Nonfiction Previews, Pt. 2: From the Mississippi to Sarajevo 1914 to the Harlem Renaissance

Bernstein, Arnie. Swastika Nation: Fritz Kuhn and the Rise and Fall of the German-American Bund. St. Martin’s. Sept. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9781250006714. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250036445. HISTORY
It’s startling to learn that the German-American Bund was a powerful fifth column in late 1930s America, determined to establish a fascist dictatorship. Just as startling is the unusual mix of people who countered its evil designs, including politicians, an ambitious lawyer, an equally ambitious newspaperman, and members of the criminal underworld. Adding a personal note to a story that remains relevant, Bernstein became interested in the American Nazi movement as a high school student when neo-Nazis threatened to march through his town.

Cope, Tim. On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads. Bloomsbury USA, dist. by Macmillan. Sept. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9781608190720. $28. HISTORY/TRAVEL
It’s been nearly a millennium since Genghis Khan rode out of northern Mongolia and conquered much of Eurasia. So Cope, an Australian filmmaker/speaker also described as a professional adventurer (I love that), decided that it was time to retrace the great khan’s steps. Starting in the ancient capital of Mongolia, he traveled 6,000 miles by horseback to the Danube River in Hungary, arriving three years later. Here’s one exciting way to understand history—not to mention the varied people of Eurasia, our bond with nature, and the consequences of Soviet rule.

Guardiola-Rivera, Oscar. Story of a Death Foretold: The Coup Against Allende, 9/11/73. Bloomsbury, dist. by Macmillan. Sept. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781608198962. $30. HISTORY
In 1970, Salvador Allende was elected president of Chile despite resistance from the Nixon administration and, reportedly, covert efforts by the CIA to assure his defeat. In 1973, he was overthrown in a bloody coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Forty years later, Guardiola-Rivera, a senior lecturer in law at Birkbeck College, University of London, who writes frequently (and edgily) about Latin American philosophy, law, and politics, chronicles the coup and its long-term consequences. Sobering reading as Latin America continues to redefine itself, often in opposition to First World expectations.

Hicks, Pamela. Daughter of Empire: My Life as a Mountbatten. S. & S. Sept. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9781476733814. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781476733838. BIOGRAPHY
Her grandmother was a princess versed in naval law, her great aunt was a tsarina, her parents served as the last viceroy and vicereine of India, her childhood pets included a lion and a mongoose (not together), her family’s household guests ranged from Winston Churchill to Douglas Fairbanks, and she was lady-in-waiting to Princess Elizabeth when she became queen. The mere description of the life of Lady Pamela Hicks, younger daughter of Lord Louis and Edwina Mountbatten, sounds fascinating; think how much fun the book could be.

Jackson, Kevin. Constellation of Genius: 1922; Modernism Year One. Farrar. Sept. 2013. 544p. ISBN 9780374128982. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780374710330. HISTORY
Bookended by the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses and T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland and encompassing the death of Proust, the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the emergence of Charlie Chapin, Hitchcock’s directorial debut, and Louis Armstrong’s arrival in Chicago, 1922 was not your average year. British author/journalist Jackson profiles what Ezra Pound called Year One of a new era. Delicious topic.

Kaplan, Carla. Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance. Harper: HarperCollins. Sept. 2013. 512p. ISBN 9780060882389. $28.99. HISTORY
Miss Anne refers not to a single individual but collectively to the white women who participated in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Considered scandalous by whites and disdained by some blacks, these women were often high-society types and certainly of high intellect; they included Nancy Cunard, Fannie Hurst, and Annie Nathan Meyer, founder of Barnard College, among others now little known. Davis Distinguished Professor of American Literature at Northeastern University and the author of considerable work about modernism, women’s and African American history, and race relations (including the well-received Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters), Kaplan surely looks like the woman to write this book. With a 50,000-copy first printing.

King, Greg & Sue Woolmans. The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance That Changed the World. St. Martin’s. Sept. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9781250000163. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250038678. HISTORY
Popular historian King (e.g., The Court of the Last Tsar) and BBC manager Woolmans, also a royal historian, present an intriguing argument regarding the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which precipitated World War I. Flouting the wishes of the emperor and the court, the archduke married for love, and reactionaries feared that he would seek to modernize the lumbering Austro-Hungarian Empire when he inherited it. So, say the authors, he was sent to Sarajevo, upstart outpost of the empire, where revolutionary violence was anticipated—and delivered. I’m awaiting the supporting evidence, drawn from little-used primary sources and interviews with Hapsburg descendants.

Mitter, Rana. Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937–1945. Houghton. Sept. 2013. 416p. ISBN 9780618894253. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780547840567. HISTORY
Mitter, an Oxford professor of modern Chinese history, draws on newly available material from Chinese archives to give readers a better understanding of China’s role as a leading ally with the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union during World War II. Starting in 1937, with the first major confrontation between China and Japan, Mitter traces a history of brutal invasion, bitter resistance, and political machination while highlighting three key individuals: Chiang Kai-shek, Mao Zedong, and Wang Jingwei. For anyone interested in World War II or the rise of China.

Schneider, Paul. Old Man River: The Mississippi River in North American History. Holt. Sept. 2013. 416p. ISBN 9780805091366. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780805098365. HISTORY
“Ol’ Man River” (as the immortal Kern/Hammerstein song calls it) has been rolling along for millennia, and Schneider (The Adirondacks) here starts with its geologic origins somewhere in the mists of time. From the Paleolithic tribes that sailed its waters 15,000 years ago, to French and Spanish exploration and Civil War battles, to its role today as the world’s busiest waterway, here’s the story of how the Mississippi has shaped America—and the world. Not just for heartlands readers.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.