For Armistice Day reading on a Civil War theme, Chapter 1 in The Summer the Archduke Died by Louis D. Rubin, Jr., is as good as it gets. It's an essay on how the Rubins, 19th Century Jewish immigrants to Charleston, assimilated into Southern culture and came to identify with the late Confederacy and its exploits. It's an essay on the southernness of the author and his connection to WWI through an upbringing drenched in Civil War memory.

On the face of it, this might be historical nostalgia. Look deeper and it's a virtuoso historiographic meditation based on family and personal material. The chapter might appear out of place to the casual reader but to the deep reader of histories it establishes charmingly and dramatically the author's history sensibility.

And so, for instance, the second chapter, the eponymous title essay, is concerned with the notion of shared responsibility for the start of WWI and it is a wonder to behold: the economy, the clarity, the choice of examples, the gentle contrariness that upends what you think you know and leaves you mildly astonished and grateful for correction. (I say this as a deep reader of modern European history of 40+ years.)

Summer is an essay collection. The hurried and the lazy reader can take bites. These will be enough, for the bites are extremely rich.

There is beach reading; this is fireplace reading with the best historical insights dressed in fine English prose.

Top right: The author in younger days.