American History

Jane Has Her Say

ISBN: 
9780307958341

I love this new age of biography where not only famous people’s lives are examined but also everyman’s or in this case everywoman’s. Of course, Jane Franklin’s life would have faded into history were it not for her very famous older brother. But this compelling biography gives a very interesting account of the life of an ordinary, rather poor Boston woman during the time period of the Thirteen Colonies.

Jane grew up in a big family and Ben was six years her senior, and he taught her to read. They corresponded their whole lives, and were for many years the last two left from their nuclear family. Many of Jane’s letters have been lost, but can be somewhat reconstructed from her brother’s responses to them. Like her brother, she was very opinionated and thought of Benjamin as her “second self.”

At age fifteen, she married a saddler named Mecom, and for the next twenty plus years, she was either pregnant or nursing children. She had twelve children and all but one died before she did. Most, unfortunately, died as adults which was less common at that time. Her husband was not a good provider and eventually went crazy. So Jane and her children boiled and sold soap from home.

Her letters to her brother and his gifts of books, many of which he had printed himself, gave her an intellectual life that she otherwise would not have had.  They shared many secrets from the rest of the family, some of them jokes. Read more »

Detroit: An American Autopsy

DetroitLeading the news today is the announcement that Detroit filed for bankruptcy. They aren’t the first municipality to file, but they are the largest. What this means for residents, city workers, retirees and the state of Michigan remains to be seen. 20 billion dollars is hard to wrap my mind around, and is a figure without names and faces.

Hoping to personalize this story is native son Charlie LeDuff. His recent nonfiction work is called Detroit: An American Autopsy. LeDuff is a journalist who left Detroit at an early age and traveled the world covering international conflicts and won a Pulitzer for his contributions at the New York Times. He returns to Detroit to work for The Detroit News.

This book covers a variety of stories, including the fall of ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, city council corruption, the crumbling auto industry implications, and the struggles of a local fire station. You also meet LeDuff’s family and follow them while they are coping (or not) with living in and near Detroit. Read more »

America's First Tornado Scientists and What They Taught Us

ISBN: 
9780307378521

I was afraid this would be another macho book about reckless men roaming the plains chasing tornadoes during storm season. Instead it turned out to be a wonderful compendium of tornado lore through the centuries. Also included are biographies of some of our most  important weather scientists.    

Storm Kings begins with a description of how during the 1600s New England settlers called any phenomenon that happened in the sky meteors including: meteors (of course), lightning, thunder, rainbows, comets, clouds in the shape of hands and faces, etc.  Although the science behind tornadoes was not understood and barely documented then, many colonists recognized that the weather in America was much more violent than in their home countries.

When a tornado swooped down near Cambridge, MA in 1680, two farming families were shocked when one lost a servant and another a barn during the storm.  They were so frightened by this event that one wrote to Increase Mather (the father of Cotton) asking about it. Increase, who was a self-educated weather expert, had no answers so he wrote to a scientific association in Europe. No one replied to his inquiry, but Benjamin Franklin found this letter seventy years later when he became interested in the study of weather and electricity. Read more »

Civil War Fiction

Killer AngelsThis summer will be the 150 year anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the deadliest periods of the Civil War.  The three days saw record causalities and is also considered one of the turning points of the war.  Instead of breaking out a dusty nonfiction tome, consider The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. This fiction book does a good job at adequately describing the events that did occur, but shines at getting into the heads of the major players. We meet Lee, Longstreet and Chamberlain and start to understand their thoughts, positions, opinions and fears as they prepare and head into battle.  This is well researched, and really readable.  The maps give you a good visual perspective as well.

One of the things I love most about history is not only learning the outcomes and the details of the events that took place, but investigating the other possibilities, thinking about the what-ifs, and figuring out the decisions that went into what really happened. Read more »

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption

UnbrokenUnbroken tells the amazing true story of Louie Zamperini, a rascally little boy who grows up in Southern California to Italian immigrant parents. As a child, Louie is constantly in trouble and has a restless energy. His saving grace is being introduced to long distance running by his older brother. Louie ends up running in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and is focused on the 4 minute mile and another chance at the 1940 Olympics.

Back home, he enrolls in USC and continues running when the War interrupts. Louie joins as a gunner in the Army Air Forces. He is eventually sent to the Pacific theater and after a few successful missions, his plane crashes in the Pacific during a search mission. Three members of the aircraft team make it to two small liferafts and his unbelieveable story continues. Louie's 40+ day survival on a life raft seems impossible. Then he is shot at and captured by the Japanese and unofficially is held in horrible war camps. Here too, his survival is seemingly impossible.

Louise does survive, his spirit is damaged, but also hopeful. Louie's story will stay with you. I kept thinking of him and his story well after I finished the book. Read more »

Family History Month is coming!

The Indiana Room is gearing up early for National Family History Month in October.

Be sure to mark your calendars now for these programs:

Dating Old Family Photos

From the Smithville News Digital Collection

Wednesday, October 3, 2012 | 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Joan Hostetler from Heritage Photo Research will give clues on dating and identifying the person pictures or era of old photos. Participants are encouraged to bring mystery photos. You may email photos and questions in advance to Joan at heritagephotoservices [at] gmail [dot] com. Registration Required

Beginning Genealogy: Just the Basics

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 | 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

This class is designed for people interested in beginning research on their own family history. The basic resources will be reviewed including census records, marriage, birth and death records and obituaries. The class will also include a very brief review of Ancestry Library Edition and Family Search.org Registration Required

Books Plus for July

JohnstownFloodAlthough summer officially began just last week, it seems as though it's been hot and dry forever. As we water our gardens and lawns, it's hard to envision a major flood. But join us for a discussion about The Johnstown Flood--still the deadliest flood in US history. It happened in 1889 when the South Fork Dam (fourteen miles upstream from Johnstown, Pa.) failed. The American Red Cross, which Clara Barton had founded in 1891, led the relief effort with Barton herself taking charge. The flood caused many sociological repercussions because the community that was spared included summer homes of many millionaires including Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon, while the community below that suffered had many poor Irish and German immigrants.

This was David McCullough's first book. McCullough went on to win two Pulitzer Prizes for later biographies of Truman and John Adams.

Books Plus meets the first Sunday of each month. All are welcome. Join the discussion or simply come to listen.

No registration necessary. Drop in.

2 p.m., First Sundays

See the upcoming schedule below. Read more »

Titanic Sinks!

ISBN: 
9780670012435

As a young child, my older sister taught me a version of a song about the doomed ship Titanic that was so jolly in tone, it belied the sober meaning of the lyrics. I merrily sang/yelled, "Husbands and wives, little children lost their lives, it was sad when the great ship went down...to the bottom of the sea!  Glug glug glug glug!" having no idea I was singing about a true tragedy. 

Author Barry Denenberg, using the conceit of a fictional newspaper and reporter, brings the historical event roaring back to life in Titanic Sinks! Since we are just weeks away from the 100th anniversary of the sinking on April 15, 1912, I immersed myself (sorry!) in the make-believe correspondent's excited dispatches to his newspaper.  Read more »

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans

February is National African American History Month, and fittingly, Kadir Nelson's Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans, recently won the American Library Association's 2012 Coretta Scott King Author Award. Nelson has provided an overarching introduction to the difficult history of African Americans, told in the voice of an elderly female whose grandfather was born in Africa and was kidnapped and taken to America as a slave at age six.

Year of Wonders and Caleb's Crossing

Year of WondersYear of Wonders is a book about the plague, but it is also so much more than that. Anna lives in a small village in England in 1666. She has two small children and a hard working husband. Despite her struggles with her relationship with her father, and a new minister, things are generally going well for Anna. Unfortunately the true history of the village, as discovered by Brooks, creates a tragic backdrop for Anna's fictional life. First, Anna's husband dies in a mining accident, and to help ends meet, Anna takes in a boarder from London. Shortly after this, her boarder suddenly dies, and people in her village begin falling fatally sick. The death of Anna's husband is only the beginning of the upheaval that Anna is to survive. Near the end of the book, everything that she has known was turned up on its head.

Geraldine Brooks came upon a sign at the location of the village and did quite a bit of research to create fictional characters and events. Though all the action takes place in the small quarantined village, the language is lush and the characters vivid.
Read more »

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