The Devils Will Get No Rest by James Conroy

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for The Devils Will Get No Rest:

The Reality TV Reunion Show of World War II.

Quick synopsis:

The story of the Allied Casablanca Conference of World War II.

Fact for Non-History People:

FDR saw Churchill naked. No, I won’t explain it any further.

Fact for History Nerds:

During World War II, the Allies were known as the United Nations.

My Take on The Devils Will Get No Rest:

The British were arrogant. The Americans were unprepared. Somehow, Germany was in trouble.

James B. Conroy tells the story of the meeting which found two of the most powerful countries on Earth at each other’s throats while knowing they needed each other to end World War II. The Casablanca Conference (which had nothing to do with the movie) is a riveting look at the Allied planning of the most vital time in World War II. While I am sure there are many readers who would roll their eyes at the thought that a military planning conference could contain the type of drama which would be an entertaining read, allow me to enlighten you with just a few highlights.

FDR and Churchill are best friends. Well, sort of. Churchill loves FDR, but FDR only loves people who are politically useful. FDR won’t quite stab Churchill in the back (yet), but the seeds will be planted.

FDR and Churchill aren’t even the most out of control egos at the conference. No, that honor would go to two Frenchmen who do not like each other and who drive everyone around them nuts.

These are just the tip of the iceberg. This book is the World War II equivalent of a reunion special on a reality show. Everyone is nice to the cameras and then you get to read their confessional diaries. No big deal. It was just the fate of the free world on the line.

(This book was provided for review by the publisher, Simon & Schuster.)


A great book about something you wouldn’t necessarily realize was dramatic. Buy it here!

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The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream by Dean Jobb

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream:

This Cream has gone bad. (I’ll see myself out.)

Quick synopsis:

The story of Victorian era serial killer, Dr. Thomas Neil Cream.

Fact for Non-History People:

Crime was so bad in one area of London during this time that instead of Waterloo Station people called it “Whoreterloo.” Do not come at me. I merely am reporting what they said back then. Your beef is with Victorian Age Londoners.

Fact for History Nerds:

Reporters found children as young as five out on the streets and stealing to survive.

My Take on The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream:

I have a confession to make. I had this book on my shelf for too long. Admittedly, I bought it because it looked amazing, but when you have a severe book addiction, books can get lost in the shuffle. When I finally pulled it off the shelf, I loved it. The real lesson here? I am an idiot, but we already knew that.

It’s one of the better historical true crime books I have read and that is not a short list. What Dean Jobb has done here is written an extremely interesting book which highlights how a terrible and not very bright man could become a doctor and kill a few people with impunity. Jobb sets the stage for the world Cream lived in exquisitely. The back and forth and downright bizarre twists and turns would be hilariously farcical if it wasn’t for the fact that real people died at the hands of Cream, and it really should not have been all that hard to throw him in jail or hang him. I especially like that Jobb consistently points out themes (e.g., women being ignored, bad policing, Cream being a doctor meaning he could get away with a lot more), but never gets heavy handed. I enjoy it when I don’t feel preached to and just let the story tell itself.


So damn good. Read it. Buy it here!

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Trail of the Lost by Andrea Lankford

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Trail of the Lost:

If you don’t have a plan, one may be made for you.

Quick synopsis:

The search for three missing hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Fact for Non-History People:

The Pacific Crest Trail travels 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. So, it can kill you by cold or heat if you aren’t careful.

Fact for History Nerds:

There are about 600 missing person cases per year and 99% of them end up resolved. 97% of lost hikers are found within 24 hours.

My Take on Trail of the Lost:

Let’s just look at a quick list of some of the topics covered in Andrea Lankford’s Trail of the Lost: psychics, weed, drones, liars, and cults. Oh, and all of these are within the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) although admittedly it’s quite large.

Lankford chronicles the search for 3 specific hikers who disappeared from the PCT. The story tells itself with all of the things I mentioned above plus the emotional journey Lankford documents for the searchers and their families. The real trick here is to keep this narrative together while not overwhelming the reader with the sheer litany of names and the details of numerous attempts to find the missing men. Lankford handles this masterfully as I never lost track of where we were in the story and her connection with the people around the searches allowed her to imbue everyone with personality.

Along with all of this, the reader gets to learn about life on the trail which is its own distinct subculture. Sure, some people are on the trail to take selfies, but some people are on the trail for…well a lot of reasons and not all of them are noble. This book will tear at your heartstrings, but it will also keep you riveted along the way.

(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and Hachette Books.)


A fascinating story which has a little bit of something for everyone. Buy it here!

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Gallop Towards the Sun by Peter Stark

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Gallop Towards the Sun:

Be careful trusting a dude with three first names.

Quick synopsis:

The story of Tecumseh and William Henry Harrison as they battled both literally and figuratively.

Fact for Non-History People:

Presidential trivia! William Henry Harrison is the shortest serving president since he gave a long inauguration speech in bad weather and died of pneumonia. If you read this book you will know it could not have happened to a nicer guy…..

Fact for History Nerds:

There is a battle where the American Indians beat the Americans so badly that it was never given a name.

My Take on Gallop Towards the Sun:

I’ve always wanted to punch Thomas Jefferson. After reading Peter Stark’s Gallop Toward the Sun, I want to punch William Henry Harrison, too. (Additional fun fact: My original review did not expand on this thought and a guy on Goodreads called me out for what he thought was historical relativism argument and I think he thought I was a liberal leaning person who was applying current perspectives retroactively. Long story short, because he was way off base, I want to punch Harrison because Stark very clearly paints him as a hypocrite and coward of sorts. Hypocrites and cowards always suck.)

Stark’s book looks at the lives of American Indian leader Tecumseh and the jerk William Henry Harrison. Stark puts a bright spotlight on how Harrison was a major tool (and I mean that in two different ways) in stealing Native lands out from under them with shady deals, debt, and graft. Harrison is often remembered as the shortest serving president since he died one month after taking office. We ducked a bullet on that one, America.

While Stark is one of my favorite authors, there are some missteps in the narrative. Part I sets up the conflict between Harrison and Tecumseh leading to war. I found myself wanting to skip ahead because much of the set up doesn’t directly include Harrison or Tecumseh in places. I still liked much of what Stark was writing, but the book is really about these two larger than life figures and when they disappear from the book it can be frustrating. Part II, which deals with the War of 1812, runs into the same problems. The Battle of Lake Erie is the standout, and it is extremely compelling. However, Harrison and Tecumseh are once again on the sidelines for this.

This may sound like the book is unfulfilling but it is in fact still quite good. The narrative issues I mention do not ruin the book but merely take it from “great” down to “very good.” Stark is too excellent a writer to ever have a bad book. This one just needed a better focus to be truly great.

(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and Random House.)


A really interesting book with a story you won’t find in many other places. Buy it here!

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Young Queens by Leah Redmond Chang

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Young Queens:

The Kardashians are amateurs compared to these people.

Quick synopsis:

The story of the early lives of Catherine de Medici, Mary Queen of Scots, and Elisabeth de Valois.

Fact for Non-History People:

King Francis of France stayed in the room the night of the marriage of Catherine de Medici and his son Prince Henry to ensure….well that everything went fine.

Fact for History Nerds:

You know how you’re supposed to have eight great-grandparents? Don Carlos of Spain, heir to the throne, only had four.

My Take on Young Queens:

A great history book is one that avoids the easy tropes and cliches of its character. When you start Leah Redmond Chang’s Young Queens, the prologue seems to set up a book about 3 women who would do marvelous things in an imperfect world. I must admit, I was initially worried the narrative would paper over the shortcomings of its subjects and not dive too deeply into their flaws and what made them humans with immense power. I now apologize for jumping to my wildly inaccurate prediction.

Chang tells the story of Catherine de’ Medici, her daughter Elisabeth de Valois, and Mary Queen of Scots who was also related because of course they were all related back then. It should be noted that Chang spends the vast majority of the book on the three queens in their younger years. Mary’s long imprisonment is barely touched upon and Catherine’s actions around the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre are almost footnotes.

However, I found this to be one of the strengths of the book. Chang is able to spend more time on what most books skip over in the lives of these queens. Along the way, Chang does not shy from praising and criticizing each woman. Catherine alone could easily be a pure sociopath or master politician depending on how you want to slant her. Chang also touches upon how being women affected their lives and their choices, but I also felt Chang just as clearly showed that their religion and other choices could have just as strong an effect on them. More than anything, Chang shows that they were people with power, and they had to wield it in a way to keep that power, otherwise it didn’t matter who they were.

It is a great book and anyone with a love of history should have it on their “must read” list.

(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.)


So dang good. Read it! Buy it here!

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Road to Surrender by Evan Thomas

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Road to Surrender:

It did not go down how you think it did.

Quick synopsis:

The story of the decision to drop the atomic bomb.

Fact for Non-History People:

Even after the dropping of the second atomic bomb, Japan’s Supreme Council was deadlocked on whether to surrender.

Fact for History Nerds:

The firebombing of Tokyo is estimated to have killed more people in a 6-hour period than any other time in the history of war.

My Take on Road to Surrender:

Immersing myself in history, I run into a lot of people who complain there are too many World War II books. Road to Surrender by Evan Thomas is proof that we are nowhere close to over-saturation. Following three major players at the end of the war in the Pacific, Thomas eviscerates those who oversimplify the question, “Should we have dropped the atomic bombs on Japan?”

Thomas focuses on Henry Stimson, the U.S. Secretary of War, U.S. General “Tooey” Spaatz, and Japanese Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo. Each of them get their own spotlight although Stimson and Togo seem to have stronger narratives. Thomas writes so well it feels almost like a novel and the facts he lays out make it clear just how tangled the last days of World War II were. There are some new facts here unless you are a true scholar of the time, and the pertinent facts are laid out for all to see.

This is a fantastic book, and everyone should read it. Even those who don’t like history will find this riveting.

(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and Random House Publishing.)


A great book that everyone should read. Buy it here!

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