Skip to main content

January 2024

The World That Wasn’t: Henry Wallace and the Fate of the American Century, Benn Steil, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2024, 655 pages.
The World That Wasn’t: Henry Wallace and the Fate of the American Century, by Benn Steil

Editor’s Note: Derek Leebaert is the author of several books on American history and the military, including Unlikely Heroes: Franklin Roosevelt, His Four Lieutenants, and the World They Made. He is a founder of the National Museum of the United States Army.

fred and ginger carefree
In their collaborations spanning 10 films and one Broadway musical, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers became one of Hollywood's most popular dancing duos. New York Public Library

In the winter of 1933, the United States was at the height of the Great Depression. The unemployment rate had reached a staggering 24.9% and close to thirteen million people were out of work. Even elegant Central Park was considered a shanty town, more prominently known as a “Hooverville,” and serving as an encampment for the homeless. But the daily economic struggles did not prevent Americans from making the trek to their local theaters to see the latest musical from Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO) Studios, Flying Down to Rio

Skookum jim
A Tagish Indian known as Skookum Jim Mason discovered gold in the Klondike in 1896.

Before August 17, 1896, Americans had little interest in Alaska, a far-off “district” — not even a territory — full of wolves and ice and forests. That attitude started to change 128 years ago, when a Tagish Indian known as Skookum Jim spotted something shimmering among the stones in a creek near the Yukon River. The Klondike Gold Rush began as soon as news of the discovery reached the states, and between 1897 and 1899, one in every 700 Americans had abandoned their home and set out for the “Golden River.”

loyalists murdered
In this 1783 British drawing, American loyalists are being scalped and slaughtered by rebels, depicted as Indians, presumably to equate American with barbarian.

spengler cambodia
Before the American invasion of Cambodia in 1970 during the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon authorized 14 months of covert bombing of the country, with B-52s launching 3695 attacks. This included numerous raids on the capital city, Phnom Penh, then home to almost 400,000 people. Courtesy of the photographer, Christine Spengler

Editor's Note: The following was adapted from Carolyn Woods Eisenberg’s recent book, Fire and Rain: Nixon, Kissinger, and the Wars in Southeast Asia.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.