Annal: 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for History

Results of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the year 2011.

Book:Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America

Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America

Richard White

A new, incisive history of the transcontinental railroads and how they transformed America in the decades after the Civil War.

The transcontinental railroads of the late nineteenth century were the first corporate behemoths. Their attempts to generate profits from proliferating debt sparked devastating panics in the U.S. economy. Their dependence on public largess drew them into the corridors of power, initiating new forms of corruption. Their operations rearranged space and time, and remade the landscape of the West. As wheel and rail, car and coal, they opened new worlds of work and ways of life. Their discriminatory rates sparked broad opposition and a new antimonopoly politics.

With characteristic originality, range, and authority, Richard White shows the transcontinentals to be pivotal actors…[more]

Book:1861: The Civil War Awakening

1861: The Civil War Awakening

Adam Goodheart

An epic of courage and heroism beyond the battlefields, 1861 is Adam Goodheart’s account of how the Civil War began and a second American revolution unfolded, setting Abraham Lincoln on the path to greatness and millions of slaves on the road to freedom. In this gripping and original book, Goodheart introduces us to a heretofore little-known cast of Civil War heroes—among them an acrobatic militia colonel, an explorer’s wife, an idealistic band of German immigrants, a regiment of New York City firemen, a community of Virginia slaves, and a young college professor who would one day become president. Their stories take us from the corridors of the White House to the slums of Manhattan, from the waters of the Chesapeake to the deserts of Nevada, from Boston Common to Alcatraz Island, vividly evoking the Union at its moment of ultimate crisis and decision.

Book:The Anatomy of a Moment

The Anatomy of a Moment: Thirty-Five Minutes in History and Imagination

Javier Cercas, Anne McLean

In February 1981, Spain was still emerging from Franco’s shadow, holding a democratic vote for the new prime minister. On the day of the vote in Parliament, while the session was being filmed by TV cameras, a band of right-wing soldiers burst in with automatic weapons, ordering everyone to get down. Only three men defied the order. For thirty-five minutes, as the cameras rolled, they stayed in their seats.

Critically adored novelist Javier Cercas originally set out to write a novel about this pivotal moment, but determined it had already gained an air of myth, or, through the annual broadcast of video clips, had at least acquired the fictional taint of reality television. Cercas turned to nonfiction, and his vivid descriptions of the archival footage frame a narrative that traverses the line between history and art, creating a daring new account of this watershed moment in modern Spanish history. …[more]

Book:Molotov's Magic Lantern

Molotov's Magic Lantern: Travels in Russian History

Rachel Polonsky

When the British journalist Rachel Polonsky moves to Moscow, she discovers an apartment on Romanov Street that was once home to the Soviet elite. One of the most infamous neighbors was the ruthless apparatchik Vyacheslav Molotov, a henchman for Stalin who was a participant in the collectivizations and the Great Purge—and also an ardent bibliophile. In what was formerly Molotov’s apartment, Polonsky uncovers an extensive library and an old magic lantern—two things that lead her on an extraordinary journey throughout Russia and ultimately renew her vision of the country and its people.

In Molotov’s Magic Lantern, Polonsky visits the haunted cities and vivid landscapes of the books from Molotov’s library: works by Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Akhmatova, and others, some of whom were sent to the Gulag by the very man who collected their books. With exceptional insight and beautiful prose, Polonsky writes about the longings and aspirations of these…[more]

Book:To End All Wars

To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918

Adam Hochschild

World War I stands as one of history’s most senseless spasms of carnage, defying rational explanation. In a riveting, suspenseful narrative with haunting echoes for our own time, Adam Hochschild brings it to life as never before. He focuses on the long-ignored moral drama of the war’s critics, alongside its generals and heroes. Thrown in jail for their opposition to the war were Britain’s leading investigative journalist, a future winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and an editor who, behind bars, published a newspaper for his fellow inmates on toilet paper. These critics were sometimes intimately connected to their enemy hawks: one of Britain’s most prominent women pacifist campaigners had a brother who was commander in chief on the Western Front. Two well-known sisters split so bitterly over the war that they ended up publishing newspapers that attacked each other. 

Today, hundreds of military cemeteries spread across the fields of northern France and Belgium contain the bodies of millions of men who died in the “war to end all wars.” Can we ever avoid repeating history?

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