Welcome back another guest Top 5. Returning and joining us this time is Jason Young. Jason is a co-host of the Advance After Combat podcast and facilitates all the Alcoholic Adventure Cabal RPG. Jason is also the designer of Wandering Stars, a rules light space wandering RPG.
Rich and I are big fans of non-fiction, especially historical, and will often pair readings with our featured games on History on the Table. Jason is one of the most voracious readers I know so I figured it would be fun to mix up the Top 5 list and cover something else we both enjoy, books. This list isn’t limited to historical non-fiction and both of our lists are presented in alphabetical order by author.
Jason: I’m in the middle of reading biographies of all of the US Presidents and feel really bad that something like Washington or Lincoln or even Hamilton aren’t here, but they didn’t quite make the cut.
When I first cracked this list I was browsing my Goodreads ratings and kept hitting book after book that would be in top 5 and before long I was at 15+ books for consideration. Surprisingly something like War of the Roses by Dan Jones or This Might Scourge by James McPherson just missed the list and I thought they were absolute locks. I’ll be sure to post a full list in the History on the Table Discord server.
Jason: The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors by Dan Jones
Dan Jones is a treasure. His books on the medieval world are all fantastic and The War of the Roses is my favorite. The writing is tight and entertaining, informative without being overwhelming. In my Goodreads review I said, “It’s like Game of Thrones without dragons. And it’s real.” I stand by that sentiment.
Matt: The Second World War by Antony Beevor
For my tastes, you could plug just about any Antony Beevor WWII book in but I chose The Second World War for the breadth of material covered. Beevor is an extremely compelling author and is beyond capable of weaving in fascinating stories into his books. Beevor doesn’t get lost in the weeds but provides ample detail. Beevor’s books are easily my favorite on WW2.
Jason: Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Devil in the White City is a mash-up of a true crime book about H. H. Holmes and his fabled Murder Castle and a historical delve into the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and everything happening in Chicago at the time. It is a gripping read and has something for everyone.
Matt: Chickenhawk by Robert Mason
One of the best memoirs and books covering Vietnam I’ve read, Chickenhawk is the firsthand account of Robert Mason, a Huey pilot during Vietnam. A fascinating read that I couldn’t quit whether Mason was ripping up tree stumps or flying during Ia Drang.
Jason: Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Imagine knowing where everything in the meal you’re about to eat came from. Imagine having a hand in every step of the way. That is what Pollan explores in Omnivore’s Dilemma. Part travel book, part memoir, cookbook adjacent and as a whole an exploration of American consumerism and the business of agriculture.
Matt: The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America by Joe Posnanski
This summer one of the biggest past sins of MLB’s Hall of Fame will be corrected when Buck O’Neil is inducted into the Hall. Buck had a chance to go into the Hall of Fame in 2006 with so many great Negro League players when he was still alive but failed to receive the necessary votes. Posnanski’s biography is in part a case for why Buck deserved to go into the Hall of Fame but is more just a great read about Buck’s career, his stories, the story of the Negro Leagues and baseball. Highly recommended for any fan of baseball.
Jason: Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water by Marc Reisner
This is one of the most upsetting and powerful books I’ve ever read. I learned about it from the Paulo Bacigalupi novel The Water Knife. It deals with water rights, the restructuring of waterways in the US and the Bureau of Land Management and creating cities and farmland where there shouldn’t be. It will make you mad.
Matt: Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor by Clinton Romesha
I found Red Platoon chilling and unsettling at times in the amount of detail poured into the firsthand account of the attack on COP Keating. Riveting is a word that gets tossed around a lot but I have no hesitation using it here. Often times non-fiction isn’t emotional but this certainly elicited more of an emotional response than most non-fiction I read. Can’t recommend it enough.
Jason: Phase Line Green by Nicholas Warr
It was hard to pick between Chickenhawk by Robert Mason and Phase Line Green, both of which I have multiple copies of, but Phase Line Green gets the Vietnam nod here slightly. It’s a memoir of a young lieutenant during the second two weeks of the Battle for Hue during the Tet Offensive. Warr’s writing really highlights the confusion of the soldiers on the ground, the terror of house to house fighting and the frustration of dealing with the bureaucracy of war.
Matt: On Desperate Ground: The Marines at The Reservoir, the Korean War’s Greatest Battle by Hampton Sides
If these were ranked in numerical order, On Desperate Ground would be ranked Number 1. In other words, this is my favorite piece of non-fiction I’ve read. Chosin Reservoir is already fascinating and heroic but Sides’ story telling is brilliant. Gripping, compelling, entertaining, pick your book review buzzword and slap it on this book.
Please feel free to share your Top 5 non-fiction books below.
If you are interested in submitting a Guest Top 5 list, please contact Matt at HistoryTablePodcast@gmail.com and thanks to Jason for dropping by.