Skip to main content

Book Reviews

Holiday Gift Special

June 2024
4min read

Notable American History Books of 2008

 Brothers in Arms: The Kennedys, the Castros, and the Politics of Murder 

By Gus Russo and Stephen Molton

A new report on the Kennedy and Castro brothers reopens the assassination case with 30-years-worth of breakthrough research and interviews, positing that Bobby Kennedy’s push for Fidel Castro’s murder accomplished instead the death of his own brother; and that Lee Harvey Oswald killed a beloved president, but his crime may have prevented a third world war. 560 pages. Bloomsbury, USA (October)


Champlain’s Dream: The European Founding of North America

By David Hackett Fischer 

The first biography of Samuel de Champlain in decades traces his early years fighting in France’s religious wars and sailing the high seas. Remembered today as a great explorer, Champlain was also a visionary, committed to a tolerant and peaceful colony in New France. 848 pages. Simon & Schuster (October)


Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners 

During the Revolutionary War 

By Edwin Burrows 

An account of the 25,000 American prisoners of war confined to New York City prisons during the American Revolution, who lived under conditions so horrendous that as many as 17,500 died, almost 10,000 more than in combat.  320 pages. Basic Books (November) 


The Hemingses of Monticello 

By Annette Gordon-Reed 

A history chronicling the Hemings family of Jefferson’s Monticello and its tangled blood links with slave-holding Virginia whites. This history explores the complexities and varieties of slaves’ lives, and the nature of the choices they had to make—when they had the luxury of making a choice. 800 pages. 

W. W. Norton 



If By Sea: The Forging 

Lof the American Navy 

By George Daughan 

This history traces the roots of the U.S. Navy to the Revolution, demonstrating that wartime experiences produced talented officers, trained seamen, and allowed the burgeoning American government to develop a basic understanding of how its 

navy should be 

employed. 576 pages. Basic Books (May)



Lincoln and His Admirals 

By Craig L. Symonds 

Abraham Lincoln, who began his presidency admitting that he knew “little about ships,” came into the command of the largest national armada of that time. The history reveals how he managed the men who ran the naval side of the Civil War—and how the activities of the Union Navy ultimately affected the course of history. 448 pages. Oxford University Press, USA (October)


Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter 1860–1861

By Harold Holzer

This narrative examines the four months between Lincoln’s 1860 election and his inauguration, revealing how he organized the government, reached out to the South, and stuck to his position of not allowing the spread of slavery. 640 pages. Simon & Schuster (October)


Nathanael Greene: A Biography of the American Revolution 

By Gerald M. Carbone 

At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Nathanael Greene enlisted as a private in the militia, and by its end had won a reputation as George Washington’s most gifted and dependable officer. This history chronicles Greene’s unlikely rise to success and his fall into debt and anonymity. 288 pages. Palgrave Macmillan (June)


Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America 

By Rick Perlstein

An account of Richard Nixon as a masterful harvester of negative energy, turning the turmoil of the 1960s into a ladder to political notoriety. While he spoke of solid, old-fashioned American values, many demons haunted him, leading him to view his political adversaries as enemies of both himself and the nation. 896 pages. Scribner (May)


One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War 

By Michael Dobbs

This re-examination of the 1961 Bay of Pigs face-off between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. reveals how—contrary to the myth of Kennedy’s steel-nerved management—the crisis was shaped by improvisation, guesswork, and blind luck. 448 pages. Knopf (June)


Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World  

By Eric Foner 

Original essays by eminent Lincoln scholars James McPherson, Sean Wilentz, Eric Foner, James Oakes, and others focusing on Lincoln’s leadership as president and commander in chief, evolving position in the context of party politics, his role in the movement to colonize emancipated slaves outside the United States, and views on race and citizenship. 256 pages. W. W. Norton (October)


This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American 

Civil War 

By Drew Gilpin Faust

This history examines how the extraordinary carnage of the Civil War brought about major changes in the fabric of American society—the invention of the modern reverence for military death and individual rights; the emergence of the concept of the Good Death; the rise of the embalming industry; the swelling national movement to recover soldiers’ remains. 645 pages. Thorndike Press (August)


Saving Savannah: The City and the Civil War 

By Jacqueline Jones

This history looks at Savannah’s pre-Civil War prosperous rice empire and the white workers and black slaves who maintained it. After the war ended, the promise of equality proved elusive when Northerners, motivated by varying combinations of morality and enterprise, colluded with Southern whites to keep blacks from attaining full self-determination. 528 pages. Knopf (October)


A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn—the Last Great Battle of the American West 

By James Donovan 

This history weaves together the multiple threads that led to the 1876 massacre at Little Big Horn, making a good case for Custer as scapegoat by portraying him as a likeable Civil War hero, flamboyant publicity hound, and more experienced Indian fighter than most of his men and all of his commanders. 544 pages. Little, Brown and Company (March)


Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt 

By H.W. Brands

This biography sheds new light on FDR's formative years, his remarkable willingness to champion the concerns of the poor and disenfranchised, his combination of political genius, firm leadership, and matchless diplomacy in saving democracy in America during the Great Depression and the American cause of freedom in 

World War II. 896 pages. Doubleday (November)


Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief 

By James M. McPherson

Abraham Lincoln, who arrived at the White House with no military experience, quickly established himself as the greatest commander in chief in American history, effectively inventing the process by which a president declares war and dictates strategy. 384 pages. Penguin Press (October)


The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006–2008 

By Bob Woodward

As violence in Iraq reached unnerving levels in 2006, a second front raged at the highest levels of the Bush administration. The fourth in a series on President George W. Bush, this history takes readers inside the secret debates and titanic personal struggles for power within the White House, Pentagon, State Department, intelligence agencies, and the U.S. military headquarters in Iraq. 512 pages. Simon & Schuster (September)


Washington Burning: How a Frenchman’s Vision for Our 

Nation’s Capital Survived 

Congress, the Founding Fathers, and the Invading British Army 

By Les Standiford 

The story of Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the eccentric, passionate, and difficult architect, who fell in love with his adopted country, and did so much to shape the nation’s capital. 368 pages. Crown (May)


The West the Railroads Made 

By Carlos A. Schwantes and James P. Ronda 

This illustrated history documents how the railroads radically transformed the Great Plains and large parts of the Pacific Northwest, “like a magician’s rod in its power to evoke the sleeping energies of land and water,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. 229 pages. University of Washington Press (April )


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.