Matt's New and Upcoming History Recommendations for 2019


As the resident history enthusiast here at Old Town Books, I’ve had to exercise a degree of restraint over my book buying mania, lest I spend my entire paycheck on our own history section. Nonetheless, here are two books from the past few months that I picked up in the store, read, and loved, plus two more which will tempt me from our shelves over the next few months. I know I’m not the only history buff here in Old Town, so hopefully these titles will spark your curiosity, too!

Released in June 2018 from W.W. Norton, Victoria Johnson’s American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic is a fascinating look into the life of a man who, among other things, was the personal physician of both Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.  In his day, Hosack’s work in botany and medicine earned the praise of such luminaries as Thomas Jefferson and Alexander von Humboldt. The young America was a treasure trove of previously undiscovered plants, and Johnson tells the story of its first botanical garden, setting a new benchmark for history of science writing in the process.

In September 2018, The New Press put out Erik Loomis’ A History of America in Ten Strikes. Recently, some politicians have severely curtailed the power of labor unions. Loomis exposes the danger in this enterprise, demonstrating in an engaging and accessible way how organized labor and its concerns have helped shape American society as we know it. From the fight for an eight-hour workday in 1886 to the Air Traffic Controllers’ strike of 1981 and beyond, Loomis’ book provides a fresh perspective on many key moments in American history through the lens of labor relations.

Coming on March 15 from Oxford University Press is Elizabeth R. Varon’s Armies of Deliverance: A New History of the Civil War.  While it’s true that a seemingly infinite number of books have been written about the defining event in our country’s history, Varon’s work takes great care to tell the story from the greatest number of perspectives: rich and poor; black and white; male and female; political, military, and social; northern and southern. It’s enough to make this avid devourer of Civil War history and repeat watcher of Ken Burns’ documentary look forward to picking this one up.

Lastly, but certainly not least, coming from Simon & Schuster on March 12 is Edward Wilson-Lee’s The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Young Columbus and the Quest for a Universal Library. Columbus is one of the most recognizable (and most reviled) names in the history of the world. Ah, but this book isn’t about Christopher at all, but rather his bastard son Hernando, who tried to eclipse his famous father by amassing the greatest collection of books the world had ever seen. Hernando also rubbed shoulders with Erasmus and Thomas More and collected the specimens for the first truly global botanical garden, with time to spare to mythologize his father. This is a story which has never been told in English before, and one that seems too fantastical to be true—and yet it is.

And there you have it: four fascinating titles which ought to be more than enough to keep you reading history well into 2019. Happy reading, and hope to see you in the shop soon!