I was in a discussion with a family member who was heading for vacation, and he asked me if I had any reading recommendations.  Most years I rarely get through more than a book or two, but this year for some reason I plowed through a bunch of books.  I typically read histories and biographies, yet sprinkle in a little popular fiction when I want to give my mind a rest.

So since my year has been so productive, I decided I better put together a ‘best of list’ of the stuff I read this year.   Since the fiction I read is just pop culture stuff, and usually pretty old, I didn’t include it.  So I decided to limit it to history this year.

So, without further ado, here is my list of favorite history books I read this year.

 1.  Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival

We all know about Lewis and Clark, and their exploration to the Pacific.  Soon after Lewis and Clark, in the early 1800’s, John Jacob Astor saw the business opportunity of this unexplored land and tried to build a huge monopoly in fur trading.    Even though I have grown up in the Pacific Northwest and traveled extensively around this region, I wasn’t aware of this interesting story.  As I sit here during a dreary December Day, I can only imagine the mental struggles this party went through.  In addition to a great adventure story, an interesting business angle too.


2. D Day Through German Eyes

A short book – only 140 pages – so it is a quick about the German soldiers stationed on the French coast on D-Day.  As part of a German propaganda effort the author interviewed a number of soldiers prior to the invasion gathering patriotic stories.  The author then tried to track down a number of these soldiers after the war to hear their story of what happened to them the day of the invasion.  An angle on WW2 you don’t often hear, and you realize how tragic the war was for everybody involved.


 My friend and avid history Buff Tony recommended this to me,  and really enjoyed it. This book covers the rise of the Navy post-sailing ships and the politics behind it.  If you enjoy 20th century history, this is a good introduction to where it all got started in the 1880’s.  A time of massive military buildup by Britain and Germany, and a shift in allegiances in Europe that lead to the WWI.

 An account of the US Ambassador to Germany’s posting in Berlin starting in 1933.  Interesting perspective of prewar Germany, though it does get a little soap-opera’ish with the stories of the daughter’s dalliances. It does provide a feel for what it must feel like to see a government steer towards tyranny.

A book recommended by a friend – The Grumpy Geezer.   Didn’t know much about it, but  really enjoyed it.  A true first person account of a pilot in Vietnam in the late 60’s.  The writer is not a professional writer,  but the story he tells of his experiences is engrossing, and give an interesting peek into how the soldiers felt about the war.  Reads like a journal, and I think anybody who is a pilot would especially enjoy it.

If you like my #2 pick Dreadnought, you will want to read this pseudo-sequel.  This picks up the story after World War I with the starting with Paris peace conference and the politics behind the Versailles Treaty.  I was expecting to read more about how the Allies shafted Germany, but most of the focus of the book is on all the other decisions that were made carving up countries.  It makes you realize that much of the decisions made in 1919 are responsible for many of the issues of today.  And if the world was given one historical ‘do-over’ in the 20th century, this period of time might be a good candidate.

For 2017 I have solicited input from several people, and have a large reading list ahead of me. My resolution this year is to try to stay away from WWI or WWII – as I typically gravitate to that era and need to broaden my horizons. There is lots of good history out there – so if you don’t feel like physically travelling anywhere next year, I recommend you travel in the fourth dimension and read some history.

1 Comment on My Best History Reads of 2016

  1. Tony Vetro says:

    Astoria has been on my list of want to get and read books since it came out! Glad to see it will be worth while.

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