Some of the librarians at the Bridgewater Library decided to read some non-fiction this month that fell into the categories of history and biography. Maybe you’ll find something in this list that will interest you too.
Blurbed by Chris
This could be labeled “The smart-aleck guide to American history” and not be too far off. An example that sums up the book, and that I am totally not using just to fill up space: “But as the central catastrophe of American history, [the Civil War] still inspires debate: could the North and South have worked out some kind of compromise? And could the South have won with a different strategy? (Basically, no.)” The book is divided into sections each focusing on an era of American history, most covering 20-30 years (the first, however, covered close to 25,000). Each section starts with a timeline giving important dates in that era, and ends with a “by the numbers” summation that gives important quantitative facts on the era (ex.: 11,000: number of prostitutes in NYC in 1839; 50,000: number of prostitutes in NYC in 1850; 78: bushels of wheat shipped east by Chicago in 1838; 2,000,000: bushels of wheat shipped east by Chicago in 1848). Further sections include “Lies your teacher told you”, correcting commonly-held erroneous beliefs; “Trendspotting”, the major fads of the era; and “Made in the USA”, the major products of the time. Recommended for people willing to have their beliefs challenged and enjoy a rather snarky sense of humor.
Blurbed by Jane
Blurbed by Yvonne
Operation Mincemeat reads like a cheesy spy thriller. Think James Bond. Since Q was based on a real person, and so was M, both people that worked for British Intelligence and talked about in this book, it is amazing to know that Graham Greene and other novelists worked there as well. Until you read about the plans that they came up with. They wanted to BE James Bond and tried to make him reality. The book focuses mainly on one mission – getting a dead body with important misleading documents on his person into the hands of the Nazis. Basically we wanted them to think the Allied troops were focused on invading Sardinia and not Sicily. This is how it worked.
There are pages on the debate on what should be in the dead man’s pockets that are amazing – the thought and detail behind this mission is mind boggling. And absurd. Because for something so intricately thought out, there were a few things they forgot to think about at all…
Passing Strange by Martha A. Sandweiss
The setting is New York City in the 1880’s – America’s Gilded Age. The storyline is a secret marriage between a well-known white geologist and a black woman born a slave in 1861. The twist is that that Clarence King passed as black across the color line and maintained two separate lives- one as a white scientist with famous wealthy friends and the other as a black man pretending to be a light-skinned Pullman porter. He deceived his wife and children about his true identity until his death in 1901.
This is a fascinating and well-documented biography of both Clarence King and his wife, Ada Copeland. The book paints the racial prejudices and injustices of that time. Interracial marriage was taboo and even illegal in some states. A detailed account of Clarence King’s life and a sketchy outline of Ada Copeland‘s life weave an interesting chronicle of the time and strange portrait of a man tied to social conventions.
A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen
Blurbed by Chris (Full disclosure: blurb writer is a liberal.)
This weighty tome is not afraid to ask the hard questions: “America: greatest country in the world, or greatest country in the world EVER?” Unabashedly conservative (Schweikart would later distill the basic concepts of the book into “48 Liberal Lies about American History”), the book is written as a direct rebuttal to the liberal, blame-America-first textbooks that have come into vogue in recent years. Like their liberal rivals, Schweikart and Allen relentlessly cherry-pick data to prove their own stated bias and handwave issues that go against it; unlike their rivals, however, many of their conclusions are peppered with ad hominem attacks on said authors. (An example: the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II is given half a paragraph; the rest of the page and most of the next are a screed against “liberal historians”* who focus on this misstep as evidence of America’s misguided ideals).
A Renegade History of the United States by Thaddeus Russell
Blurbed by Brendan
This is the story of America as experienced and witnessed by the people at the lower echelons of society, detailing the realities of slavery, the abundance of drinking and debauchery in Colonial Philadelphia and other cities, the difficult assimilation of various ethnic groups into the mainstream, the negative connotations of jazz and dance, and much more. Much like Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, Russell’s work refutes schoolbook myths, telling what really happened at the Boston Massacre, for example. Chapters on the Irish, African-Americans, the Jews, and the Italians will change the way you think about the history of our nation.
One might not agree with all of the author’s assertions but there is plenty here to consider. The book is well researched and chock full of interesting stories and analysis.
Spoken from the Heart by Laura Bush
Blurbed by Jane
In this well-written book, Laura Bush describes growing up as an only child in Midland, Texas, a hot, dusty, but friendly, small town. After college, she became an elementary school teacher in inner-city schools and later a librarian. Her descriptions of university life, student unrest, and the beginning of the women’s movement in the 1960s will resonate with many baby boomers.
The book is not overly political, but rather tells Mrs. Bush’s story and her reactions to the many events she witnessed as First Lady of Texas and First Lady of the United States. She also includes many interesting and sometimes humorous anecdotes.
Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer
Blurbed by Ken
In December of 1776, much of New Jersey was occupied by the preeminent military power of the day. As British and Hessian troops were setting up winter quarters in towns, such as Brunswick, Princeton, and Trenton, the American forces were still smarting from devastating defeats on Long Island and in Manhattan. Simply put, the rebellion was near collapse and needed something to breathe life back into it. That “something” started with Washington crossing the Delaware. Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer recounts the military history of the New York and New Jersey campaigns, culminating with the Battles of Trenton and Princeton. Fischer’s comprehensive analysis looks at each participating army, its leadership, living conditions, attitudes and values, and specific movements. He also shows the impact of each event on the American cause and British resolve.