Today in History Reading List

This is a surprisingly contentious day in history. Here is a sampling of the battles and conflicts that happened, started or finished on this day. As usual we give you a nonfiction work and a fictional work related to these events.


1324 Battle of Bannockburn

June 24 was the last day of a two day battle between the Scottish under King Robert the Bruce and the English under King Edward II. It was a decisive victory for the Scottish and was the final battle of the First War of Scottish Independence.


Non-Fiction: The Wars of Scotland 1214-1371 by Michael Brown

The Wars of Scotland is the story of the pivotal period in Scottish history between 1214 and 1371. The century and a half between the death of King William the Lion and the accession of the Stewarts witnessed major changes in the internal character of the kingdom and its place in the wider European world. [Goodreads]

Fiction: The Great Scot by Duncan A. Bruce

The war peaked in 1314 when the Bruce faced a formidable English invasion. With brilliant tactics and resolute bravery the vastly outnumbered Scots defeated and routed the knights, archers, and foot soldiers of mighty England at the Battle of Bannockburn. And that’s only the first part of this epic tale of the Bruce’s long and event-filled life. The Great Scot is a novel filled with valor, treachery, passionate love, journeys great and small, and people of every rank and situation-all from the pages of Scottish history. [Goodreads]

1812 Napoleon invades Russia

Napoleon’s campaign officially kicked off on this day when his Grand Armee crossed the Neman River. Napoleon hoped that by defeating the Russians he could simultaneously eliminate one of Britain’s allies and protect his conquest of Poland. The Russian Army fought a rear guard action drawing the French Army further into Russia while destroying any supplies the French might have used. Though technically victorious the French were forced to retreat back across Russia due to lack of supplies. This retreat destroyed the French Army and led to Napoleon’s abdication.

Napoleon in Russia

Non-Fiction: Russia Against Napoleon by Dominic Lieven

Based on a fresh examination of Russian military archives, Russia Against Napoleon provides the first-ever history of the period told from the Russian perspective. In Dominic Lieven’s account, Russia’s victory in 1812 was just the beginning of what would be the longest military campaign in European history, marked by Russia’s epic efforts to feed and supply half a million troops as they crossed an entire continent. [Goodreads]

Fiction: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy’s epic masterpiece intertwines the lives of private and public individuals during the time of the Napoleonic wars and the French invasion of Russia. The fortunes of the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys, of Pierre, Natasha, and Andrei, are intimately connected with the national history that is played out in parallel with their lives. Balls and soirees alternate with councils of war and the machinations of statesmen and generals, scenes of violent battles with everyday human passions in a work whose extraordinary imaginative power has never been surpassed. [Goodreads]

1916 The first day of the opening bombardment of the Battle of the Somme

On this day in the second year of World War I the British Army began it’s artillery barrage as a prelude to their assault on the German lines in the area of the Somme river. The barrage lasted until July 1 and was the largest in British history to that point with 1.7 million rounds being fired. Unfortunately the German’s had prepared and their soldiers took cover in reinforced dug outs that allowed enough of them to survive so that the first day of the assault the British took almost 60,000 casualties. The battle would continue for another 141 days with very little result.


Non-Fiction: The Somme by Peter Hart

Scrambling out of trenches in the face of German machine guns and artillery fire, the British lost over twenty thousand soldiers during the first day. This “battle” would drag on for another four bloody months.Expertly weaving together letters, diaries, and other first-person accounts, Peter Hart gives us a compelling narrative tribute to this infamous tragedy that epitomized the futility of “the war to end all wars. [Goodreads]

Fiction: The First of July by Elizabeth Speller

On July 1st, 1913, four very different men are leading four very different lives. Exactly three years later, it is just after seven in the morning, and there are a few seconds of peace as the guns on the Somme fall silent and larks soar across the battlefield, singing as they fly over the trenches. What follows is a day of catastrophe in which Allied casualties number almost one hundred thousand. A horror that would have been unimaginable in pre-war Europe and England becomes a day of reckoning, where their lives will change forever, for Frank, Benedict, Jean-Batiste, and Harry. [Goodreads]

1948 The Start of the Berlin Blockade

After World War II West Berlin was left as island of American, British and French territory inside Soviet held territory. Tension between America and the Soviet Union starting in April led to the Soviets cutting off all land access to West Berlin in an effort to drive out the Americans and their allies. The air forces of several western countries including the US airlifted supplies to the cut off city until the Soviets lifted the blockade on May 12, 1949.


Non-Fiction: The Candy Bombers by Andrei Cherny

On the sixtieth anniversary of the Berlin Airlift, Andrei Cherny tells a remarkable story with profound implications for the world today. In the tradition of the best narrative storytellers, he brings together newly unclassified documents, unpublished letters and diaries, and fresh primary interviews to tell the story of the ill-assorted group of castoffs and second-stringers who not only saved millions of desperate people from a dire threat but changed how the world viewed the United States, and set in motion the chain of events that would ultimately lead to the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and to America’s victory in the Cold War. [Goodreads]

Fiction: Armageddon by Leon Uris

In Berlin at the end of World War II, an American Army officer bears witness to the aftermath of one historic tragedy and the rise of another. Captain Sean O’Sullivan distinguishes himself as a courageous soldier in the closing days of World War II, but what comes next tests his deepest reserves of strength and conviction. Sent to oversee the rebuilding of Berlin, O’Sullivan is exposed to the horrific truths of the Holocaust, a shattered and defeated society, and the new threat of Soviet power as the Iron Curtain begins to shadow the city. When Soviet forces blockade Berlin and the airlift begins, O’Sullivan is faced with profound moral dilemmas in an increasingly complicated world. Armageddon is one of the great fictional portrayals of Europe in the earliest days of the Cold War. [Goodreads]

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