Napoleon: Soldier of Destiny - Michael Broers

Oxford University Professor and European history scholar Michael Broers offers an engaging portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte in his new Napoleon: Soldier of Destiny (Pegasus, $35). The book is the first of a two-volume study of the French leader, and is solidly grounded in Napoleon’s correspondence and papers (currently being published by the Fondacion Napoleon). This first installment covers Napoleon’s life from his birth in Corsica in 1769 to the autumn of 1805, as he and his Grande Armée prepared to face the allied Habsburgs, Russians, and British in battle. The author revises the stereotype of Napoleon as a megalomaniac psychopath bent on world domination to offer a more nuanced portrait of the man behind the myth, though he may at times swing too far to the positive in his defense of Napoleon's choices. Nevertheless, both Broers' profile of his subject and his analysis of European history are peppered with searing witticisms and observations that make for an enjoyable and informative read. Broers reveals Napoleon as a complex man whose so-called "destiny" for greatness was less the result of fate than of hard work and relentless ambition.

The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt's New World - Andrea Wulf

You’ve probably heard of Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), since he has more places named after him than any other person, not to mention the Humboldt Current, Histiotus humboldti, Spheniscus humboldti, and many other plants and animals. What exactly did he do? Plenty—though not as much as he wanted to. Known as a natural scientist—in this case meaning also a geologist, botanist, biologist—Humboldt held a day job as Chamberlain for the Prussian emperor, and was a life-long abolitionist. His friends included Goethe and Bolívar; his multi-volume works presented facts and data in graceful, lyrical prose and were bestsellers throughout Europe. In order to tell his story, Andrea Wulf, as she did in The Brother Gardeners, combines biography, history, economics, and science, but it’s for his work on The Invention of Nature (Knopf, $30) that she most admires him. Humboldt’s insight, Wulf shows, was to see nature not as discrete parts, but as one integrated network. His stunning Naturgemälde, drawing on his five-year exploration of Latin America, not only anticipated ecosystems, evolution, plate tectonics, and climate change, it was revolutionary in its graphic display of information; you can see it reproduced here, along with many of Humboldt’s own drawings.

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385350662
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Knopf - September 15th, 2015

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World Cover Image
ISBN: 9780345806291
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Vintage - October 4th, 2016

Magna Carta: The Birth of Liberty - Dan Jones

Dan Jones marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta (Viking, $27.95) with a narrative as suspenseful and colorful as any of the dynastic feuds recounted in The Plantagenets and The Wars of the Roses. In the third installment of his riveting saga, Jones, who has also produced and hosted the multi-part docudramas Britain’s Bloodiest Dynasty and Secrets of Great British Castles, returns to 1215. While the Magna Carta is held in high esteem today as the model for, among other documents, the American constitution, it was originally a peace treaty between King John and the landed barons fed up with his wars and taxes—and it fell apart within months of its confirmation. To muddy its sterling reputation further, the Carta—an early example of dry, technical legal writing—wasn’t initially one coherent document, but a hodge-podge of charters, “a collection of promises extracted in bad faith from a reluctant king,” Jones notes. Yet somehow those promises were made good, the king was held to his own laws, and Jones once again reminds us why the middle ages are so fascinating.

Magna Carta: The Birth of Liberty Cover Image
ISBN: 9780143108955
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Penguin Books - November 15th, 2016