Book Club Catalogs

If By Sea

On the night of April 18, 1775 Paul Revere and two comrades slipped into a twenty-foot long skiff and stealthily crossed the mouth of the Charles River in Boston. The two men had to drop Revere off on the other side of the river, but the British ship HMS Somerset was nearby, making it a dangerous trip. Revere crossed the river, mounted a horse, and alerted the countryside that the Red Coats were on the move. His mission began on the water.

Today, the United States Navy boasts some of the most sophisticated ships, weapons systems, and bravest of sailors. It is one of the most effective and respected fleets on the globe. But this was not always the case. It wasn’t until after the War of 1812 that our forefathers recognized the importance of a deep-sea force. Prior to this, there was rigorous debate about how large the young nation’s navy should be.

In If By Sea, historian George C. Daughan chronicles the infancy period of the Continental Navy – a period he feels is often overlooked. Daughan recognizes that the Continental Navy was a failure tactically and had little to do with US independence. But he explains that the arguments for and against what John Adams called a “naval power” then, also shaped the extraordinary Navy we have now. And the valor that those early sailors showed rivaled the patriotism of the men and women who serve today.

Daughan compares both sides of the argument and shows how each was attempting to achieve the same goal – keep the US out of war. John Adams and George Washington were staunch supporters of building a navy that would rival the British fleet – a romantic but exciting proposal. The Washington and Adam’s administrations fed much of their federal budgets to naval development, thinking that its existence would keep the British at bay and away from their growing country.

Jefferson felt a strong government was a minimal government, so he strove to create an administration that “shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.” Therefore, the naval budget was slashed. He also felt that a smaller navy would show the world the United States intended to keep the peace. Madison held the same views, but by 1809 tensions between the United States and Britain were high. Then, in 1811 Madison reluctantly acknowledged the need to build a deepwater fleet to prepare for a war with the British. At war’s end, Madison’s position changed — he recognized the need to be prepared prior to conflict.

If By Sea is terrific insight into a seldom-studied period in America’s rich, and often turbulent, history. Realizing the need for a text on this subject and the need to give credit to our first sailors, Daughan does a great job at connecting the Navy’s existence in the first years of our nation to its excellence today.

Iroquois Diplomacy on the Early American Frontier

In 1710 two British colonels, Francis Nicholson and Peter Schuyler, brought four Iroquois Indians to London to meet Queen Anne. Receiving much fanfare, the visitors were treated to a showing of Macbeth, toured the Tower of London, and celebrated ceremonies at St. Paul’s Cathedral. The colonels hoped the Queen would impress the Iroquois and the Indians would do the same. In addition, Nicholson and Schuyler hoped both would support their plan to conquer Canada, a nearly impossible goal without Iroquois approval. The Iroquois asked for a missionary, which would counter the French-Catholic missionaries currently affecting Iroquois population.

The Iroquois are generally known as fierce warriors who took part in the French and Indian war and lived in longhouses. But it was their ability to negotiate with the various nations impeding on their land that made them a powerful and influential group in colonial America.  When other Native American groups were being broken up and forced to become refugees of their own land, Iroquois were cutting deals and increasing their prominence.

Both Americans and Europeans had to learn what Benjamin Franklin called “Native American Diplomacy” if they were to get along with the Iroquois.  It was imperative to observe and practice the rituals and use the ceremonial objects their very different negotiations required. Colonial Americans and Europeans held treaty conferences with the Iroquois. While the Americans and Europeans held the documents signed as binding, the Iroquois saw the display of rituals as binding. The Indians had seen written agreements broken too many times to trust pen and paper. Practices, such as a linking of the arms, were a guarantee that the present parties would always negotiate with one another.

Iroquois Diplomacy on the Early American Frontier by Timothy J. Shannon is a concise examination of the background of the Iroquois and their League, the early relationship the Iroquois had with the French and the Dutch, the alliance the Iroquois had with the English, the diplomatic path the Iroquois followed in the 17th and 18th centuries, the ability the Iroquois had to pit the French and English against one another, the breaking of the Iroquois union during the American Revolution, and the destruction of their lands and their upheaval to the reserves.

Shannon uses colorful details and well-constructed characters, combined with easy-to-read prose to introduce us to, and give us a better understanding of the Iroquois. He brings to light and nullifies many of the misconceptions we have of the Iroquois. And he gives justice to a people who were strong, both in battles and negotiations, who lived on American land long before Europeans arrived, and who later helped shape the future of the new American nation.

Iwo Jima: World War II Veterans Remember the Greatest Battle of the Pacific

On the morning of February 19, 1945 seventy thousand US Marines from three divisions and twenty-two thousand Japanese soldiers prepared to fight to the death for control of the small, volcanic island Iwo Jima… meaning “Sulfur Island.” By the end of the campaign, twenty eight thousand Marines and Japanese were killed and sixteen thousand were injured.

There were many famous battle sites during this assault, but the battle for Mount Suribachi has become legendary. After four days of fighting, six men ascended the mountain and planted an American flag attached to a twenty-foot long water pipe in the ground. Soldiers cheered and ships sounded in celebration. A few hours later a second team of six men planted another, larger flag. Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal captured the image of the second flag raising, an image that has become one of the most famous of World War II.

Iwo Jima by Larry Smith chronicles those thirty-six bloody days, considered one of the deadliest US triumphs.  Using the stories of living veterans who fought, including the stories of Charles Lindberg, the last surviving flag raiser, Smith brings to life one of the most memorable and tragic events in military history.

Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East

“The Middle East, if I may adopt a term which I have not seen, will some day need its Malta, as well as its Gibraltar; it does not follow that either will be in the Gulf. Naval force has the quality of mobility which carries with it the privilege of temporary absences; but it needs to find on every scene of operation established bases of refit, of supply, and in case of disaster, security. The British Navy should have the facility to concentrate in force, if occasion arise, about Aden, India, and the Gulf.”

These words, spoken by American Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, in his 1902 article that appeared in a British publication called The National Review, were prophetic.  Not only was this the first time this volatile region was referred to as the Middle East, but it also foreshadowed the events that would take place in this region for the century to follow.  They foreshadowed the events that are unfolding there today.  And they foreshadow events that are likely to occur there for years to come.

The Middle Eastern countries are Cyprus, parts of Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, and all of the countries in the Arabian peninsula[1]. Almost every day stories about this unstable area permeate the morning paper and nightly newscast. War… religion… culture…politics, all topics that enter our minds when we think of the massive region few of us truly know.  But it should come as no surprise that the Middle East and its current affairs are important now, were important when the term was coined, and will be important far into the future.

In KingMakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East authors Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac carry us through the major events that created the Middle East we recognize today.  Meyer and Brysac explain why the Middle East has been a strategically important stretch of land. At first, the Middle East was seen as the best way from Europe to the Far East and control of these trading routes was essential.  Later, the area was coveted for its proximity to the Suez Canal.  And more recently its significance has increased because of its vast oil fields.

Kingmakers examines the lives of the Americans and Brits who built, molded, and influenced the Middle East, including Sir Arnold Talbot Winslow, the British military man responsible for creating the original territorial lines in Iraq.  We’re also introduced to Paul Wolfowitz, the Washington insider largely responsible for the United States’ decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

Meyer and Shareen’s Kingmakersdoes a wonderful job of bringing an understanding to the mindset of those who live in the Middle East and those who continuously intervene in Middle Eastern affairs.

Samuel Adams: A Life

In late September 1777, American revolutionaries were loosing confidence in their ability to defeat England and gain their independence.  British soldiers controlled New York City, Fort Ticonderoga, and Philadelphia. Members of Congress were forced to flee from Philadelphia to York. Once in York, a skeleton crew of Congressmen gathered to discuss their fate. John Adams described the mood of the time as “Gloomy, dark, melancholy, and dispiriting.”

Samuel Adams, John’s cousin, sought to reverse the current mood when he stood before his fellow congressmen at this meeting and gave this inspiring speech:

“Let us awaken then, and evince a different spirit – a spirit that shall inspire the people with confidence in themselves and in us – a spirit that will encourage them to persevere in this glorious struggle, until their rights and liberties shall be established on a rock. We have proclaimed to the world our determination to ‘die freemen, rather than live as slaves.’ We have appealed to Heaven for the justice of our cause, and in Heaven we have placed our trust. Numerous have been the manifestations of God’s providence in sustaining us. In the gloomy period of adversity, we have had ‘our cloud by day and pillar of fire by night.’ We have been reduced to distress, and the arm of Omnipotence has raised us up. Let us still rely in humble confidence on Him who is mighty to save. Good tidings will soon arrive. We shall never be abandoned by Heaven while we act worthy of its aid and protection.”

Adams’s rousing words assured the delegates that their mission was still worth fighting because God supported their cause, a principle Samuel Adams lived by daily.

Samuel Adams is often forgotten among the many famous forefathers of the United States of America. Washington led the Continental Army. Jefferson wrote the Declaration. Franklin brokered the French allegiance. But in June 1775 British general Thomas Gage offered amnesty to all revolutionaries who laid down their arms – all except John Hancock and Samuel Adams.

In Samuel Adams: A Life, author Ira Stoll chronicles the major events in Samuel Adams’s prominent life, from his days as a pupil at Boston Latin School to his final days as Governor of Massachusetts.  Adams held that the laws of God and nature are guaranteed to all mankind; they take precedence over the laws of the King; and no man has the right to take those inherent laws from another.  This was Adams’s reason and justification for defying the crown and fighting for independence. But these convictions were rooted in many of the decisions Samuel Adams made throughout his career.

Stoll exposes a Samuel Adams that many have forgotten: A man of integrity, faith, and fortitude. A leader Thomas Jefferson said was “truly the Man of the Revolution.”


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