14 Booklist October 15, 2016 www.booklistreader.com
identifies God—understood as a motivating belief—as the master cause of change
for the millennium as a whole. Yet he seems
quite happy to bid Deity farewell as he faces
an anticipated future so dire (food and fuel
disappearing, political oppression surging)
that readers may start praying. Exceptionally
capacious—and stimulating—historical inquiry. —Bryce Christensen
My Brother’s Keeper: Christians Who
Risked All to Protect Jewish Targets of
the Nazi Holocaust.
By Rod Gragg.
Oct. 2016. 352p. illus. Center Street, $26
(9781455566297); e-book, $13.99 (9781455566303).
A great shame of recent history is the sheer
number of citizens—including Christians—
who turned a blind eye to the suffering of
their Jewish neighbors during the dark days
of WWII. Fortunately, there were some brave
souls who took their faith seriously enough
to risk their lives for others. It is these heroes who are chronicled in this inspiring
book. The book shares 30 stories of people
who took seriously the call to lay down their
lives in the cause of righteousness. Some of
them are people readers might expect to be
heroic—trained intelligence officers, for example—while others are more ordinary folk,
like pastors or businessmen. None of them
are ordinary, though, in the steps they took
to shelter Jews in whatever way they could.
Many of the stories have happy endings. But
some do not. And that is a poignant reminder of the inspiration these people can offer
the reader. An excellent book for anyone interested in the Holocaust or WWII, or just
hoping for a glimpse of humanity in dark
times. —Christine Engel
The Nine of Us: Growing Up Kennedy.
By Jean Kennedy Smith.
Oct. 2016. 272p. illus. Harper, $29.99 (9780062444226).
Jean Kennedy Smith is the eighth child
of Rose and Joseph Kennedy and the sole
survivor of the original nine, who included
President Kennedy and Senators Robert and
Edward Kennedy, along with accomplished
sisters like Eunice Shriver, who started the
Special Olympics. When John Kennedy ran
for the presidency in 1960, a family fairy tale
grew up around the Kennedys, and that is
the story Smith retells here. In this version,
there are no infidelities by Joe, no extended
travels by Rose. The children are supportive,
not competitive, as Joe Jr. and Jack were.
But who can begrudge Smith viewing her
childhood through the prism of its happiest
moments, which were no doubt equally true?
Devoted parents offered their children great
opportunities; her siblings, encouraged to
look out for each other, were extraordinarily
close; and Kennedy summers at Hyannis
Port, full of sunshine and the sea, made
for rich memories. Smith does a fine job of
weaving in the family’s Irish history and pro-
duces nuggets about each sibling. The many
photos include ones rarely seen. This very
personal family portrait will be especially
appealing for longtime Kennedy watchers.
The Oxford Illustrated History of Modern
Ed. by Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom.
2016. 448p. illus. Oxford, $39.95 (9780199683758).
The challenge in studying the history
of China is that the country itself is composed of so many different peoples that
bring their own histories. This introduction tries to define a logical starting point
to help readers appreciate modern Chinese
history. The following 11 chapters take
readers chronologically from the late Ming
dynasty (mid-sixteenth century) to contemporary times (2010). The last chapter puts
references to Chinese history in perspective,
claiming that the Chinese have “reinvented”
their history. The narrative is analytical and
easy to follow. The majority of the discussion focuses on the political events and their
aftermath of each era. Everyday life in China
is discussed more extensively only in the first
chapter (late Ming dynasty) and from the
1960s onward. A more detailed analysis of
changes in daily life is lacking. Readers looking for an outline of economic and political
events that shaped modern Chinese history
will find this work to be a handy reference.
For the price and level of scholarship, it is
well suited for most academic and public libraries. —Muhammed Hassanali
The Pursuit of Power: Europe,
By Richard J. Evans.
Nov. 2016. 928p. Viking, $40 (9780670024575). 940.2.
Evans, professor emeritus of history at the
University of Cambridge, presents the latest
edition in the Penguin History of Europe
series. It is a massive and masterful account
running from the end of
the Napoleonic Wars to the
onset of the Great War. As
Evans illustrates, Europe
in 1815 was a devastated
continent after decades
of incessant warfare. The
material destruction was
immense, and poor harvests contributed to food shortages and even
famine. Hordes of demobilized soldiers created a climate of insecurity and lawlessness.
Yet European nation-states, including Britain, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands,
would emerge to dominate much of the
globe politically and economically. Although
continent-wide wars were avoided, liberals,
conservatives, and socialists across the continent struggled, often violently, for power.
Unprecedented technological progress and
material wealth were coupled with destitu-
tion in newly created slums. Many elites
optimistically saw a bright future as Europe
slowly approached the abyss of a war that
would utterly transform European society.
This is a beautifully written, wide-ranging
study that explores in depth the political, so-
cial, and economic factors that shaped and
continue to shape modern Europe and the
wider world. —Jay Freeman
Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the
Twilight of the Romanovs.
By Douglas Smith.
Nov. 2016. 832p. Farrar, $35 (9780374240844). 947.08.
The “holy man” who drove the Romanov
dynasty into the ground is the common take
on the unkempt Russian monk who rose
spectacularly through Saint
Petersburg society to sit at
the side of the emperor and
empress. Rasputin reputedly offered the monarchs
spiritual and even political
guidance as the heir to the
throne continued to fail in
health (suffering from hemophilia) and the seams holding the Russian
Empire together threatened to burst open.
Historian Smith (Former People: The Final
Days of the Russian Aristocracy, 2012) performs a nearly miraculous feat himself in this
amazingly detailed, deeply researched biography (“Russian archives have finally begun
to give up their secrets”). He carefully lifts
the myths away from the real story, which
nevertheless is presented here as a greatly
compelling picture of a figure who at the
zenith of his influence was known all over
Russia, ultimately becoming “possibly the
most recognized name in Russian history.”
To get to the most truthful understanding
of Rasputin’s consequence, Smith advocates
viewing him through a prism of what people
at the time believed he was up to rather than
what he was actually doing. Devil or saint?
Smith steers a realistic course between those
poles. —Brad Hooper
Thunder at the Gates: The Black Civil
War Regiments That Redeemed America.
By Douglas R. Egerton.
Nov. 2016. 448p. Basic, $32 (9780465096640). 973.7.
The 1989 film, Glory, brought long overdue attention to the contributions of African
American regiments to Union victory in the
Civil War. That mildly fictionalized film concentrated on the 54th Massachusetts infantry
regiment and its white commander, Robert
Gould Shaw. Egerton ( Year of Meteors, 2010)
has written a more factual, broader, and nuanced account of the service of black Civil
War regiments. His account includes the
formation and activities of Shaw’s troops
along with those of the 55th infantry, the
5th cavalry, and other units. Like Shaw’s,
those units were overseen by white officers,
and some were not particularly enthusiastic
about leading black soldiers. The feeling that
blacks lacked the courage and discipline to
fight was widespread. Egerton strongly emphasizes the racism black soldiers faced from