July2016 Booklist 15 www.booklistonline.com
makes reading his poems feel utterly natural
and effortless, but then he ambushes us with
wry exultation: “What a brazen wonder to be
alive on earth / amid the clockwork of all this
motion.” —Donna Seaman
American Treasures: The Secret Efforts
to Save the Declaration of Independence,
the Constitution, and the Gettysburg
By Stephen Puleo.
Aug. 2016. 432p. St. Martin’s, $28.99 (9781250065742).
In the digital age, even a grocery list can be
preserved for eternity, so the value of the original versions of most documents is diminished.
In our secular democracy, however, certain
national documents remain priceless. They are
venerated as quasireligious icons. Inscribed on
paper, they are subject to the ravages of time
as well as the machinations of people who
would seize or destroy them. At the outset of
WWII, with the Japanese and German militaries running roughshod across Asia and Europe,
the threat to these American treasures seemed
plausible. Puleo recounts how government
officials and a cast of other dedicated experts
planned and executed a strategy to protect and
transport the Declaration of Independence, the
Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address out
of Washington, D.C., to a safe, secure haven.
On a series of useful and interesting tangents,
Puleo describes some of the histories of these
documents and the occasional threats they
have faced since their creation. This unique,
easily digestible, well-researched saga is ideal
for general readers. —Jay Freeman
The Drone Eats with Me: A Gaza
By Atef Abu Saif.
July 2016. 264p. Beacon, paper, $16 (9780807049105).
Gazan novelist Saif is no stranger to the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In his devastating
first-hand account of the 50-day war in Gaza
in 2014, he serves as an eyewitness for those who lived
and perished that summer.
With journalistic eloquence
and the compassion of a husband and father of five, his
war diary records his family’s experiences day by day,
night by never-ending night.
Saif is aware he’s cheating death amid the persistent whir of drones and thumps of missiles.
His family is among the lucky ones because
in Gaza, during a war, there is no absolutely
safe place to be. They leave their beachside
neighborhood for the relative security of his
father-in-law’s house. He tries, unconvincing-
ly, to answer his children’s difficult questions
during the sleepless nights. Saif marks the
war through the rhythm of life at the nearby
school-turned-refugee-center, in the changing
landscape of ruined buildings, in the hours
without electricity, and in light of the news
from friends and extended family. Ramadan is
stripped of some of its traditional joy by the
ongoing chaos. As much as possible, Saif sets
politics aside in order to focus on both the hu-
man tragedy that continues to play out there
and the power of hope. An important addition
to Middle Eastern literature. —Dan Kaplan
His Final Battle: The Last Months of
By Joseph Lelyveld.
Sept. 2016. 416p. illus. Knopf, $30 (9780385350792).
Photographs of FDR during the final
months of his life—which, since he died in office, were the same as the final months of his
presidency—reveal a haggard man looking
far older than his 63 years. As distinguished
journalist and author Lelyveld (Great Soul,
2011) so vividly and sympathetically reconstructs these days, he observes that Roosevelt
“soldiered on,” determined to see the conclusion of the war that had consumed him and
the world. A second issue also colored his last
year: the question of his running for a fourth
term; specifically, would his poor health stand
up to the rigors of leading a war effort and
serving another four years in the White House?
What is remarkable for the reader to witness
here is the active-minded president channeling
everything he had left into his “rendezvous of
destiny,” namely, to bring an end to the Third
Reich and, with Churchill and Stalin, undo the
deplorable marks left by that dark regime. “
Dying when he did, he was transfigured into an
enduring symbol of the alliance at its best and
most dependable.” —Brad Hooper
Hitler: Ascent 1889–1939.
By Volker Ullrich. Tr. by Jefferson
Sept. 2016. 1,008p. Knopf, $40 (9780385354387).
A bafflingly complex human emerges in
this first installment of an impressive new biography of the most infamous figure of the
twentieth century. Drawing
on newly available primary
sources (including Goebbels’
complete diaries) and wide-ranging recent scholarship,
Ullrich develops a nuanced
portrait of the failed artist
who achieved undisputed
mastery of the Third Reich.
Distinguished previous biographers (Konrad
Heiden, Alan Bullock, Joachim Fest, and Ian
Kershaw) give Ullrich an interpretive founda-
tion. But he judiciously identifies their errors,
amplifies their strengths, and adds his own
fresh insights as he limns Hitler’s uncanny skill
at discerning others’ weaknesses, his mesmer-
izing versatility as an actor, and his remarkable
gift for transforming personal relationships
into political assets. Unconvinced by schol-
ars who view Hitler as a protean opportunist,
Ullrich highlights Hitler’s unwavering commit-
ment to two fixed objectives: ridding Germany
of its Jews and securing living space for the
homeland in Eastern Europe. How could a
man so ruthlessly pursue these objectives while
carrying a photo of his beloved mother in his
pocket? Readers may ponder this question as
Ullrich’s masterful narrative (seamlessly trans-
lated) carries them to April 1939, scant weeks
before Hitler starts WWII by invading Poland.
Appreciative readers will eagerly await volume
two. —Bryce Christensen
The Story of Egypt: The Civilization That
Shaped the World.
By Joann Fletcher.
Aug. 2016. 512p. Pegasus, $29.95 (9781681771342).
Pharaoh after pharaoh, dynasty after dynasty,
millennium after millennium, British archaeologist Fletcher methodically moves through
ancient Egyptian history, imparting with
succinct but colorful detail (leaving readers
surprised at how much is known about these
very long-ago figures) each monarch’s impact
for the good, for the bad, or for something in
between on the evolution (or in some instances, devolution) of the Egyptian state. As she
covers important steps in the development of
Egyptian culture, Fletcher posits that ancient
Egypt represents the “greatest culture the world
has ever seen.” Her discussion of the myths that
shaped the ancient Egyptian worldview leads
off the narrative, and one of the most surprising facts readers will joyfully encounter is the
number of female pharaohs who ruled “just
like a man.” Phenomenally, Fletcher makes
“living” history out of artifacts, and readers
with a keen interest in history will follow every
step she takes. —Brad Hooper
Trials of the Earth: The True Story of a
By Mary Mann Hamilton.
July 2016. 336p. Little, Brown, $27 (9780316341394).
From the vantage point of 150 years later,
this vivid account of a pioneer woman’s true-life adventures in the swamps and forests of
the Mississippi Delta seems almost cinematic
in scope. Yet her first-person narrative engenders an intimacy and an immediacy that
draws the reader right into the hardscrabble
minutiae of the daily struggle for survival on
an untamed and unforgiving frontier. Hamilton (1866–1936) endured floods, tornadoes,
fires, and multiple personal tragedies, including the deaths of several children. Urged to
write her memoirs near the end of her days,
she recalled her enigmatic husband, the lumber camps they toiled in, and their endless
efforts to tame the wilderness and settle into a
place to call home. Finally published, thanks
to her descendants, 83 years after its completion and submission to a writers’ competition
put on by the publisher, Little, Brown, Hamilton’s rich personal tapestry is a testament to
endurance and to the indomitable spirit of the
often overlooked American pioneer woman.