In illuminating and compelling narrative histories including the acclaimed Last Hope Island, Those Angry Days, and Citizens of London, Lynne Olson has deftly explored the multi-faceted political history of the World War II-era. Her new book, Madame Fourcade’s Secret War (Random House, $30), tells the story of Marie-Madeleine Fourcade (1909-1989), who in 1941 became the only woman to lead a French Resistance organization. In charge of the Alliance, a vast network of some three thousand spies and secret radio operators, Fourcade was instrumental in procuring some of the war’s most valuable intelligence. The Alliance’s effectiveness drove the Nazis to hunt down its agents relentlessly, and they killed hundreds of members. They captured Fourcade twice—she escaped both times, and survived the war and occupation to become active in French politics. Olson’s dramatic account, which includes a history of the role of the Vichy government, details on just how MI6 used the intelligence the Alliance gathered, and extended the stories of Fourcade’s associates, introduces a brave and unconventional woman who deserves to be better known.
In his Peer-to-Peer Conversations for The David Rubenstein Show on PBS, David M. Rubenstein, a philanthropist and financier, has engaged with top figures in the business world to explore the question of what makes a good leader. Extending the discussion to American historians, The American Story (Simon & Schuster, $30) is a collection of dynamic exchanges with preeminent writers and scholars. Covering the pivotal events and people from the founding to the late 20th century, the collection features Taylor Branch on Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Caro on LBJ, Ron Chernow on Hamilton, Doris Kearns Goodwin on Lincoln, David McCullough on Adams, as well as a special conversation with Chief Justice John Roberts and a foreword by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden.
The death of Tony Horwitz earlier this year was a tragic loss to the literary community and his last book, Spying on the South (Penguin Press, $30), is an exceptional example of the kind of intrepid spirit that he was. Following the wanderings of Frederick Law Olmsted through the South on the eve of the Civil War, Horwitz’s own travels read as an homage to the restless curiosity that drove Olmsted to roam and the empathy for humanity that inspired him to create Central Park, aka the “people’s park.” Rather than attempting to explain the South here, Horwitz—as Olmsted did—opts for offering observations over analysis. He lets us hear the voices of the people he meets, and as we listen to them tell their own tales, the book offers an implicit hope that we as readers will be able to find common ground among the diversity of experiences. Conversational and often humorous, Horwitz’s journalistic style is ultimately more poignant that comic; his openness and genuine interest in dialogue feels as uncommon and incredibly important in our political climate as it did to Olmsted two centuries ago.