A history book discussion group, led by MHS board member Lyle Cubberly, Ph.D., and by other volunteer members, meets on the third Tuesday of each month at 7 pm at the Allis-Bushnell House at 853 Boston Post Road. Please note that handicapped access is available; limited parking is in the rear. (In case of inclement weather, the group typically delays the meeting to the fourth Tuesday of the month.)

At each meeting, participants can offer suggestions for readings. Books set aside at the E. C. Scranton Memorial Library in Madison can be borrowed by library-card-holding participants.

MHS members and the public are welcome at no charge. Drop-in visitors and teen readers are welcome.

For more information, please contact the MHS at 203.245.4567. You may add your email address to a History Book Group list by writing an email to moderator Lyle Cubberly at 1lachawk@att.net.

2018 History Book Group Schedule and Titles

JANUARY 15
The Man Who Found Time: James Hutton and the Discovery of Earth's Antiquity
Jack Repcheck

As its publisher notes, this “marvelous narrative about a little-known man and the science he founded…” is “…also a parable about the power of books to shape the history of ideas.” Unlike Copernicus and Darwin, who also “helped free science from the straitjacket of theology,” James Hutton never received similar recognition for his discoveries, in part because he did not express his ideas well in their written form.  His ideas, though, profoundly changed our understanding of the earth and its dynamic forces. Hutton proved that the earth was—and is—“continuously shaped and re-shaped by myriad everyday forces rather than one cataclysmic event. “ Repcheck reveals the story of this Scottish gentleman-farmer and how the observations he made on his small tract led him to a theory that challenged the Bible’s interpretation of Earth’s geological timeline and also provided the scientific proof that sparked Darwin's theory of evolution.

FEBRUARY 19
The Passing of the Armies
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

A member of the Fifth Corps recounts the dramatic final acts of the Civil War, describing Sheridan's rise, Warren's fall, and the slow, inexorable stalking of Lee's forces across the battle-scarred countryside. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was a Maine college professor who entered the Union Army in 1862. He fought with the Twentieth Maine at Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his role at Little Round Top. In the campaigns described here, Chamberlain commanded a brigade in the Fifth Corps in the Army of the Potomac during the final days of the war. His eyewitness account takes us past Lee’s surrender to show the beginnings of Reconstruction.

MARCH 19
Lords of the Atlas
Garvin Maxwell

Set in the medieval city of Marrakesh and the majestic kasbahs of the High Atlas mountains, Lords of the Atlas tells the extraordinary story of the Madani and T'hami el Glaoui, warlord brothers who carved out a feudal fiefdom in southern Morocco in the early twentieth century. Quislings of the French colonial administration, they combined the aggression of gangland mobsters with the opulence of hereditary Indian princes and ruled with a mixture of flamboyance and terror. On returning from the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, T'hami ordered the severed heads of his enemies to be mounted on his gates. Yet in 1956, when the French left Morocco, the Glaoua regime toppled like a pack of cards.

APRIL 16
1066: The Year of the Conquest
David Howarth

One of the most important dates in the history of the western world, 1066 is the year William the Conqueror defeated the English at the Battle of Hastings and changed England and the English forever.  The events leading to and following this turning point are shrouded in mystery. Distorted by biased accounts written by a subjugated people, many believe the English ultimately won the battle since the Normans became assimilated into the English way of life. Drawing on a wealth of sources, Howarth offers memorable portraits of the kings Edward the Confessor, Harold of England, and William of Normandy, as well as of the leading political figures of the time. He describes how the English commoners worked, fought, and died—and how, from their isolated shires, they perceived the overthrow of their world.

MAY 21
A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir
Donald Worster

In this biography, John Muir's sense of himself is as fully explored as is his extraordinary ability, then and now, to help others to see the sacred beauty of the natural world.  This account of the great conservationist and founder of the Sierra Club is based on Muir's private correspondence, full of rich detail and personal anecdotes uncovering the complex inner life behind the legend of the solitary mountain man. It traces Muir from his boyhood in Scotland and in frontier Wisconsin to his adult life in California right after the Civil War up to his death on the eve of World War I. It explores his marriage and family relationships, his many friendships, including those with Theodore Roosevelt and Ralph Waldo Emerson, his role in founding the modern American conservation movement, and his life as a successful fruit-grower, a talented scientist, a world traveler, a doting father and husband, a self-made man of wealth and political influence, and a man more passionate about the beauty and value of the natural world than perhaps any other.

JUNE 18
Wellington: The Iron Duke
Richard Holmes

Highly acclaimed as a military historian, Holmes superbly tells the exhilarating story of Britain’s greatest-ever soldier, the man who posed the most serious threat to Napoleon. Wellington is a brilliant figure, idealistic in politics, cynical in love, a wit, a beau, a man of enormous courage often sickened by war. As Holmes charts his progress from a shy, indolent boy to commander-in-chief of the allied forces, he also exposes the Iron Duke as a philanderer and a man who sometimes despised the men that he led and was not always in control of his soldiers. This is a beautifully produced book with stunning illustrations and color plates.

JULY 16
Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War that Changed American History
Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger

This riveting page-turner is the little-known story of how a newly independent nation was challenged by four Muslim powers and what happened when America's third president decided to stand up to intimidation. When Jefferson became president in 1801, America was deeply in debt and needed its economy to grow quickly, but its merchant ships were under attack. Pirates from North Africa routinely captured and enslaved American sailors, demanding ransom and tribute far beyond the new country’s means. Jefferson found it impossible to negotiate with the leaders of the Barbary states, who showed no mercy, so he decided to send warships and a detachment of Marines to blockade Tripoli, launching the Barbary Wars and beginning America's journey toward future superpower status.

AUGUST 20
The Aztecs:  The Rise and Fall of an Empire
Serge Gruinski

This volume explores the complex aspects of the ancient Aztec civilization, its artistic and cultural achievements, its bloody religion, and its history--from its earliest times to its collapse with the arrival of the Spanish in the New World.

SEPTEMBER 17
Germany: Memories of a Nation
Neil MacGregor

From the author of A History of the World in 100 Objects, this view of Germany is like no other.  For the past 140 years, Germany has been the central power in continental Europe. Twenty-five years ago, a new German state came into being. MacGregor argues that no over-arching narrative of Germany's history can be constructed, for in Germany both geography and history have always been unstable. For most of the five hundred years covered by this book Germany has been composed of many separate political units, each with a distinct history. And any comfortable national story Germans might have told themselves before 1914 was destroyed by the events of the following thirty years. Beginning with the invention of modern printing by Gutenberg, MacGregor chooses objects, ideas, people, and places that resonate in the new Germany and reveal its collective imagination.

OCTOBER 15
Hannibal: The Enemy of Rome
Leonard Cottrell

In 216 BCE Hannibal of Carthage faced an opposing Roman army twice the size of his own and outwitted the enemy at Cannae by means of his famous double-pincer maneuver. In that battle, seventy thousand Roman soldiers died within a few hours on a field the size of New York's Central Park. As devastating as Cannae was, it was only one of Hannibal’s incredible feats. His 1,000-mile march across the Alps from Spain to Italy, for instance, was one of the wonders of ancient times. Blending biography and military adventure, Hannibal is a portrait of a military genius who harbored a deep hatred for the Roman Republic and a fierce determination to subdue it forever. Cottrell traveled Hannibal’s entire route took across the Alps, thus amassing firsthand knowledge of his subject. With drama and authenticity Cottrell describes Hannibal's amazing campaign—a saga of victory after victory that fell just short of its goal: the annihilation of Rome.

NOVEMBER 19
The Tower of London: The Biography
Stephan Porter

The Tower of London, an icon of England’s history built by William the Conqueror after his invasion and conquest in 1066, has become infamous as a place of torture, execution and murder. Control of the Tower was vital during rebellions and civil wars and was the country’s principal arsenal. It also housed the Royal Mint, the national archives, the Crown jewels, and the riches of wealthy Londoners, and the royal menagerie, one of the earliest zoos. Stephen Porter’s landmark history traces the evolution of the Tower and its changing role, and the many people who lived or were imprisoned there, in a story spanning more than 900 years.

DECEMBER 17
Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire
William Fitzhugh, Morris Rossabi, and William Honeychurch

This clear, illustrated volume presents the untold story of Mongolia and its people, utilizing the latest research in archaeology, forensics, history, art, and literature. Rossabi presents a portrait of Genghis that goes far beyond the stereotype of the barbarian conqueror to reveal the sophisticated administrative structure, religious and economic freedom, and social precepts that were his lasting legacy. Other historians describe the western expansion of the empire and reveal recent archaeological discoveries. Fitzhugh is director of the Arctic Studies Center at the Smithsonian Institution. Rossabi is Distinguished Professor of history at the City University of New York and Columbia University. William Honeychurch is an assistant professor of anthropology at Yale University.

2017 History Book Group Schedule and Titles

January 17
1415: Agincourt

Anne Curry

As night fell in Picardy on Thursday October 24, 1415, Henry V and his English troops, worn down by their long march after the taking of Harfleur and diminished by the dysentery they had suffered there, can little have dreamt that the battle of the next day would give them one of the most complete victories ever won. Anne Curry’s startling history recreates the campaign and battle from the perspectives of the English and the French. One of the best battle accounts ever published, Anne Curry has updated this classic work in honor of 600th anniversary of Agincourt.

February 21
The Concise History of Ireland
(NEW edition)
Sean Duffy

This one-volume survey is complemented by maps, photographs, and diagrams. Duffy has written a text of exceptional clarity, stressing the enduring themes of Ireland's long cultural continuity; the central importance of its relationships with Britain and mainland Europe; and the intractability of the ethnic and national divisions in modern Ulster.

March 21
Mohawk Baronet - Sir William Johnson

James Thomas Flexner

In this "scholarly, stirring, and brightly written study," Flexner writes an in-depth biography of one of the most interesting figures in eighteenth-century America. Full of color and incident, it illuminates Indian life, the colonial frontier, the wars with the French, the economic forces based on furtrading and land speculation, and the tangled relations of the crown, royal governors, and New World assemblies. The personality of the indomitable Johnson, has" never before been so effectively depicted."

April 18
1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed

Eric H. Cline

In this account of the causes of this "First Dark Ages," Cline tells the gripping story of interconnected failures, invasions revolts, earthquakes, drought, and the cutting of international trade routes. Bringing to life the vibrant multicultural world of great civilizations, he draws a sweeping panorama of the empires and globalized peoples of the Late Bronze Age and shows that it was their very interdependence that hastened their dramatic collapse and ushered in a dark age that lasted centuries. A compelling combination of narrative and scholarship, 1177 B.C. sheds new light on the complex ties that gave rise to and ultimately destroyed the flourishing civilizations of the Late Bronze Age--and set the stage for the emergence of classical Greece.

May 16
The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream

H. W. Brands

“I have found it.” These words, uttered by the man who first discovered gold on the American River in 1848, triggered the most astonishing mass movement of peoples since the Crusades. California’s gold drew fortune-seekers from the ends of the earth. It accelerated America’s imperial expansion and exacerbated the tensions that exploded in the Civil War. And, as H. W. Brands makes clear in this spellbinding book, the Gold Rush inspired a new American dream—the “dream of instant wealth, won by audacity and good luck.” He tells this epic story from the perspectives of adventurers, entrepreneurs, prospectors, soldiers, and scoundrels, imparting a visceral sense of the distances they traveled, the suffering they endured, and the fortunes they made and lost.

June 20
Jamestown, Quebec, Santa Fe: Three North American Beginnings
James Kelly and Barbara Clark Smith 

This illustrated volume published by the Smithsonian Institution in 2007 explores the then-400th anniversaries of the settlement of Quebec, Santa Fe, and Jamestown, which took place nearly simultaneously. A large-format treatment with vivid photographs of maps, paintings, and artifacts, this book, one reviewer said, “is thoughtful and accessible, and full of long neglected historical information."

July 18
Unlikely Allies: A Playwright and a Spy Saved the American Revolution
Joel Paul

Connecticut merchant Silas Deane was a member of the Continental Congress, and he traveled to France to persuade the king to support the colonists in their struggle with England. Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais was a playwright who had access to the arms and ammunition that Deane needed. And the Chevalier d'Éon was a diplomat and sometime spy for the French king who ignited a crisis that persuaded the French to arm the Americans. This is the true story of how three remarkable people lied, cheated, stole, and cross-dressed across Europe to gain France's aid as the War of American Independence hung in the balance.

August 22
The French-Canadian Heritage in New England
Gerald Brault

An American of French-Canadian descent, Brault weaves the dual history of French Canadians -- Acadians and Québécois -- into his account of the history and development of Franco-American culture and its contemporary situation. Drawing upon historical works and literature of the period, he provides detailed description of early life in Quebec and Acadia and analyzes the forces that led to migration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His own family history provides insight into the experience of being Franco-American, offering a perspective that reveals how these people feel close to both Canada and France while also being solidly and patriotically American.

September 26
40 Miles a Day on Beans and Hay: An Enlisted Soldier Fighting the Indian Wars
Don Rickey Jr.

With this engaging book, the enlisted men in the United States Army during the Indian Wars (1866-91) need no longer be mere shadows behind their commanding officers. Through their labors, combats, and endurance, these men created a framework of law and order that contributed to the settlement and development of the country. Psychologically and physically isolated their fellow Americans, many enlisted men were barely able to scribble their names, so Rickey asked more than three hundred living veterans to supply information about their army experiences through questionnaires, personal accounts, and personal interviews. Whether the soldier is speaking for himself or through the author in his role as commentator-historian, this is the first documented account of the mass personality of the rank and file during the Indian Wars,

October 17
When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs and Money in the Age of Sail
Eric Jay Dolin

Ancient China collides with newfangled America in this brilliant epic tale of opium smugglers, sea pirates, and dueling clipper ships. Dolin traces our fraught relationship with China back to its roots: the unforgiving seas that separated a rising naval power from a battered ancient empire. A “prescient fable for our time,” this book sheds light on our modern relationship with China. The furious trade in furs, and opium, might have catalyzed America’s emerging economy, but it also sparked an ecological and human rights catastrophe with reverberations still felt today. This page-turning saga of pirates and politicians, coolies and concubines, is a must-read for fans of Philbrick or Kurlansky.

November 21
Fur, Fortune and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America
Eric Jay Dolin

Best-selling author Eric Jay Dolin chronicles the rise and fall of the fur trade of old, when the rallying cry was "get the furs while they last." Beavers, sea otters, and buffalos were slaughtered, and their precious pelts were made into extravagant hats, coats, and sleigh blankets. Read this history to understand how North America was explored, exploited, and settled, while its native people were alternately enriched and exploited by the trade. As Dolin demonstrates, fur was both an economic elixir and an agent of destruction and was inextricably linked to such key events in American history as the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the relentless pull of Manifest Destiny, and the opening of the West.

December 19
The Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape and the Making of Winston Churchill

Candice Millard

This book is a thrilling narrative of Winston Churchill's extraordinary and little-known exploits during the Boer War. At age twenty-four, Winston Churchill was convinced it was his destiny to become prime minister of England, and he believed that to achieve his goal he must do something spectacular on the battlefield. Churchill arrived in South Africa in 1899 to cover the brutal colonial war the British were fighting with Boer rebels. Just two weeks after his arrival, the soldiers he was accompanying on an armored train were ambushed, and Churchill was taken prisoner. Remarkably, he pulled off a daring escape—and then traversed hundreds of miles of enemy territory, alone, with little except his wits to guide him.
Millard spins an epic story of bravery, savagery, and chance encounters with a cast of historical characters with whom Churchill would later share the world stage.

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