Empress of the Nile by Lynne Olson

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Empress of the Nile:

It is way easier to acquire an ancient temple than I thought.

Quick synopsis:

The story of Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, a trailblazing archaeologist and preserver of Egyptian treasures.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

More than 1.25 million people went to the Louvre to see King Tut’s treasures. It was the most popular exhibition in the Louvre’s history.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, France averaged a new government every 6 months.

My Take on Empress of the Nile:

Ancient Egyptian graves, spy-craft, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. These are just a few of the topics which are contained within Lynne Olson’s “Empress of the Nile.” The book is very good, and, like archeology, you wind up in places you did not expect.

Empress of the Nile feels like quite a few books rolled into one. The first is a biography of Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt. She was a pioneering archeologist when women in archaeology was almost completely unheard of. She is the through-line of the book which also touches on World War II in France, the rescue of ancient Egyptian temples from the building of a dam (especially Abu Simbel), and a not insignificant amount of world politics.

There are large parts of the narrative where Desroches-Noblecourt disappears. For someone who wants a fully focused biography only of her, I could understand where these diversions could become distracting. However, I am a fan of Lynne Olson’s work because she has an uncanny ability to make every chapter interesting. While I believe the book would still be a great read without any tangents, they do add some nuance which enriches the overall book.

An example would be the portions of the book that center on Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Kennedy Onassis is a great contrast to Desroches-Noblecourt. They were both intelligent and driven, but they achieved things in completely different ways. No one would have ever called Desroches-Noblecourt a shrinking violet. In fact, the end of the book is extremely satisfying as Olson fully reveals what Desroches-Noblecourt was like to work with from the view of her colleagues. Their comments are both a bit shocking in their candidness and yet not surprising in the least.

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


A great book that has something for everyone. Buy it here!

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Walk Through Fire by Yasmine Ali

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Walk Through Fire:

Don’t go look at train derailments!

Quick synopsis:

The story of the Waverly Train Disaster of 1978.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

The explosion was so powerful that a tank pipe was thrown over 400 yards.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

The medical examiner for the disaster also did Elvis’ autopsy.

My Take on Walk Through Fire:

Ever heard of the Waverly Train Disaster of 1978? No, I hadn’t either. However, I am glad Yasmine Ali rectified that situation.

Ali, who grew up in Waverly, TN and whose parents feature prominently in the narrative, tells the story of a train derailment which turned into a massive explosion well after the crash. The explosion would leave hundreds injured and 16 dead. The aftermath would lead to the creation of FEMA in the U.S.

The good parts of this book are very good. Ali writes about Waverly in a very loving manner and her familiarity with the people of the town makes her prose that much more effective. She does not dwell too long on any one person or event and the increasing tension is palpable before the explosion. Ali’s medical training also adds to the story, but she never gets too deep into “doctor speak.” When Ali is focused on the people and the train disaster, this book is excellent.

I have some minor quibbles. The section on legislation and the creation of FEMA slows down the book overall. Other disaster books usually need to talk about long, drawn out court battles but there wasn’t much to speak of after Waverly. FEMA just sort of seemed inevitable as opposed to a true call to action over insurmountable odds.

The only other criticism is the explosion is not explained in depth. There are recollections from people in Waverly when it happened, but there is no cohesive section explaining exactly what happened when everything finally ignited. Again, this is a very minor detail and did not inhibit my enjoyment of the book. I definitely recommend it for anyone who enjoys books of people or towns overcoming tragedy.

(This book was provided to me as an advance copy by Netgalley and Kensington Books.)


A really interesting book about a disaster you probably never heard of. Buy it here!

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The Confidante by Christopher Gorham

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for The Confidante:

I don’t know what she said in those meetings, but it worked.

Quick synopsis:

The story of Anna Marie Rosenberg who was known as the most important woman in the U.S. government during World War II and beyond.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

To keep up morale during World War II, movie theaters often showed movies until 5 a.m. for overnight workers getting off shifts.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

A ping-pong ball size of Uranium 235 in a nuclear reaction is equal to thousands of tons of TNT.

My Take on The Confidante:

Have you ever heard of Anna Marie Rosenberg before? I will admit that even a nerd like me had never heard her name before. Luckily, Christopher Gorham did the hard work and wrote this book!

The best way I can describe Anna Rosenberg is to take Forrest Gump, make him a woman, and then make her extremely smart and savvy. Rosenberg was a key player in the presidencies of everyone from FDR to LBJ. She was the first person ever to receive the Medal of Freedom at the behest of then General Eisenhower. She was also an Assistant Secretary of Defense in 1950. She also made a whole bunch of money on her own through her own business in the private sector. She seemed to be in the middle of everything for decades.

So why don’t people know her name? Gorham goes a long way to show how it happened. Rosenberg’s power was in her personal touch and, perhaps more importantly, she knew how to keep her mouth shut.

This is a great biography of someone you never heard of before but really should have. Also, bonus points for one president coming off as a total jerk in this narrative. It’s not the one you think it is!

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


A great book about someone you never heard of but should have. Buy it here!

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Vanished in Vermillion by Lou Raguse

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Vanished in Vermillion:

Holy bad policing, Batman!

Quick synopsis:

The story of the 1971 disappearance of Pam Jackson and Sherri Miller in South Dakota.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

South Dakota has more shoreline than Florida.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

South Dakota is home to less than 1 million people.

My Take on Vanished in Vermillion:

Vanished in Vermillion by Lou Raguse is one of the best documented stories of terrible police work I have ever read. Chronicling the disappearance and search for Pam Jackson and Sherri Miller in 1971, Raguse covers all aspects of the case from beginning to end. I often find myself at the end of true crime books feeling like the narrative is rushed to focus on the more salacious details. Raguse will never be accused of that (in a good way) and I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

I will avoid spoilers but can say this story has an ending which should be satisfying for anyone who believes in facts. This book is just as much about Sherri and Pam as it is about a family terrorizes by a police department in way over its head. One particular sheriff makes you question whether or not sheriffs as an elected position should even exist.

This true crime book has everything. If you love true crime and want a fully developed story, then this book is definitely for you.

(This book was provided to me as an advance copy by Netgalley and Post Hill Press.)


One of my favorite new reads. Read it ASAP. Buy it here!

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Comet Madness by Richard J. Goodrich

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Comet Madness:

The newspapers lied! Kinda!

Quick synopsis:

A look at how when Halley’s Comet visited Earth in 1910 some people thought it would kill us all.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

When Halley’s Comet came by, it was closer than Mars, but still fifty-four times the distance of the moon away.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

Halley’s Comet’s tail is about 22 million kilometers long.

My Take on Comet Madness:

What’s more dangerous than a comet? Bad science and bogus journalism, apparently.

Comet Madness by Richard Goodrich centers on the 1910 Visit of Halley’s Comet. Goodrich takes a look at how the media created an absolute frenzy around…well, not much of anything but misrepresentations and crackpot theories. If you are a person who walks around these days saying, “fake news” then this book is clearly for you. Goodrich pulls no punches in blaming the media for some of the crazy, sad, and heartbreaking actions people took due to yellow journalism.

The book is mostly a chronicle of scientific theories about what Halley’s Comet would (or mostly would not) do on its visit to Earth. Goodrich clearly did a lot of research and he scoured numerous newspapers to dredge up the stories of people refusing to pay bills, praying harder than ever, or in the worst cases, harming themselves. Some parts are sad, and some parts are downright hilarious.

The wild veering between a sad story and then a witty retort to a reporter can make the book feel disjointed at times. Also, while it is not the point of the book, I would have liked a chapter solely devoted to the actual facts around the comet. These are minor nitpicks. It is still a very enjoyable read.

(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and Rowman & Littlefield.)


Since the media never creates drama nowadays come read about it in this book! Buy it here!

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Revolutionary Roads by Bob Thompson

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Revolutionary Roads:

American Revolution ROAD TRIP!

Quick synopsis:

A literal walk-through of major places during the American Revolution.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

Every American knows Lexington and Concord, but the most deaths on the day the Revolution started was in Menotomy (now Arlington), Massachusetts.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

Friend of History Nerds United, James Kirby Martin, is quoted in this book! That’s enough to require a read.

My Take on Revolutionary Roads:

Road trip! In Revolutionary Roads, Bob Thompson decides to quite literally head to the battlefields. He visits many of the major sites of the American Revolution and listens to the many experts he comes across along the way.

Thompson’s style is free and easy. He writes about history in a mostly non-serious way and adds some flair to the drier sections. There is a fair amount of summing up the battles although a few like Saratoga get in-depth analysis.

If you are a big Revolution buff, you will not find too much you don’t already know. This is more of a “cheat sheet” to the war but you will still find some nuggets which are ignored in most books. Thompson’s chapter on Black soldiers in the war is a particular standout.

Anyone whose experience with the American Revolution is entirely confined to grade school, this is the perfect book for you. Thompson makes the war come alive and targets an audience who vaguely remembers the facts but is willing to give this time period another look. Thompson brings these revolutionary characters back to life for a casual audience.

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


A fun read that’s great for an American Revolution introduction. Buy it here!

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