Posted in HistoryNet
October 3, 2022

In Our Own Words: Books and Works by HistoryNet Staff

HistoryNet’s staff members aren’t just accomplished at making sure you get to read in-depth takes on historical events — they’re respected historians, writers and photographers in their own right.

Want proof? Just take a look at these selections of works by HistoryNet’s editors — and read the behind-the-scenes stories about how they came about.

‘Man From Montana’: Plumbing Henry Plummer

In 1981, at age 28, I visited and researched the old Montana gold mining towns of Bannack and Virginia City for information about the 1860s vigilantes and road agents with the idea of writing a novel. But after reading Ernest Haycox’s excellent Western “Alder Gulch on the same subject and believing I couldn’t match that 1942 book, I sorrowfully dropped the project. I did keep my notes, and I used them to write a June 1992 Wild West magazine article about Sheriff Henry Plummer, who was hanged by vigilantes in Bannack in January 1864.

Turns out, however, I wasn’t up on the latest research. A pair of revisionist authors (who believed Plummer wasn’t so bad) questioned what I had written, and then-editor Bill Vogt and myself agreed to run their “new perspective article” on Plummer in the August 1993 Wild West. Was that enough to make me stop dealing with Plummer, Bannack and all? Nope, not by a long shot.

I revisited the ghost town in Bannack State Park three more times in the 2000s and, newly inspired, wrote “Man from Montana,” a 2021 historical novel set in 1860s Bannack and Virginia City. It was a mighty long time in coming and I was now pushing 70, but I felt much nostalgic satisfaction and even imagined the great Western writer Ernest Haycox, if not the controversial lawman Henry Plummer, nodding their approval from the great beyond.

— Gregory Lalire, editor of Wild West

Man From Montana

by Gregory J. Lalire, Wheeler Publishing, 2021

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‘Escape From Paris’: Big History Through Small Stories

When my book “The Last Battle: When German and American Soldiers Joined Forces in the Waning Hours of World War II in Europe” hit The New York Times bestseller list in 2014, I realized that there was a real market for the sort of military history I like to write. While I have always enjoyed works that paint history’s characters and conflicts with a broad brush — the books that include fold-out maps with huge red and blue arrows tracing the actions of opposing armies — I’ve always been more interested in the personal tales of individuals or small groups whose actions illuminate war’s larger issues.

The success of the four books that followed “The Last Battle” seemed to further validate my approach, but none quite so much as “Escape from Paris: A True Story of Love and Resistance in Wartime France.” The book blends the tale of a downed American aviator, the French family who hid him in German-occupied Paris, the Resistance fighters who engineered his return to England and the love that he found in France that ultimately transcended time. It is the most personally satisfying book I’ve written, and I commend it to you all.

— Stephen Harding, editor of Military History    

Escape from Paris: A True Story of Love and Resistance in Wartime France

by Stephen Harding, Hachette Books, October 21, 2021

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‘The American Porch’: Out on the Porch

The summer of 1995 found my family at the end of a brutally thorough 14-year renovation, mostly DIY, of a tatterdemalion bungalow in Washington, D.C. We’d refinanced yet again, this time to hire crews to install central air and replace the decrepit front porch with one I designed. I don’t mind telling you I thought my amateur architecting beautiful.

One afternoon, just after a thunderstorm, I was out reading on the freshly refurbed porch — as a freelance writer, I was early to adopt the WFH lifestyle — when the cordless phone chirped. A pal was auditioning for a job with “The New York Times Magazine.” He needed to show he could fill a section with stories no longer than 150 words, and did I have any ideas?

Recalling that T-storm, I said, “Lightning.” Great, he said. What else? I looked around. “Porches,” I said. What about ’em, he said. “I dunno,” I said. “Something.” OK, he said, but if I get the job, do the lightning thing first.

He got the job. I did the lightning thing and started on the porch thing, which proved too tough a nut to crack in 150 words, but I am nothing if not persistent. It occurred to me that although being on my porch made me feel very American, nothing in my research explained why. One of my sources, a New Urbanist architect, was known for walkable neighborhoods featuring front porches. I mentioned to him my thought about the porch and Americanness. “There has been no good book written about the porch,” he said. “You should write it.”

It took seven years and 33 or 34 rejections but “The American Porch: An Informal History of an Informal Place” debuted in 2002 and went through two hardcover printings and into paperback. Now, alas, out of print, in the digiverse it’s a hot resale commodity. Online my porch, my first book, and I enjoy a sort of immortality.

— Michael Dolan, editor of American History.

The American Porch: An Informal History of an Informal Place

by Michael Dolan, UNKNO, October 1, 2002

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‘Bernard Montgomery’s Art of War’: strategy as a Way of Life

Although Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery is famous, few people know the details of his approach to war. A seasoned combat veteran who saw service in many conflicts, Montgomery dedicated his life to studying military science and pursuing excellence in leadership.

I assembled the essentials of his military doctrine into this book, “Bernard Montgomery’s Art of War,” which I arranged in a style similar to Chinese strategist Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” and Japanese warrior Miyamoto Musashi’s “The Book of Five Rings.” I wrote a detailed introduction to the book to shed light on Montgomery as a soldier and strategist. In addition to being a guide to military principles, this assembly of Montgomery’s instructions and reflections can also be used as a lifestyle guide, I believe.

I very much enjoyed creating this book, which includes details about Montgomery’s appreciation of military history, including books he recommended, which will be of interest to military history enthusiasts. I published it in May 2020 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of V-E Day. It was awarded a silver medal from the Military Writers Society of America and was also recommended by the Military Historical Society of the UK. This book will always be one of the works I’m most proud of and also has a special significance to me because Montgomery is my favorite military commander of all time; I am glad that others have found it inspiring.

— Zita Ballinger Fletcher, senior editor of Military History, Vietnam and Military History Quarterly

Bernard Montgomery’s Art of War

by Zita Steele, Fletcher & Company Publishers, May 22, 2020

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‘London Book of Lists’: From Boyhood Memories to Book

Living in London, England, for five years as a boy woke up for me a love of English customs, culture, pageantry and especially its rich history — both in plain view and shyly hidden behind the city’s modern cityscape. So when I landed a job in National Geographic’s book division, I was quick to suggest that I write a book on the city — but something fun and unusual, beyond a normal travel guide.

I spent a glorious month in London doing research, flipping through centuries-old tomes in stately libraries; speaking to wizened museum curators and liveried footmen in royal palaces; touring the homes of the rich, famous and infamous; and, yes, visiting historic Tudor pubs and wood-paneled Victorian gin palaces to report on little-known surprises as well as the best of the best. The book, co-written by a talented English journalist named Tim Jepson, is called “London Book of Lists: The City’s Best, Worst, Oldest, Greatest, and Quirkiest.”

-Larry Porges, senior editor of World War II

London Book of Lists: The City’s Best, Worst, Oldest, Greatest, and Quirkiest

by Larry Porges and Tim Jepson, National Geographic, November 4, 2014

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‘Aerial Foreign Legion’: A Pre-2022 Collaboration

“Aerial Foreign Legion: Volunteer Foreign Airmen in French Escadrille Service” is a book that goes beyond the American Lafayette Flying Corps to the numerous other nationalities who volunteered to fly in World War I, including interviews with an Iranian bomber pilot who sometimes flew with an American as his bombardier and with a Swiss fighter ace. More than 30 years in the making, it got its final boost with the help of a Ukrainian colleague with a wealth of information on Russians in French service and French in the Imperial Russian Air Fleet. Also helping in the final work was a gifted Russian artist who provided the 100 color aircraft profiles. That was in 2019. Our mutual friendship has been more than a bit strained in more recent months.

Jon Guttman, HistoryNet historian and researcher

Aerial Foreign Legion: Volunteer Foreign Airmen in French Escadrille Service

Book subtitle or blurb goes here.
by Jon Guttman, Aeronaut Books, May 12, 2021

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‘Maine Roads to Gettysburg’: How Writing About the Civil War Led to Family Discoveries

Having been born and bred in the Pine Tree State, writing “Maine Roads to Gettysburg: How Joshua Chamberlain, Oliver Howard, and 4,000 Men from the Pine Tree State Helped Win the Civil War’s Bloodiest Battle” had a personal dimension for me. I was curious to learn how the soldiers from my home state ended up fighting in Pennsylvania back in July 1863.

The story is not just about the famous struggle of Chamberlain and the 20th Maine on Little Round Top — Maine soldiers played important roles throughout the battle’s three days. The 16th Maine fought on Oak Ridge on July 1, the 17th Maine held off the Confederates in the Wheatfield on Jan. 2, and the 19th Maine participated in the repulse of Pickett’s Charge on July 3. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Researching the book was a joy, especially when I could visit the Maine State Archives in Augusta and examine actual documents from the war, including some amazing personal accounts. Speaking of personal — as I was working on the book, I discovered that I had a great-great-grandfather who almost made it to the battle. He was a member of the 11th Massachusetts, but sunstroke felled him on the way north to Pennsylvania. I also learned that a great-grandfather, Daniel True Huntington, served as a private in the 31st Maine (which was raised after Gettysburg), and I found his signature on his enlistment papers in the state archives. Something like that really makes history come alive!

— Tom Huntington, editor, Aviation History magazine

Maine Roads to Gettysburg: How Joshua Chamberlain, Oliver Howard, and 4,000 Men from the Pine Tree State Helped Win the Civil War’s Bloodiest Battle

by Tom Huntington, Stackpole Books, May 1, 2018

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‘Belle da Costa Greene’: Sarah Richardson

No article surprised me more than researching the life of Belle da Costa Greene, the stylish librarian who became the first director of J.P. Morgan’s collection (which became The Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan). I learned of her in the first and only biography of Richard Greener, an educator and activist who was the first Black person to graduate from Harvard University and the first Black professor at the University of South Carolina during Reconstruction. In Katherine Reynolds Chaddock’s 2017 biography, written shortly after Greener’s papers were discovered in an attic of a Chicago home slated for demolition, I learned of his rocky career and his eventual estrangement from his family.

Belle Marion Greener was one of his children, and she prized books, like her father. Around age 18, she crossed the color line and reinvented herself as Belle da Costa Greene, claiming to be of Portuguese descent. How this must have felt was unimaginable to me. But Greene was an astonishing personality, showcased in detail in Heidi Ardizonne’s 2007 biography. I felt as if I were experiencing both the dissolution of a family and the emergence of a determined survivor.

A last twist was discovering an article by the paleontologist and polymath Stephen Jay Gould probing a work by 20th-century iconoclastic artist Marcel Duchamp that, Gould argues, embedded references to Belle da Costa Greene’s self-reinvention. I could never have imagined a story that would intertwine the lives of a pioneering Black activist, J.P. Morgan and Marcel Duchamp, let alone that the protagonist would be a woman who not only took a chance to boldly claim herself for herself, but also gain the helm of a cultural treasure.

An exhibition devoted to her will open at the Morgan Library and Museum in fall 2024.

— Sarah Richardson, senior editor, American History, Civil War Times and America’s Civil War


SPRINGSTEEN and Lofgren, 2008: GUY ACETO

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Aug. 19, 2008, Hershey Park, Pennsylvania. The press pass was a welcome invitation to cover a major rock concert. What made it even more exciting … I’ll confess … I’m a fan. That pass provides a unique opportunity to see just how much work goes into a show like this. Normally, the rules are straightforward, the first three songs and off you go. It gives the photographers the chance to get the images to their respective newspapers for the next day’s review.

I was shooting for a fan publication that had developed a close relationship with the Springsteen organization, and the few of us following the tour were selected to provide “content” for the all-important “social media presence.” As a result, I’d been given the go-ahead to shoot throughout the show, not just the first three songs. This time I’d shoot from a spot just behind the pit, a standing room only area in front of the stage. I was able to get tighter, closer and hopefully make some images I thought would be a bit more intimate.

The concert is a rock and roll marathon, and for many a near-religious experience. The energy is a result of the back and forth between Bruce, the band and his audience. Here at Hershey, the fans were helping make this show one to remember.

Nils Lofgren and Bruce Springsteen in 2008. (Photo; http://aceartanddesign.com)
(Photo: Guy Aceto)

Suddenly there was a quiet moment, Bruce sat down on stage, still singing. Nils Lofgren, an amazing guitarist in his own right, ever-present guitar in hand, sat next to him. It was a quiet, poignant moment between the two friends who had been playing together for nearly 40 years, their friendship on display in front of about 40,000 people. Focus, shoot, keep shooting.

I knew I had caught the moment, but it wouldn’t be until later that I was really able to appreciate the photograph. You tend to be busy “in the camera,” following musicians on stage, trying to anticipate what will happen next. No matter how many times you’ve seen the show, something different is bound to happen. I was happy with a lot of what I had shot, but that quiet image of Bruce and Nils still stood out to me.

Sometime later, it truly became one of my very favorite images. Nils Lofgren had seen the shot and contacted me, asking to use image with his promotional material. I couldn’t think of a better compliment. Since then, I’ve seen that photograph from the pages of The Washington Post to an online concert report in Norway.

There are rumors of a new album and tour dates for 2023 have already been announced. My bags are packed.

— Guy Aceto, photo editor, Aviation History, Vietnam and World War II

historynet magazines

Our 9 best-selling history titles feature in-depth storytelling and iconic imagery to engage and inform on the people, the wars, and the events that shaped America and the world.

HistoryNet Staff October 3, 2022 at 09:55PM

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