Mark’s Book Recommendations

Traitor to his Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt
By B.W. Brands
April 23, 2019

You would hardly think that there is room for another comprehensive biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but the combination of the fact that H. W. Brands has written best-selling biographies of Franklin, Jackson, Grant, Reagan and T.R. and the somewhat dramatic sub-title of the book drew my attention to it.

Let me say in the beginning that I don’t think the book lives up to its sub-title, but what it does do is present a sweeping, magisterial portrait of one of our greatest and most influential presidents. It is no surprise that the book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

I must have read ten or twelve Roosevelt biographies. I really don’t expect to learn anything new at this point, but Brands is able to surprise and delights with almost 900 pages of unique details that help to define this extraordinary man. His vehicle is to use the voluminous writings of those leaders and associates who knew him best and wrote about him and to him often. Many of those do not surprise—Roosevelt’s own correspondence as well as that of Churchill and Stalin, his family, advisors, political adversaries, and other biographers. But what I thought was a stroke of genius, Brands, goes back through the transcripts of Roosevelts presidential press conferences—his sparring back and forth with the working press—to discover how he controlled the narrative of his presidency.

Another example. Bob Ferguson and I are just about to publish a short history of the Manhattan Project, Hanford and the B Reactor to mark the 75th anniversary of the reactor’s going critical in 1944. I have read many histories of the Manhattan Project and understood that Churchill and Roosevelt formally announced their agreement to share atomic research at the Quebec Conference in August 1943. But from Brands, via Churchill’s sweeping history of WWII, I learned that they actually made the decision during Churchill’s June 20, 1943 visit to Hyde Park.

The book is less about the events in Roosevelt’s life than how he exercised the levers of power and influence to control those events. Excellent read.

Presidents at War
By Michael Beschloss
February 25, 2019

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss uses original letters, diaries, declassified documents, and interviews to bring us into the room and into the minds of a succession of American presidents – Monroe, Polk, Lincoln, McKinley, Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman and Johnson who led the nation into war. He says that the book was a daunting task, taking him many years and similar in terms of work and research to writing a new history or each man. Did they learn from or ignore the lessons of their predecessors? The answer is that each situation and each man was different, with some benefitting and some being broken by the experience. Beschloss is a first-rate historian and storyteller and this book is a fascinating description of the human foibles and leadership of our leaders in times of crisis.

No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy
By Jim Proser
December 31, 2018

This is an almost-brand new biography of General James Mattis.- current up to six months ago or so. Taken from various news sources, speeches (including a 2011 speech to the Richland Rotary Club) the book covers primarily Mattis’ military career up until the time that he was chosen to be Secretary of Defense. There are excellent descriptions of the various campaigns and battles in Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan that must have been taken from Marine Corps after batlle reports. The book is light on his childhood, formative years, and personal life. The book is a gold mine of references to books that Mattis has read and appreciated.Of particular interest to me is the fairly extensive information about how he familiarized himself with the Middle East, its politics, religions, and history. The title is taken from a Marine Corps motto, which he often used in the field. Excellent read. This will be particularly interesting to those who live in the Tri-Cities and are likely to encounter him when he returns home.

The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations.
By: John McCain and Mark Salter
December 31, 2018

You wouldn’t really think that there would be room for another biography about Douglas MacArthur, but Arthur Herman has written one, and it’s a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Herman is best known to me for his really outstanding history of the Royal Navy, To Rule the Waves:

How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World.

There are some new tidbits about MacArthur’s life, including that he kept a Philippine mistress in a New York hotel suite in the years before he met Jean. MacArthur’s persona and life view were shaped by his awe and respect for his father, General Arthur MacArthur, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor in the Civil War.

Herman’s book is more well-rounded and balanced than many other MacArthur biographies. A good read, particularly about Asian policy.

Douglas MacArthur: American Warrior
By Arthur Herman

November 11, 2018

You wouldn’t really think that there would be room for another biography about Douglas MacArthur, but Arthur Herman has written one, and it’s a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Herman is best known to me for his really outstanding history of the Royal Navy, To Rule the Waves:

How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World.

There are some new tidbits about MacArthur’s life, including that he kept a Philippine mistress in a New York hotel suite in the years before he met Jean. MacArthur’s persona and life view were shaped by his awe and respect for his father, General Arthur MacArthur, winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor in the Civil War.

Herman’s book is more well-rounded and balanced than many other MacArthur biographies. A good read, particularly about Asian policy.

Horse Soldiers
By Doug Stanton

November 5, 2018

While I’m at it, let me recommend a 2009 NYT bestseller about the first CIA and Special Forces operatives into Afghanistan after 9/11. I can remember from the time some video shot of some ungainly large individuals wrapped in Afghan robes mounted on small Afghan ponies and the speculation about who they were. Now we know.




Leadership in Turbulent Times
By Doris Kearns Goodwin

November 5, 2018

I just finished reading Doris Kerns Goodwin’s latest book, Leadership in Troubled Times. Perfect read, if nostalgic, for the times we are in. Short vignettes at key stages in the lives of Lincoln TR, FDR, and LBJ that shows their very different forms of leadership. Excellent read.




The Face of Battle
By John Keegan

July 15, 2018

John Keegan was for years the Senior Lecturer at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. He is the foremost military historian of my generation. The Face of Battle, written back in 1976, is a masterpiece. Ignoring the normal literary format of battle descriptions, he has produced a scrupulous recreation of three famous battles: Agincourt in October 1415, Watterloo in June 1815, and the Somme in July 1916. He vividly describes what the experience of combat meant to the participants. It has been called “one of the half-dozen best books on warfare to be written since the end of World War II.”



Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson
June 17, 2018

Another thing to celebrate on the Father’s Day was finishing Gordon S. Wood’s truly remarkable book, Friends Divided, about the intertwined lives of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Drawn largely on their extensive writings and correspondence, Wood compares the men, their different views on the American Revolution, the future of the nation, their estrangement and reconciliation, and their remarkable deaths on the same day the nation celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Separated by the rise of political parties leading up to the election of 1800 in which Jefferson defeated Adams, the two men (although they could not see it at the time) represented the two major themes that have characterize the politics of our nation. Jefferson’s based on the rights of man (but excusing slavery) and Adam’s based on strong central government.

Wood ends his book with this thought. “Since now the whole world id in the United States, nothing but Jefferson’s ideals can turn such an assortment of different individuals into “one people” that the Declaration says we are. To be an American is not to be someone, but to believe in something. And that something is what Jefferson declared. That’s why we honor Jefferson and not Adams.”

The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers
By Paul Kennedy
May 30, 2018

Paul Kennedy is a history professor at Yale. In this book, he presents a pattern to explain the rise and fall of great powers. He studies and reports on economic and military factors that accompanied or caused previously dominant nations to lose their Great Power status. He divides the (1987) world into 5 principle actors: the US, the European Union (England, France, Germany only), the Soviet Union, China, and Japan. He discusses their economic and military strengths and weaknesses, and likely effects on their Great Power status. NOTE: This book was published in 1987, before the fall of the Soviet Union, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and before China achieved its major economic transformation by adopting (somewhat) free-market policies. Thus, one might think that this book is well past its shelf life. However, what Kennedy undertakes to do is not to report on the world as it is in 1987, but to describe historical trends far predating 1987 and ending with the state of the would-be claimants to great power status as of 1987, and to show the role of interlocking factors of economic and military strength in trying to attain or preserve Great Power status.

Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans
By Admiral James Stavridis
April 10, 2018

I haven’t had a chance to do much reading while I have been completing my Doc Hastings book. I want to recommend Admiral James Stravidis’ new book Sea Power. It is a primer of the nation’s oceans and seas and the geopolitics of each. We don’t pay enough attention to the role of sea power in our nation’s conflicts and this book provides a basic understanding.

This is an excellent book for understanding the importance of the world’s maritime check points and their importance in history.


By Ron Chernow
March 9, 2018

I just finished Ron Chernow’s 1,000+ page biography of Ulysses Grant. It is almost certainly the best book about Grant since Grant finished his memoirs just before his death in 1885.

Chernow, who has published excellent biographies of Washington, Hamilton, and the House of Morgan, creates a detailed and balanced profile of Grant, detailing more than perhaps any other author his failed business dealings early and at the end of his life, his lifelong struggle with alcoholism, his commitment to emancipation and reconstruction, and his failures to reign in the corrupting abuses of those around him, particularly during his second term.

In addition, Chernow covers in great detail several lesser known aspects of the Grant story: his attempt to annex the Dominican Republic, and his interest in running for a third term. One are that is now adequately covered from my perspective is Grant’s efforts – through Sherman and Sheridan – to defeat the western Indian tribes and confine them to reservations, and the massive corruption of his Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Rather than the brutal general willing to needlessly sustain causalities, Chernow’s Grant comes away as caring, humane, and intelligent. Long, but a very good read. Should be read with Gran’s Personal Memoirs, probably the best military memoir ever written.

By Michael Korda
February 13, 2018

I Just finished a really interesting book. “Alone: Britain Churchill and Dunkirk: Defeat into Victory” by Michael Korda. Korda wrote an excellent bio of T.E. Lawrence and several others, but this book is 2/3 history and 1/3 personal memoir.

Korda is the son of Michael Korda, the well-known London and Hollywood set director and nephew of Alexander Korda, the famous director who was married to Merle Oberon (sp). The Korda’s came to London from Hungary in 1919 when Adm. Horthy came to power after WWI. They were close to Churchill and the first-hand accounts are revealing.


Hero of the Empire
By Candice Millard
February 27, 2017

My holiday reading this year is a book my wife gave for Christmas last year and I am just getting to it. It is Hero of the Empire, the true story of Winston Churchill’s capture and escape from captivity during the Boar War. It”s another spellbinder history that reads like fiction by Candice Millard who wrote River of Doubt about Teddy Roosevelt’s near fatal exploration of a remote river in the Amazon.



Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America
By John M. Barry
December 19, 2017

An American epic of science, politics, race, honor, high society, and the Mississippi River, Rising Tide tells the riveting and nearly forgotten story of the greatest natural disaster this country has ever known — the Mississippi flood of 1927. The river inundated the homes of nearly one million people, helped elect Huey Long governor and made Herbert Hoover president, drove hundreds of thousands of blacks north, and transformed American society and politics forever.

Winner of the Francis Parkman Prize for history; a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award and the Lillian Smith Award.

The Gates of Europe
By Serhii Plokhi
December 3, 2017

When I worked in Birmingham, Alabama, we had a sister city, Krasnodon, located in eastern Ukraine, still the site of a hybrid civil war. I have just finished an excellent history of Ukraine from ancient times down to the the present.

Particularly interesting is Ukraine’s effort since 1991 to overcome the history of Russian empire and the Soviet Union to struggle to become truly independent. In my visits to Kiev and eastern Ukraine in the mid-1990’s I saw experienced first hand some of the early manifestations of that – struggles over language and degree of “Russianness” but also oligarchs taking over the economy, but I viewed the Orange Revolution and all that has transpired since from afar.

This book really helps to explain what is going on in Ukraine, and Russia. Recommended.

The Failover File
By Al Haggerty
October 30, 2017

I just read Al Haggerty’s techno-thriller, The Flyover File. Not my normal read, but I couldn’t put it down. It held me on the edge of my chair until the final page. Highly recommended.




The Last of the President’s Men
By Bob Woodward
September 7, 2017

Some stories just have long legs. Some reporters live long enough to follow them. If you thought you knew all there was to know about Richard Nixon, think again. Bob Woodward’s new book “The Last of the President’s Men” about Alex Butterfield (who disclosed the White House taping system) is a really entertaining lead, disclosing never-before-know quirks about the president’s personality, his incredible shyness and insecurity, and long-held hate and rage.

I was on the periphery of all that in those days. I met Nixon four times i think, but only once while he was in office. I was able to tour the Oval Office in his absence. As the regional director for the Economic Development Administration I was in the forefront of his strategy of providing grants to large cities with minority populations. Beyond thinking how politically stupid Watergate was, I felt that his actions destroyed all the good we were doing.

I remember meeting Butterfield’s father, Adm. Horace Butterfield at the the Tacoma Country Club. I remember meeting some of “the president’s men as a part of my work. Those experiences, and the war, began my multi-year process of changing parties. Sometimes today I yearn for the Republican Party of Nixon’s era.

By Henry Kissinger
May 15, 2017


Kissinger’s review of international diplomacy is a deep and abiding analysis of what has happened in the western world since the 17th century and the beginnings of the European balance of power system. Kissinger works toward the modern world of international interactions (his book was published in 1994) and America’s role in forming and then surviving (so far) in this system.

He explains the complex workings of the international order in fundamental terms. For example, discussing the problems at Versailles, “European style diplomacy presumes that national interests have a tendency to clash, and views diplomacy as the means for reconciling them. Wilson, on the other hand, considered international discord the result of ‘clouded thinking,’ not as an expression of a genuine clash of interests.” Knowing this fundamental difference in world views it is much easier to understand the difficulties at Versailles. This book is filled with this critical kind of information. It is also filled with the Kissinger style of thinking. First the overview, then an analysis of the detailed problem keeping the overview always in mind.

Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years 1976-1980
By Craig Shirley
September 8, 2017

I just finished Craig Shirley’s latest book on the Age of Reagan as part of my research on my new book, Congressman Doc Hastings. Reagan influenced Doc to get involved in politics and Doc followed Reagan’s political philosophy to the end of his career.

Shirley is a great storyteller and the book covers the period of time when Doc Hastings was cementing his political philosophy based largely on Reagan’s. Covers the years between his loss to Ford in 1976 and his victory over George HW Bush in 1980.


The World Remade: America in World War I
By G.J. Meyer
October 10, 2017

There has recently been a spate of new books about the run-up to the First World War. The World Remade by British author G. J. Meyer is one of the more interesting because it focuses on America. Interesting also because the basic narrative is interrupted by short vignettes about each of the principal participants.



The Kill List
By Federick Forsyth
September 17, 2017

Just finished a great military thriller. Highly recommend Frederick Forsyth’s new book, “The Kill List.” I really enjoyed it.





Britannia’s Navy on the West Coast of North America, 1812-1914
By Barry Gough
September 2, 2017

For all of my fellow Patrick O’Brien fans on facebook and others interested in the history of the Royal Navy. . . We correctly spend a lot of time following the Royal Navy in the Atlantic and the Med, but little has been written about the history of the RN in the northeast Pacific and the development of their naval base at Esquimalt, BC. On a recent trip to Victoria, I picked up this book and recommend it to all who might be interested.



Derelictin of Duty
By H.R. McMaster
July 29, 2017

I’ve just finished H.R. McMaster’s excellent book on Viet Nam, Dereliction of Duty. I just hope he remembers all of those lessons he wrote about in his present job! (Note: He’s no longer there).




The Silk Roads: A New History of the World
By Peter Frankopan
April 21, 2017

Far more than a history of the Silk Roads, this book is truly a revelatory new history of the world, promising to destabilize notions of where we come from and where we are headed next. From the Middle East and its political instability to China and its economic rise, the vast region stretching eastward from the Balkans across the steppe and South Asia has been thrust into the global spotlight in recent years. Frankopan teaches us that to understand what is at stake for the cities and nations built on these intricate trade routes, we must first understand their astounding pasts. 
Frankopan realigns our understanding of the world, pointing us eastward. It was on the Silk Roads that East and West first encountered each other through trade and conquest, leading to the spread of ideas, cultures and religions. From the rise and fall of empires to the spread of Buddhism and the advent of Christianity and Islam, right up to the great wars of the twentieth century—this book shows how the fate of the West has always been inextricably linked to the East.

Istanbul: City of Majesty at the Crossroads of the World
By Thomas F. Madden
April 2, 2017

If you don’t have anything better to do than to immerse yourself in 2,000 years of the history of this great city, I can recommend this book. Learned a lot linked to the East.




The Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East
By David Fromkin
January 20, 2017

This book is a must-read for a basic understanding of the modern Middle East. It is one of my favorite reads. Five stars! It achieves an ideal of historical writing: its absorbing narrative not only recounts past events but offers a useful way to think about them….The book demands close attention and repays it. Much of the information here was not available until recent decades, and almost every page brings us news about a past that troubles the present.

It is one of the first books to take an effective panoramic view of what was happening, not only in Egypt, Palestine, Turkey, and the Arab regions of Asia but also in Afghanistan and central Asia. The irony of the title will not be lost on the reader.

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