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
American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson by Joseph J. Ellis
[Finished 27 January 2024] Perhaps the most interesting part of this book was the fact that between its initial publication and the release of the paperback edition, definitive proof that Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemings was revealed which forced Ellis to have to completely revise his previously held views on the subject (he had previously considered the possibility very unlikely). Overall, I find Jefferson a much less sympathetic character than John Adams.

Awakening Lives: Autobiographies of Jewish Youth in Poland before the Holocaust edited by Jeffrey Shandler
[Finished 26 January 2023] Another discovery thangs to the end notes of When I Grow Up, in this case, a collection of the raw autobiographies that Krimstein had available to him. Even without Krimstein’s illustrations, these continued to be fascinating reads.

Profiles of a Lost World: Memoirs of East European Jewish Life before World War II by Hirsz Abramowicz
[Finished 20 January 2023] I found this book in the notes at the end of When I Grow Up: The Lost Autobiographies of Six Yiddish Teenagers and this is a different selection (and presentation) of autobiographies from the YIVO project, equally fascinating in the glimpses of Jewish life it provides.

Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland by Jan Tomasz Gross
[Finished 16 January 2023] While the anti-Jewish pogrom in Jedwabne perpetrated by the Poles in the early days of the German was an important event that happened. it feels like Gross was stymied by the lack of a documentary record and ended up with a weaker book as a result.

Daily Life in Wartime Japan, 1940-1945 by Samuel Hideo Yamashita
[Finished 11 January 2023] A sort of follow-up to Yamashita’s collection of diaries, this presents the information from Yamashita’s diary research in thematic groupings, providing a fairly comprehensive overview of what the life of Japanese citizens was like during World War II.

Waiting for Hope: Jewish Displaced Persons in Post-World War II Germany by Angelika Königseder
[Finished 9 January 2023] A semi-accidental re-read. I’d read this before and accidentally requested a copy of the book from the library and decided to leave it in the stack and read it again. The re-read uncovered some details that I’d not been too aware of before while simultaneously giving me a stronger sense of the full context around everything now that I’m close to the end of my researches.

When I Grow Up: The Lost Autobiographies of Six Yiddish Teenagers by Ken Krimstein
[Finished 7 January 2023] Krimstein doubtless inferred additional details into his presentations of the autobiographical essays presented here, but the graphic presentation of the text adds a great deal and makes this a must-read text.

The Atomic Bomb: Voices from Hiroshima and Nagasaki edited by Kyoko and Mark Selden
[Finished 5 January 2023] A collection of responses to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There are a mix of memoirs, fictionalized narrations, poems, artwork, photographs and children’s writings (these last all from Nagasaki) which provide a broad spectrum of experiences. Much of the work here is translated into English for the first time.

The Cage by Ruth Minsky Sender
[Finished 3 January 2023] A well-written account of life in the Łódź ghetto and afterwards. Great insight into Minksy Sender’s experiences.

The People on the Beach: Journeys to Freedom after the Holocaust by Rosie Whitehouse
[Finished 27 December 2022] An interesting investigation where Whitehouse tries to track down the life stories of one group of Holocaust survivors. It’s as much about the writing as the discovery and somewhat fascinating.

Łódź Ghetto: Inside a Community Under Siege edited by Alan Adelson and Robert Lapides
[Finished 24 December 2022] An attempt at putting together a collection of primary source materials to give a complete history of the Łódź ghetto, somewhat akin to the Chronicle of Auschwitz. The Łódź ghetto’s own chronicle is a vital source, but it has crucial lacunae which are here augmented by memoirs and diaries from ghetto residents.

We Wept Without Tears: Testimonies of the Jewish Sonderkommando from Auschwitz by Gideon Greif
[Finished 22 December 2022] The Sonderkommando is a somewhat underdocumented aspect of Auschwitz and this collection of interviews and accompanying essay provides a great deal of good background on it. Emotionally devastating reading.

By Chance Alone: A Remarkable True Story of Courage and Survival at Auschwitz by Max Eisen
[Finished 17 December 2022] One of the more compulsively readable memoirs of the Shoah. Eisen cared as much about how he told his story as the story he told and the effort shows.

Leaves from an Autumn of Emergencies: Selections from the Wartime Diaries of Ordinary Japanese by Samuel Hideo Yamashita
[Finished 16 December 2022] Diary writing is a common practice in Japanese culture and these diaries give some sense of the daily life of civilians and others during World War II. Much of this material has not been previously available in English and there is a whole world revealed through Yamashita’s work.

Hiroshima: Three Witnesses edited by Richard H. Minnear
[Finished 14 December 2022] This is an omnibus of three sets of writing by survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima, much of it translated for the first time in English. I found Toge Sankichi’s Poems of the Atomic Bomb to be the most compelling of the three books included, but all were fascinating reads, although they tended to focus more on the aftermath than the events of August 6.

Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad by Matthew F. Delmont
[Finished 12 December 2022] A well presented overview of the last war of the Jim Crow army and the racism that Black soldiers faced as they fought a battle against Hitler’s racist regime. The irony of American apartheid being held up as an improvement over Nazism was not lost on the soldiers of the era.

After the Holocaust: The Long Road to Freedom by Erna F. Rubinstein
[Finished 9 December 2022] After reading Rubinstein’s first memoir, I had high hopes for this volume, but alas, she disposed with life in the DP camps in a single sentence, skipping over the whole experience in short order.

The Survivor in Us All: Four Young Sisters in the Holocaust by Erna F. Rubinstein
[Finished 6 December 2022] Somewhat uncharacteristically for memoirs of the Shoah, Rubinstein has written her memoir in a novelistic style, offering a level of detail that is hard to justify as a historical document but that makes for a more compelling read at the same time.

Life Between Memory and Hope: The Survivors of the Holocaust in Occupied Germany by Zeev W. Mankowitz
[Finished 6 December 2022] A bit too focused on the big picture of things than I had hoped it would be.It would be nice to get more individual stories in the account.

Holocaust Chronicles: Individualizing the Holocaust Through Diaries and Other Contemporaneous Personal Accounts edited by Robert Moses Shapiro
[Finished 1 December 2022] A collection of essays about Holocaust research. It raises some of the issues about reliability that I’ve found on my own as well, and made for some interesting reading.

The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman
[Finished 24 November 2022] Absolutely stunning, something I wish I’d read years ago.

Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima by Robert Jay Lifton
[Finished 22 November 2022] Some interesting insights into the psychology of survivors of Hiroshima.

Our Courage: Jews in Europe 1945–48 edited by Kata Bohus, Atina Grossman, Werner Hanak and Mirjam Wenzel
[Finished 18 November 2022] A pan-European look at Jewish experiences after the Holocaust covering nearly the whole of the continent. My only complaint is that the individual pieces tended to be a bit on the short side leaving me wanting more than was said.

Out on a Ledge: Enduring the Lodz Ghetto, Auschwitz, and Beyond by Eva Libitzky and Fred Rosenbaum
[Finished 15 November 2022] A great memoir of one girl’s experiences before, during and after the Holocaust. One of my favorites in the genre.

Holocaust Survivors in Postwar Germany, 1945–1957 by Margarete Myers Feinstein
[Finished 15 November 2022] A book I wish I’d read first six years ago, but better late than never. Feinstein’s book is full of great information on the DP era and helped fill in a number of gaps in my knowledge.

Renia's Diary: A Holocaust Journal by Renia Spiegel with Elizabeth Bellak
[Finished 11 November 2022] The variety of experience underlying the Holocaust is somewhat staggering. In this case, this is the diary of a Holocaust victim who lived in the Eastern Poland under Soviet occupation after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Life managed to stay relatively normal until the Germans declared war on the Soviet Union and invaded and brought their genocidal policies to the East.

Bitter Glory: Poland and Its Fate, 1918–1939 by Richard M. Watt
[Finished 3 November 2022] Watt’s book is very much a great men and war style of history with all of its limitations (it is quite nearly a biography of Józef Piłsudski given Piłsudski’s importance in this period of Polish history). There is a background to show the history of the Polish region from the middle ages up to the books nominal beginning with the close of the first world war. Seeing the conditions around the establishment of the Polish republic, so much of the subsequent events of history feel inevitable, between the disputed borders in the east and west, the Polish-Soviet war (something that I think I somehow missed in my history classes—whether it was just not taught or I wasn’t paying attention when it was, I couldn’t say) and the reluctance of France and Britain to push back on the earliest military adventurism of the Hitler regime, it seemed almost a certainty that Poland would end up being partitioned between Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939. The other thing that seems to be a common thread in my reading of this period is the utter stupidity of the Communist party outside of the Soviet Union between servile submission to the Soviet leadership and ignoring the needs of the local population.

Hope Is the Last to Die: A Coming of Age Under Nazi Terror by Halina Birenbaum
[Finished 27 October 2022] A fantastic memoir of a Holocaust survivor, describing her life in the Warsaw ghetto and then her later deportation to Auschwitz and thence to labor camps and her ultimate liberation.

The Kosher Capones: A History of Chicago's Jewish Gangsters by Joe Kraus
[Finished 20 October 2022] I grew up down the block from the nephew of an Outfit figure (never indicted) and went to a high school whose school board was controlled by the Outfit along with the whole government of the town of Cicero. For me, organized crime was always synonymous with Italians because that’s what I had exposure to (movies like The Godfather and its successors also contributed, of course). I was aware of Jewish figures connected to Italian organized crime, but only tangentially. So when I discovered that this book existed, I figured this was a good chance to dig into this (plus get some background on a neighborhood where one of the characters in my novel lived before and after his WWII service).

Kraus does some interesting things structurally, arranging his material thematically rather than strictly chronologically so that each chapter often doubles back on material previously covered to cover it again from a different angle. It’s not always successful, but it still makes for a good read and one that gives me a perspective on the west side of Chicago that I might otherwise have missed.

Risen from the Ashes: A Story of Jewish Displaced Persons in the Aftermath of World War II, Being a Sequel to Survivors by Jacob Biber
[Finished 19 October 2022] A rarity among Holocaust literature, a memoir that focuses not on the Holocaust itself but on its aftermath. The first part of the book is about Biber’s experiences in the Föhrenwald displaced persons camp, and the second, shorter part, his experiences after immigration to America.

Surviving the Cold Crematorium: (An Alternative to the Gas Chambers) by Joseph Hausner
[Finished 14 October 2022] A self-published memoir which focused primarily on the author’s experiences in the Kaufering subcamps of Dachau, although there are some good accounts of DP life as well.

Fresh Wounds: Early Narratives of Holocaust Survival edited by Donald L. Niewyk
[Finished 13 October 2022] This is a sort of follow-up volume to David Broder’s I Did Not Interview the Dead. Many of the interviews from that volume are re-presented here, although in abridged format. More female voices are presented and only Jewish survivors’ accounts are used in this volume. I remembered in the first that the women’s narratives tended to focus on what happened to the men in their lives, but in this volume, we get more of a sense of the women’s own experiences.

Dachau and the Nazi Terror 2: 1933–1945 Studies and Reports edited by Wolfgang Benz and Barbara Distel
[Finished 7 October 2022] A second volume of articles selected from the German publication where they originated. While the first volume focused mostly on first-person accounts of the Shoah, this is focused more on academic studies. It’s a bit overwhelming to see just how much is still unknown about what’s probably one of the better-documented events of the twentieth century.

Winter in the Morning: A Young Girl's Life in the Warsaw Ghetto and Beyond by Janina Bauman
[Finished 2 October 2022] A Shoah memoir that distinguishes itself by presenting a great deal of the historic context around the author’s own experiences.

Dachau and the Nazi Terror 1: 1933–1945 Testimonies and Memories edited by Wolfgang Benz and Barbara Distel
[Finished 30 September 2022] An interesting mix of articles originally printed in German (a handful of the articles were translated into German for their initial publication and are presented here in their original English, most are translated by various hands from German into English).

A Letter To My Children, From the Edge of the Holocaust by Abraham J. Klausner
[Finished 29 September 2022] A rather essential work on the DP era, although somewhat marred by the fact that Klausner was apparently not a completely reliable narrator of his own story, tending to exaggerate the plight of the DPs to justify his own desire to move them out of Germany as quickly as possible.

Purim: The Face and the Mask
[Finished 21 September 2022] A collection of essays to accompany an exhibition by the Yeshiva University Museum. I was mostly interested in an article about the celebration of Purim in the Landsberg DP camp in the aftermath of World War II, but there were other insights as well. The essay by Joseph Soloveitchik was curious in its perspective on gender roles.

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
[Finished 20 September 2022] Sort of two books in one: the first half is a Holocaust memoir, but one which is colored by Frankl’s psychiatrist’s perspective where he viewed everything through a mental health lens, one which gave interesting insights into his observations. The second half is an account of Frankl’s theory of psychotherapy which he calls logotherapy which is based around the idea that finding meaning in life is the essential task of human life.

Jewish “Shtetls” in Postwar Germany: An Analysis of Interaction among Jewish Displaced Persons, Germans and Americans be by Kierra Mikaila Crago-Schneider
[Finished 17 September 2022] A doctoral dissertation I stumbled across in the course of my research for the novel. Absolutely perfect for me—there are a handful of references to useful sources and lots of good detail. It’s almost as if it were written specifically to be a guidebook for me in novel research.

Ruthka: A Diary of War by Ruthka Lieblich
[Finished 15 September 2022] One of a big pile of Holocaust diaries that I’m reading. Most of it is written before the worst happened, so it stands most strikingly as an account of what the internal life of a teenage Jewish girl in pre-war Poland was like.

The Chronicle of the Łódź Ghetto, 1941–1944 edited by Lucjan Dobroszycki
[Finished 10 September 2022] This book consist of entries written during the time of the Łódź ghetto by mostly anonymous men within the ghetto. It’s a mix of news, record-keeping and gossip. It was striking that the great shpera of 1947 where all the children and old people were taken from the ghetto to their deaths was largely absent from the chronicle, presumably because of how terrible an event it was.

Hiroshima Diary: The Journal of a Japanese Physician, August 6–September 30, 1945 by Michihiko Hachiya
[Finished 8 September 2022] A compelling account of the period from the bombing of Hiroshima through to the end of September from the perspective of a doctor who survived the bombing and then treated the survivors, having to deal with the discovery of the impacts of radiation sickness on the survivors including himself. Easily one of the best accounts of Hiroshima I’ve read.

Auschwitz Chronicle: 1939–1945 edited by Danuta Czech
[Finished 21 August 2022] A day by day reproduction as much as possible of the events that took place at the Auschwitz concentration camp from its founding to its abandonment with the advance of the Russians.

Questions I Am Asked About the Holocaust by Hédi Fried
[Finished 6 August 2022] I was a little skeptical about whether this book would be helpful, but 30 books or 31, what’s the difference. Fortunately, it turned out that Fried’s book was helpful in that it was based on the questions that she was asked by schoolchildren and children being children ask about things that adults are too polite or shy to ask.

The Art of History: Unlocking the Past in Fiction and Nonfiction by Christopher Bram
[Finished 30 July 2022] A delightful little book in the Art of… series from Graywolf. This one leans a lot towards the practical and gives useful guidance in writing historical narratives along with an extraordinarily intriguing reading list. One of my favorites from that series.

Rutka's Notebook: A Voice from the Holocaust by Rutka Laskier
[Finished 30 July 2022] Part of my current research binge as a I prep for draft three of the novel. Rutka Laskier was murdered in Auschwitz and her diary preserved by a gentile friend and gives a good view into the concerns of a teenager living through the constriction of Jewish life in the 1930s and 40s.

Survivors: Children's Lives After the Holocaust by Rebecca Clifford
[Finished 12 July 2022] A bit more research reading for the novel in progress. It gave me some good insights into one of the secondary characters in the novel which have already impacted the code.

Hiroshima Nagasaki: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and Their Aftermath by Paul Ham
[Finished 20 May 2022] I was hoping for a bit more about the aftermath on the ground of the bombing of Hiroshima, although there were some good details here. Perhaps most impressively is how Ham manages to subtly but persuasively make the case that the use of the atomic bombs in Japan was far from necessary and that the decisive factor in ending the war was not the bombings but the entry of the Russians into the war with Japan.

Rywka's Diary: The Writings of a Jewish Girl from the Lodz Ghetto by Rywka Lypszyc
[Finished 7 March 2022] The diary has a wealth of great detail as do the supplementary materials. Perhaps the most fascinating part though, was the introduction where the author couldn’t bring herself to speak ill of Chaim Rumkowski and went to great pains to declare that Rywka’s love of another girl in the ghetto was romantic but not erotic which spoke more of the author of the introduction than her subject.

Salvaged Pages: Young Writers' Diaries of the Holocaust edited by Alexandra Zapruder
[Finished 6 March 2022] A collection of diaries, either in excerpts or their entirety giving first-person views of young peoples’ lives during the Holocaust. The details are simultaneously heartbreaking and compelling.

Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross edited by Maia-Mari Sutnik
[Finished 2 March 2022] The photos of Ross are, of course, present here, but also some essays by various hands which elucidate the context of the photos and Ross’s presentation of them after their recovery. It was great to have some visual records of life in the Łódź ghetto during the Nazi occupation.

Double Jeopardy: Gender and the Holocaust by Judith Tydor Baumel
[Finished 15 February 2022] An outstanding collection of essays on gender and the Holocaust. One of the rare books that covers the DP era, although sadly, most of what Baumel has to say is that there’s not much documentation of women’s experiences in that time.

L.A. City Limits: African American Los Angeles from the Great Depression to the Present by Josh Sides
[Finished 29 January 2022] One of these books I picked up by way of researching background for characters in my novel. For my purposes, I could have stopped after the first chapter or two, but I was fascinated by a lot of the history that I didn’t know. L.A. is in many ways, a model of integration in the U.S., and it’s startling to read this and remember that it’s still pretty awful by objective standards. Some of the stuff that Black people have had to put up with, I found myself thinking that it’s a fucking miracle of restraint that they haven’t just gone and killed all the white people for being such assholes already.

Shtetl by Eva Hoffman
[Finished 10 December 2021] A bit of research for the novel, this is a book about Jewish life in a Polish village on the Byelorussian frontier before the Holocaust. Apparently it’s a companion to a documentary film that aired on PBS, but full of interesting information.

In War's Wake: Europe's Displaced Persons in the Postwar Order by Gerard Daniel Cohen
[Finished 28 November 2021] Largely an institutions view of how the DP situation worked in the aftermath of World War II and not at all what I needed in terms of research.

Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany by Marion A. Kaplan
[Finished 28 October 2021] A fascinating account of life of Jewish people under the Nazi regime in Germany. What makes it really special is that Kaplan gives emphasis on women’s experiences, something which so much writing on the subject has tended to de-emphasize.

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore
[Finished 13 October 2021] The subject matter is gripping—the focus on profits over people in the nascent radium industry—and yet I found the reading to frequently be tedious. In the afterword, Moore comments about how there was no non-academic writing about the young women who lost their lives to radium poisoning and I imagine some of the tedium of the academic writing on the subject couldn’t help getting into her writing. It felt like this could have been a better choice for a work of fiction, and given that Moore became interested in the subject while directing a play on the subject, I may not be that far off from the truth of the matter.

South: The Story of Shackleton's Last Expedition 1914–1917 by Ernest Shackleton
[Finished 24 September 2021] See my review at

The Golden Tradition: Jewish Life and Thought in Eastern Europe edited by Lucy S. Dawidowicz
[Finished 10 September 2021] An eclectic anthology of writing by and about notable Jewish thinkers from the 16th century to the eve of World War II. I stumbled upon this after reading Dawidowicz’s memoir of her time before the World War II studying at the YIVO institute in Vilna and then working with DPs in the aftermath of the war, and decided that it would be useful background for immersing myself in pre-Holocaust Jewish thought. It was often a dry read, but it did meet my needs well.

From That Place and Time: A Memoir, 1938–1947 by Lucy S. Dawidowicz
[Finished 6 July 2021] While I’m close to the end of the “first” draft of my novel, I continue to do a lot of research reading. This was an excellent book for getting background on both the conditions of Jewish life before World War II and also the situation in the years that followed, although the latter was perhaps a bit thinner than I would have liked.

Operation Exodus: From the Nazi Death Camps to the Promised Land: A Perilous Journey That Shaped Israel's Fate by Gordon Thomas
[Finished 4 July 2021] One of many books that I’ve read on the Exodus 1947 while I work on the antepenultimate chapter of my novel. Thomas’s story is a good instance of narrative non-fiction and he does his best to present his version of the story with the pacing and intensity of a novel. There were a lot of good details that I have been able to put to use from this. Interestingly, there were also a fair number of places where Thomas’s account and the other accounts I’ve read contradict each other.

Century of the Wind by Eduardo Galeano
[Finished 3 July 2021] See my review at

Faces and Masks by Eduardo Galeano
[Finished 24 June 2021] See my review at

Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter by Kerri K. Greenidge
[Finished 7 June 2021] After hearing an interview with Greenidge on Fresh Air, I requested this book from the library and found it every bit as fascinating as the interview promised (often, after an interview with an author on Fresh Air, when I get to the book, I discover that all the “good bits” were already presented in the interview, which was not the case here). There was a lot that I did not know (not surprisingly) and it gave an interesting perspective on the struggle for basic human rights by African Americans in the half century after the Civil War. Perhaps the most striking thing is that the “radicalism” of Trotter seems to me, from my twenty-first century vantage point, to be basic common sense. Sadly, there are two many white folks even now who would consider that basic common sense to be radicalism.

Genesis by Eduardo GaleanoLost Books of the Bible
[Finished 31 May 2021] See my review at

A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn
[Finished 2 May 2021] Between being in leftie circles for a lot of my life and, I think Zinn’s own influence on the culture, this did not come off as quite the revolutionary book that it once was. There were a few things I was unaware of and Zinn seems to fall pray to the no difference between the parties fallacy that infects a lot of political discourse, but there was still a lot to recommend it. I can see giving this to my kids to read when they’re in high school as a useful corrective to the standard curriculum even with its flaws.

Fighting in the Jim Crow Army: Black Men and Women Remember World War II by Maggie Morehouse
[Finished 24 April 2021] A good collection of information on Black service during World War II. My only complaint is that it focuses on combat troops and not the majority experience which placed Black soldiers in support roles.

The Exodus Affair: Holocaust Survivors and the Struggle for Palestine by Aviva Halamish
[Finished 16 April 2021] Exactly the book I wanted for my research for the novel. A great attempt to uncover the facts and events of the Exodus affair.

Black Fire: The Making of an American Revolutionary by Nelson Peery
[Finished 31 March 2021] I discovered this book by a bit of serendipity while looking for Black Radical in my library’s online catalog. I realized from the description that this was a book that I needed to read even though I hadn’t known about its existence before I got to it. So much that I need to reconsider in my novel as I’m working on it.

The African American Experience During World War II by Neil A. Wynn
[Finished 23 March 2021] I’ve found myself digging into this subject largely as a result of an accidental discovery of a book that I’m still reading that’s revealed a lot of how much I need to learn to correctly write a supporting character in my novel. This book is not especially useful for my needs as it focuses largely at the “great men” level of history rather than the base level of experience which I’m more interested in digging up. For what it is, it’s not bad, although it is a bit slight.

Exodus 1947: The Ship That Launched a Nation by Ruth Graber
[Finished 16 March 2021] I’m coming into the home stretch on my novel and I’ve decided that part of the novel will take place on the voyage of the Exodus 1947, a failed effort to transport 4,500 Jewish refugees from Europe to Palestine in the summer of 1947. Graber’s book is partially about this, but not as much as the title would lead the reader to believe (the book was retitled from its original publication). Still, there’s a wealth of great detail for a novelist writing about this, even if there could be more, but then there could always be more detail.

The Last Million: Europe's Displaced Persons from World War to Cold War by David Nasaw
[Finished 6 February 2021] I’ve read a lot about DPs in the last five years thanks to the research I’ve been doing on my novel. Early on when I started the project, I was debating whether I should write fiction or non-fiction. I’m glad I chose the former because I would have found out about this book last fall and thought that all my efforts would have been for nought.

Nasaw’s book is clearly a product of the present moment. Other books have focused on the cold-war politics around DPs or justification of Zionism, but here, the underlying focus is on America’s moral failure around refusing the immigration of DPs, especially Jewish DPs. A casual mention of Jared Kushner’s grandmother serves to emphasize the connection between the 1940s moral failure and the trump administration’s anti-refugee policies.

Overall, an excellent book and great addition to my research library as I continue work on my novel.

Before All Memory Is Lost: Women's Voices from the Holocaust edited by Myrna Goldberg
[Finished 12 January 2021] This was exactly the book I needed to read. Accounts of life before during and after the Holocaust from the perspectives of women. The final section about life in the Soviet Union was less helpful than the others, but that’s more a consequence of my own research needs than anything else. It makes me a bit angry that women’s voices and experiences during the Holocaust have been so often dismissed or repressed.

Love Game: A History of Tennis from Victorian Pastime to Global Phenomenon by Elizabeth Wilson
[Finished 8 December 2020] I used to get the University of Chicago Press free ebook every month until there was some issue with being able to download the books to my iPad and I let it stop because I wasn’t getting to them anyway. This was one of those books that managed to get surfaced and it’s something I might not have read otherwise and something I still wouldn’t read. David Foster Wallace managed to make tennis writing a little interesting but this isn’t DFW and the whole thing feels a bit jumbled and not well organized. There are some interesting revelations about the history of tennis but overall I was not interested enough and the writing wasn’t good enough for me to care.

Divide and Rule: The Partition of Africa, 1880–1914 by H. L. Wesseling
[Finished 28 November 2020] See my review at

A Brief History of India by Alain Daniélou
[Finished 11 November 2020] See my review at

Memories, Miracles and Meaning: Insights of a Holocaust Survivor by Franny Krasner Lobovits
[Finished 28 October 2020] See my review at

Flavius Josephus: selections from his works by Flavius Josephus
[Finished 6 October 2020] See my Dewey Decimal Project posts at

Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes, and Privateers Who Ruled the Seven Seas by Laura Sook Duncombe
[Finished 23 August 2020] See my review at

His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis
[Finished 31 May 2020] Declaring a behind on this journal amnesty.

Women in the Holocaust: A Feminist History by Zoë Waxman
[Finished 14 February 2020] Declaring a behind on my book log amnesty on writing reviews.

We Are Here: New Approaches to Jewish Displaced Persons in Postwar Germany edited by Avinoam J. Pratt and Michael Berkowitz
[Finished 4 November 2019] A good resource for my continued research on the novel in progress. Perhaps most exciting to me was that my mom saw the book and expressed an interest in reading it which tells me that my subject matter for the novel has some appeal.

The Difference Engine: Charles Babbage And The Quest To Build The First Computer by Doron Swade
[Finished 24 October 2019] See my review at

Paper: Paging Through History by Mark Kurlansky
[Finished 14 October 2019] See my review at

Jews, Germans, and Allies: Close Encounters in Occupied Germany by Atina Grossman
[Finished 3 October 2019] A book I wish I’d read much earlier in the process of writing the novel I’m working on. Full of useful information on the Jewish DP period, although Grossman is more focused on Berlin than other parts of Germany.

The Truth About Tesla: The Myth of the Lone Genius in the History of Innovation by Christopher Cooper
[Finished 16 August 2019] See my review at

Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust by Yaffa Eliach
[Finished 7 August 2019] Declaring an “I’m way behind” amnesty.

The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City: Spectacle and Assassination at the 1901 World's Fair by Margaret Creighton
[Finished 30 July 2019] See my review at

Playing For Time by Fania Fénelon
[Finished 25 July 2019] Declaring an “I’m way behind” amnesty.

Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz by Jan Tomasz Gross
[Finished 5 June 2019] I picked this up because it was referenced in some of my online research for the novel and struck me as being directly relevant to what I want to know for my writing. It provided a great deal of useful information and was in general a compelling read (often historical accounts can fall into the academese writing trap).

The Last Man Who Knew Everything: Thomas Young, the Anonymous Polymath Who Proved Newton Wrong, Explained How We See, Cu by Andrew Robinson
[Finished 3 June 2019] See my review at

Mothers, Sisters, Resisters: Oral Histories of Women Who Survived the Holocaust edited by Brana Gurewitsch
[Finished 24 January 2019] Divided into three sections, per the title, this is a fascinating collection of testimonies from female Holocaust survivors. I’d hoped for a little bit more about the DP camps afterwards, but there was valuable information for my novel research about the concentration camp experience and life before.

The Redemers by Leo W. Schwarz
[Finished 25 September 2018] An early account of the experiences of the Jewish DPs after World War II. There’s a fair amount of myth-making on display here with the account largely being a “great men” perspective on events with very little about the every day experiences of the DPs in the camps and elsewhere and a narrative structure that makes the exodus to Israel the inevitable outcome of the situation.

Women and the Holocaust—Volume XXII: Narrative and Representation edited by Esther Fuchs
[Finished 19 June 2018] A nice multi-disciplinary anthology. I discovered this reading the author notes on Esther Fuchs’s book on the golem and it was worth reading if for no other reason than to have read some criticism of artistic portrayals of women during the holocaust and having an idea of what not to do.

The Holocaust and History: The Known, the Unknown, the Disputed and the Reexamined edited by Michael Berenbaum and Abraham J. Peck
[Finished 21 May 2018] I hadn’t realized the extent or, for that matter, the existence of, scholarly debate on the Holocaust. There are some interesting glances at internal debates within the scholarly community and a handful of familiar names as my reading on the Holocaust expands. I’m finding increasingly often that a book cited will be one that I’ve already read.

There were a few useful pieces of information and perspectives on the Holocaust here, but in all, I’m beginning to reach a point of diminishing returns in my research.

Experience and Expression: Women, the Nazis and the Holocaust edited by Elizabeth R. Baer and Myrna Goldberg
[Finished 21 May 2018] A wide-ranging collection with plenty to contribute towards my research needs.

The Bitter Road to Freedom: A New History of the Liberation of Europe by William I. Hitchcock
[Finished 19 March 2018] Hitchcock pulls no punches here. He acknowledges the evil of the Germans during World War II but focuses here on the consequences of the Allied invasion of Europe. A large chapter is dedicated to the brutality of the Russian forces in the East, but the bulk of the book is dedicated to pointing out the destruction, intentional and unintentional, inflicted by the British and American forces as they battled the Germans to secure the Western front and then faced the even more difficult problem of maintaining order as a conquering power. In many ways, this is exactly the book I was looking for in my novel research.

The Survivors: The Story of the Belsen Remnant by Leslie H. Hardman and Cecily Goodman
[Finished 17 March 2018] A sensitive account of the lives and circumstances of the Jewish survivors at the Bergen-Belsen camp complex under British control after the defeat of the Germans.

Different Voices: Women and the Holocaust edited by Carol Rittner and John K. Roth
[Finished 17 January 2018] A bit academic, some of the biggest value was in the first-person narratives of victims (I don’t remember for certain now, but I think at least one narrative was from someone who didn’t survive Auschwitz). I’d love to have something that just compiles women’s narratives of the holocaust, but this at least offered some of that.

Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir by Deborah A. Miranda
[Finished 12 January 2018] Using poetry, parody, bits of family and personal history and a fair amount of history, Miranda looks at her familial history as a descendent of California mission Indians providing a counter-narrative to the sanitized version that’s a standard part of the California fourth-grade curriculum, along with her own relationship to her family history, both in the sense of the somewhat abstract relationship to more distant ancestors to the painful aspects of her relationship with her alcoholic father. The poems that are part of the narrative are luminescent and I really wish there were more of them.

On the Edge of Destruction: Jews of Poland Between the Two World Wars by Celia Heller
[Finished 6 December 2017] More research for the novel. I was hoping for a bit more on the quotidian aspects of life for Polish Jews before World War II, but the bulk of the book focused on how anti-semitism was rife in Polish society (both before and after World War II),

Women in the Holocaust edited by Dalia Ofer and Lenore J. Weitzman
[Finished 3 November 2017]

We Remember with Reverence and Love: American Jews and the Myth of Silence After the Holocaust, 1945–1962 by Hasia R. Diner
[Finished 9 October 2017]

Jewish Displaced Persons in Camp Bergen-Belsen, 1945–1950: The Unique Photo Album of Zippy Orlin edited by Erik Somers and René Kok
[Finished 13 July 2017] Photos mixed with an assortment of essays on related topics. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of information about the contents of the pictures.

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?