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BKLYN BookMatch: Espionage and 19th-C Adventure Writing

This list was created by a librarian with the Brooklyn Public Library for a reader of 19th-century nonfiction adventure writing, espionage, Nathaniel Philbrick, and Simon Winchester. Would you like your own personalized list of reading suggestions? Visit Bklyn BookMatch here: bklynlibrary.org/bookmatch

5 items

Empire of the summer moon

S.C. Gwynne. |

In the tradition of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a stunningly vivid historical account of the forty-year battle between Comanche Indians and white settlers for control of the American West, centering on Quanah, the greatest Comanche chief of them all. Readers will meet the Comanche braves who learned to ride bareback at the age of six and were considered the best horsemen who ever rode. They were so masterful at war and so skillful with their arrows and lances that they stopped the northern drive of colonial Spain from Mexico and halted the French expansion westward from Louisiana. So effective were the Comanches that they forced the creation of the Texas Rangers and account for the advent of the new weapon specifically designed to fight them: the six-gun. Against this backdrop Gwynne presents the compelling drama of Cynthia Ann Parker, a lovely nine-year-old girl with cornflower-blue eyes who was kidnapped by Comanches from the far Texas frontier in 1836. She grew to love her captors and became infamous as the "White Squaw" who refused to return until her tragic capture by Texas Rangers in 1860. More famous still was her son Quanah, a warrior who was never defeated and whose guerrilla wars in the Texas Panhandle made him a legend. The war with the Comanches lasted four decades, in effect holding up the development of the new American nation. Gwynne’s exhilarating account delivers a sweeping narrative that encompasses Spanish colonialism, the Civil War, the destruction of the buffalo herds, and the arrival of the railroads—a historical feast for anyone interested in how the United States came into being.

The lost city of Z

David Grann. |

After stumbling upon a hidden trove of diaries, New Yorker writer David Grann set out to solve "the greatest exploration mystery of the 20th century": What happened to the British explorer Percy Fawcett & his quest for the Lost City of Z? In 1925, Fawcett ventured into the Amazon to find an ancient civilization, hoping to make one of the most important discoveries in history. For centuries Europeans believed the world's largest jungle concealed the glittering kingdom of El Dorado. Thousands had died looking for it, leaving many scientists convinced that the Amazon was truly inimical to humans. But Fawcett, whose daring expeditions inspired Conan Doyle's The Lost World, had spent years building his scientific case. Captivating the imagination of millions round the globe, Fawcett embarked with his 21-year-old son, determined to prove that this ancient civilisation--which he dubbed Z--existed. Then his expedition vanished. Fawcett's fate, & the tantalizing clues he left behind about Z, became an obsession for hundreds who followed him into the uncharted wilderness. . .

Matthew A. Henson's historic Arctic journey

Matthew A. Henson ; foreword by Robert E. Peary ; introductions by Deirdre C. Stam and Booker T. Washington. |

In this fascinating memoir, Matthew Henson describes the incredibly dangerous, exhausting, and bone-chilling trip to what was until then the never-before reached point on earth, the North Pole. Born in 1866 to free sharecroppers in Maryland, Matthew Henson became a cabin boy aboard a Chesapeake Bay merchant ship at age 12. He quickly learned to sail and eventually met American explorer and ship commander Robert E. Peary. Henson ended up accompanying Peary as a crew member on a six-man surveying mission to Nicaragua and so impressed the captain with his seamanship that Peary christened him “first man.” Over the next 20 years, Henson accompanied Peary on six voyages into the Arctic, mastered the Inuit language, and became known as the only non-Inuit to become skilled in driving dog sleds and training dog teams in the Inuit way. Along with Peary and four Inuits, Henson was part of the team widely believed to have discovered the North Pole on April 6, 1909—in fact, several reports support Henson’s claim that his footprints were the first to cross latitude 90. He was certainly the one to plant the U.S. flag at the North Pole. In 1912, Henson published a memoir about his Arctic conquests, titled A Negro Explorer at the North Pole, which included a foreword and praise from Peary.

Red Joan

Jennie Rooney. |

Inspired by the true story of Melita Norwood, a woman unmasked in 1999, at age 87, as the KGB's longest-serving British spy, Red Joan centers on the deeply conflicted life of a brilliant young physicist during the Second World War. Talented and impressionable, Cambridge undergraduate Joan Stanley befriends the worldly Sonya, whose daring history is at odds with Joan's provincial upbringing. Joan also feels a growing attraction toward Leo, Sonya's mysterious and charismatic cousin. Sonya and Leo, known communist sympathizers with ties to Russia and Germany, interpret wartime loyalty in ways Joan can only begin to fathom. As nations throughout the continent fall to fascism, Joan is enlisted into an urgent project that will change the course of the war—and the world—forever. Risking both career and conscience, leaking information to the Soviets, but struggling to maintain her own semblance of morality, Joan is caught at a crossroads in which all paths lead to the same end-game: the deployment of the atomic bomb. Life during wartime, however, is often ambiguous, and when—decades later—MI5 agents appear at her doorstep, Joan must reaffirm the cost of the choices she made and face the cold truth: our deepest secrets have a way of dragging down those we love the most.

A woman of no importance : the untold story of the American spy who helped win WWII

Purnell, Sonia, author. |

In 1942, the Gestapo sent out an urgent transmission: "She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her." This spy was Virginia Hall, a young American woman--rejected from the foreign service because of her gender and her prosthetic leg--who talked her way into the spy organization deemed Churchill's "ministry of ungentlemanly warfare," and, before the United States had even entered the war, became the first woman to deploy to occupied France. Virginia Hall was one of the greatest spies in American history, yet her story remains untold. At a time when sending female secret agents into enemy territory was still strictly forbidden, Virginia Hall came to be known as the "Madonna of the Resistance," coordinating a network of spies to blow up bridges, report on German troop movements, arrange equipment drops for Resistance agents, and recruit and train guerilla fighters. Even as her face covered WANTED posters throughout Europe, Virginia refused order after order to evacuate. She finally escaped with her life in a grueling hike over the Pyrenees into Spain, her cover blown, and her associates all imprisoned or executed. But, adamant that she had "more lives to save," she dove back in as soon as she could, organizing forces to sabotage enemy lines and back up Allied forces landing on Normandy beaches. Told with Purnell's signature insight and novelistic flare, A Woman of No Importance is the breathtaking story of how one woman's fierce persistence helped win the war.