What's the best nonfiction book you've read recently that a) tells a story leading up to a pivotal historical moment and b) centers on the most powerful (or lesser known!) figures involved?
Book mentions in this thread
A Shark Going Inland Is My Chief
by Patrick Vinton KirchTracing the origins of the Hawaiians and other Polynesians back to the shores of the South China Sea, archaeologist Patrick Vinton Kirch follows their voyages of discovery across the Pacific in this fascinating history of Hawaiian culture from about one thousand years ago. Combining more than four decades of his own research with Native Hawaiian oral traditions and the evidence of archaeology, Kirch puts a human face on the gradual rise to power of the Hawaiian god-kings, who by the late eighteenth century were locked in a series of wars for ultimate control of the entire archipelago. This lively, accessible chronicle works back from Captain James Cook’s encounter with the pristine kingdom in 1778, when the British explorers encountered an island civilization governed by rulers who could not be gazed upon by common people. Interweaving anecdotes from his own widespread travel and extensive archaeological investigations into the broader historical narrative, Kirch shows how the early Polynesian settlers of Hawai'i adapted to this new island landscape and created highly productive agricultural systems.
In The Garden of Beasts
by Erik LarsonBerlin,1933. William E. Dodd, a mild-mannered academic from Chicago, has to his own and everyone else's surprise, become America's first ambassador to Hitler's Germany, in a year that proves to be a turning point in history. Dodd and his family, notably his vivacious daughter, Martha, observe at first-hand the many changes - some subtle, some disturbing, and some horrifically violent - that signal Hitler's consolidation of power. Dodd has little choice but to associate with key figures in the Nazi party, his increasingly concerned cables make little impact on an indifferent U.S. State Department, while Martha is drawn to the Nazis and their vision of a 'New Germany' and has a succession of affairs with senior party players, including first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But as the year darkens, Dodd and his daughter find their lives transformed and any last illusion they might have about Hitler are shattered by the violence of the 'Night of the Long Knives' in the summer of 1934 that established him as supreme dictator. Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the times, and with brilliant portraits of Hitler, Goebbels, Goering and Himmler amongst others, Erik Larson's new book sheds unique light on events as they unfold, resulting in an unforgettable, addictively readable work of narrative history.