The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. Mitchell is one brilliant writer by any measure.
While the novel has the trappings of a swashbuckling historical adventure novel, it is also a story of unrequited love, a look at Japan’s fateful embrace of Western modernity, shifting balances of power (Dutch imperial ambitions being checked by France and England at the end of the 18th Century), and the difficulty of finding a home in a world where personal autonomy and intellectual pursuits are severely circumscribed.
It’s on many top ten lists for good reason.
Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S. C. Gwynne. A great, great narrative history. No one is sentimentalized. I learned that many of the celebrated “victories” against Native Americans were little more than massacres of women, children and old men who had declared a truce or negotiated a peace treaty with someone else.
I also learned that you really did not want to be taken prisoner by the Comanches, though some children, like Cynthia Parker, were adopted by the tribe. You also didn’t want to fight the Comanches on foot. The story of Quanah Parker, whose mother was abducted as a little girl from a white settlement, is quite enthralling.
His mother lived with the Comanches for 24 years and never saw her son again after she was recaptured (following another massacre by whites). Quanah successfully reinvented himself after the army succeeded in forcing his people onto the reservation. The Indian Wars were hell. And the treaties that were signed with Native Americans were about as illusory as the Middle East “peace process”.
So there you have it. A few quick book recommendations for anyone who is looking.
Strength training for body and mind