Nonfiction: Tudor England, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, Black Panthers, and Martin Luther King Jr. | Xpress Reviews

Week ending August 1, 2014

Evans, James. Tudor Adventurers: The Voyage of Discovery That Transformed England. Pegasus. Aug. 2014. 400p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781605986111. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781605986135. HIST
Evans, a producer for various BBC documentaries, has written a highly readable exploration of early Tudor attempts to locate the Northeast Passage. The opening chapters move quickly through the complex events at the end of Henry VIII’s reign. Later, the narrative settles on Richard Chancellor’s 1553 expedition, which attempted to discover a sea route to China via the Arctic Ocean. Instead, two of the three ships were lost at sea and the crew of the third found themselves unwelcome guests of Russia’s Ivan III. Evans tries a complex balance between period seafaring, the state of navigation technology, and marine cartography and the challenging events of post-Henrician England. He succeeds fairly well, yet the material appears scattered on at times. The opening chapters, which are often just one or two pages, are short and choppy. The author might have done better to pick one of the historical figures he evokes so well—such as Sebastian Cabot, Richard Chancellor, or Hugh Willoughby—and build his narrative around that story.
Verdict A little loosely strung together but an enjoyable read. Fans of travel narratives and light history reading will enjoy this work.—Hanna Clutterbuck, Harvard Univ. Lib., Cambridge, MA

Ham, Paul. Hiroshima Nagasaki: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and Their Aftermath. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Aug. 2014. 640p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781250047113. $35; ebk. ISBN 9781466847477. HIST
hiroshima080114The debate over the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has waxed and waned over the past 70 years, with strong opinions both for and against. Gar Alperovitz’s 1996 study set the stage for the most recent historiographical investigations, and Ham’s latest survey updates the conversation. This deeply researched narrative is especially valuable for its attention to the daily lives of Japanese individuals who experienced the destruction firsthand. Ham (correspondent, London’s Sunday Times) also provides detailed background on the science behind the development of the atomic weapon and how it came to be used the first time. He asserts that the bombings were an unnecessary exercise in demonstrating American military power, arguing that the Japanese were mostly defeated by a recent economic blockade and an ineffectual army. The Soviet invasion of Japanese Manchuria on August 9, 1945—the same day as the bombing of Nagasaki—and the decision to retain Emperor Hirohito empowered moderates within the Japanese government to believe surrender was a foregone conclusion.
Verdict Ham’s excellent work will serve as the next installment in the ongoing debate. Essential for libraries with military collections as well as casual readers interested in World War II.—Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames

Pharr, Wayne. Nine Lives of a Black Panther: A Story of Survival. Lawrence Hill. 2014. 320p. photos. index. ISBN 9781613749166. pap. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781613749197. SOC SCI
Pharr’s memoir provides a new perspective on the political motivations within and around the Black Panther Party, a socialist organization that rose to prominence in the 1960s. The story begins on December 8, 1969, when the Los Angeles Police Department surrounded the headquarters of the local branch of the Black Panthers. The siege would endure only five hours, but the fallout would last for decades. The author details the characters and conflicts that led up to the standoff including the Watts riots and the street-level protests and attacks that happened in years prior. Pharr, who was the captain of the Los Angeles chapter of the Panthers, frames the history of the party with a blow-by-blow account of the events as he was arrested during the raid. This memoir covers a missing piece of the civil rights struggle and provides a firsthand account of the people and actions of a chapter of the Black Panther Party that has received very little attention.
Verdict The title offers new details on civil rights history and is told in a way that humanizes a group often vilified for its dedication to the struggle. Recommended of all readers interested in contemporary history.—John Rodzvilla, Emerson Coll., Boston

Smiley, Tavis. Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year. Little, Brown. Sept. 2014. 288p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780316332767. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780316332750. HIST
Martin Luther King Jr.’s name is synonymous with his “I Have a Dream” speech and nonviolent philosophy. Talk show host and political commentator Smiley (Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure) sees this as an incomplete portrait of King’s legacy. King challenged the status quo in all areas of society, and his pro-labor and anti–Vietnam War stances have been largely forgotten. Where King was once viewed as a threat to American society, Smiley writes he is now considered an “idealistic dreamer.” The author aims to correct this view by chronicling the last year of King’s life, from April 4, 1967 (when he gave his first antiwar speech) to April 4, 1968 (when he was assassinated). King encountered opposition as his work spread politically and geographically; Smiley believes this opposition allowed him to reach “moral greatness.” Included are interviews from King scholars, friends, and colleagues in order to create a more complete picture. While the book’s goal is noble, Smiley’s style is informal, referring to King as “Doc” and presuming to know what King was thinking during crucial moments of his life. The work is, however, a step in the right direction.
Verdict Ideal for anyone not familiar with King’s political views outside of the civil rights movement.—Jason Martin, Stetson Univ. Lib., DeLand, FL