My Current Bookshelf, Or Why I Haven’t Blogged Lately

March 24, 2011

Currently Reading:

*Abraham Lincoln: A Life by Michael Burlingame

Public History: Essays from the Field

Mickey Mouse History by Michael Wallace

Museums and the Public Sphere by Jennifer Barrett

Museums and Memory edited by Susan Crane

Defining Memory edited by Amy Levin

Memorial Museums: The Global Rush to Commemorate Atrocities by Paul Williams

Lincoln and Black Freedom by LaWanda Cox

Books completed since the semester started in January:

A Cabinet of Curiosities

*Lincoln’s Virtues: An Ethical Biography by William Lee Miller

*President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman by William Lee Miller

Nearby History by David Kyvig and Myron Marty

From Tape to Type

*Vindicating Lincoln by Thomas Krannawitter

Museum Masters by Edward P. Alexander

Museums and American Intellectual Life, 1876-1926 by Steven Conn

Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln by Douglas L. Wilson

The Young Eagle: The Rise of Abraham Lincoln by Kenneth Winkle

*The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln by Michael Burlingame

Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power by Richard Carwardine

* indicates books I especially recommend

So that’s why I have not been around much. And there will be lots more to come because I’ve barely started work on my two big papers for the semester.

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Book Review: We Two by Gillian Gill

April 26, 2010

After a month of reading this book off and on I finally finished yesterday morning! I really enjoyed it, but it took me so long because it is a very dense history book and those always take me a while to get through no matter how interesting I find them.

We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals tells the story of Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert. The Victorian era is one of my absolute favorite periods of history and one I’ve studied several times, including while I was at Oxford. I enjoyed the perspective of this book, however, because it specifically focuses on the relationship between Victoria and Albert. The reader learns how their partnership began, how it was perceived at the time, the effect it had on others, the effect others had on it, and so on. One thing I found particularly interesting was that while Victoria and Albert clearly loved each other, they were in many ways rivals as well.

Like I said, this is a fairly dense read that will take you a while to get through, but it is a must-read for anyone with an interest in nineteenth-century history in general or Victorian history in particular.


Book Review: Churchill by Paul Johnson

March 30, 2010

Churchill by Paul Johnson is a short and quick read about the life of Winston Churchill. Less than 200 pages long, it obviously does not go into as much detail as the other more extensive biographies of Churchill do. It does, however, provide a nice overview of Churchill’s life. It reads at a very fast pace; I finished it in less than a day.

I enjoyed reading this book because it provided a nice refresher to some of the things I studied last year. I particularly enjoyed some of the quotes sprinkled throughout the book as they brought back fond memories of my history classes.

If, like me, you have a solid background in history, I doubt this book will present you with anything new. However, for anyone less familiar with the complete course of Churchill’s life, this book is probably a good one in which to get your feet wet.


Book Review: The Man Who Made Vermeers by Jonathan Lopez

March 26, 2010

The Man Who Made Vermeers tells the story of Han van Meegeren, the Dutch master forger. Author Jonathan Lopez tells the true story of van Meegeren’s career–a story that was suppressed and ignored for decades.

The van Meegeren legend stated that he turned to forgery because of disappointing feedback from art critics on his original work and that he then subsequently fooled the Nazis by selling one of his fake Vermeers to Hermann Goering. Both of these aspects of the legend caused van Meegeren to be cheered in post-WWII Holland, but especially the latter, for obvious reasons. However, the truth is much more sordid. Lopez reveals that van Meegeren was, in fact, a collaborationist, and his legend was a story concocted by both himself and the man who exposed him.

This book is a must-read for anyone with a fascination for art history. In addition to his crimes of being a Nazi sympathizer and master forger, van Meegeren attempted to rewrite history by inventing an entirely new period of work for Vermeer. With extensive endnotes and a select bibliography, it is evident that the author did his homework. Don’t let that put you off though! This book is anything but dry.


Book Review: The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr

March 4, 2010

The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr is yet another nonfiction book that reads like fiction.

Ever since I took an art history class to fulfill a core requirement when I was a sophomore in college, I have been fascinated by art history. So it was with pleasure that I read Harr’s account of the hunt for a lost Caravaggio masterpiece. The reader learns how a graduate student discovers a clue to the lost painting while doing research on another masterpiece at a family archive that few scholars had visited. The reader also learns about the art restorer who fortuitously stumbles upon the lost masterpiece and immediately recognizes it for what it is.

Harr is a compelling storyteller, bringing a level of excitement to the otherwise mundane tasks of research and restoration. I read this very quickly. Anyone who likes art history or fast-paced nonfiction should give this a try.


Happy Birthday, G. Washington!

February 22, 2010

Hey, guys, guess what. Today is George Washington’s 278th birthday. He was a great man and exceptional leader. The first president of our country–and no one else, in my opinion, has even come close to being as terrific as he.

Yes, I get a little geeked out about G. W. It also doesn’t hurt that he has a terrific home.

If you have no idea why I like this man so much, do yourself a favor and hit up your local library soon.

Anyway, here’s to you, George. It’s been all downhill ever since.


Book Review: American Heroes by Edmund S. Morgan

February 1, 2010

I was first introduced to Edmund S. Morgan, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, by reading his short biography The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop last year as an assignment for class. I enjoyed his writing style so when I spotted American Heroes: Profiles of Men and Women Who Shaped Early America on the shelf of new books at my local library, I had a feeling it would be right up my alley.

The book consists of a collection of essays, many previously published, but a few new ones as well.  Morgan’s goal in putting together this book was to focus on more ordinary people, so while there are chapters discussing Ben Franklin and George Washington, the majority of chapters focus on people who are probably less well known to the population at large.

Though there were times throughout the book that I was not sure I completely agreed with what was written, getting into that is not the purpose of this review. In most cases, I feel I would need to do further research before I was even sure I disagreed.

So the purpose of this review is to tell you that I highly recommend it. If you enjoy reading about the early history of our country then you will probably enjoy this book. It is relatively short and a fairly easy and quick read. If you want to read an interesting history book without feeling like you are giving up the next month or two of your life, then this book is for you.

While I enjoyed the whole book, chapter 2, “Dangerous Books,” and chapter 13, “The Power of Negative Thinking: Benjamin Franklin and George Washington,” were my favorites.

Chapter 2 discusses the impact reading various sources had on the Puritans and how reading them caused some people to question or alter their religious beliefs. Within the chapter, Morgan also discusses the larger impact reading can have, even in today’s world. He points out, rightly, that too often people believe that if others would just read this or that, then they will automatically be in agreement with whatever the first party wants everyone else to believe. He makes the point that as long as people have access to libraries and primary sources, however, they will be able to read not only the “good” but also the “bad.” Morgan says that “libraries will remain the nurseries of heresy,” but by doing so “they will, in fact, preserve that freedom which is a far more important part of our life than any ideology or orthodoxy . . .”

In order to preserve freedom, we must take the risk that a reader somewhere might become unduly influenced by a book espousing beliefs contrary to all we hold dear. In chapter 13, George Washington is quoted as writing, “I am persuaded the great mass of our Citizens require only to understand matters rightly, to form right decisions.” I am with G.W. on this one. Knowledge is power, and also dangerous, but we just have to trust in people to discern for themselves what is right.