It is hard to find anyone who does not like a good pirate yarn, at least in some form. Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America's Most Notorious Pirates (Liveright, $29.95) scratches that itch for fans of American history. Eric Jay Dolin takes a look at the history of piracy and its relation to the American colonies, from the good times, when colonists benefited from trade with the pirates, to the bad times when pirates turned their sights on the colonies and states themselves. Black Flags Blue Waters benefits from an immense amount of research, and the concise but eloquent prose for which Dolin, also the author of Fur, Fortune, and Empire, is known. If you love American history, maritime history, or anything to do with pirates, this might just be the book for you.
One of the illuminating and sobering tasks that an historian can perform for a society is to look back at what was intended by, say, a nation’s founding fathers and compare that to what ended up happening over the years. Michael Beschloss does this expertly and sweepingly in Presidents of War (Crown, $35), which looks at how, despite a Constitution intended to make it difficult for a president to lead America into war—indeed, the sole power to declare war was given to Congress—presidents have gotten us embroiled in wars roughly once in every generation. Beschloss’s landmark book examines the experiences of eight presidents from the War of 1812 through the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Korea, and Vietnam. It also includes an early chapter on the skillful efforts of a ninth president, Thomas Jefferson, who kept the United States out of war.
History lovers will rejoice at Winston Groom’s newest effort at understanding the personalities behind World War II, The Allies (National Geographic, $30). Focusing on the three leaders of the Allied nations, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin, Groom weaves together an intricate and detailed analysis of the war from multiple perspectives. This is not just a war history, however—this is a triple biography of these larger-than-life men. From the early Boer War correspondent days of Churchill, to the political rise and scandalous love affairs of Franklin and Eleanor, to the communist in-fighting of Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky, we can see the vastly different formative experiences that ultimately led to this shaky alliance, with many blind eyes turned, to face down the common threat. Groom’s broad war analysis will leave readers with a better appreciation of the dominant leadership personalities that shaped an era.