Biography from Joan of Arc & George Marshall to Stalin & Goebbels | Barbara’s Nonfiction Picks, Oct. 2014, Pt. 1

Auricchio, Laura. The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered. Knopf. Oct. 2014. 416p. ISBN 9780307267559. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385353243. BIOGRAPHY
Americans know the Marquis de Lafayette as the French hero of the American Revolution who at age 19 volunteered to fight under George Washington and subsequently negotiated marquisincreased French support that went a long way toward winning the war. But there’s more to him than that, as evidenced by this biography from Auricchio, an 18th-century French history specialist. Auricchio draws on new research, including use of newspapers and pamphlets of the day, to paint a portrait of the National Guard commander who tried to steer a moderate course between revolutionaries and monarchists during the French Revolution and ended up having to flee. Note that Lafayette’s 1780 journey back from France with support and troops will be re-created in 2015 on a specially built replica of his ship, L’Hermione.

Gwynne, S.C. Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson. Scribner. Oct. 2014. 640p. ISBN 9781451673289. $35. HISTORY/CIVIL WAR
Because Gwynne did well with Empire of the Summer Moon, a New York Times best seller and Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle finalist that chronicled Comanche resistance to white settlers, we can expect good things from this account of Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s rise to prominence during the Civil War. Jackson’s successful strategies seriously undermined the Union army and made him both symbol and source of hope for the South and its Lost Cause. Gwynne focuses on Jackson’s wartime career, ending with his death in 1863 at the Battle of Chancellorsville, but adds personal as well as military detail. With an eight-city tour to Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Dallas, Jackson (MS), New York, Oxford (MS), and Washington, DC.

Harrison, Kathryn. Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured. Doubleday. Oct. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780385531207. $27.95. BIOGRAPHY
Best known for her pointedly vivid and feminist fiction (e.g., Thicker Than Water, joanofarcEnchantments) and eye-opening memoirs (e.g., The Kiss, a memoir of incest that Christopher Lehmann-Haupt called “appalling but beautifully written”), and an admired book critic as well, Harrison here offers a biography of Jeanne D’Arc that the publishers bill appropriately as “for our time.” Given her success in rallying the French and their weak king against the invading British in 1428, it pays to ask whether the legend-shrouded Joan was inspired, insane, or perhaps a notable example of unshakable moral conviction.

Johnson, Paul. Eisenhower: A Life. Viking. Sept. 2014. 144p. ISBN 9780670016822. $25.95. BIOGRAPHY
Johnson has a way of turning out New York Times best sellers on a range of historical subjects, from Churchill to Christianity. His biography of Dwight D. Eisenhower sensibly focuses on Eisenhower’s leadership of the Allied forces during World War II and his years as President, particularly his stance against isolationism, uneasy relationship with Vice President Richard M. Nixon, and careful handling of the Cold War, McCarthyism, and the civil rights movement. A brief portrait that shows us what Eisenhower has to say to us now.

Kotkin, Stephen. Stalin. Vol. 1: Paradoxes of Power, 1878–1928. Penguin Pr. Oct. 2014. 912p. ISBN 9781594203794. $40. BIOGRAPHY
Former director of Princeton’s Russian and Eurasian Studies program and now John P. Kotkin.StalinBirkelund Professor in History and International Affairs at Princeton as well as vice dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, Kotkin has been researching his magisterial biography of Stalin for a decade. Here we have only the first volume—densely descriptive reading at nearly 1000 pages and both starting and ending in the crucial year of 1928 with Stalin heading to Siberia as he plans to launch the collectivization of agriculture and industry that would utterly transform—and traumatize—Soviet society. Inescapably important reading.

Larson, Edward. The Return of George Washington: How the United States Was Reborn. Morrow. Oct. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780062248671. $29.99. HISTORY
Commander in chief of the Continental army. First President of the United States. Truth teller about setting axe to cherry tree. We know so much about George Washington, but perhaps less than we ought to about his role during the Constitutional Convention, called because the Articles of Confederation didn’t have the power to create a cohesive national policy and manage debt. Washington was called out of retirement to preside over the convention, a move that eventually led to his presidency. Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Larson, currently inaugural Scholar in Residence at the newly opened George Washington Presidential Library, tells the story.

Longerich, Peter. Goebbels: A Biography. Random. Oct. 2014.1024p.  tr. from German by Alan Bance & others. ISBN 9781400067510. $40. BIOGRAPHY
The very name Joseph Goebbels rightly sends shivers down the spine; as Hitler’s minister of propaganda, he was crucial not simply in supporting but in actively delivering National Socialism’s murderous message. Professor of Modern German History at Royal Holloway University of London and founder of its Holocaust Research Centre, Longerich draws on Goebbels’s diaries (while looking behind the propagandist’s self-propaganda) to paint the portrait of a self-centered and manipulative fawner (and satyr, too)  who helped bring death to millions because he craved approval.

McPherson, James. Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief. Penguin Pr. Oct. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781594204975. $32.95. BIOGRAPHY
Had the South won the Civil War, the country would have been sundered and the awful institution of slavery maintained; its losing left the region isolated and poor. Either way, Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, does not look good. Here, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom aims to put Davis in a different light as an exemplary military commander, whatever the cause or outcome, who actively engaged with marshallGen. Robert E. Lee in the planning of strategy as he delegated nonmilitary issues to subordinates.

Unger, Irwin & Debi Unger with Stanley Hirshson. George Marshall: An Interpretive Biography. Harper. Oct. 2014. 544p. ISBN 9780060577193. $35. BIOGRAPHY
Queens College history professor Hirshson, the author of numerous biographies, was just starting this biography when he died in 2003. His work was taken up by Irwin Unger, a professor emeritus at New York University who won a Pulitzer Prize in History, and journalist Debi Unger, his frequent collaborator. The book ranges from George Marshall’s childhood and early military training to his service as chief of staff of the U.S. Army from 1939 to 1945 and his vital role in helping to rebuild Europe in his postwar position as secretary of state.

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.