What do I read?

Agnes Scott’s student newspaper, The Profile, asked me for suggestions of winter break texts. Here’s what I told them, perhaps someone else is interested:

Hochschild, Adam: To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918.

A hybrid of history and very informed and serious journalism, this book tells the story of World War I from a British perspective. What I found fascinating, was the way in which Hochschild combined the history of women’s emancipation in the UK with the British establishment’s conduct of the war. He shows how, for the longest time, the British government thought that the “suffragettes,” British women fighting for the universal right to vote, were a greater threat then the German armies. Since I have read about World War I mostly from the perspective of German historiography, I very much appreciated Hochschild’s descriptions of the brutal conditions in the trenches, which were practically the same for any soldier, regardless of national affiliation, and his attempt to depict the outdated mindset of generals on all sides, who thought it to be a sign of greatest gallantry when their infantry soldiers were walking upright into relentless machine gun fire. Not a pleasant read for the break, perhaps, but an informative and educational one.

Larson, Erik. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin.

Of the same genre as Hochschild’s book, Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts describes the experiences of the American ambassador and his family in Berlin during the time the National Socialists took power in 1933. What in hindsight is often looked at as a story of absolute evil versus absolute good, appears way more complicated in this book. Larson details how the American ambassador’s attempts to bring the increasing persecution of German Jews to the attention of the US State Department were largely ignored due to the State Departments own antisemitic stance. Any reader interested in German history of that time will find lots of new angles on historical events.
There’s a video of Hochschild talking about his most recent book (with Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman):

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