I recommend another very good “HAMILTON”  read in addition to Ron Chernow’s popular biography.  MY DEAR HAMILTON, A NOVEL OF ELIZA SCHUYLER HAMILTON by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie is an excellent work of well researched historical fiction. If you have not seen either the Broadway production or the movie HAMILTON read this novel first as a  guide through the nuances of the story line. Additionally, it is an excellent stand alone summer read offering insight not only insight into Eliza’s and Hamilton’s relationship and the Revolutionary War but also the life style of 18th century New York City and the wealthy Dutch plantations along the Hudson.

The entire cast is in the book: Eliza, Hamilton, Angelica, Washington, Burr, Lafayette, Madison, Monroe, Adams, Lauren’s, Jefferson,  King George, the Schuyler sisters and Hamilton children.  A painless, enjoyable lesson in American History.

Dray and Kamoie  also authored America’s First Daughter.

Another excellent Hamilton biography is ALEXANDER HAMILTON, A LIFE by Willard Sterne Randall.


Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train, has eclipsed that acclaimed novel with her latest, A Piece of the World.   This marvelous work of historical fiction is a priority read adding illuminating context to the story behind America’s most famous painting , Andrew Wyeth’s  Christina’s World.

I have been to the Olsen House  in Cushing on that spit of land on the Maine Coast. However, now that I have read  A Piece of the World, I will eagerly travel there again with a new perspective having met through this wonderful novel, Christina, the woman who Andrew Wyeth immortalized in his painting Christina’s World.

Once you read A Piece of the World you will be drawn into Wyeth’s painting as never before.  When  you visit the farmhouse in Maine the humanity that was once there will become very much among the living.

Also, visit the Wyeth family collection at the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland.





C.J. Sansom’s 2104 novel Lamentation brings to a close the his six book series of Henry  VIII. Sansom brings the series to a close in great fashion filled with suspense, double-dealing and all of the intrigue surrounding the King’s court.


Henry’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr, is the centerpiece of  this novel set in the divide between conservative and radical factions  at odds over England’s religious future.  Catherine pens a secret paper, clearly outlining her leanings and of course it disappears and the Shardlake search for the potentially deadly manuscript begins.  Catherine’s very survival is at the center of the story which begins with the burning at the stake of heretic Anne Askew and two others. Familiar territory for Henry VIII.

Lamentation  qualifies as a good read from every dimension. It appears to bring the Shardlake series to a close but I will leave those details to be discovered by the reader. If you have not read  the Shardlake Sansom novels I commend the entire series to you. If you are committed, start from the beginning and read them in  chronological order.   Dissolution, Dark Fire, Sovereign, Revelation, Heartstone, Lamentation.  The characters  and story line build through each book.  It may seem like a project but I suggest it will be well worth your while. Sansom is a celebrated historical novelist and you will become an enthusiastic student of Tudor England when you embark on the Shardlake journey.

Reviews of the other Sansom Shardlake novels may be searched here at


Jeff Shaara’s last installment in his Civil War series is the story  of William Tecumseh Sherman, and the final eight months of the war. The Fateful Lightning picks up Sherman’s march immediately after the sacking of Atlanta and follows his army through Georgia and the Carolinas.


There is little middle ground in the world of Civil War analysis regarding Sherman. The general is either hated as savage and brutal or respected as the finest battlefield commander of the war.  The Fateful Lightning, through Shaara’s use of the historical novel, brings a semblance  of balance to the Sherman legacy. Shaara’s  research is excellent.

Like all of Shaara’s  writing, using the vehicle of the novel, the key players are humanized. The genre also allows for the creation of fictional characters to flush out the story line. In this case a young slave, freed by Sherman’s march is among the thousands of  former slaves who follow Sherman’s army of liberation as it heads north, taking them away from their masters and plantations.  The story of freed slaves following the Union Army is also well told in another book, E.L. Doctorow’s The March.  Search gordonsgoodreads for an overview.

I also recommend the other three books in Shaara’s series.  A Blaze of Glory,  A Chain of Thunder, and The Smoke at Dawn. You will find my overviews of them here at gordonsgood reads. 

Shaara also wrote Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure, two novels that complete the Civil War trilogy that began with his father’s The Killer Angels.










In her new book, The Kings Curse, Philippa Gregory adds multiple chapters to the madness of the Tudor Court of King Henry VIII.  If you enjoyed her best-selling novel The Other Boleyn  Girl, you will be very much at home with The Kings Curse. The story comes through the voice of a new narrator, Margaret Pole of the Yorks, part of the Plantagenets, and considered a rival to the Tudor Throne.


All of the great characters of the period are interwoven throughout the book.  The demise of Katherine of Aragon, the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn, Mary Boleyn, Cromwell, Cardinal Wolsey and of course Henry VIII himself. Throughout the novel the crafty and devious Margaret Pole masks her disdain for the Tudors in an effort of save the lives of her sons and Henry and Katherine’s only living child,  Mary, the legitimate heir.  It is indeed the King’s curse, that he has no  legitimate son to continue the Tudor Dynasty.

Gregory’s research and attention to detail is impeccable and her literary style is fast paced. There is never a long wait at the starting line.

Other novels of this era you may enjoy are Katherine by Anya Seton and the entire C.J. Sansom series set during this period.  You can search these titles and The Other Boleyn Girl here at


The Smoke at Dawn/ General Bragg’s Waterloo At Chattanooga

President Lincoln’s brilliant decision to elevate Ulysses  S. Grant to General in Chief of the Union Army following Grant’s victory at Vicksburg on July 3, 1863 was further justified by the success of Grants first assignment following his promotion in the battle of Chattanooga, Tennessee.


Jeff Shaara in his new historical novel The Smoke at Dawn , the third in his Civil War Trilogy, places Grant in the Cumberland following the Confederate defeat of General Rosecrans by Braxton Bragg at the Battle of Chickamauga Creek. Grant immediately demoted Rosecrans and replaces him with General George Thomas and brings in Sherman’ s army for support. The Union army has been under siege in Chattanooga and Grant orders the siege broken at whatever the cost. Bragg, sinking in his own bombast and his repeated failure to lead , is on the verge of converting a great Confederate victory into a bitter defeat. As Sherman rides to the rescue  of General Thomas and the Union Army, he makes a rare mistake by misreading the geography, giving Bragg one last chance of grasping victory from the jaws of defeat.

There is plenty of drama as Shaara tells the story of this epic battle with the versatile vehicle of historical fiction that , following in his fathers footsteps , is his trademark. Shaara is the son of Pulitzer Prize winning Michael Shaara, author of The Killer Angles.

The two previous novels in the trilogy are A Blaze of Glory , the battle Shiloh and A Chain of Thunder, the Siege of Vicksburg.  Search reads for other Jeff Shaara historical novels based upon the Revolutionary War, Civil War and World War II.


Between 1854 and 1929 orphaned and homeless children cast out from the teeming tenements to the harsh streets of New York City were collected and boarded on special railroad trains headed  for the  farmlands of the American West. The hope of the organizers was finding families to offer these nine to 13 year olds a home and new beginning.




Over a period of sixty years a quarter million indigent immigrant children were sent West. From station to station in small towns west of Chicago they were  paraded by poorly equipped social workers before prospective foster parents, many of whose motives were less than noble.  Few if any background checks of the perspective families were completed. Children were selected at each stop and those that were not chosen moved on to the next whistle-stop somewhere down the line. There was little or no follow-up and many of these children became little more than un-paid household labor and farm help, often in dysfunctional families.  Many were not given the opportunity to attend school.


Christina Baker Kline in her riveting New York Times best selling  novel Orphan Train (2013)  weaves a story of  how the toxic ingredients of the Orphan Trains, conceived to rescue children from the depravity of New York’s streets, often cast them into  even worse circumstances. Orphan Train is the story of  one train rider, a  9 year-old girl, who finally in her 90s  comes to reveal her secret story to yet another rider from a turbulent world of another era.



The story is powerful and Orphan Train is a rewarding read, both historically and emotionally.  Christina Baker, in remarkable fashion, creates a protagonist who vividly portrays this little known chapter in American history.

Earlier this year I referred you to Jacob Riis’s  How The Other Half Lives  Riss was among the first Muckrakers , uncovering social injustice in America. It is in his How The Other Half Lives that I first learned the history of the Orphan Trains.

Orphan Train is a novel so well researched that it could be categorized a historical novel. Kline was able to interview four actual train riders when they were in their late 90s.    Other works of fiction by Christina Baker Kline  are Sweet Water, Desire Lines, The way Life Should Be and Bird in Hand.


Dark Fire is the second  of the Matthew Shardlake Mystery Series written by the acclaimed historical fiction novelist C.J. Sansom.  If one is looking for a painless way to enjoy the history of Tudor England ( Henry VIII)  read all of this wonderful Sansom series which begins with Dissolution and currently ends with Heartstone.


The search for the secret of Dark Fire, desperately sought by Thomas Cromwell on behalf of Henry VIII ,leads  lawyer Shardlake through the perils of  multiple murders and further intrigue.  Anne Boleyn has already been beheaded and  Anne of Cleves, the fourth wife of Henry , is about to be dethroned in favor of  Catherine Howard.  Amidst the turmoil of the king’s wives, Cromwell seeks to protect his own position by providing the monarchy with the formula for Dark-Fire, an ancient form of flame thrower, which in its day, in warfare,  was akin to a modern-day nuclear missile.  He turns to Shardlake to unravel the mystery and find this weapon for the king.

As is usual with Sansom, there is a parallel plot, this time involving  Shardlake trying to keep a young woman falsely accused of murder from death by torture, of course in the Tower of London.

Dark Fire is a highly recommended  gordonsgoodread!  If you are new to Sansom pick up his work and read them in the following order: Dissolution, Dark Fire, Sovereign, Revelation and Heartstone.  Overviews of these Sansom books can be searched at


Finish these and you will be a well-informed conversationalist regarding Tudor England.The  Sansom novels present history and humanity folded together in perfect form.


The Other Boleyn Girl, written by Philippa Gregory and published in 2001, is among the very best novels written about Tudor England and King Henry VIII.  If you have not read this great novel place it on your must read list.  This true story about Mary Boleyn, the younger sister of Henry the VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn, is remarkable in many ways.   The book enlightens the reader not only of the history of the period but it portrays an accurate glimpse into how women, even in their teens, were used as pawns for both power and pleasure.




This is the story of Mary, the first daughter in the Boleyn family to be offered to a King in return for the hope wealth and power. So driven was this family that when Mary’s star began to fade in Henry’s ardor , sister Anne pushed her aside to eventually become Queen Anne.  Although you may know how that romance ended, believe me, the writing of Philippa Gregory will  capture and fascinate you through the final page. This story of two sisters and a King is also a study of the structure of society in 16th Century England. It is not suprising that Philippa Gregory is a recognized authority on women’s history.

Tudor England was  fascinating and this blog has focused on many enjoyable reads set in that period, including the  great British novelist C.J. Sansom and the Shardlake series. Another wonderful work of historical fiction written of an earlier period, Medieval England, is Anya Seton’s Katherine.

After reading the Other Boleyn Girl I ordered the  2008 movie through Netflix.  The movie does not come close to the book’s more intricate story line and I would strongly suggest that reading the book is a must before watching the film.  Once you have read the book it is worth watching.




The first week of July, 2013 commemorates the 150 anniversary of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, considered by many historians as the greatest battle of the war and the fateful turning point leading to the ultimate defeat  and surrender of Robert E. Lee and the demise of the Confederacy.  The great battle took place in three engagements on July 1, 2 and concluding with the disastrous Confederate Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd, 1863.  The sun rose on July 4th over a battlefield that witnessed over 5,700 killed and more than 27,000  wounded, thousands of whom died from wounds in the ensuing weeks.  More has been written regarding this great battle than any other in history, including  D-Day.


This week another new book,  Gettysburg by Allen C. Guelzo is added to the library of Gettysburg non-fiction.  Simultaneous to the release of Guelzo’s book and in conjunction with the Gettysburg 150th anniversary, the Smithsonian has released a fabulous interactive map that helps explain why General Lee made a critical mistake in underestimating the depth of the Union Forces he faced. The map addresses the issue of the extreme lack of intelligence and reconnaissance on behalf of either side during all of the Civil War engagements.  Prior to the commencement of hostilities, Lee climbed to the top of  cupolas, one at the Lutheran Seminary and the other at Gettysburg College to survey Union troops.  The Smithsonian GIS generated map, together with the research of Middlebury College professor Anne Knowles, clearly shows that deceptive terrain made it impossible for Lee to judge the magnitude of the Union forces. Lee’s problems were of course magnified  by the absence of his cavalry led be Jeb  Stuart. To examine the new GIS map of the Gettysburg battlefield go to :


With the natural focus this week on the Gettysburg anniversary it is easy to overlook yet another monumental Civil War battle that historically may equal and in some sense eclipse the great Gettysburg turning point. General  U.S. Grant’s victory at Vicksburg  which culminated on July 3, ( the same day as Pickett’s Charge) in some sense had a greater impact on the war’s outcome than Gettysburg.  

Following two weeks of battle including fierce fighting at Jackson Mississippi and Champion Hill  Grant turned his forces West to Vicksburg, the last remaining Confederate obstacle to opening the entire Mississippi River to Union control.  Following days of brutal fighting and bombardment Grant laid siege to the city and finally on July 4th, 1863 accepted the surrender of General Pemberton’s  Confederate forces and took control of  what had been an impregnable citadel above the river.

While there  continues to be much debate over the work of Civil War historians  ( See David Blight’s  article That a Nation Might Live in the July 1 Book Section of  New York Times ), it will come as no surprise to followers of Gordon’s Good Reads  that I have turned to historical fiction and Jeff Shaara’s new Civil War book A Chain of Thunder, A Novel of the Siege of Vicksburg. Jeff Shaara is the son of Michael Shaara, author of Killer Angels, the story of  the Gettysburg battle. Like the writing of the father, Jeff Shaara places the reader in the boots of the front line soldiers and additionally, in the case of A Chain of Thunder the devastated lives of the Vicksburg’s citizens.

Why does Vicksburg equal the historical importance of Gettysburg? The answer lies in President Lincoln’s recognition  that  he found in Grant following Vicksburg and his earlier victory at Ft. Donnelson,  a commander who could ” win.”!   There is little doubt that the victory at Vicksburg catapulted Grant into being named General In Chief of all Union Forces. In that capacity, Grant’s tenacity, with Lincoln’s unbridled support,  forged the final Confederate surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865.   There is no doubt that the Grant Civil War legacy led to his becoming President of the United States, following the failed short-term of Vice President Andrew Johnson following Lincoln’s assassination.

Whether you prefer non-fiction or historical fiction of any combination thereof, The Civil War is an epic human story that changed the future of not only the nation, but the world.

Other Civil War historical novels by Jeff Shaara”  Gods and Generals, The Last Full Measure, A Blaze of Glory.