One Summer: America 1927
by Bill Bryson
The summer of 1927 seems a rather odd time for Bill Bryson to pick out to write a book about but in fact a lot of interesting things happened that summer. Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic. Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs while playing on the greatest baseball team to ever put on a uniform. The murder (considered the murder of the century at the time) that the movie, “Double Indemnity” was based on occurred. The men who caused the Great Depression got together and made their plans. TV showed Herbert Hoover who was busy saving the middle of the country from the worst flooding of the Mississippi River in our history. And our president, Calvin Coolidge sat around not doing much of anything. And let’s not forget Henry Ford practically destroying his company by switching from the Model T to the Model A without any real plan. Of course, lots of things were in the middle of happening and Bryson squeezes them in. Charles Ponzi of the notable Ponzi scheme was serving his prison term and we hear about him. Al Capone was enjoying Prohibition and making lots of money and attending the Jack Dempsey/Gene Tunney fight.
Bryson writes about anti-semitism and eugenics which were widespread in the US and helped make the KKK the strongest it had ever been. The eugenics movement especially was widely popular among scientists in the US and their writings were even used by Nazis in their defense at Nuremberg. But then he writes about the first talking pictures and how they and radio changed the country. In other words, this really is a book about a time and not just one part of that time. Don’t like a topic? Don’t worry, in a few pages Bryson will be telling you about something else.
And that is the fun of this book. Bryson gives us lots of events and he writes about them with just enough information and in a fun way to keep the book moving. But the best part is that Bryson writes about people. Yes, there are events but he makes us see the people that are underlying those events and that makes everything much more real. Bryson has a great style of writing and I really think you will enjoy this book.
The Gravity of Birds
by Tracy Guzeman
In the early 1960′s Alice and Natalie are teenage sisters who meet Thomas, a brilliant artist at their parent’s summer house. In 2007, Thomas shows a painting to Finch and Stephen, an art professor and an art authenticator. It is a painting that no one knew existed, a painting of two teenage girls. He reveals that the painting is a triptych and two of the panels are missing. The only way to find the other two panels is for Finch and Stephen to play detective and find Alice and Natalie. And off starts a hunt, a hunt for many things missing. Why has Thomas chosen this moment to find the panels? Why has he chosen Stephen to search for the painting. Eventually all is revealed.
The story bounces back and forth between the past and the present, between the story of the sisters and the story of the detectives trying to find the sisters. The story is beautifully written and I found myself being pulled into the narrative the further I got into the story. I can heartily recommend this book.
by Alan Brennert
I remember Palisades Amusement Park from when I was kid. My parents would take me over to Jersey, obeying the commercial to “come on over.” I loved it even though some of the rides were scary for a little kid. With fond memories of the park, I was looking forward to having some of those memories revived in this book. It would have been nice if the story had been a little more interesting.
The main problem is that the characters aren’t the least bit interesting. I didn’t really like Eddie, the main character, right from the start as the first thing he does is beat up a cop so he can get a free ride on a train even though he has the money to pay for it. But then everything is wonderful for Eddie. Even though it is the Depression, Eddie has no trouble finding a job at the park. The first woman he sees and likes falls in love with him immediately. She gets pregnant but no problem. Eddie loves her and wants to marry her anyway. And the park is happy to pay for everything as a publicity stunt. And their daughter is wonderful. And life goes on with ne’er an unhappy day. Blah blah blah.
I found this book too easy to toss aside and hard to pick up. Sure, parts of the book are interesting but the main problem is that I really didn’t care about any of the characters or even the fate of the park. I understand that Brennert’s other books are very good but he falls flat with this one. I really found it hard to to get through this and if I wasn’t part of the Vine program and had agreed to finish it and write a review I probably wouldn’t have bothered. Anyway, I can’t recommend this book.
The Gods of Heavenly Punishment
by Jennifer Cody Epstein
This is a story about how war destroys people’s lives. But it is also about how people can survive war and rebuild their lives. The author, Jennifer Cody Epstein, builds her story around the lives of several people, some from Japan and some from the US. We meet them before the war starts, then again during the war, and later when the war has ended. We only get glimpses of their lives through each of these periods but somehow it is enough. We meet a young man and the girl of his dreams on a ferris wheel in NY. Later we find him on the Doolittle raid. We meet other characters, some from Japan and others from the US, at a garden party in pre-war Tokyo. Later we encounter them again, leading up to the Tokyo firebombing and then again 20 years after the war is over. It is this mix of time, people, and places that makes this story so interesting. The book opens in 1935. Then 7 years suddenly pass and it is 1942. 3 more years pass and Tokyo is being firebombed and the war is over. 17 more years pass and we are in Los Angeles.
The book does start slowly as Epstein introduces her characters. For awhile I wasn’t sure whether I was going to enjoy the book. But once the story began to concentrate on the main character and the Tokyo firebombing I found it difficult to put down. Small pieces introduced earlier are seen later as larger parts of the puzzle. And the story is like a puzzle in a way. We see a character after 10 years and we wonder why are they so different? What happened in their life? As Epstein fills in the pieces it makes the story more interesting and made me want to keep reading to find what happened and what will happen. The ending of the story was predictable but that didn’t detract from the story at all.
by Sarah Vowell
Let me start by saying I am a big fan of Ms. Vowell. I thoroughly enjoyed her other books especially “Assassination Vacation.” But this book did nothing for me.
The book starts off interesting as Ms. Vowell points out that virtually everything you run into in Hawaii came from somewhere else. She tells us about Captain Cook finding the islands and why the missionaries from New England traveled all the way to Hawaii to convert the natives to Christianity and how besides bring Christianity they also brought disease. There is a lot of interesting history of Hawaii somewhere in this book but it is mangled and confused so much that the book just drags along. I found myself skimming through parts because they were just dull. After awhile, I started getting the feeling that Ms. Vowell wrote the book so she could write-off her vacation in Hawaii.
Anyway, I can’t recommend this book even if you are a fan of Ms. Vowell but if you are a fan and you are really interested in reading about Hawaii then go ahead and give it a try. Otherwise, don’t bother.
by Marty Appel
A book about the Yankees should be exciting, full of stories about the players and the team. It should be a personal look more than just a review of stats and win/loss percentages. At least I think so but the author of this book disagrees with me. This book reads as if it was written by a sports columnist and not an historian. It felt like this to me: Here we go to the next season, here are some players, this one was important just look at his stats, here we are in the World Series, now off to the next season.
But a team like this has to have stories. Players have to have more than just stats. Who are they? Where did they come from? How did they end up on the Yankees? Where did they go? Who knows, certainly not me after reading this book. Other than a few big name players there is really nothing about any players other than their stats. Whole seasons can be summed up in a few paragraphs. I just didn’t find it that interesting but maybe I went into it looking for something that it isn’t.
Can I recommend it? If you are looking for a 600 page impersonal look at the team then yes I can recommend it. If you are looking for a story of the team and the players then I think you will be as disappointed as I was.
175 years ago today, Elijah Parish Lovejoy was murdered in Alton, Illinois. He was a Presbyterian minister and staunch abolitionist, fighting to end slavery. Besides giving speeches against slavery he published the Alton Observer, an abolitionist newspaper. Alton was a center for southerners who caught and returned escaped slaves. On the night of November 7th, they attacked his warehouse with the intent of destroying his printing press. When Lovejoy came out to try to prevent them from putting a ladder up against his warehouse he was gunned down. He was 35 years old. No one was ever prosecuted for his murder.
Lovejoy has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame on Delmar Boulevard. If you are in the neighborhood, leave a flower in his memory.
Lovejoy at Alton Riot
Daniel Borowy, a high school student with Down syndrome was shot in the back by a fellow student when the new school year started. The Baltimore Orioles invited him and the school counselor who tackled the gunman to throw out the first pitch in tonight’s game. Very cool!
Empire of Liberty
by Gordon S. Wood
A lot of us think we know about our founding fathers and what they planned for America. But did you know that a lot of our founding fathers intended for the US to be a monarchy? That the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans despised each other so much that it makes the political parties of today look like a love-fest? That the Washington administration built a very strong federal government that taxed and spent their way to a prosperous nation? That our founding fathers had very little interest in religion and one of the most popular books written during this period was an anti-religious tome? No? Then this book will truly shock you.
Gordon Wood has done a great job with this book. It is very well written and keeps moving but you will want to put it down to think about what you have read. It does a fantastic job of covering each of the administrations of our first few presidents especially that Washington and Adams administrations. Wood does an excellent job of showing how the Federalist party collapsed under the disagreements of Adams and Alexander Hamilton leading to the Democratic-Republicans becoming the leading party at the beginning of the 19th century. These administrations are dealt with a little too easily. Jefferson despised the concept of a strong federal government and his policies hurt the developing nation but the author tends to overlook these issues. Especially on the issue of slavery the author could have done a better job.
Wood is both a wonderful writer and a superb scholar. Overall this is an excellent book and you will learn a huge amount about our founding fathers that will surprise you. Unlike so may other historical books, this one flows very well and Wood writes like a writer not a history professor trying to impress his dean. I highly recommend this book for anyone with interest in the first 25 years of the United States.
This picture is from Christmas three years ago. I love Mikey’s smile in the picture and his eyes just glow. He is such a handsome and happy little guy.