Author Nathaniel Philbrick makes it easy and joyful to love history. I first became a fan when I read  Philbrick’s Mayflower.


In 358  concise pages Philbrick manages to capture the essence of the complete story of the Pilgrims voyage, The Plymouth Colony,  Native Americans, King Philip’s War and of course Massasoit,  Miles Standish and William Bradford.  Philbrick’s  historical narrative  flows with an ease , in great part, because the reader never loses track of the principal players  and their recurring roles as history unfolds.  This single volume  painlessly educates  the reader about Puritan history, the odd collection of mankind called Pilgrims, the Mayflower’s voyage,  King Philips War and the beginning of the two century’s  of deceitful treatment of Native Americans .  The efficiency with which Philbrick tells this story is remarkable.



For all of the aforementioned good reasons I eagerly purchased Philbrick’s THE LAST STAND, Custer, Sitting Bull and The Battle of The Little Bighorn.  Once again the author distills this often told story into 312 pages of narrative that places all of the elements of a  complex story, distorted by time and ideology,  into laser-like focus.  Interwoven in  both books is the vivid picture of  how not much had changed between the white settlers engagement with the Indians of  New England in 1620 and the duplicitous treatment of  America’s Great Plains Indians in the later part of the 19th century.  In both cases the author explodes many myths carried forward over the two centuries.   THE LAST STAND, much to absorb about American culture, Manifest Destiny, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Custer, Reno and what can occur when a presidential administration becomes distracted!

Because the subject matter of the Mayflower and Custer’s Last Stand is so much in the public domain you may think you already have a firm grasp on the narrative.  Think again! Take a second look  at these two landmarks in  American history through the eyes, mind and research of historian  and story-teller Nathaniel Philbrick.

Also by Nathaniel Philbrick In The Heart of The Sea, Sea of Glory; The Epic South Seas Expedition 1838-1842 .  I am currently reading  Philbrick’s latest work , Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution.


The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol and now  Dan Brown’s Inferno, another thrilling novel that will surely fly off the shelves and dominate downloads in the days and weeks ahead.


Inferno is art, history, science and a travelogue through Florence and  Venice worthy of being transplanted to the pages of a Fodors Guide.   For fans of Dan Brown, Inferno is so fast paced that the book is a three or four session read, thrilled to follow the familiar exploits of Harvard University professor of symbology  Robert Langdon.

Brown’s multiple short chapter writing style  keeps the reader connected  despite the speed with which the plot evolves.   Fair warning, assume nothing and expect to be deceived again and again as this thriller develops.  Typical of Brown you will never know who is friend or foe until the very conclusion. Paging ahead is forbidden!  You will learn more about Dante Alighieri’s  The Inferno, and the seven rings of Hell than previously imagined and be exposed to Italy’s art and architectural treasures that are alive in the narrative.  Those who have traveled to Florence ,Venice  and Istanbul will be transplanted, imagining the  tale with even greater intensity.

Beyond the expected suspense and surprises, Inferno adds a Transhumanist dimension of  cutting edge scientific technologies that are unimaginable,  calling into question enormous moral and ethical issues in facing  threats to the world’s population. ” You know that nature has always found a way to keep the human population in check–plagues, famines, floods. But let me ask you this–isn’t it possible that nature found a different way this time?”

With the  popularity of The Da Vinci Code , The Lost Symbol, Angels and Demons,   and now Inferno  do not overlook an earlier great Brown novel, Digital Fortress.  Familiar themes and an ever-present ” mystery container” that can wreak havoc on the world. Brown also wrote Deception Point, which I have not read.

When I return to Venice I am convinced I will see Robert Langdon in St. Marks Square and just perhaps,  as the violins play, he will be holding Sienna’s hand.  I hope so!  You will understand.

Another Anya Seton Classic

British historical novelist Philippa Gregory in her foreword to Anya Seton’s Katherine  is correct in identifying Seton among those writers who  ” Dominated historical fiction  following World War II.”   In the opinion of Gordon’s Good Reads,  Seton’s historical novel  Katherine , a huge best seller in the 1950s ,  is perhaps her very best.  Katherine is without doubt a love story, a romantic novel indeed, but the attention to the detailed setting in  Medieval  England in the 1300s , gives this book high marks as a classic historical novel. Just as she did with Winthrop Women, Seton traveled to the novel’s setting and has marvelously recreated a world that only a novelist of her calibre could bring to life.


Katherine , from rags to riches , Knights in shining armor ( John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster), serfs, England’s feudal system, bastard children, the Black Death,  kept woman, love triumphs!  All of the elements of a great romantic novel are here but with page after page the reader is placed in a time and place of Fourteenth Century squalor, chivalry and treachery amid riches , castles and jeweled crowns beyond imagination.    Arranged marriages enthroned Kings an Queens  including  12-year-old King Richard, while the lower classes begin an epoch march to freedom, long before Cromwell and Henry the Eighth dashed all hopes of equality.  Seton gets the history right and delivers the lesson  within the framework of a wonderful love story well outside the confining lines of a text-book. Add to this novel the poetry and presence of Geoffrey Chaucer!

Put Katherine on your reading list. Anya Seton ( 1906-1990), through all of the years will, never disappoint.  See my previous reviews here at gordonsgoodreads of Seton’s Winthrop  Women and Dragonwick.  Also by Anya Seton:  Avalon, Devil Water, Foxfire, Green Darkness and My. Theodosia.


Amity Shlaes new biography COOLIDGE  has received its share of controversial reviews including  charges of  a “white-washed” Coolidge presidency. There is little doubt that Shlaes places  ” silent Cal” in a favorable light. However, that is not at all unusual as historians review a presidency in a perspective from a hundred years distance.  Perhaps the best example of the retrospective is David McCullough’s  reincarnation  of John Adams.  I am not suggesting that the two books or presidencies are comparable but the passage of time allows authors the opportunity to look through a different prism.  Be assured that Shales portrait of Calvin Coolidge does not attempt to elevate him to John Adams status, however, she clearly establishes the image of a strong, independent thinking president capable of making unpopular decisions that he deemed correct for the country.


Coolidge served as president, during the roaring 20s, from 1923 to 1929.  He remains famous for small government, balanced budgets and ” the business of America is business.”   Unlike some reviews, I do not think Coolidge is a whitewash of the administration, but rather an overview of the thinking in America following the First World War and the national desire to return to ” normalcy.”  Ironically, Coolidge came into his political career as an acolyte of Teddy Roosevelt  progressivism and acted accordingly during his tenure as Governor of Massachusetts.  Coolidge was a reluctant recruit as Warren Harding’s Vice-President, he disliked the position, but his New England work ethic underscored his making a best effort to support Harding’s policies.  The two were exact opposites, Harding the gregarious politician telling the electorate what they wanted to hear,  Coolidge, quiet and reserved.

Shlaes does an excellent job in depicting Coolidge’s transition to the presidency following Harding’s unexpected death.  He moves into the oval office with no great fanfare and picks up the reins of governing turning quickly to his zeal for a balanced budget, eliminating the war-time bureaucracy and establishing the concept of reducing taxes to stimulate the economy out of a post war recession.  Shlaes makes a case that Coolidge handed off a strong economy to Herbert Hoover after Coolidge kept his commitment that he would not run  for a second term.  However, Shlaes  book makes no mention of the rampant speculation on Wall Street that occurred during the later years of the Coolidge Administration which lead to the crash of 1929 and the beginning of the Great Depression.  Does Coolidge share the blame or does it all fall at the feet of  Herbert Hoover?

A most interesting part of the book is that once again we go back over 100 years to discover recurring themes facing today’s American economy:  The fairness of the tax policy, protective tariffs, balanced federal budget, government spending, the deficits of war-time spending, and the overriding argument of  big government versus small government.

COOLIDGE is well written and for lovers of history it is a look back at a presidency almost forgotten.  COOLIDGE  offers a  glimpse at the expectations of life in America following  World War I , the “War to end all wars. ”  It was the period of the first automobiles produced on the Ford assembly line, electrification,  the birth of the aviation industry, Lindbergh and the  passage of the Kellogg-Briand international treaty, the successor to the failed  Woodrow Wilson League of Nations.

You will learn much about Coolidge the family man, his wife Grace and the tragedy of the death of his son  Calvin, Jr. while Coolidge was in office.  The journey— from his birth in  Plymouth Notch, Vermont  to Amherst College, small town attorney in Northampton, Massachusetts, Massachusetts Senate, Massachusetts Governor,  Vice-President and President of the United States–a remarkable life.