A collection of interviews with some of America’s few surviving World War One veterans, Richard Rubin’s The Last of the Doughboys (Mariner, $15.95) offers fresh perspectives on what Rubin calls “the forgotten generation and their forgotten world war.” Supported by well-reported explorations of the social and cultural phenomena that shaped the lives of American soldiers in the First World War, Rubin’s oral histories allow a more immediate and relatable access to a conflict than even the best political or military histories do. Humanizing both the battles and their participants, The Last of the Doughboys stands out among the books published to mark the war’s centennial. It is an essential supplement for understanding the First World War.
The bloodiest clash of the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Bunker Hill was the culmination of a siege, a tea party, and a city’s conflicted loyalties. With his usual skillful storytelling and sharp analysis, Nathaniel Philbrick, also the author of Mayflower and Why Read Moby-Dick? plumbs those events as they transitioned an uprising into a war. The scholarship in Bunker Hill (Penguin, $18) is as sound as its prose is accessible, making history appealing on a summer reading list. As Philbrick dusts off (or strips the gilding from) the battle’s instigators and victims, he discovers a fresh sense of the importance of revolutionary Boston and its seminal battle.
Memo to booksellers: Avoid calling Mark Chiusano a “fresh voice in American lit.” Chiusanos voice isn’t fresh. It is knowing. Also: Piercing; clean; engaging; and wise. Use those words. Feel free to compare Chiusano to other young writers (Claire Vaye Watkins, Leslie Jamison) but comparisons to Junot Diaz and John Cheever are also accurate. Talk about how Marine Park documents the Brooklyn neighborhood that is its namesake, examining the grit without disparagement and always preserving the residents’ humanity. But assure potential readers that local knowledge isn’t a prerequisite. In the end, the book’s specificity of location is the device Chiusano uses to better show us ourselves. Alternatively, offer potential readers a chair. Invite them to sit and read one of the stories. Marine Park will then sell itself.