It is with much reluctance that I am obliged to look upon him as a man whose mind is warped by prejudice and so blinded by ignorance as to be unfit for the office he holds… John Adams

He is vain, irritable and a bad calculator of the force and probable effect of the motives which govern men… Thomas Jefferson

With that exchange of pleasantries we have the last candid – if not honest – opinions expressed by one another of our second and third presidents until the end of the 19th century when Theodore Roosevelt would opine of Jefferson that he was, Perhaps the most incapable executive that ever filled the presidential chair… it would be difficult to imagine a man less fit to guide the state with honor and safety through the stormy times that marked the opening of the present century.

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While the autobiographies of politicians may be largely dismissed as self-serving exercises in personal aggrandizement biographies written by scholars are often a little harder to judge. This is particularly true when you have a polarizing figure like Jefferson who has long had both opinions and actions attributed to him that are dubious in their authenticity leaving both the subject and the biographer suspect as to motive, action and result.

Burstein’s latest offering takes Jefferson’s correspondence at face value and credits it with revealing the man – as for us we believe that a man may smile, and smile, and be a villain…

The inner Jefferson : portrait of a grieving optimist Andrew Burstein Charlottesville : University Press of Virginia, 1995 Hardcover. 1st ed. xx, 334 p. : ill. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 293-325) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Thomas Jefferson’s personal life has always been a puzzle to biographers. Even his contemporaries found him difficult to know. In Jefferson’s correspondence, however, Burstein has found a key to the inner man. This penetrating and thoughtful portait confronts widespread misunderstandings about Jefferson’s romantic life and provides insight into the contradictions that still surround our third president.

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Humility must be the measure of a man whose success was bought with the blood of his subordinates, and paid for with the lives of his friends… General Dwight D. Eisenhower

William R. Wilson (right) and brother Cpl. Jack Wilson (left) standing by a German 88 mm gun at Verdun, France on VE Day

William R. Wilson (right) and brother Cpl. Jack Wilson (left) standing by a German 88 mm gun at Verdun, France on VE Day

An end of war : fatal final days to VE Day, 1945 Ken Tout Stroud : History Press, 2011 Hardcover. 1st ed. 249 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., maps ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 223-234) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

After D-Day in 1944 British troops in Normandy had been encouraged to believe that the war would be over by Christmas of that year. The German army in Normandy had indeed been destroyed but by Christmas the Allies were still fighting through Holland, whilst the Germans had reorganised and were ready to fight back.

Tout, using his own experiences on the frontline and interviews with many veterans, recounts how the last gasps of the German Army saw some of the fiercest and most fanatical fighting of the whole war. Major offensives include Hitler’s last desperate attempt to reverse the tide of war in the Battle of the Bulge and the Western Allies’ epic struggle to cross the Rhine. Also explored are the lesser known, but no less important, battles for the Hochwald and Reichwald, and the extraordinary journey of the Polish 1st Armoured Division from defeat and exile to final victory. This last year of war is filled with stories from the tragedy of whole groups of men being frozen to death in battle areas to the triumph of logistics, ingenuity and bravery.

Soldiers, who had lived for so long under the horrors of war that as they neared the end their desperate desire to survive grew ever stronger, speak of how these last battles took their toll on a wearied army. Fighting continued up to VE Day in May and some units were in action for days longer as confusion reigned about the enemy surrender. Even after the fighting had finished, the war was not over for these men who had to round-up and guard German prisoners of war, and watch over thousands of displaced people.

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In Likkutei Dibburim, a collection of stories and memoirs by the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe, the author describes his father, Rebbe Rashab, playing lapta in Yalta, Crimea.

Apparently pub trivia has become a source of great amusement in this age where factoids have replaced knowledge and it is more important to remember who is credited with having said what than it is to understand what was said, in what context it was said and what its meaning is – in that context as well as in a current application. We contrarians hold that it is far more important to know how to apply the Pythagorean Theorem than it is to know that Pythagoras was probably not its author. If you are a major league manager it is better to know how to apply an infield shift than it is to have opinions on baseball vs. cricket or whether the Russians really did invent the game – as they have claimed.

Many historians have labeled the fifth through twelfth centuries an age of faith and would dismiss the thirteenth through eighteenth as the revival of paganism rather than reformation, renascence and enlightenment as the popular historians might have them. While this account of science in the middle east is interesting the suppositions about its influence on the west are somewhat like the Russian claim to have invented baseball – whatever their merits may be it doesn’t change the fact that it is America’s pastime and that however much like Russian Stengelize may sound he, and Yogi, were uniquely American.

The house of wisdom : how Arabic science saved ancient knowledge and gave us the Renaissance Jim Al-Khalili New York : Penguin Press, 2011 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xxix, 302 p., [8] p. of plates : ill. (some col.), maps ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

A mythic view of the medieval middle eastern world’s scientific innovations, which preceded the European Renaissance. This legacy of science and philosophy has long been hidden from the West. British born Iraqi claimant – physicist Jim Al-Khalili unveils that legacy to fascinating effect by returning to its roots in the middle east that would advance science and jump-start the European Renaissance.

Attributing all of this to the Koranic injunction to study closely all of God’s works, rulers throughout the Islamic world funded armies of scholars who gathered and translated Persian, Sanskrit, and Greek texts he ignores the facts of the centuries of learning that preceded Islam. From the ninth through the fourteenth centuries, these scholars built upon those foundations a scientific revolution that bridged the one-thousand-year gap between the ancient Greeks and the European Renaissance.

Claiming the innovations that we think of as hallmarks of Western science were actually the result of Arab ingenuity: Astronomers laid the foundations for the heliocentric model of the solar system long before Copernicus; physicians accurately described blood circulation and the inner workings of the eye ages before Europeans solved those mysteries; physicists made discoveries that laid the foundation for Newton’s theories of optics. But the most significant legacy of Middle Eastern science was its evidence-based approach-the lack of which kept Europeans in the dark throughout the Dark Ages. The father of this experimental approach to science – what we call the scientific method – was an Iraqi physicist who applied it centuries before Europeans first dabbled in it.

Al-Khalili details not only how discoveries like these were made, but also how they changed European minds and how they were ultimately obscured by later Western versions of the same principles. Al-Khalili places the reader in the intellectual and cultural hothouses of the Arab Enlightenment: the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, one of the world’s greatest academies, the holy city of Isfahan, the melting pots of Damascus and Cairo, and the embattled Islamic outposts of Spain.

Al-Khalili tackles two tantalizing questions: Why did the Arab world enter its own Dark Age after such a dazzling enlightenment? And how much did Arabic learning contribute to making the Western world as we know it? That he fails to answer either satisfactorily is the result of the failure of his central premise coupled with the multiple failures to set his facts in their proper contexts. While the book does offer a somewhat skewed view of science in the middle east it fails to show how the area was a bridge from east to west, the importance of the contributions of the east or how it was the influence of Islam that largely destroyed that bridge from the 7th through the 19th centuries.

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And they burnt all their cities wherein they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire… Numbers 31:10

How often does the thought occur that the government no longer holds any values that your neighbors do? Does it pop up as you go about your daily life far removed from the nexus of power? Do you dismiss it with an attitude of what they do there doesn’t affect us here? Maybe your community does not have such a picturesque castle overlooking it and maybe your traditions do not go back to the feudal times but if you don’t do something to stop them not all of your disdain, nor even all of your history, will save you. Ask the people of Wurttemberg.

Hitler’s home front : Wurttemberg under the Nazis Jill Stephenson London ; New York : Hambledon Continuum, 2006 Hardcover. 1st ed. xiv, 512 p., [8] p. of plates : ill., maps ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [367]-495) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

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What was life like for ordinary Germans under Hitler? Hitler’s Home Front paints a picture of life in Wurttemberg, a region in south-west Germany, during the rise to power and rule of the Nazis. It concentrates in particular on life in the countryside.

Many Wurttembergers, while not actively opposing Hitler, carried on their normal lives before 1939, with their traditional loyalties, to region, village, church and family, largely ignoring the claims of Nazism. The Nazis did not kill its own citizens (other than the Jews) in the way that Stalinist Russia did, and there were limits to the numbers and power of the Gestapo and to the reach of the Nazi state.

Yet the region could not escape the catastrophic effect of the war, as conscription, labour shortages, migrant labour, bombing, hunger and defeat overwhelmed the lives of everyone. From the fantasy of the castle – which could not protect the countryside in ways it had before – the citizens learned all too well the dangers of a centralized state that they held no values in common with but whose ideology could lead them to ruin.

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If some great catastrophe is not announced every morning, we feel a certain void. Nothing in the paper today, we sigh… Lord Acton

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Lenin, Stalin and Hitler : the age of social catastrophe Robert Gellately London : Jonathan Cape, 2007 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xiii, 696 p., [24] p. of plates : ill., maps ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

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Between 1914 and 1945 European society was in almost continuous upheaval, enduring two world wars, the Russian Revolution, the Holocaust and the rise and fall of the Third Reich. Gellately argues that these tragedies are all inextricably linked and that to consider them as discrete events is to misunderstand their entire genesis and character.

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Crucially, Gellately makes clear how previous studies comparing the Soviet and Nazi dictatorships are fatally flawed by neglecting the importance of Lenin in the unfolding drama and, in his rejection of the myth of the ‘good’ Lenin, creates a ground-breaking account of all three dictatorships.

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