What We’re Reading: Napoleon and a Coup in Iran

Weekly reviews of what's on our bookshelves.

What We’re Reading: Underpopulation and Familiar Food

Appetite for America By Stephen Fried When I was in my 20s, I frequently had to make overnight runs to get somewhere by early morning. Often these were places I had never been before, and during several points I needed to slam down some calories and have two cups of coffee. Local restaurants were closed and those open after midnight were dicey, plus I had no time for a knife fight. What was known to me, what was open, and what was likely safe was Waffle House (most of my trips were in the South). There, surly elderly women fed me. Years later, my now wife and I would, when we got the urge to eat, go to an IHOP, whose Swedish Pancakes with (I believe) boysenberry jam were a sensual delight — alas abandoned by them today. All of this began with a man named Fred Harvey. Harvey did two remarkable things in the 19th century. First, he created a vast chain of restaurants to serve the American West. Second, he staffed them with young women. In the U.S., and many parts of Europe in those days, a waitress was said to be available for rent or lease. Harvey, […]

What We’re Reading: Pandemics and EU-Mexico Ties

Weekly reviews of what's on our bookshelves.

What We’re Reading: Empires Past and Present

The Mantle of Command By Nigel Hamilton Historical works about the early phases of World War II are frequently dominated by the personal relationship of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. The short version of that relationship is that the two had an excellent working relationship despite their massive egos and that the countries they led had compatible war goals. Nigel Hamilton’s “The Mantle of Command” paints a very different picture. The relationship was cordial but mistrustful, and their goals at the beginning of the war were wildly incompatible. Churchill wanted to save the British Empire. Roosevelt wanted to break the empire and replace it with independent liberal democracies. These goals, regardless of whether they were achieved, necessitated very different strategies. After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese sent their fleet into the Indian Ocean, wreaking havoc on the Royal Navy there and creating an opportunity to conquer India. The Japanese were pressing overland from Burma and raising an Indian army from a mass of captured soldiers. The American solution, in keeping with its strategy, was to urge the British to allow the Indians to govern themselves immediately, with the promise of independence after the war, and to recruit the Indians to defend […]

What We’re Reading: U.S.-Mexico Migration and Destructive Fast Fashion

Beyond Borders: A History of Mexican Migration to the United States Timothy J. Henderson “Beyond Borders” chronicles the history of the ebb and flow of Mexican migration into the United States starting from the turn of the 20th century to 2010. While a great deal has happened since publication in 2011, the book presents a solid overview of the major movements and drivers leading up to the present day. Henderson avoids any general discussion of the migration phenomenon and instead opts to jump directly into the U.S.-Mexico case. He focuses on the push-pull dynamic inherent in the relationship, where not only does the United States need to offer an incentive (usually higher wages) to attract migrants, but also there must be reasons prompting Mexicans to want to leave their homeland in the first place (usually lack of economic opportunity). On the whole, Mexican migration centers on the United States, while for Washington Mexican migration is just part of a larger trend and national debate about immigration. Though this often means thinking about the United States as having the upper hand in the relationship, Henderson emphasizes two occasions – the two world wars – in which the U.S. economy so desperately needed workers […]

What We’re Reading: The War That Made Americans and Cold War...

Braddock’s Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution David L. Preston Gen. Edward Braddock was a British commander in what was called the French and Indian War, a subset of the Seven Years’ War, which pitted England and France against each other and then drew in the rest of Europe. In the United States the war was between the French, who wanted to drive the English out of North America, and the English, who wanted to do the same to the French by driving them and their Indian allies west, cross the Appalachians and cease the French holding in the Louisiana Territory. The war was fought between 1754 and 1763, roughly paralleling the Seven Years’ War (1756-63). The most important outcome of the French and Indian War was not the result itself but its creation of the American people. Until then, the colonists in North America regarded themselves as English. In the south in particular, the settlers had sought to create an English life and social order. George Washington’s grandfather was a failed English gentleman, trapped in the religious wars that had raged there. He came to North America to start a new life, acquiring a […]