Washington shines in the literary spotlight
Whether you choose to join the summer tourists or wait until they’ve left town, reading about the District’s sites broadens your horizons. These books about Washington, D.C. hold a special appeal.
America’s Greatest Library: An Illustrated History of the Library of Congress, by John Y. Cole, 256 pages, 250 color illustrations, D Giles Limited in association with the Library of Congress, hardcover, 2018.
Visiting the magnificent Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill can be an overwhelming experience. The opulent interior — its statues, busts, medallions, colorful frescoes, grand stairway, majestic archways, inspiring quotations and marble floors — provides a visual and sensory feast.
Conversely, we have attended a talk by a noted author in the more prosaic Madison Building on Constitution Avenue and been oblivious to that building’s art, sculpture and inscriptions.
John Coyle, the historian of the Library of Congress and long-time local resident, has served in several capacities during his distinguished 52-year career at this renowned institution. Who better to serve as our guide to understanding the significance of the Library?
The beautifully illustrated coffee-table book, America’s Greatest Library, is arranged along a historical timeline. Iconic black-and-white and color photographs of the people, places and documents of note in our nation’s history are reproduced in chronological sequence.
Read how the Library survived devastating fires, acquired its collections, and expanded exponentially from a room in the US Capitol to its own nearby edifice (now the Jefferson Building), additional buildings (named in honor of Presidents Adams and Madison), and a campus in Culpeper, Va.
Learn, through the illustrations and accompanying text, how the Library has adapted and evolved to remain relevant in today’s modern technological and digital world.
After reading this book, you’ll most surely be motivated to visit the Library of Congress with more discerning eyes.
White House History: Political Cartoons and the White House, The Quarterly Journal of the White House Historical Association, number 48, edited by William Seale, 94 pages, White House Historical Association, softcover, 2018.
The Herblock Gallery on the ground floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress houses a rotating exhibit of the illustrations of Herbert Block. Political Cartoons and the White House explores the work of Herblock, Thomas Nast, Pat Oliphant and Clifford Berryman. It includes historic cartoons from the collections of the James Monroe Museum and the Blair House, as well as more contemporary subjects displayed at the Hay-Adams Hotel’s Off the Record bar.
While no cartoons of the current administration are included, this wide-ranging monograph contains more than eighty cartoons beginning with the nineteenth century through our own times. The accompanying text explains their history and political context, and identifies the politicians being caricatured. An interview with Pat Oliphant is insightful.
Relive, with a dash of humor and a dose of wit, the political controversies that shaped our own formative years and those we studied in history books.
Proceeds from its purchase are returned to the publications program of the WHHA, and also used to acquire furnishings and memorabilia for the White House.
Rescue Board: The Untold Story of America’s Efforts to Save the Jews of Europe, by Rebecca Erbelding, 384 pages, Doubleday hardcover, 2018.
Washington, D.C. in the waning years of World War II and the Roosevelt Administration are the focus of this fascinating book about the War Refugee Board. The WRB, an administrative agency, was established by FDR in January 1944 to aid Jews and other civilian victims of Nazism.
If it were not based on real events, Rescue Board would rank as a first-rate thriller. This meticulously researched book tells the story of the race to save lives and cut through the cumbersome bureaucracy, hard-hearted officials, the fog of war, and the competing interests that impeded progress.
Read about the power struggles between rivals at the Treasury — where the WRB was housed — and the State Department. The divergent policies among the Allies, as well as the sticky diplomatic issues involving neutral countries, are delineated.
The venal and corrupt, the arrogant and pompous, the dedicated and selfless all play parts in this riveting retelling of rescue — its successes and failures.
Rebecca Erbelding serves as archivist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, located just steps from the National Mall. She is the research curator of the temporary exhibit “Americans and the Holocaust” on view at the museum through October 11, 2021.
The Watergate: Inside America’s Most Infamous Address, by Joseph Rodota, 432 pages, 16-page insert of black and white photographs, William Morrow hardcover, 2018.
This entertaining and meticulously researched book covers every imaginable facet of the residences, hotel, shopping concourse, office building and hotel that comprise the Watergate.
The Watergate was built between 1963 and 1971 on 100 acres in Foggy Bottom along the Potomac between the cultural center — what would become the Kennedy Center — and the Lincoln Memorial.
In addition to the break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters that eventually toppled President Nixon, The Watergate recounts other scandals that involved its denizens.
Joseph Rodota makes understandable the complex web of real estate transactions, revolving ownerships and overseas investment groups who came and went as the financial underpinnings of the buildings were buffeted by the swings of the economic cycle.
The sophisticated French chef, the Chinese-born widow of an American lieutenant general, the visionary Italian architect, the movers and shakers, and a host of colorful character who made the Watergate their home or place of business are vividly described. Enjoy the hilarious portrayals of the shady characters who resided and worked there.
After exploring the Watergate complex, the nearby Georgetown Waterfront Park is a perfect place to rest and enjoy views of the Potomac. Find nature’s simple beauty in the shadow of man-made grandeur.
The July issue incorrectly stated the author of the book Robicheaux. The author is James Lee Burke.