History, from America’s First War Correspondents to the Trial of a Khmer Rouge Prison Officer | Nonfiction Previews, Apr. 2014, Pt. 1

Brown, Frederick. The Embrace of Unreason: France, 1914–1940. Knopf. Apr. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9780307595157. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385351638. HISTORY
Ah, France, home of the Enlightenment, where art, reason, and humanist tradition reign. In fact, Brown, a distinguished cultural historian (e.g., Flaubert, a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist) here shows how these ideals collapsed in the wake of World War I, replaced by xenophobia, militarism, authoritarian belief, and, perhaps more benignly, trust in instinct over the rational. And then look what happened. It’s an eye-opener, Francophiles.

Cruvellier, Thierry. The Master of Confessions. Ecco. Mar. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9780062329547. $27.95. HISTORY/POLITICAL IDEOLOGY
In the past 17 years, journalist Cruvellier has undertaken to attend every trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity in tribunals worldwide—among them, the trial of a man named Duch, chief prison officer of S21, the central prison complex in Democratic Kampuchea, as Pol Pot renamed Cambodia. Alone among senior Khmer Rouge, Duch acknowledged his guilt and begged for forgiveness. Cruvellier’s account of Cambodia’s darkest period, as unfolded through Duch’s trial, will be painful but important reading. Just added to this schedule (note the March 2014 pub date).

Morris, Ian. War! What Is It Good For?: Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots. Farrar. Apr. 2014. 592p. ISBN 9780374286002. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780374711030. HISTORY/MILITARY
Stanford classics and history professor Morris will set some teeth on edge with his argument that war has been good for society. His evidence: Stone Age people, who lived in constantly feuding little bunches, had as much as a one-in-five chance of dying violently while in the 20th century, fewer than one in 100 individuals died violently, the Holocaust and Hiroshima notwithstanding. The reason: war has led to more complex societies that have squelched internal violence. Surprising connections here; definitely up for discussion, especially in conjunction with Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature.

Morris, Seymour, Jr. Supreme Commander: MacArthur’s Triumph in Japan. Harper. Apr. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780062287939 $26.99. HISTORY
When Gen. Douglas MacArthur was appointed Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers and charged with transforming conquered, militaristic Japan into a thriving democracy, he came ashore unarmed despite a recent attempt on the emperor’s life and made sure a photo taken with the emperor was disseminated worldwide to show America’s cooperative stance. Morris’s account emphasizes how well MacArthur succeeded despite a complete lack of training in politics or economics, and the book is pitched as offering lessons about effective occupation at a time when we have stumbled in Iraq. With a 75,000-copy first printing.

Patton, Robert H. Hell Before Breakfast: America’s First War Correspondents Making History and Headlines, from the Battlefields of the Civil War to the Far Reaches of the Ottoman Empire. Pantheon. Apr. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780307377210. $28.95. HISTORY
The years 1860–1910, between the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, proved to be a glorious time for American war correspondents, who broke stories from the edges of civilization worldwide. Despite the bloodiness, an air of romanticism hung over the proceedings. These correspondents, e.g., Henry Villard and John Russell Young of the New York Herald, and George Smalley and Holt White of the New York Tribune, are mostly forgotten today. Distinguished historian Patton (yes, he’s written about his grandfather, Gen. George S. Patton, among other topics) resurrects the individuals and the era.

van Reybrouck, David. Congo: The Epic History of a People. Ecco. Apr. 2014. 656p. ISBN 9780062200112 $29.99. HISTORY
Ranging from trade in slaves to trade in ivory, rubber, and minerals, from the horrors of King Leopold II’s regime, the battle for independence, and Mobutu rule to the current civil war, Brussels-based reporter/playwright/poet van Reybrouck offers a history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that has become an international best seller. Important points: the country’s extraordinary resources have often led to exploitation, hurting rather than help the people; and China is an important new presence on the Congo’s playing field.


Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @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.