Our History selection is a bit of a mixed bag this month and includes books about The Great Depression, The American Civil War, North Korea, Haiti, Manhattan, a 1920s president of the United States: Coolidge, and a history of Ambition. Enjoy!
The Dust Bowl : an illustrated history / by Dayton Duncan ; with a preface by Ken Burns ; picture research by Aileen Silverstone and Susan Shumaker.
“Given our current drought and economic woes, the powerhouse team of Duncan and Burns (The National Parks, 2009) chose a sharply relevant subject, the Dust Bowl, for their latest book and documentary. This riveting, illustrated volume of vivid written and oral history extends the scope of the film (premiering on PBS in mid-November) and clarifies our understanding of the worst manmade ecological disaster in American history. The Great Plains, a land of little rain and perpetual wind redeemed by buffalo grass, experienced a rare wet spell in the 1920s, just as homesteaders were encouraged to farm, and technological advances made it possible to plow up millions of acres of sod, exposing the soil. When the rains stopped in the early 1930s, fierce winds generated massive, rampaging, otherworldly dust storms. From struggling with the invasive, smothering dust to the immense folk migration as families fled west to FDR’s attempts to mitigate the disaster, Duncan and Burns chronicle every harrowing phase of this decade of human pain and environmental degradation. The result is a resounding chronicle of why we must preserve Earth’s life-sustaining ecosystems.–Seaman, Donna Copyright 2010 BooklistFrom Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.” (Booklist) (Courtesy of Syndetics)
Haiti : the aftershocks of history / Laurent Dubois.Haiti: The Aftershocks of History
“Stereotypes, errors, and prejudice swirl around Haiti like toxic fumes, but this riveting study helps dispel clouds of ignorance. Building on his landmark synthesis of revolutionary Haiti (Avengers of the New World, CH, Nov’04, 42-1742), Dubois (Duke) summarizes colonial slave society and the liberation era, then thoroughly covers poorly understood 19th-century developments. Ongoing tensions between ruling elites and rural citizens characterized this period. Elites hoped to restore the plantation regime’s coercive labor relations; peasants sought title to land for subsistence farming and local market production. Dubois persuasively argues that the resulting stalemate defines much of Haiti’s history, shaping political as well as agricultural life. The “counter-plantation” strategy, not laziness or incapacity, explains the supposed postindependence economic decline. In the 1900s, that viable option eroded along with Haiti’s soil and smallholder rights. Brutal authoritarianism and foreign interventions are longstanding plagues, but Haitians increasingly reassert national autonomy, cultural pride, and democratic rights. Perhaps brief coverage of the post-Duvalier years indicates a future third volume. Readers will welcome further work by this major historian of this “small country but big nation.” Summing Up: Essential. All levels/collections. T. P. Johnson University of Massachusetts, BostonCopyright American Library Association, used with permission.” (CHOICE) (Courtesy of Syndetics)
Coolidge / Amity Shlaes.
“Reading perceived weaknesses as strengths and persistent setbacks as evidence of perseverance, journalist Shlaes (The Forgotten Man) glowingly portrays Coolidge as an unappreciated economic hero. Born in Vermont in 1872, Coolidge studied law in Northampton, Mass., married schoolteacher Grace Goodhue, and doggedly climbed the Republican political ladder. From governor of Massachusetts to vice president and then president of the United States, Coolidge distanced himself from the progressive elements of his party; he championed low taxes, small government, and commerce as the foundations of prosperity. Shlaes writes with crisp, engaging prose, and her keen eye for detail is rooted in a solid collection of source material. But the story’s unrelenting linear trajectory bounces between such disparate topics as tax policies, maple syrup, and aviation with little indication of the degree of importance. Shlaes’s reluctance to critically analyze Coolidge’s political policies and actions is especially evident in her avoidance of delving into what Coolidge may have known about the Harding scandals and about weaknesses in the economy. Shlaes successfully shows, through clear explanations of Coolidge’s fiscal policies, why modern-day conservatives should consider him an economic hero, but she fails to illuminate what it meant for all Americans to Keep Cool with Coolidge during the complex 1920s. 16-page b&w photo insert. Agents: Sarah Chalfant, Scott Moyers, Adam Eaglin, and Andrew Wylie, the Wylie Agency. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved” (Publisher Weekly) (Courtesy of Syndetics)
Mapping Manhattan : a love (and sometimes hate) story in maps by 75 New Yorkers / Becky Cooper ; foreword by Adam Gopnik.
“”Maps are more about their makers than the places they describe. Map who you are. Map where you are. Map your memories.” Cooper, writer, cartographer, and a native New Yorker, carefully assembles a surprisingly intimate collection of life stories from her art project, mapyourmemories. Laboriously hand-printing blank maps of Manhattan, she walks the length of the island asking strangers to provide their own narrative of New York. When Cooper receives her illustrated Manhattans, she finds a barrage of personal memories: from humorous insights to confessions, lost loves and childhood reminiscences; the vignettes, through maps, become love letters offering tribute to New York past and present. The maps represent New Yorkers and visitors from all walks of life: MTA employees, students, can collectors, mail carriers, artists, and city planners side-by-side with well-known New Yorkers such as chef David Chang, Yoko Ono, and Harvey Fierstein. New York reveals itself as “simultaneously no one’s city and everyone’s city.” Relationships to the city by those who have lived and loved in New York are interspersed with Cooper’s own history, artful illustrations, and quotes from street encounters. Cooper’s beautiful project linking the lives of New Yorkers is one that will continue to grow. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.” (Publisher Weekly) (Courtesy of Syndetics)
The impossible state : North Korea, past and future / Victor Cha.
“Former White House official Victor Cha has written the definitive volume on North Korea, arguably the world’s most menacing and mysterious nation. In The Impossible State, Cha, a singular expert on the region, exposes North Korea’s veiled past; sheds light on its culture, economy, and foreign policy; and explores the possibilities of its uncertain future in the post-Kim Jong-il era. A timely and engaging insider’s look at a volatile, and isolationist Asian juggernaut, The Impossible State will carry readers far deeper into this frighteningly adversarial country than they’ve ever traveled before”. (Amazon.com summary)
Ambition, a history : from vice to virtue / William Casey King.
“From rags to riches, log house to White House, enslaved to liberator, ghetto to CEO, ambition fuels the American Dream. Americans are driven by ambition. Yet at the time of the nation’s founding, ambition was viewed as a dangerous vice, everything from “a canker on the soul” to the impetus for original sin. This engaging book explores ambition’s surprising transformation, tracing attitudes from classical antiquity to early modern Europe to the New World and America’s founding. From this broad historical perspective, William Casey King deepens our understanding of the American mythos and offers a striking reinterpretation of the introduction to the Declaration of Independence.
Through an innovative array of sources and authors—Aquinas, Dante, Machiavelli, the Geneva Bible, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Thomas Jefferson, and many others—King demonstrates that a transformed view of ambition became possible the moment Europe realized that Columbus had discovered not a new route but a new world. In addition the author argues that reconstituting ambition as a virtue was a necessary precondition of the American republic. The book suggests that even in the twenty-first century, ambition has never fully lost its ties to vice and continues to exhibit a dual nature, positive or negative depending upon the ends, the means, and the individual involved.” (Syndetics summary)
Photography and the American Civil War / Jeff L. Rosenheim ; [edited by Anna Jardine].
“Six hundred thousand lives were lost between 1861 and 1865, making the conflict between North and South the nation’s deadliest war. If the “War Between the States” was the test of the young republic’s commitment to its founding precepts, it was also a watershed in photographic history, as the camera recorded the epic, heartbreaking narrative from beginning to end—providing those on the home front, for the first time, with immediate visual access to the horrors of the battlefield.
Photography and the American Civil Warfeatures both familiar and rarely seen images that include haunting battlefield landscapes strewn with bodies, studio portraits of armed Confederate and Union soldiers (sometimes in the same family) preparing to meet their destiny, rare multi-panel panoramas of Gettysburg and Richmond, languorous camp scenes showing exhausted troops in repose, diagnostic medical studies of wounded soldiers who survived the war’s last bloody battles, and portraits of both Abraham Lincoln and his assassin, John Wilkes Booth.
Published on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg (1863), this beautifully produced book features Civil War photographs by George Barnard, Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, and many others.” (Syndetics summary)