Don Hosek - Past reading - History

If it weren't for all the pesky 100-level courses, I could have been a history major. Which would have qualified me for, well, nothing. Thank God I got that degree in English which qualified me for, well, nothing.

What I've been read in the past - History
We’re Alive and Life Goes On: A Theresienstadt Diary by Eva Roubičková
[Finished 26 April 2017] A nice ground-level view of life in the Terezín ghetto.

The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust by Michael Hirsh
[Finished 24 February 2017] As I continue to research the current novel, I wanted to get some sense of what happened at the time that the camps were first liberated. This book fit the bill perfectly. There’s a bit of rah-rah patriotism in the book, but not distractingly so.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
[Finished 20 February 2017] I suspect that the editing that was done on the manuscript was more than claimed by the editor in the preface (although some cursory internet research indicates perhaps not). No matter, while the language is high-Victorian in style, the story itself is fascinating, providing an often grueling account of the life of a “privileged” slave who, while never flogged, faced a life of continual sexual harassment by her owner and a desire to be owned by no one. She ultimately escapes to the north (after spending seven years(!) cramped in the secret attic of a storage shed), and even once she has custody of her children, finds that she is still not safe once the fugitive slave act is passed.

Perhaps most startling is how much of the book feels relevant to modern race relations with so many white people’s views of blacks being not much changed between the nineteenth century and the twenty-first. It’s books like this that make my decision to strive to have at least 15% of my reading be by non-white authors feel like a wise choice.

The Terezin Diary of Gonda Redlich by Gonda Redlich
[Finished 14 February 2017] Redlich was a member of the Altensrat at Terezin and had a sort of high-level view of what happened at what was originally to be a model ghetto and instead was largely a transit camp where Jews were sent before being sent to the death camps in Poland, a fate that Redlich himself eventually shared with the other inmates. Copious footnotes throughout give a good deal of helpful background. Overall a useful reference for getting a sense of day to day life in Terezin.

After the Holocaust: Rebuilding Jewish Lives in Postwar Germany by Michael Brenner
[Finished 10 February 2017] Another look at the DP-period (and beyond) of Jewish life in Germany after World War II. Brenner provides a fair amount of information, but the section with the interviews was perhaps a bit disturbing in that the only woman interviewed is interviewed to give her husband’s story. Women’s stories are completely excluded.

Among the Survivors of the Holocaust, 1945: The Landsberg DP Camp Letters by Irving Heymont
[Finished 9 February 2017] A look from the army side at the running of the biggest DP camp in the American zone. This is easily one of the most important primary source documents available from the period.

The Wild Place by Kathryn Hulme
[Finished 4 February 2017] Hulme was part of the UNRRA (later IRO and currently UNHCR), the organization charged with caring for and placing the thousands of displaced persons in the wake of World War II.

The account here covers from the beginning of her time, part of a multinational group of people who were going to end up responsible for thousands of refugees in their one camp alone through her moves to other camps as the UNRRA resources were spread increasingly thin and ending with the repatriation efforts which were frustratingly slow and bureaucratic for those hoping to emigrate. While Hulme is determined to put a bright face on things and sees the humor in many of the incidents including a case where a group of DPs managed to sneak a stolen cow into the DP camp by putting special boots on the animal’s feet, there is still a sense of some of the tragedy surrounding the fate of the DPs.

Hulme had little contact with Jewish DPs and it seems that when she did finally have to deal with one such group as they moved into a new camp in Bavaria, she found herself positively impressed by their organization and state of being. I’m not sure how much of this was her inborn optimism and how much was that she met them late in their journey when they had had time to recover from the problems they faced in the concentration camps. It’s also likely that a great deal of those she met were not concentration camp victims, but rather Jews smuggled from Eastern Europe by Brichah who used the Jewish DP camps as a way station in the emigration path to Israel.

All But My Life: A Memoir by Gerda Weissmann Klein
[Finished 28 January 2017] One of the sad things that I hear agents say is when they have to reject people’s memoirs is that their story just isn’t interesting or different enough. Sure, you recovered from cancer, but so did thousands of other people. What makes you special? Weissmann Klein has something special in her story but doesn’t seem to have really fully understood it herself. The interesting part of her story is less her experience under the Nazis (although that has a lot to commend it regardless), but instead her anti-love story: As a young woman, there was a young man who fell in love with her just as the Nazi restrictions on Jews were falling into place. Unfortunately, she could not bring herself to return his affections, a situation which did not deter him in the least. He spent a great deal of time attempting to woo her and engaged his family in trying to help her, help which she found a way to decline in order to not encourage him unfairly. Ultimately, he has himself transferred to a harder more dangerous work assignment in order to be closer to her, and it’s then that he finally realizes that she will never return his affection. If Weissmann Klein had centered her memoir more fully on this tragic story, this would have been a five-star book.

Female SS Guards and Workaday Violence: The Majdanek Concentration Camp, 1942-1944 by Elissa Mailänder
[Finished 24 January 2017] I’m pretty sure that this book began as someone’s graduate thesis. It has that advanced-student academic vibe to it. That said, the book doesn’t fully live up to its promise, of giving details on the work and lives of female SS guards at Majdanek. Part of this is due to the lack of reliable records and testimony. Much of the necessary documentation was destroyed by the Nazis at the end of World War II and the guards themselves were generally not terribly forthcoming with their roles, doing their best to dissemble, disguise or simply lie about what they did. Mailänder does her best with the materials she does have, supplementing her information with information about the better documented Ravensbrück camp as well as information about the male guards and some general information. For my own needs, the book was adequate, giving some of the vital information that I need for my work in progress, such as information about the guards’ uniforms and how they were to be addressed by inmates and what interactions looked like.

Jewish Stories of Prague by V. V. Tomek
[Finished 11 January 2017] My disappointment with this book stems perhaps at least in part because I was expecting something that was more voice-driven, sort of a Jewish Brothers Grimm. But it turns out that Tomek wasn’t Jewish (and there are occasional parts of the book where Tomek seems at pains to make it clear that as the author of the book, he is a Christian even if his subject is not). The anonymous translator is also not Jewish and has minimal understanding of Jewish customs as he makes clear in his brief preface where in the first paragraph, he relates an encounter with an Orthodox Jew in tones on par with someone relating an encounter with the Loch Ness Monster.

Aside from telling the stories in a rather sterile style (frequently engaging in bits of irrelevant history), the choice of stories is very much those of someone on the outside looking in, with many of the stories involving Jews only tangentially or as the bogeymen of the gentile imagination.

On top of all that, the translator on at least one occasion interjected his own prose into the text (making a reference to the Holocaust which wasn’t to happen until a decade after Tomek’s death) which leaves me wondering how much of the other defects also belong to the translator.

Terezin: Voices from the Holocaust by Ruth Thomson
[Finished 1 January 2017] One thing about requesting library books online is that sometimes I get something that I didn’t quite expect. In this instance, I ended up with the only book about Terezin that my library system had and it was a children’s book. It was still helpful for my research and there was the shocking moment when I saw my own last name appear attached to one of the bits of survivor testimony.

Inside the Vicious Heart: Americans and the Liberation of Nazi Concentration Camps by Robert H. Abzug
[Finished 27 November 2016] A somewhat narrow but useful account of the end of World War II. Abzug’s mission is to focus specifically on how the Americans dealt with the reality of the Nazi Concentration Camps they discovered as they pressed into Germany, finding atrocities such as barracks full of the charred corpses of prisoners burnt alive (in one instance, a prisoner had managed to flee the burning building only to be electrocuted upon running into the electrified fence surrounding the compound). For my own needs, the chapters on the army’s handling of DPs and the setting up of DP camps in the American zone were especially helpful. Even better, the writing was of a surprisingly high quality given how much historical writing falls into being dryly academic.

The Journal of Hélène Berr by Hélène Berr
[Finished 8 November 2016] I’ve been pleased to discover that diaries of Jews in the forties do not begin and end with Ann Frank. This is an interesting account from a young woman in Paris who had been studying English literature before that avenue was cut off to her under the German occupation. Her candid views on the occupation, whether her own involvement with the Jewish agency in France was perhaps a form of collaboration and the question of Palestine make for fascinating reading.

The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War by Ben Shephard
[Finished 20 October 2016] Shephard has become my favorite World War II historian. This is exactly the book on displaced persons that I’ve been looking for for a while now.

Rising up from Indian Country: The Battle of Fort Dearborn and the Birth of Chicago by Ann Durkin Keating
[Finished 1 October 2016] One of these books that I might never have picked up on my own but having done so, I’m glad of the experience. I ended up learning a lot more about Chicago (pre-)history and the poor treatment of Native Americans in the Northwest Territories as the American settlers pushed into territories that the Native Americans had been promised. It was hard not to have a certain amount of sympathy for the Native Americans as they fought their last-ditch battles to preserve their rights to their lands and way of life.

Between Two Streams: A Diary from Bergen-Belsen by Abel J. Herzberg
[Finished 14 September 2016] A secretly kept diary from one of the Bergen-Belsen inmates. Herzberg served as a member of the committee which was involved with maintaining discipline among the Jewish inmates at Belzen, handing own punishments for the various infractions against camp life. While not exactly a luxurious life, the inmates for most of the time of this diary were in better shape than many other Jews in camps further east who were being worked to death or exhaustion (and thence execution as their usefulness was gone), a fate that Herzberg and his compatriots in the camp were well aware of. A useful look into one aspect of Jewish life under the Holocaust.

DPs: Europe’s Displaced Persons, 1945–51 by Mark Wyman
[Finished 31 July 2016] I had high hopes for this book, but found that it’s goals and my own were incompatible. For Mark Wyman, the story of the DPs is the story of the opening of the cold war. He is far more interested in how the DP camps acted as bases for anti-Communist forces to organize (and ultimately emigrate to the west) and spends very little time on Jewish DPs. His willingness to forgive Nazi collaboration in the name of battling Communism was perhaps even more disturbing.

After Daybreak: The Liberation of Bergen-Belsen, 1945 by Ben Shephard
[Finished 21 July 2016] A meticulously researched and amazingly written book. Great details for my research.

KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps by Nikolaus Wachsmann
[Finished 7 June 2016] A comprehensive history of the camps. There’s a tendency to conflate the Nazi concentration camps and the Holocaust, and while there’s a fair amount of overlap between the two, it’s worth remembering the camps held more than just Jews and that the camp killing machine was directed not only at Jews but at other groups (the first prisoners murdered at Auschwitz were actually Russian POWs). Overall, this provided a great deal of information that I can use as background in the writing project I’m beginning to put together.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
[Finished 23 April 2016] I have a vague recollection of reading this in elementary school, returning it to an adult, there are the occasional familiar points in the story, but also some unfamiliar aspects as well. It’s fascinating to see how, in some ways, the lives of the families in the back house were often rather mundane (aside from being essentially trapped inside for several years). Overall, the book had more to say about the psychology of Anne Frank than it did about the holocaust, but is still valuable for that as an object lesson in just how human the victims of the Nazis were.

The War by Marguerite Duras
[Finished 19 April 2016] A collection of diary, memoir and fiction about the end of World War II. Duras does a great job of describing the day to day lives of people making the change from being the resistance to being citizens of the restored republic and all the moral challenges that underpin that transformation.

Swansong 1945: A Collective Diary of the Last Days of the Third Reich by Walter Kempkowski
[Finished 7 April 2016] Incredibly dense, perhaps too much so. I was hoping to get some sense of what was happening on the ground at the end of the second world war, but found this was a bit too broad in its scope, making it hard to keep the various narrative threads in mind.

I Did Not Interview the Dead by David P. Boder
[Finished 30 March 2016] A challenging read, this is a collection of interviews with people in D.P. camps after the end of World War II. The majority of those interviewed were Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, but there was one woman who had ended up in the D.P. camps after fleeing the Soviets and who expressed an inversion of the expected views about the Germans. This is a difficult to locate book, but one well-worth reading.

Displaced Persons: The Liberation and Abuse of Holocaust Survivors by Ted Gottfried
[Finished 13 March 2016] An interesting choice of topic for a book targeted at young readers (this was the only book on displaced persons that turned up in a library catalog search). The material is presented in short sections, but without oversimplifying the matters. Even the question of Zionism is handled in a subtle and nuanced way, less black-and-white than I might have expected with perhaps an intentional irony in the choice of one chapter title, “Birth of a Nation.”

The Temptation of Despair: Tales of the 1940s by Werner Sollors
[Finished 3 March 2016] Ultimately, a collection of critical essays on various artifacts of post-WWII Germany, I came to this as part of my research for a new novel (I had promised myself while writing my last novel I wasn’t going to go historical again, and I wasn’t going to set something in a country where I didn’t speak the language, and now I’m stuck in 1940s Germany). While not all of it is directly relevant to my project, I can see how it’s going to inform the background of what I’m writing, even if the background is off the page.

Flight and Rescue: Brichah; the Organized Escape of the Jewish Survivors of Eastern Europe, 1944–1948 by Yehuda Bauer
[Finished 20 February 2016] A rather functional book. It was interesting to note that the survivors of the holocaust were actually a marginal aspect of the Brichah with the bulk of the emigres to Palestine coming from Russia and Eastern Europe.

The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic by Chalmers Johnson
[Finished 18 February 2016] See my review at

The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men by Eric Lichtblau
[Finished 4 February 2016] See my review at

Red Chicago: American Communism at its Grassroots, 1928–35 by Randi Storch
[Finished 26 January 2016] See my review at

Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Alexievich
[Finished 18 November 2015] Obviously, I picked this up because Alexievich won the Nobel prize for literature. An amazing, but harrowing, read. The losses that so many of these people suffered in the wake of the accident at Chernobyl are staggering. I found it difficult to read this for extended stretches because of the power of the work.

The Lost City of Z by David Gann
[Finished 8 January 2013] A mix of personal narrative, history and geography, focusing on the explorer Percy Fawcett’s quest for the remnants of a lost civilization in the Amazon. Intermingling elements of the author’s own research (including journeying to the Amazon himself), we’re given a fairly compelling account of Fawcett’s exploration with the added bonus of an archaeologist’s account of the true story of the lost Amazonian civilization.

If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley
[Finished 17 May 2012] More a tour guide history than anything else. There are a few nice details on changing practices in the home, but I would have liked something perhaps a bit more systematic than this. For example, Worsley has a tendency to move from one period to another with minimal transition. And then there’s her fondness for spurious etymologies and origin stories, which make me somewhat distrustful of her overall trustworthiness.

Orange County by Ray Bradbury, West Light
[Finished 3 May 2012] I stumbled on this at the going out of business sale at Dawson’s Books. The appearance of Ray Bradbury’s name on the spine and some of the photos showing an unrecognizable Orange County inspired me to add the book to the treasures that I grabbed from the shelves. Now that I’ve finally opened it, I was surprised to discover that Bradbury’s contribution to the book was limited to a brief essay at the start of the volume and the unrecognizable O.C. was just a year older than my first visit to the place myself.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is to see how much the county has changed since the book was published in 1985. It’s still full of Barry Goldwater wannabes, but increases in the Latino population have provided some liberal incursion into the county and the growth of the Asian population was completely unforeseen by Bradbury in his essay. The Catholics ended up buying the Crystal Cathedral from a bankrupt congregation, saving themselves the trouble of relocating the San Andreas fault to reduce it to rubble. Meanwhile, many of the views of the county already appear more than a quarter century distant.

Oak Park: The Evolution of a Village by David M. Sokol
[Finished 28 February 2012] At times this felt like a revised and expanded version of Sokol’s Oak Park, Illinois: Continuity and Change, but with a higher text-to-pictue ratio than that book. Overall it was an interesting look into the history of Oak Park, although at times, it felt like there were key details omitted, such as explanations of buildings or institutions which were mentioned in passing without explanation. It’s not the last word in Oak Park history, but it is a pretty good contribution to the exposition of local history.

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale
[Finished 14 September 2011] I’m not sure how this book ended up in my reading list, but I’m glad that it did. Sort of a nice counterpoint to all the Sherlock Holmes I’ve been reading of late, Summerscale manages to beautifully recreate the minutiae of Victorian life in her account of a mysterious murder, its investigation and the aftermath. Even better, it’s written well enough that I’ve finally been motivated to begin my collection of beautiful sentences that I’ve long meant to create. My samples:

While a murder went unsolved, everything was potentially significant, packed with secrets. The observers, like paranoiacs, saw messages everywhere. Objects could regain their innocence only when the killer was caught.
A storybook detective starts by confronting us with a murder and ends by absolving us of it. He clears us of guilt. He relieves us of uncertainty. He removes us from the presence of death.

London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd
[Finished 13 May 2011] A history of London that focuses on thematic rather than chronological organization. Ackroyd knows his subject well, although at times he depicts urban legend as fact and there was one questionable use of the word “noisome” which perhaps referred to its archaic meaning of annoying, but more likely was used where “noisy” was meant. Still, it was a fascinating look into London’s history and seems to have informed my understanding of works I’m reading later.

Oak Park, Illinois: Continuity and Change by David M. Sokol
[Finished May 2011] A slender volume, mostly a means of providing pictures with a bit of text, but a nice introduction to local history.

An Inspired Journey: The First 100 Years of the SNPJ by Jay Sedmak
[Finished 20 December 2010] My grandfather was the longest-serving president of the SNPJ, and I’ve been a member of this fraternal insurance organization my whole life, although as the Slovene population has become diluted outside of Ohio and western Pennsylvania, it doesn’t really play any role in my life (unlike my childhood when I regularly attended meetings for Circle 26 at the SNPJ hall in Cicero as well as other events that my grandfather took me to).

So, I read this with an eye towards understanding a bit more about this organization. Sedmak’s style is a bit bland and it seemed that he was unwilling to really address the importance of pro-labor politics in the formative years of the SNPJ (although I would note that Sedmak claims that an earlier history of the SNPJ commissioned by the organization was shelved because of an alleged over-emphasis of the labor politics). What is more interesting is the tension between the Pennsylvania-Ohio faction of the SNPJ and the Chicago faction. I had been aware of this on the periphery of my consciousness since my childhood, and can remember my grandparents excoriating the members who wanted to move the SNPJ headquarters from Chicago to Pittsburgh or Cleveland. As a young adult, when I attended lodge meetings in Fontana, I can remember Joe Umeck expressing disappointment when I supported the idea of moving the headquarters (it seemed logical to me, given that the bulk of activity was happening in that part of the country), but after reading this, I can understand a bit more of the deep personal divisions that lead to the conflict.

The Cathedral of St Vitus by Ivo Hlobil
[Finished 19 September 2010] A slim volume sold at the bookstore of the Prague Castle. Of great assistance in researching details for my novel.

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber
[Finished 25 June 2010] As someone not especially sympathetic to either capitalism or protestantism, this was an odd book to read. There seems to be a fair amount of assertions made without basis, and assumptions of good in areas where I would argue that the premise is flawed (for instance, his view that a worker who responds to a pay raise by reducing the amount of work being done is acting against his own self-interest).

I remember this book being mentioned as important reading by one of my professors in my undergrad days, but I don’t remember which professor or why they felt that it was important to read, a question that I puzzled over as I read this. I think that I had a vague notion that Weber would be writing in a more critical mode than he was, and while he makes token efforts to establish his correlation does not imply causation bona fides, they remain nothing more than tokens.

Prague Then and Now by J. M. Lau
[Finished 1 September 2009] While working on my current novel, I thought that it would be nice to get some old photographs of Prague to enable me to fill in some of the gaps in what I could imagine or infer from what currently existed. Amazingly, this book came out in the midst of the writing process and has turned out to be quite helpful for my research including some occasional filling in of some gaps of historical information (e.g., when electric trams and streetlights would have begun to appear).

If I have a complaint it would be that at times the book focused far more on the contemporary photograph than the historical photograph in its descriptive text. Worse still, as a rule, no date is given on the older photographs.

Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love by Dava Sobel
[Finished 20 February 2009] A wonderfully written accounting of an obscure bit of history. Who knew that Galileo had children (two daughters and a son). The daughters were sent to a convent while the son turned into a bit of a ne’er-do-well. The oldest daughter, though, remained devoted to her father and while his letters to her no longer exist, hers to him have been preserved and Sobel uses the letters for the narrative hook on which she hangs her biography.

There’s a fair amount which was new to me, even having a deeper than the usual paragraph-long summary that came out of my high school history classes. Sobel manages to paint all the characters in the drama with a fair amount of nuance showing exactly what the forces were that led to Galileo’s famed trial and the consequences of the trial in Galileo’s life.

The Czechs and the Lands of the Bohemian Crown by Hugh Agnew
[Finished 28 December 2008] I’ve read enough histories of the Czechs that a fair amount of this was familiar. This was, however a very readable account and there were a fair number of gaps in the periods I’m most interested in which were filled.

Fin-de-Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture by Carl E. Schorske
[Finished 16 December 2008] An interesting account of the political and cultural forces in Vienna (and to a lesser extent the whole Austro-Hungarian empire) at the end of the nineteenth century. A fair amount of useful background for my novel.

The American Jitters: A Year of the Slump by Edmund Wilson
[Finished 17 October 2008] Before the Great Depression got its name, Edmund Wilson travelled the country collecting anecdotes of what life in the country was like. It’s useful preparation for the days ahead in some ways, and a startling look at what society was like before Roosevelt in others.

The Bush Tragedy by Jacob Weisberg
[Finished 5 September 2008] An intriguing look at Bush’s background and ruling through the lens of Shakespearean tragedy. A surprisingly sympathetic yet disturbing account.

Inside the Company: CIA Diary by Philip Agee
[Finished 15 April 2008] It’s not often that a book mentions in its closing passages exactly what’s wrong with it. As a book written to serve a particular agenda, in this case to expose the CIA’s efforts to undermine democracies in Latin America in the name of fighting communism.

Parts of the book are fascinating, particularly when Agee manages to give a good accounting of his own personal experiences, but large parts of it are a dump of classified information whether code names for CIA operations or listings of CIA operatives. If Agee were a better writer, it could have been a better book, but instead it ends up being little more than an attempt to harm the CIA (and this from a leftist who is fully in agreement with Agee’s beliefs).

Prague Pictures: A Portrait of the City by John Banville
[Finished 12 April 2008] A somewhat idiosyncratic look at Prague by an Irish author who describes the city partly from his own experiences in the city and partly through the lens of his researches for an historical novel about Kepler and Brahe.

I had bought the book, I think, hoping for some actual, pictures, having taken the title a bit too literally, but I found at least a few bits of description which help put me in Prague even without the illustrations.

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist-The Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth-Century E by Daniel Pool
[Finished 26 March 2008] An interesting enough book, talking about the facts of life in nineteenth century England. Pretty much it’s a collection of all the stuff that your college English professor said during discussion to provide context for what was happening in the novels you read. It’s primarily of use to readers rather than writers, but did provide some useful background to me (although some of the things which I’ve always wondered about, like clubs, is left unexplained).

Devil Take the Hindmost: A History of Financial Speculation by Edward Chancellor
[Finished 6 July 2007] I’m old enough now to have seen three speculative bubbles pop (junk bonds in the 80s, real estate in 1990, tech stocks in 2000) and see another one on its way to popping (real estate--again!).

Chancellor does a pretty good job of describing a history of speculative bubbles. Everybody knows the tulip mania and the 1929 stock market crash, but most of the rest of these are relatively unknown (although it’s interesting to see not one, but two works of fiction that I’ve read reflected in the pages of this book: The Way We Live Now is directly referenced and The Baroque Trilogy clearly drew upon this book for inspiration and information.

If I have any complaint, it’s in Chancellor’s reluctance to take any clear stands on the historical issues that he talks about. Only towards the end does he evince a lukewarm enthusiasm for Bretton-Woods-style currency controls as a bulwark against speculative excess, although it’s difficult to see how a return to that sort of currency control would even be possible in the hyper-globalized economy of the twenty-first century.

A History of the English Church in the Sixteenth Century from Henry VIII to Mary by James Gairdner
[Finished 23 April 2007] Yet more leftover research books from my undergrad thesis (you’d think that nearly two decades later, I’d have finished these). At this point, the nominal topic of the book is not especially the most interesting point to me. I’ve read enough religious histories of the period that I’m really not learning anything new about the time. Instead, what I find interesting is trying to tease out exactly what perspective the author is writing from.

At first, I imagined that it was a typically Anglo-Catholic position, asserting that the church founded by Henry VIII was the same church as existed previously in England, but as I continued reading, I was struck by the harsh stance the author took towards Henry’s innovations, and his general disdain for the protestants. At the same time, however, the book lacks the tendency to whitewash the Catholic actions of the period common to most Catholic-written histories of its time (it was first published in 1902), almost lends it the more objective tone common to the late twentieth century. In the end, I’m left with a book more fascinating as a study of the history of history-writing than as a study of the history being written about.

Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter
[Finished 18 January 2007] I was curious to hear what Jimmy Carter had to say about the Palestine-Israel matter, especially in the wake of the controversies which followed the publication of his newest book. Was Carter really presenting an unbalanced view of matters in Israel?

Having finished the book, I think that the answer is that he’s probably not being unfair in his assessment of the situation. I think that one could make a case for unbalanced, but unbalanced is not the same as unfair. A balanced view of global warming or evolution, for example, would not be appropriate since one side is clearly in the wrong on the matter.

In the case of Israel, there is nothing in Carter’s book that contradicts the reporting from the area that I’ve read previously. There have been some facts that I was not aware of (for example, the Israeli security fence is entirely within Palestinian territory).

The history of the conflict that Carter provides is essential reading for anyone interested in knowing the background of the situation.

The only sustainable solution to the Palestinian question has been known for almost four decades: Israel needs to withdraw to its 1967 boundaries. Israel’s claim to any foreign occupation only provides justification for continued attacks upon Israel.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
[Finished 11 September 2006] Continuing to read a fair amount of American history. The obvious and intriguing comparison is between Lincoln’s political history and handling of the Civil War and the current resident of the white house’s parallel circumstances. Especially since (per NPR this morning), the administration is busy trying to make the same comparison. But it’s worth noting that Lincoln’s stance was one of moderation and trying to reach out to others, as opposed to the current administrations tack of demonizing all who deviate from their viewpoint. Perhaps there is a comparison to be made, but Bush doesn’t play the role of Lincoln in that comparison.

The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams
[Finished 1 May 2006] Usually autobiographies peter out about the time that the protagonist begins his life’s work. In Henry Adams’ case, it’s not entirely clear that this ever really happens, so the story remains fascinating, although at times, his choice of poetic language leaves the reader feeling a bit at sea as to what’s going on in Adams’ life (for example, his marriage and subsequent death of his wife are elided over in the text), the overall vision of the development of America, from an 18th century country’s last vestiges to the beginning of the 20th century’s transformation of the nation forms a compelling backdrop to Adams’ story, told using his “education” as a unifying theme.

The English Catholics in the Reign of Elizabeth: A Study of their Politics, Civil Life and Government 1558-1580 by John Hungerford Pollen, S. J.
[Finished 29 March 2005] Published just after the first world war, this is apparently the first of two (planned?) volumes as it ends just after the arrival of the Jesuits Persons and Campion in England. Having as read as much as I have about the English Counter-reformation, there was little in here that was new. It was more like reading a review of familiar facts. The tone of the book is distinctly apologetic as the emancipation of Catholics in England was still relatively new and there was a strong need to defend the actions of the Catholic missionaries in England during the reformation.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
[Finished 8 July 2004] Very hard to put down, Larson intertwines the story of the 1893 Columbian World’s Fair with the story of Dr H. H. Holmes, one of America’s first serial killers. I had had some familiarity with Holmes’ story already from the book Chicago by Gaslight, so this wasn’t completely new to me, but Larson’s ability to reconstruct the events in what he terms in his notes as “a plausible recreation” made the story that much more compelling.

At times the interweaving of the stories (along with the events leading to the assassination of Chicago mayor Carter H. Harrison) seemed a bit forced--I’m not entirely certain that the World’s Fair and Holmes were so closely intertwined--but it remains a compelling read. I understand the movie rights have been bought. It will be interesting to see how it turns into a film.

My one complaint is that there is a severe paucity of pictures: Certainly the World’s Fair itself merits a few pages of photos, and there is at least one photo of Holmes’ building in Englewood in existence which I’d seen in Chicago by Gaslight.

Duel: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and the Future of America by Thomas Fleming
[Finished 15 June 2004] I’ve been reading history a fair amount, it seems, and finding it quite fascinating. There’s an awful lot about the early days of the U.S. that I wasn’t aware of and the standard hagiography finds inconvenient to relate.

The primary focus of this book is the biographies of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, with Thomas Jefferson playing a major role, if one largely on the sidelines. It was somewhat fascinating to see what an inept president Jefferson was, at least in Fleming’s eyes. A Fleming biography of Jefferson would be a fascinating, if controversial read.

But as it is, this is a book that I found rather difficult to put down and one which would reward re-reading.

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of The Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester
[Finished 11 March 2004] A fascinating tale. Historical reconstructions like this are always a bit of a challenge to make interesting, but Winchester is up to the task in this book. He manages to convey an interesting mix of information about the creation of the greatest English dictionary, Victorian England, the treatment of mental illness in the 19th century and more. A great companion to Chasing the Sun which approaches the question of dictionary-making from a more global perspective

American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley, His Battle for Chicago and the Nation by Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor
[Finished 16 December 2002] An outstanding biography of the King of Chicago.

The Chicago River: A Natural and Unnatural History by Libbie Hill
[Finished 27 September 2002] Growing up in the Chicago area, I was taught early on the tragic-heroic outline of the history of the river. Its foolish use as a sewer (the river emptied into the lake which was the primary source of drinking water), its reversal so that the sewage went to the Gulf of Mexico instead.

But the details were often lost and this book provides a good explanation of the hows and whys of the river, but naturally and artificially. Especially fascinating to me were the historic maps overlayed with contemporary street grids. Who knew about the forks of the south branch that no longer flow? Mud Lake I did know (I grew up in its bed), but it’s all a great read.

A Force More Powerful: A Century of Non-violent Conflict by Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall
[Finished 26 June 2002] It’s kind of funny when we have a president who claims Jesus as his favorite philosopher but doesn’t seem to understand any of Jesus’ teachings. There’s nothing exclusively Christian in non-violence, but there’s nothing authentically Christian in violence.

A combination of philosophy and history, this book looks at why non-violence works and considers a number of case studies (including a number of cases where the non-violent protestors ultimately failed in their aims, which gives this a much more authoritative vantage point than approaches to non-violence which point to India and say look, it worked there without addressing the whys of other non-violent causes.

And perhaps the most striking thing comes from the early chapters where we learn that no one can be governed without their consent, and therein is where the true power of non-violence lies: In being willing to say no.

The Debate on the English Reformation by Rosemary O'Day
[Finished 18 June 2002] A sort of meta-history, O’Day focuses not so much on the English reformation as on how it’s been interpretted historically.

Documents Illustrative of English Church History edited by Henry Gee and W. J. Hardy
[Finished 17 September 2001] A collection of documents beginning well before the reformation and continuing through the 19th century that attempts to provide an outline of English church history through primary source material.

A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and the Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides by Samuel Johnson and James Boswell
[Finished 6 September 2001] Two accounts of a trip made by Samuel Johnson and his biographer. At times a bit ponderous and dull, but generally rather interesting

The Making of the President 1960 by Theodore H. White
[Finished 17 August 2001] WIth all the attention focused on his assassination, it’s easy to overlook the bitterly contested and controversial election of John F Kennedy in 1960. This book was san early example of the “instant” book, compiled shortly after the election.

For me this was an eye-opener: It was fascinating to get a snap-shot of the realignment of American politics that began with Roosevelt’s election in 1932 and reached its culmination with Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”. Definitely worth reading, especially in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election.

No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II by Doris Kearns Goodwin
[Finished 22 June 2001] Like most people educated in the US, history classes generally managed to stay pretty detailed until roughly the civil war, then as the spring arrives, we ended up rushing through the 20th century not getting a whole lot of the details.

So it’s been with some delight that I’ve been reading this book, filling in the details. Focusing primarily on the lead-up to Roosevelt’s third term through his death, Kearns manages to provide enough detail and background to keep the reader informed and engaged throughout.

It is, though somewhat disturbing while reading this to realize how far to the right the US as tacked in the last 60 years.

Reformation in England by Frederick Powicke
[Finished 12 June 2001] A not particularly memorable accounting of the English reformation

Chicago by Gaslight: A History of Chicago's Netherworld, 1880-1920 by Richard Lindberg
[Finished 13 May 2001] An enthralling account of the dark side of Chicago at the turn of the last century. It was fascinating to read about the assorted vice criminals, murderers and corrupt politicians of the era (not to mention connecting some of the addresses mentioned to what’s there today).

Catholics in England 1559-1829: A Social History by M. D. R. Leys
[Finished 3 April 2001] A pretty good history of English Catholics under the penal laws.

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis
[Finished 3 February 2001] The book that got me into early American history. History as it’s taught in American schools reduces the subject to a rather dull series of events. The detail behind it is quite another matter.

Ellis’s primary subjects are Jefferson and Adams, although most of the founders of the republic get a fair amount of play here.

Shakespeare's English Kings by Peter Saccio
[Finished 27 August 1999] A nice companion to the historical plays. It provides some much needed background.

Sir Thomas Browne: A Doctor's Life of Science & Faith by Jeremiah S. Finch
[Finished 16 August 1999] A highly readable biography.

What Gunpowder Plot Was by Samuel Rawson Gardiner
[Finished 15 April 1999] A charmingly biased (towards the protestant side) accounting. It was written in response to another book which I’ve not read which makes it frequently opaque.

Chicago '68 by David Farber
[Finished 14 April 1999] Primarily an account from the yippie perspective of the events leading up to and surrounding the 1968 Democratic convention.

Lord Rochester's Monkey: Being the Life of John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester by Graham Greene
[Finished 18 September 1998] This is the second time I’ve read this book. Both times I’ve found it horribly dry and wondered where the “obscenity” was that lead to its failure to be published when it was originally written. Perhaps the real reason it failed to find a publisher was because it was so dull.

The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, translated by Richard Crawley
[Finished 3 March 1998] A long dry account of a long dry war between Athens and Sparta. I have to rank this as a book that I’d rather have read than read.

At Home in the Loop: How Clout and Community Built Chicago's Dearborn Park by Lois Wille
[Finished 26 January 1998] How a book about real estate development in Chicago can omit all mention of Charlie Swibel I’ll never know. It’s the sort of omission that leads me to look at the rest of the book with a somewhat jaded eye (the curious mention of the then-unknown John Kass also struck me as odd). Nevertheless it’s still an interesting read and if read in conjunction with Ross Miller’s Here’s the Deal about block 39 a pretty good history of what’s involved in Chicago real estate development can be had.

Boss by Mike Royko
[Finished 17 August 1997] Easily Royko’s best writing, this biography is as much about Chicago as it is about Daley. A great complement to all the Chicago-related reading I’ve been doing lately.

They All Fall Down: Richard Nickel's Struggle to Save America's Architecture by Richard Cahan
[Finished 9 August 1997] I’m fascinated by architecture, as was Nickel. Nickel entered the world of architecture through photography and became the foremost expert on Louis Sullivan, eventually dieing while doing scavenging work while the Chicago Stock Exchange building was undergoing demolition. This was a fascinating work and was greatly plundered by the architecture walking tour program that gets shown on WTTW during pledge drives.

Here's the Deal: The Buying and Selling of an American City by Ross Miller
[Finished 14 June 1997] Further proof of the value of editors. There’s a good book here and I could find it just by rearranging paragraphs. Interesting stuff, but completely disorganized. Why would the historical background be in the penultimate chapter?