Saturday, June 8, 2013

Girls of Atomic City and Other World War II Reads

I won't lie; I am incredibly excited for today's event. The store has the great fortune of hosting Denise Kiernan, author of The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II at 2:00pm.  Anyone who is familiar with my reading interests will know that they lie heavily in the sciences. I can talk your ear off about bacteria, viruses, the Higgs Boson, astronomy, or medicine. What people may not realize is that I am also a huge fan of history, particularly World War II history. Maybe it's because my grandpa was a WWII vet, or maybe it's because I had incredible history teachers, or maybe it's because my parents enjoyed history; whatever the reason, I've always been hooked on learning as much as possible about WWII. Growing up, Saving Private Ryan was my favorite movie, the History Channel (which at the time was more or less the Nazi Channel) was my favorite channel, and HBO's miniseries Band of Brothers (based on the book by Stephen Ambrose) was a major event. As I grow older, I still have an immense interest in WWII, but now it’s because I've realized how the war itself has had such an impact on our lives today. Leaps in technology came forth, new world powers became defined, and new ideas of horror emerged. 

Me and my buddy Winston in Toronto
What I find impressive is that new material continually comes out on the matter, an event that ended 68 years ago in 1945. Over the past few years we've seen more and more books, some which are just another look at aspects already covered, and some which manage to cover topics not previously written on or covered extensively enough. Here are a few of the more recent WWII books that have come out, some which I have read and some of which I'm excited to someday read!
Kiernan’s book is an amazing read for not only lovers of history, but for fans of non-fiction that’s written in more of a story form. The book begins in 1943 and follows a group of women working in Oak Ridge Tennessee at Clinton Engineer Works. All that the women knew when they were recruited was that they were ‘helping their country win the war.’ They had no idea where they were when they arrived, and they had no idea that their work was ultimately part of the Manhattan Project. This is so far one of my favorite books of the year. It’s been receiving comparisons to Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which I think is a fair comparison thanks to Kiernan and Skloot’s abilities to make history interesting to non-nerdy folks.

I have only just started this book, but the the finale of Atkinson’s “Liberation Trilogy” is a triumphant ending to an excellent series that followed the Allies during WWII. The first two books, An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 and The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 opened my eyes up to new intricacies of the war that I didn’t even know existed. The Guns at Last Light starts off quickly and exciting with the days leading up to the Normandy invasion, and is a timely read with the 69th anniversary of D-Day being just two days ago. This is an excellent read for fans of history and I think an ace in the hole for a Father’s Day present.
Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis by Robert M. EdselI have yet to read Saving Italy, but I am a huge fan of Edsel’s 2009 book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History. The Monuments Men followed an Allied group responsible for the protection of art in Europe from the Nazis, and is going to be made into a movie featuring the likes of Daniel Craig and George Clooney. Edsel’s follow-up, Saving Italy, again revolves around art and culture protection, but this time in just Italy specifically.

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson
Fans of the store’s blog will be sure to recognize Larson’s WWII title, as it was a frequent best-seller in both hardcover and paperback. This is a great pick again for those who loved more story-driven history and for anyone who loved Larson’s The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America.

The Second World War by Antony BeevorI have yet to read this, but I have been incredibly impressed with Beevor’s older works on WWII, covering such topics as the D-Day invasion, the fall of Berlin, and the battles at Stalingrad. This is a compact book that covers all aspects of the war from its beginning to V-J Day.
Here are some other great WWII picks that came out within the past two years:

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