Ever since the invention of the camera in the 19th century, photography has become an invaluable tool in recording for posterity the people and events that have shaped history. As with the written word, the medium of photography is open to interpretation and may be manipulated to present a particular slant on any given subject. Nevertheless, modern-day history lovers are incredibly fortunate to have access to a vast archive of images that have captured a specific moment in time, show a historical figure in a new light, or provide insight into an otherwise little-known culture.
All of the following 10 history books are packed with photos, bringing a diverse range of important topics from the past vividly to life.
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
At the height of the Great Depression in the mid-1930s, future Pulitzer Prize-winning author, James Agee, and renowned photographer, Walker Evans, travelled to the American South to record for Fortune magazine the daily struggle for survival of Alabama’s sharecroppers. Evans accumulated a vast collection of striking photographs which, together with Agee’s descriptive prose, formed the basis for the 1941 book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. This unique account of the plight of three impoverished tenant cotton-farming families in Alabama provides fascinating insight into a way of life that now no longer exists, winning praise from the New York Times for its “fusion of social conscience and artistic radicality”.
Power to the People
Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers makes extensive use of the photography of renowned photojournalist, Stephen Shames, to produce an intimate, yet powerful, portrait of this influential 1960s political movement. Shames struck up a friendship with Black Panthers’ co-founder, Bobby Seale, in 1967 and became the group’s official photographer, capturing in a series of extraordinary images its role as an important catalyst for change at the height of the US civil rights movement. Alongside Shames’ photography, Power to the People includes a commentary on events from Seale, as well as contributions from other leading figures in the party.
U.S. Marine Corps Women's Reserve
During World War II, women were for the first time permitted to join the US Marine Corps Reserve and they enlisted in the thousands, taking on roles as mechanics and radio operators to release male marines for vital combat duty. Illustrated with numerous color photographs, US Marine Corps Women’s Reserve provides a rare and interesting look at the important contribution made by this groundbreaking group of women to the war effort, picturing them at work and also providing a detailed record of the uniforms they wore.
The Normandy Battlefields
Through extensive use of photographs and maps, The Normandy Battlefields: D-Day & The Bridgehead, from Pen and Sword’s Images of War series, cleverly combines historical and modern images to illustrate in compelling detail the events surrounding one of the key battlegrounds of World War II. The spectacular modern aerial photographs are particularly impressive, providing an unrivalled overview of the layout of the former battlefields juxtaposed with the sites of modern war memorials. This book will prove invaluable for anyone planning to visit the former battlefields in person, but also works equally well as an armchair reference guide.
The Ghettos of Nazi-Occupied Poland
Using rare contemporary photographs, Ian Baxter’s impeccably researched The Ghettos of Nazi-Occupied Poland reveals in harrowing detail the atrocities suffered by the Polish Jews at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. With his skillful use of images Baxter has produced an invaluable record of one Jewish community’s revolt against their cruel oppressors, made all the more poignant by the knowledge that many of those pictured were later murdered in Nazi concentration camps.
Hitler's Defeat on the Western Front, 1944–1945
Another volume in Pen and Sword’s Images of War series, Hitler’s Defeat on the Western Front provides a glimpse into the final months of World War II from the viewpoint of the retreating Nazi forces. Through the use of many rare wartime photographs, Hans Seidler portrays in grimly compulsive detail the intense fighting on the Western Front and the increasing desperation of Hitler’s forces in the face of the Allies’ inexorable progress across Europe from the Normandy beaches to Berlin itself.
A Century of Ambivalence
During the final heyday of the Tsars in the late 1800s, the Russian Empire was home to around five million Jews. In A Century of Ambivalence, Zvi Gitelman explores how revolution, war and persecution has caused this once-flourishing Jewish community to shrink to around one-tenth of its original size today. In writing this book, Gitelman was given access to the archives of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and has packed A Century of Ambivalence with more than 200 of its rare photographs featuring Russian Jews from all walks of life. The result is a “richly illustrated survey of the Jewish historical experience in the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and the post-Soviet era” (Los Angeles Times).
Gangsters & Grifters
Gangsters & Grifters explores Chicago’s violent and criminal past in a collection of photographs taken from the Chicago Tribune’s vast archive of vintage 4x5 glass-plate and acetate negatives. These compelling and often disturbing images focus on many of Chicago’s most notorious and shocking early 20th-century gangland crimes, as well as featuring some of its forgotten petty criminals and conmen. Including a foreword by journalist Rick Kogan, Gangsters & Grifters is essential reading for anyone interested in historical true crime, particularly relating to Chicago’s infamously seedy underworld.
Photographing America's First Astronauts
Photographing America’s First Astronauts features more than 600 never-before-seen images relating to the groundbreaking Project Mercury, NASA’s first human spaceflight program which ran from 1958 to 1963. All of the images were taken by NASA’s first staff photographer, Bill Taub, who captured the daily life of Mercury’s pioneering astronauts over a four-year period. The result is an intimate and unique look at the people behind the project that shaped the future direction of America’s manned space program.
Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment
During World War II, acclaimed photographer Dorothea Lange was hired by the US Government to record the experiences of the sizeable Japanese American community who were evacuated from their homes and relocated to incarceration camps. Lange’s insightful photographic record of their compulsory relocation proved so uncomfortable for the US Army that most of her images were impounded. A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2006, Impounded’s editors, Linda Gordon and Gary Okihiro, use 119 of Lange’s previously censored photographs to bring this harmful and overlooked moment in US history vividly back to life.
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