John T. Slania

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The true impact of war is often lost in the numbers. It is only when a human face is introduced that we fully understand what it means to go to war. In a month when our country memorializes its war heroes, these four books help humanize the war experience in a powerful way.

Picturing war
World War II: The Definitive Visual History leads the reader on a chronological journey through World War II. An oversized book filled with hundreds of photographs, graphics and maps, it begins with the unsettled political landscape following World War I and the circumstances that enabled Hitler and Mussolini to gain power. It chronicles key battles, such as Guadalcanal, D-Day and Iwo Jima, and the bombing of Hiroshima. It also explores the aftermath of the war, including the rebuilding of Germany and Japan and the growth of Communism. But it is the photographs and personal stories that are truly gripping. The key figures—Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin and Eisenhower—are well represented. So, too, are images and stories of the common man, from the foot soldier to the concentration camp survivor. World War II is a worthy book for the shelves of the serious student of war, or for the coffee table of any reader who seeks a comprehensive history of the world’s greatest conflict.

In Mark Faram’s Faces of War: The Untold Story of Edward Steichen’s WWII Photographers, we are treated to the war photography of Edward Steichen, a veteran art and commercial photographer who did some of his most memorable work while in the U.S. Navy. Steichen gained fame shooting fashion and celebrity photographs for Vogue and Vanity Fair, but at the outset of World War II, the 62-year-old enlisted in the Navy. He was named a lieutenant commander and led a team of photographers in capturing images aboard ships and aircraft carriers in the Pacific Theater. Steichen captured images of men at war, and also at leisure in the belly of naval vessels. The black-and-white photographs are striking considering that despite the tight and often tense conditions aboard Navy ships, Steichen was able to find dramatic lighting and place his subjects at ease. Steichen created simple, but profound images that changed the art and craft of war photography.

Lives forever changed
The subjects of A More Unbending Battle: The Harlem Hellfighter’s Struggle for Freedom in WWI and Equality at Home also had a dramatic impact on the history of war. They were the members of the U.S. 369th Infantry, the first African-American regiment to serve in World War I, better known as the Harlem Hellfighters. Author Peter Nelson relates that these men distinguished themselves from most other black soldiers, who were relegated to supply duties, and earned a chance to fight in the trenches in Europe. But they were unable to overcome their country’s segregationist tendencies, and fought with the French and not with white U.S. soldiers. Despite this slight, the Harlem Hellfighters served with distinction and became one of the most feared fighting units in the war.

Soldiers Once: My Brother and the Lost Dreams of America’s Veterans is Catherine Whitney’s book-length essay recalling the tragic life of her brother, a Vietnam veteran, and the United States’ continued involvement in war. The story begins on the day before September 11, 2001, when Whitney buries her 53-year-old brother, Jim Schuler. He served three tours in Vietnam, but as he aged, his life unraveled. As Whitney searches for answers to her brother’s experience with post-traumatic stress syndrome, she reflects on the costs of war for a new generation of soldiers sent to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Soldiers Once is part memoir, part meditation and a thoughtful look at the impact of war.

John T. Slania is a journalism professor at Loyola University in Chicago. His late father, Gerard Slania, earned the Silver Star and Bronze Star Medal as a soldier in World War II.

The true impact of war is often lost in the numbers. It is only when a human face is introduced that we fully understand what it means to go to war. In a month when our country memorializes its war heroes, these four books help humanize the war experience in a powerful way. Picturing war […]
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Although they examine three separate, significant times in the span of African-American history, these books share common themes: the struggle for freedom, the quest for equality and the achievement of these goals with the help of a great leader. Spanning more than a century, from the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement, these new volumes provide important perspective as we celebrate Black History Month.

THE GREAT EMANCIPATOR

Much has been written about Abraham Lincoln’s evolution from a president who simply sought to preserve the union to one who ultimately realized he must free the slaves. But James Oakes makes the case in Freedom National that even before the Civil War, Lincoln held a firm anti-slavery view and pursued that goal until his death. While January 1, 2013, marked the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Oakes writes that long before that historic order was issued, Lincoln and the Republican Party were orchestrating political and military maneuvers to free the slaves.

Oakes, a noted professor of history, provocatively sets the starting date of the emancipation at less than four months after the first cannon shot of the Civil War. It was on August 6, 1861, that Lincoln signed the First Confiscation Act, instructing the Union Army to seize any property and free any slaves owned by Southerners disloyal to the union. “[F]irmly convinced that slavery was the source of the rebellion, Republicans began attacking it almost as soon as the war began,” Oakes writes.

While experiencing some success with military action, Lincoln realized he needed a broader decree—the Emancipation Proclamation—to achieve full freedom for slaves. Thus, Oakes writes, the Emancipation Proclamation wasn’t the beginning or end of Lincoln’s mission, but a more aggressive phase of his anti-slavery campaign. The final steps were victory over the South in the war, and then passage of the Thirteenth Amendment outlawing slavery, which Lincoln shepherded through Congress. He was assassinated before the amendment was ratified by the states.

Freedom National is a refreshing new look at Lincoln because it refutes a growing body of work arguing that it was only after exhausting every other political and military tactic that he adopted an anti-slavery stance. Oakes’ conclusion: “[Lincoln] was neither the Great Emancipator who bestrode his times and brought his people out of the darkness, nor was he in any way a reluctant emancipator held back by some visceral commitment to white supremacy.”

GIVE 'EM HELL

It is altogether fitting that this Black History Month trilogy moves from one great military conflict—the Civil War—to another: World War II. In fact, the theme of Rawn James Jr.’s The Double V is how the nation’s military conflicts, and their use of African-American soldiers, reflect our attitudes toward racism and equality. “From exclusion and segregation, to integration and diversity, the armed forces, for better or worse, have always reflected our country at large,” James writes.

The Double V refers to the attempt by black soldiers to achieve two victories in World War II: on the battlefield and at home, where they sought to be treated as equals. James, an accomplished historian, writes that the Double V campaign was best described by prominent civil rights activist Roy Wilkins, who said that blacks should “fight on for the full freedom of 100 percent democracy at home while we are fighting a war for democracy abroad.” Providing critical historical context, James details how African Americans were mustered into the U.S. military beginning in the late stages of the Civil War. Yet it wasn’t true integration, he writes, since black soldiers often performed menial tasks in segregated units.

Two factors led to the complete integration of the military, according to James: the loyalty and heroics displayed by black soldiers in World War II, and the presidency of Harry S. Truman. As a U.S. senator, Truman headed a committee to investigate misappropriation of military defense contracts. Inspecting dozens of military bases and field operations, Truman grew to understand not only the nation’s vast military apparatus, but also its soldiers, including the bravery of its black soldiers. Once the war was over and the foreign enemies dispatched, Truman turned to combating the internal enemy of segregation.

On July 26, 1948, African Americans finally enjoyed the “Double V” when Truman issued Executive Order 9981, desegregating the armed forces. Of course, the order did not end racism in the military, James points out. But this bold decision by a conservative, white Missourian did establish a doctrine to bring equality to the military. While the struggle for equality continues, James concludes that evidence of progress can be seen six decades later with the election of Barack Obama, who, as president, is commander in chief of the armed forces.

TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY

Not all wars involve the military. This is a lesson from Taylor Branch’s The King Years, which chronicles Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight for equality during the Civil Rights era. Here, the clash is between white supremacists—who refuse to allow blacks to eat at the same lunch counters, drink from the same water fountains or use the same bathrooms—and African Americans asking for the rights granted to all citizens by the U.S. Constitution. The offensive is conducted in a peaceful fashion by King, but frequently met with bloody violence.

The King Years is a distillation of Branch’s acclaimed trilogy, America in the King Years. The series totaled more than 2,000 pages, offering a comprehensive and exhaustively researched exploration of the Civil Rights movement. Branch was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for History for the first installment, Parting the Waters, and received praise for two subsequent volumes, Pillar of Fire and At Canaan’s Edge. Here, Branch selects 18 passages from the trilogy in an attempt to capture the essential moments of the Civil Rights era. Branch’s hope in publishing a condensed edition is to make history accessible to a new generation of readers. “Our goal in this edition,” Branch writes, “is to convey both the spirit and sweep of an extraordinary movement.”

Moving chronologically, The King Years begins with the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, moves through the Selma March in 1965, and finishes with King’s assassination in Memphis in 1968. These condensed passages allow readers to grasp the significance of these and other key moments in King’s life and offer an invitation to Branch’s more complete writings.

In an interview with his publisher, Branch revealed the inspiration for publishing The King Years: “For all readers, I believe, lessons from the Civil Rights Era apply not to bygone forms of racial segregation but most urgently to a troubled future. . . . They show how ordinary people can work miracles against intractable burdens to advance both freedom and the common good.”

The war against racism is not over. But The King Years shows how King and others advanced the cause of equality in the same noble fashion as the great leaders who preceded them. It is Branch’s hope that a new generation who learn about King’s crusade for civil rights may be inspired to continue the fight.

Although they examine three separate, significant times in the span of African-American history, these books share common themes: the struggle for freedom, the quest for equality and the achievement of these goals with the help of a great leader. Spanning more than a century, from the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement, these new […]
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African Americans have been struggling for independence, equality and respect from the moment they were brought to the New World in chains. As that struggle continues today, it’s instructive to look back on our turbulent history to learn from the past and hopefully improve on the future. The five books featured here can help us to do just that, examining historical themes that serve as milestones on the journey of progress.

DESPERATION & DECEPTION

It’s ironic that Captain Amasa Delano was on the high seas in pursuit of seals when he came upon what appeared to be a slave ship. Hunting for seals and slaves were equally predatory professions. And while seal hunting was a lucrative industry, the slave trade would prove to be even more profitable. Not that Delano would grasp the irony; he was an idealistic, anti-slavery New Englander. And when he boarded the battered vessel, his idealism would leave him vulnerable to a deception that had deadly consequences.

This page-turning history lesson is found in The Empire of Necessity by Greg Grandin, author of the acclaimed Fordlandia. Delano’s ship happened upon a distressed Spanish vessel one day in 1805. It appeared to be merely a lost slave ship. In reality, the 70 West Africans on board, seeking their freedom from slavery, had commandeered the ship. The clever slaves forced the Spanish captain to go along with the ruse. Delano believed the charade for nine hours, but when he discovered he’d been tricked, he ordered his men to attack the West Africans.

While Grandin’s narrative is a gripping read on its own, the underlying theme is profound: The deception in this incident is symbolic of America’s willingness to ignore the hypocisy of slavery in a supposedly free society. Unfortunately, it would take the United States another 60 years before it would acknowledge the falsehood.

FAILED EXPERIMENT

When the Civil War ended slavery in 1865, the U.S. embarked on an effort to provide reparations to Southern landowners and expanded rights to newly freed slaves, including suffrage and education. That policy, called Reconstruction, was a noble idea that failed.

In The Wars of Reconstruction, Le Moyne College history professor Douglas R. Egerton details the myriad factors that led to the collapse of Reconstruction: the replacement of Abraham Lincoln with an inept Andrew Johnson; Southern resistance to the granting of equal rights to blacks; and the premature withdrawal of federal troops. But Egerton contends that an ongoing pattern of violence in the South doomed Reconstruction from the beginning. “Reconstruction . . . was violently overthrown by men who had fought slavery during the Civil War and continued that battle as guerrilla partisans,” Egerton writes.

The Wars of Reconstruction offers a fresh perspective on why the grand experiment of Reconstruction failed and how it took nearly a century afterward for African Americans to gain any semblance of equal rights in the South.

SIREN SONG

In the early 1900s, many African Americans—shackled by an inability to earn a living or cast a vote—began a Great Migration from the rural South to the industrialized cities of the North. Jobs in the car factories of Detroit and steel mills of Chicago beckoned, while also fostering a black middle class. For the first time, African Americans earned enough money to own homes, buy cars and spend money on entertainment. One of the people they went to see was trumpeter Louis Armstrong.

In Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism, Duke University music professor Thomas Brothers chronicles Armstrong’s own Great Migration. After gaining notoriety as a musician in New Orleans, Armstrong heard a siren song in 1922 calling him north to Chicago, where there was a thriving black nightclub scene on the city’s South Side. There, Armstrong honed his crafts playing alongside jazz greats such as King Oliver, Earl “Fatha” Hines and Cab Calloway.

While this biography highlights the maturation of a great entertainer during the Jazz Age, it parallels the evolution of many African Americans in the early 20th century as they earned respectable livelihoods and carved out their own cultural enclaves in the North.

BARRIER TO PROGRESS

Unfortunately, the prosperity of the Jazz Age gave way to the Great Depression, and over the next several decades, many African Americans suffered from poverty and segregation in Northern cities. Some returned to the South, only to encounter further discrimination. The hatred experienced by a race was crystallized in the life of James Meredith, a trailblazer best known as the first African-American student to attend the University of Mississippi. Meredith is the central figure in Down to the Crossroads, an intriguing new book about the civil rights movement by historian Aram Goudsouzian.

Down to the Crossroads focuses on the so-called Meredith March, which the civil rights leader began on June 5, 1966, to register black voters in Mississippi. He started the march in Memphis with the goal of reaching Jackson, Mississippi, but he was soon wounded by a mysterious gunman. While Meredith recovered from his wounds, other black leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Stokely Carmichael, traveled to Mississippi to continue the Meredith March.

Goudsouzian uses the march to capture the divergent leadership styles of the era’s civil rights leaders. There was the defiant Carmichael, who led marchers in “black power” chants, while King preached nonviolence. This single march, captured in detail in Down to the Crossroads, gives readers a clearer understanding of the tensions that often dominated the civil rights movement. 

CONTINUING THE DREAM

When King was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968, some thought it was the end of the dream of equality for African Americans. In his new book, Waking from the Dream, David L. Chappell turns the spotlight onto those who stepped in to continue the cause in King’s wake, albeit in a less unified fashion.

Waking from the Dream describes the attempts by black leaders such as Ralph Abernathy and Jesse Jackson to further the movement, only to see the struggle slowed by politics and in-fighting. Despite the splintered movement, Chappell details how this new generation of leaders helped gain the passage of the Fair Housing Act and launched the presidential campaign of Jackson.

While it would take another 40 years before Americans would vote in their first black president, Waking from the Dream makes a strong case that Barack Obama would never have been elected were it not for the efforts of the leaders who followed in King’s wake.

African Americans have been struggling for independence, equality and respect from the moment they were brought to the New World in chains. As that struggle continues today, it’s instructive to look back on our turbulent history to learn from the past and hopefully improve on the future. The five books featured here can help us to do just that, examining historical themes that serve as milestones on the journey of progress.

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The African-American struggle continues in every corner of the nation, from small towns like Ferguson, Missouri, to the boroughs of New York. Thus, Black History Month arrives at a critical time in America. The question is: Can we learn from history? These selections shed new light on the black experience and offer perspectives on the often painful evolution of race relations in America.

Journalist Jill Leovy’s Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America chillingly reflects the violence and racial tension that exists in many urban areas. It’s principally the story of Bryant Tennelle, a Los Angeles teenager who was shot and killed in 2007. At first blush, this might simply be viewed as another black-on-black murder, and something the Los Angeles Police Department would typically ignore. But Tennelle’s father was a police officer. An unlikely hero, police detective John Skaggs, emerges to doggedly work the case and solve the crime.

But Ghettoside is more than just the story of one murdered teen. Leovy broadens her focus to examine the cycle of violence among black men in America—a country in which nearly 40 percent of all murder victims are black. She also offers insight into how the killings can be stopped.

“[W]here the criminal justice system fails to respond vigorously to violent injury and death,” she writes, “homicide becomes endemic.” Leovy bolsters her argument with extensive research, which included embedding herself within an LAPD detective squad.

SPYING EYES
Sometimes the conflict between law enforcement and African Americans doesn’t play out through violence. F.B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature reveals the covert side of oppression. Scholar William J. Maxwell conducted an exhaustive records search to uncover files showing that the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover spied on African-American writers and silenced some of their work. Maxwell gained access to 51 files demonstrating that over five decades, Hoover was obsessed with black authors, fearing their work might inspire political unrest and violence. He assigned a team of FBI agents to carry out a series of assignments, some as benign as reading advance copies of books, others as serious as persuading publishers to halt the release of books. Targets included Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, as well as the work of Richard Wright, whose poem “The FB Eye Blues” inspired the book’s title.

Among the most stunning examples of the Bureau’s activity was a hate letter written to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964. In it, a white FBI agent posing as a black man tells King he is a “complete fraud and a great liability to all us Negroes.” F.B. Eyes is a startling look at how racism has influenced the highest levels of authority.

THE FUGITIVE TRAIL
In Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad, noted historian Eric Foner gives a detailed and often stirring account of the antebellum network that transported escaped slaves from the South to Northern free states and Canada. Foner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who has written many fine books on the Civil War, slavery and Reconstruction, uncovers new evidence of just how extensive the secret path to freedom was for fugitive slaves.

His account centers on the Underground Railroad’s network in New York City, which had the North’s largest community of free blacks, as well as many ardent white abolitionists. Pre-eminent among them was newspaperman Sydney Howard Gay, who documented the activities of the Underground Railroad in a meticulous “Record of Fugitives,” which logged the arrival of fugitives in the city in 1855 and 1856 and related some of their horrifying personal stories. (In the book’s acknowledgements, Foner credits a former Columbia University student who found the document in the university archives.) Gay’s record details the step-by-step movements of escaped slaves through the city and the deeds of abolitionists who aided their flight. Among those recorded by Gay was Harriet Tubman, who reached New York in November 1856 with a group of runaway slaves from Maryland.

Gateway to Freedom is an important addition to the historical view of the Underground Railroad and a salute to the slaves who “faced daunting odds and demonstrated remarkable courage” in their journeys to freedom.

 

This article was originally published in the February 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

The African-American struggle continues in every corner of the nation, from small towns like Ferguson, Missouri, to the boroughs of New York. Thus, Black History Month arrives at a critical time in America. The question is: Can we learn from history? These selections shed new light on the black experience and offer perspectives on the often painful evolution of race relations in America.
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Racism. Oppression. Violence. Faith. Hopefulness. These themes have defined the black experience in America from the moment slaves touched shore. As African Americans continue their struggle, three new books cast fresh light on the journey from slavery to freedom.

A LOST MEMOIR FINALLY FOUND
Austin Reed’s birth certificate states that he was born a free man in New York, unique for a person of color in the 1820s. But Reed’s struggles in the pre-Civil War era made him far from free. Never before published, his remarkable 150-year-old autobiography, The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict, shows that even in the North, hatred and prejudice made life intolerable for African Americans.

Reed’s handwritten account chronicles years spent as an indentured servant and petty thief whose crimes led to turns in a juvenile reformatory and later, prison. Following the death of his father, Reed was made an indentured servant to pay off his family’s debts. When he burned down his master’s house, he was sent to a reformatory, where he was subjected to hard labor. But he also learned to read and write, allowing him to create this fascinating account of his experiences. As an adult, crimes of theft and larceny would return him to prison, where he was beaten and left in solitary confinement.

The Life and the Adventures of a Haunted Convict is believed to be the earliest account of prison life written by an African American. Authenticated by a team of scholars, it helps broaden the historical context of the black experience in America.

BAD SEEDS
Author Karen Branan is forced by two events to confront her prejudices: the present-day birth of her granddaughter and a century-old lynching in a small Southern town. The birth involves a baby girl born to Branan’s white son and his African-American girlfriend. Brenan’s first instinct is to recoil, a reaction that can, in part, be traced to her upbringing in Georgia. It is there, in the town of Hamilton, that four African Americans were lynched in 1912 for their suspected role in the murder of a white man. The sheriff at the time was Branan’s great-grandfather.

Branan, a veteran journalist, decides to confront her family’s past, and her own beliefs, by researching the lynching. It forms the basis for her cathartic memoir, The Family Tree. The book reveals some dark truths. First, the murdered white man, Brenan’s distant cousin, had a history of assaulting black women. He was found shot dead after pursuing a 14-year-old black girl. As the case unfolded, Branan’s great-grandfather, the sheriff, arrested a woman and three men, all black. Then he offered no resistance when a white mob dragged the four suspects from jail and hanged them from a tree. Even more startling is that Branan discovers she is related to one of the lynching victims.

The Family Tree is a fascinating account of a white author’s struggle to examine lynching, racism and the violent crimes of her own family. She strives for healing the only way she can: by uncovering the truth.

AN INFLUENTIAL VOICE
When African Americans began the Great Migration from the South to Northern cities, many found opportunities in Chicago: employment in factories, steel mills and stockyards, a chance to own a home and greater social acceptance. The city’s South Side became a black metropolis teeming with shops, restaurants, nightclubs and churches. Providing news to this emerging group was the newly created Chicago Defender, a black-owned newspaper.

Ethan Michaeli traces the growth of this groundbreaking newspaper in The Defender, showing how the Chicago Defender grew to become a cultural and economic force in not only Chicago, but also the nation. Smuggled copies made their way to the Jim Crow South, providing blacks with much-needed news of the civil rights movement. A team of national correspondents from the Chicago Defender was there to cover the lynching of Emmett Till, the violence against the Freedom Riders and King’s crossing of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. And the newspaper played an important role in supporting and promoting the emerging black middle class.

The Defender is a thorough and well-researched account of an important voice in black history.

 

This article was originally published in the February 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Racism. Oppression. Violence. Faith. Hopefulness. These themes have defined the black experience in America from the moment slaves touched shore. As African Americans continue their struggle, three new books cast fresh light on the journey from slavery to freedom.
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He was a Native American warrior known as Tecumseh. Translated into English, the name means "Shooting Star." The fiery Shawnee leader's passions burned brightly during his life, as he struggled to protect his people's property rights and cultural heritage from being destroyed by white settlers. Like a comet's tail, Tecumseh's legacy continues to shine long after his passing. The life and legend of this warrior chief are the focus of John Sugden's biography Tecumseh. Tecumseh's powerful impact on Native Americans, both during his life and following his death, are thoroughly analyzed by Sugden, a noted authority on the Shawnee chief.

"Even today one can still feel that passionate belief that spurred Tecumseh on, that powerful spirit that again and again urged him to confront every obstacle and meet every danger." There have been volumes written about the warrior chief, who spent most of his life roaming the upper Midwest and Canada. Born sometime in the late 1760s, Tecumseh died in the War of 1812, while leading a failed effort to stave off aggressive American expansionism. During his life, he was often feared and vilified by whites. Upon his death, his stature as a heroic figure grew, almost to the point of exaggeration. This point leads Sugden to state that his mission is to provide readers with an accurate account of Tecumseh's life, which he does in exhaustive detail.

While some of the magic is lost as Sugden dispels the many myths, he offers insight into what influenced Tecumseh's life-long quest to unite Native Americans and preserve their civilization. A disdain for white settlers formed early in Tecumseh's childhood after settlers killed his father, seized the hunting grounds, and uprooted the Shawnees from Ohio. While these events could have turned him into a bitter, savage warrior, Sugden points out that Tecumseh grew into a strong, inspiring leader. This is further illustrated by several examples of how Tecumseh overruled fellow warriors to spare an enemy's life. Delving into Tecumseh's past allows us to further appreciate this renowned and gifted speaker and diplomat who skillfully negotiated with the U.S. government. Yet the biography also portrays Tecumseh as a human being with his own shortcomings. "Arrogance, impulsiveness, haughty pride, and a capacity for ruthlessness were all part of his makeup," writes Sugden, "but it was his virtues that were remembered, even by his enemies."

The author also explores how Tecumseh urged his people to strive for self-improvement by rejecting alcohol, witchcraft, and violence attempts that were influenced by his brother, Lalawethika, the Prophet, who told of messages he received from the Great Spirit. Unfortunately, Tecumseh's efforts to reform and unite Native Americans had to be set aside when forced to defend Shawnee land, resulting in the ill-fated alliance with the British against the United States in the War of 1812. While Tecumseh gave his life in the war, Sugden writes that the warrior chief also gave his people a lasting gift. "Tecumseh may have been unsuccessful, but he bequeathed to Indian peoples something of great importance: from his memory they have drawn pride and self-respect."

He was a Native American warrior known as Tecumseh. Translated into English, the name means "Shooting Star." The fiery Shawnee leader's passions burned brightly during his life, as he struggled to protect his people's property rights and cultural heritage from being destroyed by white settlers. Like a comet's tail, Tecumseh's legacy continues to shine long […]
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It’s hard for Keggie Carew to process the jarringly different images of her father. There is the present-day Tom Carew, who likes to sleep in the shed with his dogs, mixes Rice Krispies with dog food, and uses his penknife to cut holes in his clothes and shoes. This Tom Carew is an octogenarian who suffers from dementia.

Then there is the Tom Carew of the past, a dashing British soldier who parachuted behind enemy lines during World War II, first during the resistance against Germany, and later against Japan. He was a highly decorated member of the Jedburghs, an elite special operations unit wreaking havoc against the Axis powers during the war.

It is these contrasting portraits that form the basis of Keggie Carew’s moving new book, Dadland, a memoir that describes a daughter’s evolving view of her father.

Like many children, Carew didn’t think too deeply about her father’s past. She knew him as a charming, funny man with an adventurous glint in his eye. Keggie told her teachers her father was a spy.

It wasn’t until years later, when Tom Carew started to falter because of a series of strokes, that his daughter started to dig into his past. She learned that her father’s war heroics earned him the Distinguished Service Order and the nicknames “Lawrence of Burma” and the “Mad Irishman.” An invitation to the 60th anniversary of the Jedburghs prompts Keggie to find out as much about her father’s past as she can before his memory completely disappears. “As dad slowly leaves us,” she writes, “I try to haul him back.”

Dadland is a poignant look at a child’s changing perspective on her father’s life, a journey many children take as their parents grow older. The happy ending to this story is that Keggie Carew always adored her father, and learning more about his storied past only makes her adoration stronger.

It’s hard for Keggie Carew to process the jarringly different images of her father. There is the present-day Tom Carew, who likes to sleep in the shed with his dogs, mixes Rice Krispies with dog food, and uses his penknife to cut holes in his clothes and shoes. This Tom Carew is an octogenarian who suffers from dementia. Then there is the Tom Carew of the past, a dashing British soldier who parachuted behind enemy lines during World War II, first during the resistance against Germany, and later against Japan. He was a highly decorated member of the Jedburghs, an elite special operations unit wreaking havoc against the Axis powers during the war.

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Let author Douglas Preston give testimony to the old adage: Truth is stranger than fiction. As the co-author, with Lincoln Child, of a series of bestselling suspense novels, Preston has explored mysteries involving sorcery, witchcraft and ancient secrets. Now he chronicles his own true-life adventures in a nonfiction book, The Lost City of the Monkey God.

Preston’s quest is to find the ruins of an ancient city in the mountains of Honduras, known as the “White City” or the “Lost City of the Monkey God.” Others have embarked on similar expeditions only to fail, most notably an adventurer who returned in 1940 with spectacular artifacts, but committed suicide before revealing the location of his discovery.

This time, Preston and his team are armed with sophisticated equipment, borrowed from NASA, that allows them to peer beneath the jungle growth to map the contours below. From the air, they detect the outlines of a long-lost civilization. But space-age technology is of no aid once they land and face the perils of the rainforest, including poisonous snakes, vicious jaguars and vengeful drug dealers. Ironically, their greatest danger occurs on their return home, when they are beset with an incurable illness contracted from a parasite. Is this affliction of “white leprosy” a mere coincidence, or a curse?

The Lost City of the Monkey God is more than just an adventure story. It examines such modern  issues as the ethics of archeological expeditions, man’s destruction of the rainforest and the incessant creep of technology and its effects on indigenous peoples.

Readers will find themselves both shocked and captivated by this account of mysteries old and new.

 

This article was originally published in the January 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Let author Douglas Preston give testimony to the old adage: Truth is stranger than fiction. As the co--author, with Lincoln Child, of a series of bestselling suspense novels, Preston has explored mysteries involving sorcery, witchcraft and ancient secrets. Now he chronicles his own true-life adventures in a nonfiction book, The Lost City of the Monkey God.
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The Roosevelts were arguably the most powerful and accomplished of American families. There was Teddy Roosevelt, the Rough Rider, a president remembered for his trust-busting and land conservation efforts. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency began during the Great Depression and ended with World War II. Then there was Eleanor Roosevelt, an independent, energetic first lady who became a role model for women. The lives and relationships of these American icons are examined in detail in William J. Mann’s new book, The Wars of the Roosevelts.

This exhaustively researched group biography explores the fascinating Roosevelt family tree: Teddy and FDR were fifth cousins. Franklin and Eleanor were fifth cousins, once removed. Teddy, Eleanor’s uncle, walked his niece down the aisle when she married Franklin.

While there was love, there was also war. Mann writes that the Roosevelts were ambitious and competitive, leading to some bad blood. Teddy was frail and asthmatic as a boy, and brother Elliott was better looking and more athletic. Through hard work and perseverance, Teddy grew to be a sportsman and soldier, while Elliott succumbed to alcoholism and fathered a son out of wedlock. He was hidden away in a sanitarium so Teddy could begin his political ascent free of scandal. When Elliott Roosevelt died at age 34, his daughter, Eleanor, was left with his broken legacy and an illegitimate brother, Elliott Roosevelt Mann, whom she refused to meet.

Eleanor’s remarkable life continued with her marriage to FDR and his rise to the White House. But she also faced additional challenges with her husband’s remoteness and clandestine affairs.

The Wars of the Roosevelts offers a glimpse into the secret lives of a family, which by all appearances seemed happy and successful. Unlike other biographies of the Roosevelts, which focus on their political accomplishments, this book looks closely at the family’s complex, often messy relationships, making it even more impressive that they went so far, considering all the baggage they carried.

The Roosevelts were arguably the most powerful and accomplished of American families. There was Teddy Roosevelt, the Rough Rider, a president remembered for his trust-busting and land conservation efforts. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency began during the Great Depression and ended with World War II. Then there was Eleanor Roosevelt, an independent, energetic first lady who […]
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As Civil War battles go, the Battle of Hampton Roads isn’t among the most memorable. Gettysburg, Bull Run, Antietam and Fredericksburg usually take top billing. But author Richard Snow argues in Iron Dawn that Hampton Roads was among the most significant Civil War conflicts because it was the first sea battle between ironclad ships: the Merrimack and the Monitor. The battle lasted only three hours and ended in a draw. But because the two ironclads proved battleworthy, it signaled the dawn of the modern navy and the end to wooden shipbuilding. “Many naval battles . . . have bent the course of history in hours or even minutes,” Snow writes. “But none has fomented in a short day’s work a whole new kind of warfare, has in one noisy morning made an ancient tradition obsolete.”

By the time the two boats met on March 9, 1862, on Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, the Merrimack had already destroyed two wooden Union ships and had its sights set on a third. The Monitor arrived to hold the Merrimack in check. The two ironclads fired on each other for several hours, with little damage and few casualties, before they both retreated to safer waters.

The battle was evidence, Snow says, that many of the most important technologies of the Civil War came from the navy, not the army.

Iron Dawn is a worthy read not only for serious Civil War buffs, but also for those who appreciate how ingenuity forever changed the way the military does battle on the sea.

 

This article was originally published in the November 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

As Civil War battles go, the Battle of Hampton Roads isn’t among the most memorable. Gettysburg, Bull Run, Antietam and Fredericksburg usually take top billing. But author Richard Snow argues in Iron Dawn that Hampton Roads was among the most significant Civil War conflicts because it was the first sea battle between ironclad ships: the Merrimack and the Monitor.
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Like a fast-moving thunderstorm across the Great Plains, The Bones of Paradise wastes little time establishing plot: Two people are found dead in the opening chapter. A white cattle rancher happens upon the fresh grave of a young Native-American woman. J.B. Bennett quickly determines that the woman, Star, has been murdered. But Bennett looks up to see someone he knows pointing a rifle, and feels a bullet pierce his chest. 

A gifted writer, Agee returns here to historical fiction, the genre that served her so well in her award-winning The River Wife. The Bones of Paradise is set in late 19th-century Nebraska in the aftermath of the Wounded Knee Massacre, where some 200 Lakota men, women and children were shot and killed by U.S. cavalry. The tension between the white settlers and the remaining tribal members, who often face discrimination, places a strain on the friendship between Dulcinea Bennett, J.B.’s widow, and Rose, Star’s sister. But the two women are united in their quest to find the killer . . . or killers.

Agee’s fast-paced narrative resembles the expansive prose of Larry McMurtry. Her lyrical writing and attention to detail evoke comparisons to Annie Proulx. There are biblical and Shakespearean echoes here as well: Dulcinea’s two sons recall Cain and Abel, and could somehow be involved in the murder; Dulcinea’s father-in-law, Drum, conjures images of a crazed King Lear. The Bones of Paradise is also a romance, with sparks between Dulcinea and a new hired hand—and of course, there’s that murder mystery. Agee deftly weaves all these plot lines together into a captivating tale of life—and death—in the old American West.

 

This article was originally published in the August 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Like a fast-moving thunderstorm across the Great Plains, The Bones of Paradise wastes little time establishing plot: Two people are found dead in the opening chapter. A white cattle rancher happens upon the fresh grave of a young Native-American woman. J.B. Bennett quickly determines that the woman, Star, has been murdered. But Bennett looks up to see someone he knows pointing a rifle, and feels a bullet pierce his chest.

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