Current Reading: July 2023

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Current Reading: July 2023

heinäkuu 6, 12:40 pm

First up with Scan Artist, the tale of how Evelyn Wood convinced enough people that "speed reading" was not merely skimming, and got them to pay real money for the privilege of sitting through two weeks of her program. Call it a slice of life of 20th-century America.

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 6, 5:26 pm

Finished a very good The Wisconsin Frontier (A History of the Trans-Appalachian Frontier) by Mark Wyman. A history of the area from the pre-Colombian era to the late 1800.

heinäkuu 7, 2:35 am

Don’t think I mentioned I finished off The Middle Byzantine Historians last week.

heinäkuu 12, 1:05 pm

Finished Revolutionary Nativism, an academic dissection of the hard-core fascist elements of the Chinese Nationalists, ca. 1927-1937. Could be better organized but I found it useful.

heinäkuu 12, 6:19 pm

New here. Pocket bio: Retired humanities teacher, residing in Tlaxcala, Mexico, with two dogs and six indoor cats. Passionate about literature, history, philosophy, classical music and opera, jazz, cinema, and similar subjects. Nostalgic guy. Politically centrist. BA in American Studies from Yale; MAs in English and Education from Boston University. Born in northern New Jersey. Have lived and worked in San Francisco, Chicago, northern Nevada, northeast Wisconsin, South Korea.

Craig Fehrman’s Author in Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote is a solid study that is self-recommending for Presidential history enthusiasts. I might dock a half-point because Ferhrman’s prose is functional at best - one imagines what Edmund Wilson or Van Wyck Brooks might have made of this material. But of course, no one really writes like that anymore, which is why I read so many books from the past. 🙂

heinäkuu 13, 7:13 am

Finished Marconi: The Man Who Networked the World. Deals with the whole man, from world-renowned technologist, to hard-headed businessman, somewhat sketchy family man, and a fully committed Fascist and Italian imperialist. In the last case the doubts appear to have only set in when Marconi recognized that Mussolini's aggression could lead to war with Britain (the homeland of his mother).

Possibly more than most people want to know, but this is now the go-to book if you want to study Marconi.

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 13, 8:24 am

>6 Shrike58: Following on from Marconi, Tom Lewis’s history of early radio, Empire of the Air, is magnificent. A meaty and enthralling account of radio pioneers Lee de Forest, Edwin H. Armstrong, and David Sarnoff. Exactly the kind of deep dive into a subject that I like, and very well written. Armstrong’s ultimately tragic story is a strong reminder not to spend your life in patent litigation.

heinäkuu 14, 7:14 am

>7 PatrickMurtha: One of the key points with Marconi is that while being first helped, he was very careful to get his ducks in a row when it came to his intellectual properties. It didn't hurt that his mother was one of the "Whiskey" Jamesons, so he could draw on his family connections for business advice when he was starting out.

heinäkuu 14, 8:17 am

Those patent litigations described at length in Empire of the Air were ugly and, of course, energy-sapping. Whenever I read about the lives of famous people, and I read a lot of biographies, I walk away thinking “No, thanks.”

heinäkuu 15, 10:50 am

Coming up on the final chapters of J.M.S. Careless’s Canada: A Story Of Challenge, the revised 1970 edition. Not the name I would want as a historian 😏 , but Careless was good. This is is the second comprehensive history of Canada that I have read, after Roger Riendeau’s A Brief History of Canada, 2000 edition.

I love thinking about geography, and one of my retirement goals is to know the INTERNAL geography of countries much better. Lately I’ve been working on Italy, the UK, Australia, trying to get the counties, regions, features more firmly fixed in my mind. So I appreciate that Careless opens with a consideration of the geographic regions of Canada. I have really never thought much about the Canadian Shield, or even been aware of the water-logged Hudson Bay Lowlands, so this is wonderful material. YouTube travel and geography videos, if used very selectively, can help with the visualization.

heinäkuu 17, 9:41 am

Finished Leonidas Polk, a somewhat clunky life of the Confederacy's "warrior bishop." This is as much general history as it is military history, as about a third of the book is devoted to the man's clerical and business career. I will say this in the man's favor as a flag-grade officer, he wasn't Braxton Bragg!

heinäkuu 20, 7:06 am

Finished The British Surrealists, a collection of biographical vignettes by the zoologist and student of human social behavior, who I was not previously aware was a surrealist artist himself.

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 20, 11:14 am

I’m currently reading The Diary of John Quincy Adams: 1794-1845, a selected (but long) edition edited by Allan Nevins in 1951. JQA is an interesting case because he appeared to dislike politics and public life, frequently stating his preference for being a reader, writer, and scholar; yet when he had a chance to do that, after his Presidency and in his early 60s, he launched right back into a nine-term career as a US Representative that took him to his death at age 80. It is theorized that he suffered from depression, and he consistently seems to have sought out whatever conditions would make him most miserable. The family mantle always weighed heavily on him * , and although one might find his sense of public service admirable, he was privately quite cynical about political life and constantly frustrated by it. It is not just that he couldn’t achieve what he wanted through politics - that is common - but he took no pleasure in the process, as the more extroverted can. Meeting with supplicants, for example, was profoundly tedious for him.

So the effect of the diaries which he assiduously kept is sad, but also stimulating because he was a man of genuine cultivation and always “in the thick of things”.

* Not just on him. His oldest son committed suicide at 28, and his second son drank himself to death by 31.

heinäkuu 22, 7:59 am

Wrapped up To Break Russia's Chains, which I have to admit that I found a little underwhelming. Alexandrov does succeed in giving you a complete life of the supposedly honorable terrorist, but I'm not sure that he captures how Savinkov was bereft of truly viable visions for Russia's future.

heinäkuu 24, 7:04 am

Knocked off The Fire Line, the story of the life and death of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. A moving book, but a bit thin when it comes to the public policy decisions that set the men up for disaster.

heinäkuu 24, 10:27 am

I seem to be running into King Philip’s War a lot in my reading, so I thought I would undertake a classic history of the subject, Douglas Leach’s Flintlock and Tomahawk: New England in King Philip's War. This is very well balanced between military, political, and social history, with plenty of conflict detail as best can be reconstructed.

heinäkuu 26, 9:49 am

Just started Christian Holmes’ Company Towns of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Seems a little specialized? Well, pull up a chair…

Local history is a distinctive branch of publication, and one dear to my own heart. Much of it is produced and distributed locally, by small presses, state and municipal historical associations, museums, etc, and may not be obtainable through Amazon or conventional sources. Looking for a specific older piece of local history literature can be as daunting as seeking a rare edition of an obscure novelist.

Much of this material is “non-book” and even downright ephemera: periodicals, booklets, brochures, flyers. Much of it is produced by dedicated non-professionals.

When I lived in Northeast Wisconsin in the Oughties, I was really involved in local history - and arts, economic development, small town revitalization, journalism; too much really, but it was fun. For several years I lived in the town of Little Chute, on the Fox River between Appleton and Green Bay, one of the most Dutch-American municipalities in the country. I was very active in the Little Chute Historical Society and Little Chute Windmill Association (which eventually succeeded in its goal of building an authentic Dutch windmill as an attraction).

I also served on the Editorial Board of Voyageur Magazine, “Northeast Wisconsin's Historical Review”. This was a great gig! I got to review and comment on submissions for the magazine, and the Board met quarterly to hash out the contents of future issues. Those sessions were intensely stimulating, because we had the cream of local history professors, librarians, and dedicated amateurs on the Board.

Here in Mexico, government funding for local history publishing is EXCELLENT, way exceeding the US on a per capita basis. Every Mexican state capital seems to have at least one bookstore devoted to local history, and the number of very substantial publications on offer is simply amazing.

I would be most interested to learn what the situation is in other nations in this respect. I would assume that the conditions are good in the UK, which has long been a bastion of local history, but elsewhere I don’t know.

heinäkuu 27, 9:16 am

Among the rather specialized titles I’m currently reading is Farm Broadcasting: The First Sixty Years (1981). I’d like to own it, but hard copies are pretty pricey and it can be read for free online:

When I was a New Jersey kid waking up gosh darn early on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons like Colonel Bleep and Dodo the Kid from Outer Space at 6 AM, there were farm programs scheduled even earlier - Modern Farmer or Agriculture USA * at 5:30 AM. This Baker book includes info about the latter, which started on KNBC in Los Angeles in 1961, produced and hosted by John A. Stearns, and was widely syndicated over the next two decades. Information about the production history of Modern Farmer is more elusive, even though I’ve seen old New York Times TV listings for it, and many people online remember the show. No footage from either series on YouTube - probably all wiped a long time ago.

The book contains proportionately much more information about farm radio, surveying the field state by state. I love forgotten pockets of media history like this.

* Also the title of a USDA radio series produced in the 1950s.

heinäkuu 28, 8:09 am

I can remember the quasi-documentary stuff on in the morning when the TV channels came alive. The earliest cartoon series I can remember being on in the morning was "Space Angel."

heinäkuu 28, 8:40 am

>19 Shrike58: Yes, another low-budget animated series of that Sixties era that played in repeats forever. I’m fond of them.

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 28, 10:40 am

I comb through the notes and bibliographies of any non-fiction book I am reading and make lists of follow-up books and articles, frequently buying one or two immediately and putting others on the to buy / locate list. Of course, this strategy leads me in new directions, which is part of the point.

Here is an excellent example: In the end notes of Robert F. Gish’s fine biography of New Mexico-born novelist Harvey Fergusson, Frontier’s End: The Life and Literature of Harvey Fergusson, there is a reference to Men Who Matched the Mountains: The Forest Service in the Southwest, published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1972. Well this sounded interesting. So I poked around, and found a beautiful dust-jacketed copy signed by one of the authors, George Fitzpatrick, at an extremely reasonable price. Snapped it right up. And now that I have it and am reading it, it is indeed very interesting!

Although I haven’t the money to be a real book collector, I am always happy to own interesting things. Perhaps it is just as well that I have to buy online now, instead of having access to used bookshops, because the problem with those is that my interests have broadened to the extent that I want to at least look at everything in the shop, and then desire to buy way too much.

heinäkuu 28, 9:57 am

In 1903, members of the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization were often considered terrorists, and some later specifically described themselves as terrorists: killers for a cause. But by 1948, many wars and struggles later, the surviving elderly veterans of the group were retrospectively considered freedom fighters by the new Yugoslav Macedonian government, and were invited to apply for pension recognition. Although the shift in categorization from terrorist to freedom fighter is not Keith Brown's specific or overriding subject in his fine monograph, Loyal Unto Death: Trust and Terror in Revolutionary Macedonia, it hovered in my mind throughout my reading of the book, probably because it is an issue that has obvious contemporary relevance and that will never be fully settled to everyone's satisfaction. The linchpin seems to be that if one approves of the goals of a revolutionary organization, one has moved some way towards excusing its methods, and in re-defining terrorists as freedom fighters.

Brown's study is specialized, but quite readable. He uses up-to-date historical and anthropological concepts without getting bogged down in impenetrable language or overly convoluted relations of ideas. He also does not commit the common sin of sniffily dismissing earlier literature on his topic - in fact, he mines such writing, both academic and popular, for all it is worth, and in a very respectful spirit. His chief sources are archival - the aforementioned pension applications, and British Foreign Office records. His goal is to trace the internal workings of the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization through anthropological analysis. The promotional copy for the book lays out the project well: "Keith Brown focuses on social and cultural mechanisms of loyalty to describe the circuits of trust and terror--webs of secret communications and bonds of solidarity--that linked migrant workers, remote villagers, and their leaders in common cause. Loyalties were covertly created and maintained through acts of oath-taking, record-keeping, arms-trading, and in the use and management of deadly violence."

Brown has some pointed things to say about the interpretation of past events in the Balkans through a prism of contemporary ethno-nationalism, even suggesting that it was not an ESSENTIAL goal of the MRO to replace one "distant" governing authority, the Ottoman Empire, with another, localized government that would presumably be more representative of and responsive to the people. He calls this skepticism "thinking past the nation," borrowing a term from Arjun Appadurai, and he draws on James Scott's work on traditional forms of "anarchist" resistance to "being governed" to elucidate the theme. I can identify this as an area where experts will debate his conclusions, without claiming any competence to make a judgment on them myself.

The readership for a work of academic history such as this, driven by analysis rather than narrative, is naturally somewhat circumscribed, but it could be larger than it is. Enthusiastic readers of "popular history" ought not to be overly wary of tackling more advanced analyses which will help them to understand historical events in a different, more complex way, and in fact this book is a perfectly recommendable one in that respect, because it is challenging without being inaccessible to the typical educated reader. Brown opens up the concepts that he uses in a way that invites further curiosity, rather than shutting it down, and his very ample bibliography offers many avenues for additional exploration.

heinäkuu 28, 1:11 pm

Finished a very good Valley Forge by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin.

heinäkuu 29, 7:28 am

Wrapped up The Exchange Artist; sold as a tale of business connivance, it's really a social history of Boston in the Early Republic. Kamensky is trying to juggle a lot of topics, and mostly does so successfully.

heinäkuu 29, 10:02 am

Henry Charlton Beck (1902-1965) was New Jersey’s pre-eminent folklorist, with six excellent volumes to his credit, of which Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey, which I’m currently reading, is the first. Great material captured in an individual writing style. Beck is especially interested in ghost towns, odd place names, and interesting but obscure individuals.

I highly recommend reading Beck’s books about southern New Jersey in tandem with John McPhee’s later classic The Pine Barrens. They complement each other nicely.

heinäkuu 30, 9:30 am

I love history books of the past because they were not written for us, nor with our preoccupations in mind; they had no way of knowing what our preoccupations would BE. They do provide a sense of the time when they were written, as well as the specific past they were written about. I don’t generally see them as “superseded”; they are informative. Whether the theory-ridden, hectoring books of today will hold up as well remains to be seen.

The 50-volume Chronicles of America series published by Yale University Press in 1918 makes for delightful reading, and are very handsome hand-sized volumes as well. I have read Charles M. Andrews’ Colonial Folkways: A Chronicle of American Life in the Reign of the Georges and Maud Wilder Goodwin’s Dutch and English on the Hudson: A Chronicle of Colonial New York, and am just about to start Emerson Hough’s The Passing of the Frontier; A Chronicle of the Old West.

heinäkuu 30, 10:04 am

I am reading the States and the Nation series of bicentennial histories; ex-library copies can be had very inexpensively. (I get this uneasy feeling that libraries don’t hold onto anything anymore, but are in a constant itch to deaccession.)

I read North Dakota first, because who knows anything about North Dakota? And it was fascinating. Now I am starting South Carolina, because my sister was until recently living in Charleston. And I have New Hampshire in my possession.

A nice feature of the series is the inclusion of a photographic essay about the state in each volume. The notes and bibliographies are excellent, and are hard on my wallet, because I have discovered MANY books that I want to have.

A benefit of reading these books is that I afterwards feel a deeper connection to that state, that I kind of “own” it, because how many residents of a state have read a full-length history of their home? One in a thousand? Probably not even that many.

So even though North Dakota is one of the few states that I haven’t visited, because it is not on the way to anything and requires a separate trip, I now feel very possessive of North Dakota. Did you know that Lawrence Welk’s distinctive accent was North Dakota Russo-German? He didn’t learn English until he was an adult.

heinäkuu 31, 11:19 am

The Dr. Johnson-as-detective stories of Lillian de la Torre (1902-1993) were widely admired, and she served as President of the Mystery Writers of America. Her non-fiction true crime books are wrongly listed as novels in her Wikipedia entry, no doubt because they are presented novelistically. The Heir of Douglas is available in my Scribd subscription, so I started in on it this morning. A handful of reviews that made the book sound arcane were naturally enticing for me. 😏

Actually, the story is not that arcane at all. The “Douglas Cause” was a major scandal and media sensation in 18th Century Britain, about which everyone had an opinion; comparable to the case of the Tichborne Claimant in the next century.

Muokkaaja: elokuu 21, 9:57 am

whoops . . . wrong month