by Antony Beevor (Viking, $33)
For a military historian, Antony Beevor has an unusually profound understanding that war is hell, said Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post. In the British scholar’s latest, the Allies’ landing at Omaha Beach is 25 pages of blood and chaos, but he also shows us carnage across a broader canvas. Some 20,000 French civilians died in the two-month battle for Normandy, and the ugliness of the fighting was offset only by “moments of compassion and heroism.” Beevor depicts the cost of a great victory “surpassingly well.”
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The Big Burn
by Timothy Egan (Houghton Mifflin, $27)
“Don’t miss this one,” said Tina Jordan in Entertainment Weekly. Award-winning author Timothy Egan has a rare gift “for transforming history lessons into the stuff of riveting page-turners,” and he’s done it again with this story of the biggest forest fire in America’s history. The conflagration broke out in 1910, engulfing huge swaths of three Western states; hundreds died trying to tame it. Egan throws you into the flames, but also finds real drama in Teddy Roosevelt’s establishment of a robust U.S. Forest Service.
The American Civil War
by John Keegan (Knopf, $35)
“Inexplicable” errors mar the latest work from “our generation’s foremost military historian,” said James McPherson in The New York Times. British author John Keegan is often astute in his analysis of the North’s advantages during the Civil War, and his “deft turns of phrase” illuminate the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s generals. But how a scholar could so misinterpret America’s river geography or call the 1861 U.S. Navy “antiquated” is hard to fathom. This book’s errors “will leave readers confused and misinformed.”
Empire of Liberty
by Gordon S. Wood (Oxford, $35)
The eighth volume of the ever-expanding Oxford History of the United States is another “extraordinary achievement of historical synthesis,” said James M. Banner Jr. in The Weekly Standard. Gordon Wood tackles the critical span from 1789 to 1815, and “carries off his assignment with characteristic clarity, force, and grace.” The book’s only flaw: By treating slavery as a complication rather than an integral characteristic of the young nation, the septuagenarian author proves himself a captive of his generation’s rosy perspective on the past.
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