Monday, January 6, 2014

Adventures in History Reading

by Nancy McCammon-Hansen

As my spouse and many of my friends will tell you, I read A LOT. Not being the athletic type, nor particularly “crafty” (in the sense of being able to draw, paint, sew, knit, or otherwise create something from nothing), free time boils down to volunteer work, cleaning house, doing laundry, cooking, watching television and reading.

In my last post I encouraged you to read more history in 2014. In the midst of all this marvelous (?) snow and cold, I’ve been updating my Goodreads account and adding to my list of “read”  and “want to read” books. So, here to spur you to consider reading history this year, are some suggestions.

  • ·    Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy Interviews with Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. 1964—This particular work came with both CDs and a book. Mrs. Kennedy’s voice comes through with that breathy undertone that those of us who remember her will recognize immediately. She offers observations on the Kennedy White House years that you likely have not heard before. A must for any “boomer”.

  • ·    Eleanor and Franklin, Joseph P. Lash. I read this book years ago and found it very well written and a good way to understand the Roosevelt administration. Lash also wrote Eleanor the Years Alone, which chronicled the First Lady’s life after her husband’s death.

  • ·    The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs by Madeleine Albright, Bill Woodward. Albright is a terrific writer and her observations on the people with whom she’s served and our country appear to be more than a little spot on. From the vantage point of a former Secretary of State, she has much to offer about modern American history.

  • ·     Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 by Madeleine Albright, Bill Woodward is another of her books. The history of the 1930s and Hitler’s rise to power has become of particular interest to me in the past couple of years and this work is a good background for further study.

  • ·     In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson. Larson’s book is what got me started down the path of 1930s Europe. He is a fine writer and I enjoyed this work immensely as well as…

  • ·     The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson. While not as interesting to me as In the Garden of Beasts, Larson does prove in this book that there is so much more to American history than we ever learn in school and that a lifetime study of the topic can be both informative AND entertaining.

Speaking of entertaining:
  • Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson. I’m operating under the assumption that this book is historically accurate but more importantly, it’s a look beyond the “Who Killed Lincoln?” question, which is usually where we stop on this topic. There was a fine piece on either the History Channel or Discovery about the search for John Wilkes Booth but the book has far more detail in it.
  •  In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Capote was a weird little man but he knew how to write a good book and that he did with this one. Harper Lee, a friend of Capote’s and author of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, (which you should also read if you haven't) assisted in the research. In Cold Blood has been called the “original non-fiction novel” since for the most part it is true. However, Capote was criticized by some for not being 100% true to the facts. Nevertheless, it’s a work worth reading.
  • Not exactly a masterpiece, Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell takes a look at famous assassinations in American history and how Robert Todd Lincoln has a connection to all of them.

With Black History Month coming up, you might want to explore:

  • ·     Reflections Of An Affirmative Action Baby by Stephen L. Carter. I met Carter shortly after his work Culture of Disbelief was being strongly praised by then President Bill Clinton. Unfortunately, Carter had been on the road promoting his book far too long, so he wasn’t all that chatty about his work as a Yale law professor or his life as a fellow Episcopalian. He has gone on to write a number of works, both non-fiction and fiction.

  • ·     Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail and the Struggle That Changed a Nation by Jonathan Rieder. For those of us who grew up in the 1960s, reading about them now from a 50-year vantage point is interesting. Some of the key players are still alive and it’s interesting to read what was once current events come back to life as history.

  • ·     A Reporter's Life by Walter Cronkite. I miss Walter. There’s was no flash, no chattiness, no smart aleck remarks, just reporting of the news. “The most trusted man in America” got fed up with the Vietnam War and spoke out against it, going against his persona of objective journalist. Those of us who remember the Kennedy assassination will likely never forget Cronkite’s announcement of the President’s death that Friday afternoon.

Just a few more to keep you going:

  • ·     Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves by Henry Wiencek. Jefferson is an interesting study. Mr. Jefferson’s Women is a book about the influential women in his life. That, and this work about his slaves, gives a perspective beyond the president and drafter of the Declaration of Independence that most of us know.

  • ·     Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Steven Spielberg used this work, in part, for his movie “Lincoln” and although long, as all of Kearns Goodwin’s books are, very well written. It’s also a great textbook for managers and others in leadership positions.

  • ·     Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation by Cokie Roberts. Roberts is the daughter of Hale and Lindy Boggs so she knows her way around Washington. This is the history you didn’t learn much about in school.

  • ·    The Civil War Trilogy by Shelby Foote has been on my bookshelf since Ken Burns’ PBS series of the same name. Foote was wonderful on camera and I’m told just as wonderful in writing. I’ve always said I’m waiting to read this book when I retire, but since that’s a way off, perhaps I’ll dig in this year and finish. One of my “bucket list” activities is to tour the Civil War battlefields armed with a stack of books on the war and its personalities.

  • ·     Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip by Matthew Algeo. This book was recommended to me by a visitor one night during Festival of Gingerbread. I ordered it and the paperback is on my 2014 stack of reading. Another item on the bucket list is to see all of the Presidential Libraries. So far, I’ve been to Truman’s, Ford’s, Eisenhower’s, Hoover’s, FDR’s and JFK’s. Perhaps trips next winter to California, Georgia and Texas would be in order!

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