Tag Archives: history

Though the Heart of Dixie by Anne Sarah Rubin

Through the Heart of Dixie

I found Through the Heart of Dixie: Sherman’s March and America’s Memory from a search for travel memoirs. It seemed like it was going to be a history book, but it is actually a memoir, a collective memoir. It focuses on our memory of Sherman’s March. Anne Ruben uses many primary sources. She tells the story from different points of view, union soldiers, confederate soldiers, newly freed slaves, rich and poor civilians that were free – white and black. She tries to separate myths from actual events, to tell the story of how the march affected people’s lives. I found many things I had believed were not true – the devastation was bad, but not as large as I had thought. Also I thought that poor blacks and whites would not have been affected – but their houses were burned and all of their food taken just like the rich.

Rubin also show how American thoughts on the march have changed though out the years. How most of Americans now have a Gone With The Wind view of the march.

The book is well written. If you want a history book you would probably be disappointed. I guess the best way to describe the book would not be so much of a book used in an American History class but one used in an American Studies class.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Shelley Clark
Rating:  Recommended

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo

This is one of the most unique novels I’ve read in a long time. It takes place on one night in February 1862: the night President Lincoln’s young son, Willie, was laid to rest in a DC cemetery after a speedy illness. The book is narrated by a chorus of voices: historians excerpted in their works about the Lincoln presidency (at least some of which were real), contemporary journalists and letter-writers, and most notably, ghosts who don’t know they are dead and doomed to remain in the cemetery.

These ghosts welcome young Willie into their midst and are agog when President Lincoln returns to the cemetery to be with his beloved son. The reader gains a slow understanding of the dynamics of this realm, the bardo — how the ghosts are punished and by whom, how they might seek redemption, and what and whom are waiting for them to depart.

The book is at times grotesque and mordantly funny. Yet it was deeply moving and a powerful evocation of the desperate love between a parent and child. I barreled through this book and couldn’t put it down. As the book concluded I was hugely impressed with what Saunders has accomplished, including the deft way he wove his novel into Lincoln’s history, with a subtle suggestion about how this one night might have affected the president long after he departed the cemetery.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Michael Dunn
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2017

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, SpyLiar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War.

This work of historical nonfiction reveals the courageous feats of four female Civil War spies, all from a variety of social backgrounds, and the lengths to which they go in amassing top-secret information for their respective factions. Working for the Confederate cause are Rose O’Neal Greenhow, a prominent Washington socialite who uses her charms to woo high enemy officials into divulging Union secrets, and the headstrong Belle Boyd, a teenager desperate to earn a name for herself in this tempestuous era. Spying for the Union are Emma Edmunds, a Canadian woman who disguises as a man to enlist in the Union army as a courier, and wealthy abolitionist Elizabeth Van Lew, who organizes a Union spy ring and manages to conceal runaway prisoners-of-war in her Richmond mansion right under the noses of rebel detectives.

What I appreciate most about Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is the determination with which the four strong women protagonists carry out their espionage despite the tremendous risks. Though they may not see eye to eye regarding secession and slavery, all share a fervent dedication to their mission and refuse to crumble under the danger of discovery by the enemy. These four women help shape the outcomes of various Civil War battles with the intelligence they glean, and after reading about their unique legacies I cannot help but feel a great sense of awe.

Availability: USMAI, COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Xuejie Kimball
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: a book with a number in the title


The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper"s Wife

The Zookeeper’s Wife is about Jan and Antonina Zabinski, who after the Nazi invasion of Poland became active in the underground and used their zoo to hide Jews and Resistance members. It is a story about very brave people and my issues with the book aren’t meant to insult them. I enjoyed the setting and perspective of the book and I liked learning about Nazi-occupied Poland for non-Jewish people. I also enjoyed the description of the zoo and Antonina’s love for animals made the book very interesting. I also like that for the main description of the couple as “Christian” they don’t actively villainize atheists and don’t bring it up much, they just leave it at these people used their faith to help other people which I think is a good direction to take it.

My first issue with the book is that there were or two instances where the author seems to imply that the discrimination against Roman Catholics by Nazis was comparable to their discrimination against the Jews, which did leave a bad taste in my mouth. I’m just going to chalk it up to me not understanding the original intentions of the lines in question as this does stop when the main narrative of the story takes over.

The main issue is that I couldn’t stand the way the book was written. For a book entitled The Zookeeper’s Wife there is shockingly little focus on the zoo or the people in it. The book would be going along then every few pages there would be a random tangent about people who aren’t really connected to the family which would last a few pages or even an entire chapter. It got really annoying after a while as because of this I didn’t really hear much about the stuff at the villa or their attempts to help resistance members. I would like to read a story about these people but I don’t need a few pages of a summary in the middle of a story about other people. Also, the book time jumps a lot. The main problem with this time jumping is that it happens at random in the middle of chapters and gets a confusing because the author is trying to document the lives of these people in 1943 and then suddenly they are back in 1942. A good example of this is with Antonina’s pregnancy as she appears to be pregnant and is bed ridden because of health related issues and then suddenly isn’t pregnant anymore and helping hide people in her house only for her to become bedridden again and then she is helping people again and then later she gives birth. Although maybe the birth is miraculous because after the birth the time jumping stops.

I can’t build a relationship with these people because I have no idea what their position is or if their in danger. Also, Jan is kind of mean to his wife, which I found uncomfortable to read about but since it’s nonfiction there isn’t much to be done about changing that attitude. I will say that it probably would have made sense in a more linear story because it comes right up out of nowhere in the middle of the book and isn’t discussed again.

I would recommend the book with reservations because while I found the writing style annoying that is a personal preference and other people might like that about it.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Madeline Rivard
Rating:   Recommended with reservations

City of Light, City of Poison by Holly Tucker

City of Light City of Poison

This is my first summer read recommended here (Thank you!). I enjoy short, specialized history books, and this one had the advantage of reading like a novel. It was a pleasure learning about the various advisors and intriguers surrounding Louis XIV, so much so, in fact, that it could have been a good read even without the poisonings. The complex machinations and complete lack of qualms on the part of unhappy wives and mistresses throughout made for compelling reading, but by the time I got to the torture scenes near the close of the book, I was ready to move on. We owe much of the story to the copious note-taking of chief-of-police Nicolas de La Reynie and the later revelations of Marie-Marguerite Voisin, whose mother, Catherine, was a notorious poisoner and abortionist. The bleak world of Voisin provides a counterpoint to the excesses of the court, and it’s the symbiotic relationship of these two worlds that lends this story its poignancy.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Eric Blomquist
Rating: Recommended
Challenge: Published in 2017

Mason Jar Nation by JoAnn Moser

Mason Jar Nation

Mason Jar Nation: The Jars that Changed America and 50 Clever Ways to Use Them Today is very well researched with an extensive history of canning jars. Who would have thought that canning jars were invented because of a challenge issued by Napoleon. The history is great. Mason jars really did do a lot to change America, amazing.

The craft section of the book is great, recipes are included, each with their own individual history. The crafts range from very simple children’s crafts and easy ideas for adults to more complex and requiring some skills with tools. There are very cute gift jar ideas and crafts like Moonbeam Stakes, Moroccan Lantern Trio, Sparkling Outdoor Chandelier and many others.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Shelley Clark
Rating: Highly Recommended
Challenge: A book published by a small press


Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Beneath a Scarlet Sky documents the true story of Pino Lella, an Italian who in World War II joined the Italian Nazi army and spies on the Nazi activities for the Resistance. It details his involvement with the resistance and the invasion of Italy by the Nazis. The book is very engaging and goes into great detail about the part of World War II that isn’t discussed much, which is Italy’s role and invasion. It also talks about the direct aftermath of the War where innocent people are punished and some of the Nazis are allowed to go free.
The book does start out a bit slow and Pino can be a little annoying early on but when it gets into the main part of the story it is amazing from then on and he matures into a more reasonable adult.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Madeline Rivard
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: A book published in 2017