The best books that make history live and breathe

Why am I passionate about this?

History has enthralled me from a very young age, drawn as a child as I was to Vikings, cowboys and Indians, medieval knights, ancient conquerors, and mythological gods. After practicing law in Boston for 38 years, I retired to write history full time, not to string dates and facts together in a powder-dry mix but to try to breathe life into the vibrant men and women who enlivened their times and can shed a timeless light on the challenges of ours. Hard work though it is, I have never been so satisfied with life.

I wrote...

The Devils Will Get No Rest: FDR, Churchill, and the Plan That Won the War

By James B. Conroy,

Book cover of The Devils Will Get No Rest: FDR, Churchill, and the Plan That Won the War

What is my book about?

At the turning point of World War Two, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and their deeply divided high command met in secret in an active Moroccan war zone, bombed by the Luftwaffe only days before, to contrive an offensive strategy. Churchill called it the most important Allied conclave of the war. For ten contentious days, the larger-than-life leaders of the Anglo-American alliance – Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall, Eisenhower, Patton, Mountbatten, Alexander, and others – questioned each other’s judgment, doubted each other’s vision, and argued their way to a war-winning plan. Published by Simon and Schuster, The Devils Will Get No Rest, the first full account of the Casablanca Conference of January 1943, is the character-driven story of how they did it.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of War Diaries 1939-1945

James B. Conroy Why did I love this book?

I have read many military diaries in my research on World War II, and none are more enthralling than this. Lieutenant General Alan Brooke (Colonel Shrapnel, a subordinate called him) was Britain’s complicated Chief of the Imperial General Staff from November 1941 through the final victory.

From cover to cover, the diary he kept in the form of a chat with his wife “My evening talk with you on paper” – enlightened and often moved me with Brooke’s unique insights about the perilous course of the war and his intimate, unfiltered observations and typically caustic opinions about his legendary British, French, and American colleagues, Winston Churchill memorably among them.

I know of no more candid, heartfelt exposure of the burdens, rewards, and personal challenges of high command in wartime.

By Alanbrooke (editor), Alex Danchev (editor), Daniel Todman (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked War Diaries 1939-1945 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For most of the Second World War, General Sir Alan Brooke (1883-1963), later Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, was Britain's Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) and Winston Churchill's principal military adviser, and antagonist, in the inner councils of war. He is commonly considered the greatest CIGS in the history of the British Army. His diaries--published here for the first time in complete and unexpurgated form--are one of the most important and the most controversial military diaries of the modern era. The last great chronicle of the Second World War, they provide a riveting blow-by-blow account of how the war…

Book cover of Wolf Hall

James B. Conroy Why did I love this book?

A longtime diet of tasty historical novels having left me entertained and lazy, my first look at volume one of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy on Thomas Cromwell, a blacksmith’s son who rose to precarious power as King Henry VIII’s ruthless fixer and lost his head for his trouble, was not a case of love at first sight.

It is not a passive read. For me, it took a second trip to Chapter One to discover that Wolf Hall is a work of art. Given the focus it deserves, it brings to vivid life a terrifying world of 16th-century intrigue and proto-totalitarianism, densely populated with scheming complex characters and treacherous maneuvers.

I found it artfully wrought, beautifully written, worthy of its Booker Prize, and brewed to be sipped, not gulped.

By Hilary Mantel,

Why should I read it?

20 authors picked Wolf Hall as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Man Booker Prize Shortlisted for the the Orange Prize Shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award

`Dizzyingly, dazzlingly good' Daily Mail

'Our most brilliant English writer' Guardian

England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey's clerk, and later his successor.

Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with…

Book cover of The Remains of the Day

James B. Conroy Why did I love this book?

The perfect Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson film Remains of the Day is faithfully based on the brilliant Booker Prize winning novel of the same name by a Japanese-British Nobel Prize winner.

Set in the English mansion of a rich American expatriate, narrated by his deluded and repressed British butler, the book tells the story of German and British influencers who gather in the late 1930s in an effort to help avert war, genuine in the case of the wishfully thinking British, pretended in the case of the calculating Germans.

Its captivating prose kept me glued to the page, its fascinating characters and their hidden thoughts and motives even more so. I read it on an ocean cruise and all but ignored the ocean. 

By Kazuo Ishiguro,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked The Remains of the Day as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*Kazuo Ishiguro's new novel Klara and the Sun is now available to preorder*

The Remains of the Day won the 1989 Booker Prize and cemented Kazuo Ishiguro's place as one of the world's greatest writers. David Lodge, chairman of the judges in 1989, said, it's "a cunningly structured and beautifully paced performance". This is a haunting evocation of lost causes and lost love, and an elegy for England at a time of acute change. Ishiguro's work has been translated into more than forty languages and has sold millions of copies worldwide.

Stevens, the long-serving butler of Darlington Hall, embarks on…

Book cover of Masters of the Air: How The Bomber Boys Broke Down the Nazi War Machine

James B. Conroy Why did I love this book?

I have read many excellent books about World War Two, but none has kept me shaking my head in awe like this stunning account of the decisive US bombing campaign against Germany. Masters of the Air is an intensely personal account of the impossibly brave men and boys – for boys they often were – who bombed Nazi Germany into defeat.

Most of them by far were wounded, killed, or imprisoned, often in appalling conditions, after bailing out of plunging aircraft. It is hard to imagine a more moving account of tenacious courage and unimaginable stress or a more thorough, intriguing presentation of the air war over Germany.

I could not get enough of this vivid, inspiring book.

By Donald L. Miller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Masters of the Air as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Seconds after Brady's plane was hit, the Hundredth's entire formation was broken up and scattered by swarms of single-engine planes, and by rockets launched by twin-engine planes that flew parallel'

Meet the Flying Fortresses of the American Eighth Air Force, Britain's Lancaster comrades, who helped to bring down the Nazis

Historian and World War II expert Donald Miller brings us the story of the bomber boys who brought the war to Hitler's doorstep. Unlike ground soldiers they slept on clean beds, drank beer in local pubs, and danced to the swing music of the travelling Air Force bands. But they…

Book cover of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

James B. Conroy Why did I love this book?

In researching and writing my book about our third president, I revisited Jon Meacham’s masterly portrait of the man and rediscovered its many rewards, steeped as it is in the subtleties of Jefferson’s character, the brilliance of his mind, and his unsurpassed contributions to our country’s democratic foundations, despite his disappointing flaws and missed opportunities.

I have always found Meacham’s peerless prose and storytelling skills a worthy match for his perceptive insights. If I could recommend just one book about Jefferson (excluding my own, of which I have positive opinions), it would be his. 

By Jon Meacham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Thomas Jefferson as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The New York Times Book Review • The Washington Post • Entertainment Weekly • The Seattle Times • St. Louis Post-Dispatch • Bloomberg Businessweek

In this magnificent biography, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of American Lion and Franklin and Winston brings vividly to life an extraordinary man and his remarkable times. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power gives us Jefferson the politician and president, a great and complex human being forever engaged in the wars of his era. Philosophers think; politicians maneuver. Jefferson’s genius was that he was both and could…

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Magical Disinformation

By Lachlan Page,

Book cover of Magical Disinformation

Lachlan Page Author Of Magical Disinformation

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I lived in Latin America for six years, working as a red cross volunteer, a volcano hiking guide, a teacher, and an extra in a Russian TV series (in Panama). Having travelled throughout the region and returning regularly, I’m endlessly fascinated by the culture, history, politics, languages, and geography. Parallel to this, I enjoy reading and writing about the world of international espionage. Combining the two, and based on my own experience, I wrote my novel, Magical Disinformation, a spy novel set in Colombia. While there is not a huge depth of spy novels set in Latin America, I’ve chosen five of my favourites spy books set in the region.

Lachlan's book list on spy books set in Latin America

What is my book about?

This book is a spy novel with a satirical edge which will take you on a heart-pumping journey through the streets, mountains, jungles, and beaches of Colombia. Our Man in Havana meets A Clear and Present Danger.

Magical Disinformation

By Lachlan Page,

What is this book about?

In the era of ‘fake news’ in the land of magical realism, fiction can be just as dangerous as the truth... Discover Lachlan Page’s Magical Disinformation: a spy novel with a satirical edge set amongst the Colombian peace process. Described by one reviewer as “Our Man in Havana meets A Clear and Present Danger.”

Oliver Jardine is a spy in Colombia, enamoured with local woman Veronica Velasco.

As the Colombian government signs a peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas, Her Majesty’s Government decides a transfer is in order to focus on more pertinent theatres of operation.

In a desperate attempt…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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