Today in History: A Reading List

I was afraid November 12 was going to be all World War I stuff (winding down from Veterans/Armistice day) or Pilgrims (winding up for Thanksgiving). How wrong I was. I had to pick and choose what went in this list. I made a real sacrifice and left out the marriage of Zoe Porphyrogenita (future empress of Byzantium) to Romanus III in 1028. I would have only been including her because I like that the Byzantines had an empress named Zoe. But don’t worry there’s a lot more. As usual where possible I try to include one work of non-fiction and one work of historical fiction for each historical event that occurred today.

1912 The frozen bodies of Robert Scott and his party are found on the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica.

In 1912 Scott lead the Terra Nova Expedition in an attempt to be the first to reach the South Pole. In the final push to reach the pole Scott and two companions died on or about March 29 of a combination of exhaustion, starvation and extreme cold.

Non-Fiction. An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton, and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science by Edward J. Larson

9780300154085Published to coincide with the centenary of the first expeditions to reach the South Pole, An Empire of Ice presents a fascinating new take on Antarctic exploration. Retold with added information, it’s the first book to place the famed voyages of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, his British rivals Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton [Goodreads]


Fiction: Dead Men by Richard Pierce.

9781590208687Obsessed with the 1912 death of Robert Scott in Antarctica, Birdie Bowers collapses on her way to view relics from Scott’s expedition and is rescued by computer expert Adam, who falls in love with her and agrees to join a precarious trek to the Antarctic.

1927 Leon Trotsky is expelled from the Communist Party

Leon Trotsky was one of the original leaders of the Russian October Revolution in 1917. In the years that followed he came into increasing conflict with Joseph Stalin. After being expelled from the Communist Party he eventually went into exile in various places around the globe. Stalin used him as a straw-man and accused any who opposed him of be Trotskyites. Trotsky was eventually assassinated in Mexico in 1940.

Non-Fiction: Leon Trotsky: A Revolutionary’s Life by Joshua Rubenstein.

9780300137248Trotsky emerges as a brilliant and brilliantly flawed man. Rubenstein offers us a Trotsky who is mentally acute and impatient with others, one of the finest students of contemporary politics who refused to engage in the nitty-gritty of party organization in the 1920s, when Stalin was maneuvering, inexorably, toward Trotsky’s own political oblivion [Goodreads]


Fiction: The Man Who Loved Dogs by Leonardo Padura

9780374201746In The Man Who Loved Dogs, Leonardo Padura brings a noir sensibility to one of the most fascinating and complex political narratives of the past hundred years: the assassination of Leon Trotsky by Ramón Mercader. [Goodreads]

1942 The first day of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal

After the landing of US troops on Guadalcanal island in August of 1942 the Japanese attempted to reinforce their troops on the island. In a battle that would last until the 15 the US Navy attempted to prevent this. It was an extremely destructive battle with both sides loosing many ships and airplanes. The only two US admirals killed in surface engagements during the war died during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Although the United States lost more ships in these engagements the battle was considered a strategic victory for the US since they managed to stop most of the Japanese efforts to reinforce the island.

Non-Fiction: Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal by James D. Hornfischer

9780553806700Neptune’s Inferno is at once the most epic and the most intimate account ever written of the contest for control of the seaways of the Solomon Islands, America’s first concerted offensive against the Imperial Japanese juggernaut and the true turning point of the Pacific conflict. [Goodreads]


Fiction: The Thin Red Line by James Jones

0385324081The fictional account of the battle between American and Japanese troops on the island of Guadalcanal. The narrative shifts effortlessly among multiple viewpoints within C-for-Charlie Company, from commanding officer Capt. James Stein, his psychotic first sergeant Eddie Welsh, and the young privates they send into battle. [Goodreads]

1969 News of the My Lai Massacre is broken by reporter Seymour Hersh

On March 16, 1968 US Troops in the South Vietnamese village of My Lai massacred between 300 and 500 civilians. Although several soldiers were arrested for war crimes only platoon commander Lieutenant William Calley Jr was convicted. The first most American’s heard of the atrocity was when Hersh broke the story on the AP wire service after interviews with Calley.

Non-Fiction: Facing My Lai: Moving Beyond the Massacre edited by David L. Anderson

0700608648The My Lai massacre of March 16, 1968, and the court martial of Lt. William Calley a year and a half later are among the bleakest episodes in American history and continue to provide a volatile focus for debates about the Vietnam War. Other books have exposed the facts surrounding the incident; Facing My Lai now examines its haunting legacy through an exchange of contemporary viewpoints. [Goodreads]


Fiction: In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien

9780618709861When long-hidden secrets about the atrocities he committed in Vietnam come to light, a candidate for the U.S. Senate retreats with his wife to a lakeside cabin in northern Minnesota. Within days of their arrival, his wife mysteriously vanishes into the watery wilderness. [Goodreads]

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