Jon Snyder's favorite booksAmerican Aurora by Richard N. Rosenfeld
- The Philadelphia Aurora was an anti-Federalist newspaper that was the target of anti-sedition laws. This well documented book provides a history of young America from an anti-Federalist viewpoint.
The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray, 1996
- A review of the academic literature on the relationship between intelligence and class. At the time of its publishing, liberals attacked this book with unprincipled bias, on a scale not seen since Robert Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court.
Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, 1838
- Observations by a French aristocrat on the political and social institutions in early 19th century America.
A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara Tuchman, 1978
- This book represents Barbara Tuchman at her best. She brings 14th century western Europe back to life.
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, 1997
- A "short history of the world for the last 13,000 years." This book explains why civilizations developed differently in various parts of the world because of differences in available resources.
Saints and Strangers by George F. Willison, 1945
- A well documented history of the Pilgrims from their origins in England, to their stay in the Netherlands, to their destination at Plymouth Colony.
The Tempting of America: The Political Seduction of the Law by Robert H. Bork, 1990
- Judge Bork presents his views with respect to judicial activism. He shows how this tactic to promote political agenda threatens the legitimate process of law.
Witness by Whitaker Chambers, 1952
- A highly personal testimonial of a former Soviet spy involved in the Alger Hiss spy scandal.
The Liberation Trilogy by Rick Atkinson - Army at Dawn (2002), The Day of Battle, The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 (2007), and The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 (2013).
- Tell the story of the originally very poor American army whipping itself into shape to become a well-oiled fighting machine.
Iliad (1997) and Odyssey (2000) by Homer, translated by Stanley Lombardo (Professor of Classics at the University of Kansas).
- When I was an undergraduate, I enrolled in a class on Greek Mythology with a group of friends. The class was taught by Professor Lombardo. Even then, he was building a reputation for his excellent teaching. I remembered him discussing how he would like to see the dialogs in these books translated to give the flavor of the attitudes of the speakers. His examples reminded me of the banter between street gangs in Los Angeles taunting each other before a bloody brawl. Years later my daughter read the Iliad for school – like I have done many times with Liz, I read the book also so we could discuss it. Dr. Lombardo made the Iliad come alive! After the Iliad, I knew I had to read his translation of the Odyssey also.
Unlikely Allies: How a Merchant, a Playwright, and a Spy Saved the American Revolution by Joel Richard Paul (2009).
- Paul should be commended for recognizing a story that needs to be told. I always read in history classes that John Adams and Benjamin Franklin were responsible for obtaining French support of the American Revolution. Instead on the American side, Silas Deane deserves the credit! On the French side, it was Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (author of The Barber of Seville) who was key. The third man was Chevalier d-Eon who was a diplomat and a sometimes spy for the French king. In history, I remember reading several times the importance of the U.S.’s early decision to pay back its Revolutionary War debts. The aid from France was treated as a gift and therefore was not repaid; however, the book documents that the French always insisted that the money was a loan and protested that the U.S. should pay back that money.
Galileo by J.L. Heilbron (2010).
- There have been many biographies of Galileo, but I chanced upon an exceptional one – very detailed not only on Galileo’s life work, but also on his personal relationships. You just have to read it to understand. Among other information, I’d previously heard of Galileo’s daughter who he placed in a convent and who loved it there. I learned that there was also a second daughter who he also placed in a convent - she considered the place a prison. The reason he placed them there was that it was cheaper to put them there than to pay for dowry. In both cases, the convents were so poor that the health of both girls suffered as is the case of many poor people everywhere.
Code Talker by Chester Nez with Judith Schiess Avila (2011).
- Chester signed a copy of his book for my daughter shortly before he died. I am enough into history that I was already somewhat familiar with the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II, I found especially interesting the anthropologic information of life for a Navajo in the 1930’s and 1940’s in the Checkerboard region of New Mexico. He noted going days without food. I was amazed that his family sent him and his sister to boarding school. When he was eight and his sister five, during break, Chester and his sister took the school bus to within a few days walk of their home (this region is arid), they were given a few sandwiches, and left to find water for themselves on their walk back.
Mary Chesnut’s Civil War, edited by C. Vann Woodward.
- I had wanted to read Mary Chesnut’s diary for a number of years. Her diary is referred to often in documentaries on the Civil War. I found after I had checked out this edition of her diary that Woodward earned a Pulitzer for his effort. She was a woman who should have been born at another time – highly intelligent and gifted. I can picture her in different circumstances as a high level diplomat. She was at the top rung of confederate society. Generals, governors, and confederate leaders streamed into her home. Similarly, Mary was visited their homes. She also had a knack for being in the right place at the right time, for example in Montgomery during the formation of the Confederacy, in Charleston during the time building up to the bombardment of Fort Sumter, around Manassas Junction during the time building up to the Battle of Bull Run, etc. She was a remarkable diarist. As an aside, it is interesting that in her words, no Yankee hated slavery more than her. I would like to travel in time to have a discussion with her to reconcile her opposition to slavery with her husband’s ownership of hundreds of slaves and her support of the Confederacy.