Updated for 2015: Dana’s Super-Gargantuan Guide to History Books Suitable for Gift-Giving

Ohai! It’s another midwinter holiday gift giving season, and you’ve probably got a reader or dozen on your list. Did they give you some titles? Fantastic! Gift giving shall be easy, and if you purchase through this link, you can get your gifties and support ye olde blog, too. No list? No problem! I’ve got you covered with a super-awesome, super-gargantuan guide to many books suitable for secular gifting.

Through the next couple of weeks, I’ll be updating our lists with additional titles. Here’s a wonderland of history books not previously listed in our Super-Gargantuan Guides!

(Due to the fact we’re running out of time, I’m copying the publisher’s blurbs rather than making up my own. Sorry bout that!)

Image shows a cat lying atop old books on a shelf with more old books. Caption says, "Finding a rare book collection is one thing. But sometimes you want a medium rare book or one that's well done."

Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing by Melissa Mohr

Almost everyone swears, or worries about not swearing, from the two year-old who has just discovered the power of potty mouth to the grandma who wonders why every other word she hears is obscene. Whether they express anger or exhilaration, are meant to insult or to commend, swear words perform a crucial role in language. But swearing is also a uniquely well-suited lens through which to look at history, offering a fascinating record of what people care about on the deepest levels of a culture–what’s divine, what’s terrifying, and what’s taboo.

Holy Sh*t tells the story of two kinds of swearing–obscenities and oaths–from ancient Rome and the Bible to today. With humor and insight, Melissa Mohr takes readers on a journey to discover how “swearing” has come to include both testifying with your hand on the Bible and calling someone a *#$&!* when they cut you off on the highway. She explores obscenities in ancient Rome–which were remarkably similar to our own–and unearths the history of religious oaths in the Middle Ages, when swearing (or not swearing) an oath was often a matter of life and death. Holy Sh*t also explains the advancement of civility and corresponding censorship of language in the 18th century, considers the rise of racial slurs after World War II, examines the physiological effects of swearing (increased heart rate and greater pain tolerance), and answers a question that preoccupies the FCC, the US Senate, and anyone who has recently overheard little kids at a playground: are we swearing more now than people did in the past?

A gem of lexicography and cultural history, Holy Sh*t is a serious exploration of obscenity–and it also just might expand your repertoire of words to choose from the next time you shut your finger in the car door.

Review here.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb: 25th Anniversary Edition by Richard Rhodes

Twenty-five years after its initial publication, The Making of the Atomic Bomb remains the definitive history of nuclear weapons and the Manhattan Project. From the turn-of-the-century discovery of nuclear energy to the dropping of the first bombs on Japan, Richard Rhodes’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book details the science, the people, and the socio-political realities that led to the development of the atomic bomb.

This sweeping account begins in the 19th century, with the discovery of nuclear fission, and continues to World War Two and the Americans’ race to beat Hitler’s Nazis. That competition launched the Manhattan Project and the nearly overnight construction of a vast military-industrial complex that culminated in the fateful dropping of the first bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Reading like a character-driven suspense novel, the book introduces the players in this saga of physics, politics, and human psychology—from FDR and Einstein to the visionary scientists who pioneered quantum theory and the application of thermonuclear fission, including Planck, Szilard, Bohr, Oppenheimer, Fermi, Teller, Meitner, von Neumann, and Lawrence.

From nuclear power’s earliest foreshadowing in the work of H.G. Wells to the bright glare of Trinity at Alamogordo and the arms race of the Cold War, this dread invention forever changed the course of human history, and The Making of The Atomic Bomb provides a panoramic backdrop for that story.

Richard Rhodes’s ability to craft compelling biographical portraits is matched only by his rigorous scholarship. Told in rich human, political, and scientific detail that any reader can follow, The Making of the Atomic Bomb is a thought-provoking and masterful work.

Review here.

The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon

The classic portrayal of court life in tenth-century Japan

Written by the court gentlewoman Sei Shonagon, ostensibly for her own amusement, The Pillow Book offers a fascinating exploration of life among the nobility at the height of the Heian period, describing the exquisite pleasures of a confined world in which poetry, love, fashion, and whim dominated, while harsh reality was kept firmly at a distance. Moving elegantly across a wide range of themes including nature, society, and her own flirtations, Sei Shonagon provides a witty and intimate window on a woman’s life at court in classical Japan.

Sojourner Truth’s America by Margaret Washington

This fascinating biography tells the story of nineteenth-century America through the life of one of its most charismatic and influential characters: Sojourner Truth. In an in-depth account of this amazing activist, Margaret Washington unravels Sojourner Truth’s world within the broader panorama of African American slavery and the nation’s most significant reform era.
Born into bondage among the Hudson Valley Dutch in Ulster County, New York, Isabella was sold several times, married, and bore five children before fleeing in 1826 with her infant daughter one year before New York slavery was abolished. In 1829, she moved to New York City, where she worked as a domestic, preached, joined a religious commune, and then in 1843 had an epiphany. Changing her name to Sojourner Truth, she began traveling the country as a champion of the downtrodden and a spokeswoman for equality by promoting Christianity, abolitionism, and women’s rights.
Gifted in verbal eloquence, wit, and biblical knowledge, Sojourner Truth possessed an earthy, imaginative, homespun personality that won her many friends and admirers and made her one of the most popular and quoted reformers of her times. Washington’s biography of this remarkable figure considers many facets of Sojourner Truth’s life to explain how she became one of the greatest activists in American history, including her African and Dutch religious heritage; her experiences of slavery within contexts of labor, domesticity, and patriarchy; and her profoundly personal sense of justice and intuitive integrity.
Organized chronologically into three distinct eras of Truth’s life, Sojourner Truth’s America examines the complex dynamics of her times, beginning with the transnational contours of her spirituality and early life as Isabella and her embroilments in legal controversy. Truth’s awakening during nineteenth-century America’s progressive surge then propelled her ascendancy as a rousing preacher and political orator despite her inability to read and write. Throughout the book, Washington explores Truth’s passionate commitment to family and community, including her vision for a beloved community that extended beyond race, gender, and socioeconomic condition and embraced a common humanity. For Sojourner Truth, the significant model for such communalism was a primitive, prophetic Christianity.
Illustrated with dozens of images of Truth and her contemporaries, Sojourner Truth’s America draws a delicate and compelling balance between Sojourner Truth’s personal motivations and the influences of her historical context. Washington provides important insights into the turbulent cultural and political climate of the age while also separating the many myths from the facts concerning this legendary American figure.

Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan by Shrabani Basu

This is the riveting story of Noor Inayat Khan, a descendant of an Indian Prince Tipu Sultan (the Tiger of Mysore), who became a British secret agent for SOE during World War II. Shrabani Basu tells the moving story of Noor’s life, from her birth in Moscow — where her father was a Sufi preacher — to her capture by the Germans. Noor was one of only three women SOE agents awarded the George Cross and, under torture, revealed nothing, not even her own real name. Kept in solitary confinement, her hands and feet chained together, Noor was starved and beaten, but the Germans could not break her spirit. Then months after she was captured, she was taken to Dachau concentration camp and, on 13th September 194, she was shot. Her last word was ‘Liberte’.

Review here.

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Updated for 2015: Dana’s Super-Gargantuan Guide to History Books Suitable for Gift-Giving
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One thought on “Updated for 2015: Dana’s Super-Gargantuan Guide to History Books Suitable for Gift-Giving

  1. 1

    May I suggest the Jesus wars by John Phillip Jenkins on the split of Christianity in the 5th century. It started when the Patriarch of Constantinople said that saying Mary was the mother of god was not correct. Evolved thru political battles between the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch, and ended with a 3 way split of Christianity (far bigger than 1054)
    You had the Orthodox faction led by the Roman Emporor who held that christ was both one and two natures, the Nestorians who held that Christ had two natures and the Monopyhsitisities who held that Christ had only one nature. Of course as usual politics played a big part in the whole issue. Read about the Robber Synod as well (449).

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