Lincoln, JFK, and an Adams: October books go patriotic

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 2 Min. )

Nineteenth-century writer and educator Amos Bronson Alcott declared, “That is a good book which is opened with expectation and closed with profit.”

He might have been describing our reviewers’ choices for the 10 best books of October. 

Why We Wrote This

A story focused on

Our 10 picks for this month include books about U.S. presidents shaped by conflicts, a Mexican American community disrupted by deportation, a soldier’s atonement for wartime deeds, and a neighborhood changed by one man’s decency.

This month’s novels grapple with issues such as culpability, trauma, and a lack of recognition.

From a British soldier lamenting his role in Ireland’s Troubles to a woman discovering her mother’s wartime heroism, the books speak of compassion, understanding, and transformation. 

The nonfiction titles cover a swath of topics.

They range from a history of North America that centers on the experience of Indigenous people to a deep dive into the Cuban missile crisis. And a war correspondent sheds an unusual light on the strategies and tactics behind 1960s civil rights protests in the United States.

A desire to do the right thing motivates the individuals featured in our selections this month. In novels and biographies, each person is depicted in the process of growth and change, moving toward understanding. 

1. Dinosaurs, by Lydia Millet

Lydia Millet delivers a beautifully written account of a brokenhearted Manhattanite who seeks a fresh life in Arizona ... by walking there. With spot-on dialogue and observations both pointed and forgiving, the novel reveals the influence of one man’s decency. 

Why We Wrote This

A story focused on

Our 10 picks for this month include books about U.S. presidents shaped by conflicts, a Mexican American community disrupted by deportation, a soldier’s atonement for wartime deeds, and a neighborhood changed by one man’s decency.

2. The Consequences, by Manuel Muñoz

In the opening story of Manuel Muñoz’s latest collection, a character recalls “that strangers only introduced themselves when they needed something.” The needs here are great: Characters old and young, legal and unauthorized, gay and straight long for work, community, independence. Set in the small farming towns of California and Texas, the stories evoke the uneasy “in-betweenness” of lives that cross borders.

3, The Slowworm’s Song, by Andrew Miller

When British ex-soldier Stephen Rose is summoned to testify about a traumatic incident that happened during the Troubles in Belfast, Ireland, 30 years ago, his world is shaken. Worried his testimony might jeopardize his recently renewed relationship with his daughter, Maggie, Stephen composes an exquisitely moving epistle to her about his life and his hopes for atonement.

4. Swann’s War, by Michael Oren

In 1944 on an island off Massachusetts, the police chief goes off to war, leaving his wife to keep order. When the body of an Italian from the nearby prisoner-of-war camp is found, she must battle rising threats and skepticism about her abilities. The novel is an engaging look into a lesser-known history about Italian Americans’ wartime plight.

5. Eyes Turned Skyward, by Alena Dillon

Alena Dillon honors the trailblazing Women Airforce Service Pilots in this dual-timeline novel. When empty-nester Kathy finds her mother’s invitation to a Medal of Honor ceremony in the mail, her mother’s heroic secret life comes to light. 

6. Indigenous Continent, by Pekka Hämäläinen

This powerful, revelatory history of North America centers the narrative on Native peoples rather than on European colonizers. Instead of “Colonial America,” Oxford University’s Pekka Hämäläinen presents an “Indigenous America,” demonstrating the fundamental influence of Native resilience and resistance on U.S. history.

7. The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams, by Stacy Schiff

The inimitable Stacy Schiff, author of utterly captivating books on, among other things, Cleopatra and the Salem witch trials, returns with a biography of one of the most pivotal and oddly neglected of all the U.S. Founding Fathers: Samuel Adams, cousin to the more famous politician (and second president) John. Schiff’s book finds the real man behind the Revolutionary mythos.

8. The Abyss, by Max Hastings

Max Hastings brings his signature style – a mixture of the grand (sweeping insights into great events) and the granular (carefully sifted details from diaries and letters of ordinary people) – to the much-studied subject of the Cuban missile crisis. The result is a book to match the best things ever written on the subject in terms of immediacy and drama.

9. And There Was Light, by Jon Meacham

The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian’s majestic biography presents Abraham Lincoln as an imperfect man with a strong moral core. Growing and evolving as he struggled to lead the country through calamitous times, the 16th president has ample wisdom for our age.

10. Waging a Good War, by Thomas E. Ricks

Civil rights leaders in the United States waged nonviolent campaigns as carefully as any military operation. A war correspondent explores the strategies and tactics of the leaders and foot soldiers in the fight for Black equality, and the lessons they hold for today.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Lincoln, JFK, and an Adams: October books go patriotic
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today