryson’s At Home also has a chapter about another in 1851; that was my initial interest in this book. But the 1939 World’s Fair is merely the jumping off point. You’ll read about pacifist Albert Einstein’s concern over Germany stockpiling uranium and his decision to encourage the president to develop the atom bomb, the daily security threats that erupted in tragedy at the fair, and the surreal atmosphere of simultaneous excitement and innovation set against the tensions of a world at war. One interesting caveat: a time capsule was buried during the fair and a book was published which listed the contents and other information about the time capsule. This book was sent to all major libraries around the country; we own that book!
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson. I don’t think Larson will ever top The Devil in the White City but this is still good. College professor William Dodd was desperate to finish his epic account of southern history but felt that the responsibilities of his teaching career were keeping him from his work. Somehow, he thought that being an ambassador to a small European country would give him the leisure time and freedom to complete his life’s work. But the post assigned to him during a time of fierce German patriotism saw the rise of Adolph Hitler and the coming of a second world war. This is the story of his family’s fearful four years in Nazi-controlled Berlin, their exposures to violent anti-Semitism (and the conflicts within the U.S. government to recognize and act on it), and the toll it took on the family’s life ever after.
Anne Frank: the Book, the Life, the Afterlife by Francine Prose. Teenage diarist and Holocaust victim Anne Frank’s story of life hidden in an attic in Holland to avoid discovery by the Nazis has been written about extensively. Literary writer Prose pens an elegant, poignant, and informative history of the diary itself and its history and publication snafus (including the difficulty Anne’s father, Otto, had in initially publishing it).
Our Mother’s War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II by Emily Yellin. To me, this is the most fascinating part about history and wartime: what was everyday home life like in the United States during that time? What about women in the workplace and those who chose to serve and their experiences? Yellin explores the prejudices women encountered and more in this excellently researched book told in a readable style.
*This is the eighth post in my ongoing series of recommended historical non-fiction.