Irons, Peter. A People’s History of the Supreme Court: The Men and Women whose Cases and Decisions Have Shaped Our Constitution. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.
Reason read: in celebration of the Constitution.
We begin, as they say, from the beginning. The year is 1787 and the controversies of the day are slavery and racial segregation, free speech and a woman’s right to end her pregnancy. What year are we in now? Aren’t we still battling against racial discrimination? Aren’t we still fighting for free speech and women’s rights? What’s that saying? The more things change, the more they stay the same? It is disheartening to think we have been railing against crooked judges since the beginning of the Supreme Court. Its inception had a rocky start. Rutledge was deranged and Wilson was jailed for debt, just to name a few examples. It makes you realize the abuse of power really is timeless. McKinley was able to place a brilliant conservative justice with an incompetent one. Sound familiar? Fear and intimidation has not changed. Since the beginning of the Supreme Court there have been men who serve as chief justice who cannot separate personal bias from judicial duty.
On the other hand, time marches on and some things do change. At the time of writing, Irons’s world consisted of a Supreme Court that had been mostly all white and mostly all old men. We have made some strides to having a diversified Supreme Court. So…there is that. Also, consider this: in the 1920’s a woman had her own minimum wage. Isn’t that special?
I could go on and on. Last comment:Even though this is geared towards a tenth grade reader, it is an important book. Everyone should take a stab at it. If not to see where we are going, but to see where we have been.
Author fact: Peter Irons called Howard Zinn a mentor. Additionally, Irons was arrested in 1963 for refusing to serve in the military. If you were a conscientious objector, you had to have a religion to cite as your reason for not fighting.
Book trivia: for the longest time A People’s History of the Supreme Court has been used as a law and history textbook across the country.
Nancy said: Pearl called A People’s History of the Supreme Court “readable” (p 136).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Legal Eagles in Nonfiction” (p 135).
Sturm, Izaak. Filling in the Pieces: a Survival Story of the Holocaust. New York: Gefen Publishing, 2019.
Reason read: an Early Review book from LibraryThing.
The expectations put forth to the reader in Rabbi Hier’s introductions are many. There is the promise we won’t be immune to heartbreak and triumph. We will be powerfully reminded of the atrocities of World War II. We will be provided with a clear-eyed view of human behavior throughout this disturbing time. We will have insight into both the world of the perpetrator and survivor alike. We will be reminded that the Holocaust must be remembered and not denied, forgotten, or repeated. We will learn from the author’s persistence to survive. Above all else, we will be touched. All of that is true. Expectations such as these and then-some are met in Sturm’s courageous words.
Introduction by Rabbi Marvin Hier.
Preface by Moish (Mark) Sturm, Izaak’s son.
Favorite element of the book: There is an attention to detail as if history depends on Sturm getting it exact (like the precise year of his birth). Footnotes are plentiful.
Book trivia: the photographs are generous, both in color and black and white.
Confessional: for years and years my senses would avoid anything involving Hitler and the atrocities of World War II. I didn’t want to see, smell, taste, feel, or hear anything about that horrific time. Stories of lamps made from human skin would keep my young imagination reeling as my heart beat out of my chest in pure terror. I have reoccurring dreams of bombs being unceremoniously and carelessly dropped over Monhegan. I still wake in the middle of the night listening to the drone of engines in the sky. Nightmares still creep across my eyelids and I often wake up in a cold sweat thoroughly convinced someone could be coming to take my teeth with pliers at any minute.
Halberstam, David. The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War. New York: Hyperion, 2007.
Reason read: the Korean War officially ended in July.
The interesting thing about the Korean War is that most were reluctant to call it an actual war. Those that admitted to it being a conflict were convinced it would be over in no time. What started in June of 1950 as a “clash” between North Korea and South Korea turned into a war of attrition when China and the Soviet Union came to the aid of North Korea and the UN and United States joined the South. Despite a treaty being signed in July of 1953, to this day, technically the conflict has not been recognized as over.
While Halberstam portrays the well-researched historical events with accuracy and thorough detail, his portrayals of key U.S. figures such as Generals MacArthur and Bradley, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, and President Truman read like a fast paced political thriller. The larger than life personalities practically jump off the page.
As an aside: I suppose it would make sense if I thought about it more, but the Korean War was the first time air-to-air combat was conducted. Before then planes were mostly used to drop bombs and transport men and supplies.
Best line to quote, “Sometimes it is the fate of a given unit to get in that way of something so large it seems to have stepped into history’s own path” (p 258).
Author fact: Halberstam was born in April and died in April.
Book trivia: The Coldest Winter was published after Halberstam’s death.
Nancy said: Pearl called Coldest Winter the “best book for the nonhistorian on the Korean War” (Book Lust To Go p 127).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Korea – North and South” (p 125). I am willing to bet Coldest Winter would have been in More Book Lust’s chapter “David Halberstam: Too Good To Miss” (p 112) if it had been published in time. MBL was published in 2005 and Coldest Winter came two years later in 2007. It would appear Pearl is a fan and has read everything Halberstam has ever written.
January started with my first official appointment to a chiropractor. I mentioned elsewhere that he wasn’t really confident he could put me back together, but that’s there and not here. Not being able to run has given me more time to read…much more than I realized. You can get a lot done with an extra 4-5 hours a week! With that being said, here are the books:
- Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright. This story stayed with me for a really long time.
- Tea From an Empty Cup by Pat Cadigan. I think I was most disappointed by this one because I saw the ending a mile away.
- On the Beach by Nevil Shute. I listened to this on audio and I still can’t stop thinking about it.
- Black Alibi by Cornell Woolrich. I read this one in a day.
- Wake Up, Darlin’ Corey by M.K. Wren. Another really short book.
- What Did It Mean? by Angela Thirkell. I gave up on this one after 120 pages. Boring!
- Partisans: Marriage, Politics, and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals by David Laskin.
- War Child by Emmanuel Jal. Probably the most raw and captivating story of the month. Read in a weekend.
- Traveller’s Prelude by Freya Stark
- Practicing History by Barbara Tuchman. No one does history like Barbara. (AB/print)
- Last Cheater’s Waltz by Ellen Meloy. She has a wicked sense of humor.
- Mrs. Pollifax and the Golden Triangle by Dorothy Gilman. The last Pollifax mystery I will read. Read in a day.
- Brain Food: the Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Health by Lisa Mosconi. This took me a really long time to read. You may have seen it on other lists. There was just a lot to it.
Tuchman, Barbara. Practicing History: Selected Essays. Read by Wanda McCaddon. Ashland, OR: Blackstone Audio, 2009.
Reason read: Tuchman’s birth month is in January.
Right off the bat I have to admit some of my cds skipped while listening to the audio version of Practicing History so I missed some parts. Then, and this is even more embarrassing, I found myself tuning out from time to time. McCaddon’s voice had that Charlie Brown’s teacher effect on me.
Unlike Nero Wolfe of West Thirty Fifth Street by William Baring-Gould, which I believe should be read after completing the Rex Stout mysteries, Practicing History should be read before Tuchman’s other books. The first part of Practicing History, “The Craft,” is Tuchman’s way of explaining how she wrote her books without giving too much away. She makes it possible to look forward to reading The March of Folly and Proud Tower with anticipation.
The second part of Practicing History, called “The Yield” presents various topics from different articles she has written over the years (Japan, the Spanish Civil War, Woodrow Wilson and the Six-Day War in the middle east). The third and final part of Practicing History includes editorials on the Vietnam War, Watergate and how we can learn from history if one would only listen. We have a hard time doing that as a nation. Why start now?
Tuchman always writes with sharp wit and humor. Practicing History is no different and does not disappoint.
Favorite quote, “To a historian libraries are food, shelter, and even muse” (p 76). I like this sentence so much I thought I was going to stop there. But, then I found this one: “Women being child bearers, have a primary instinct to preserve life. Probably if we had a woman in the White House and a majority of females in Congress, we could be out of Vietnam yesterday” (p 264). Swap Vietnam for any war torn country in the middle east and that statement is true today.
Author fact: I have seven Tuchman books on my Challenge list. After finishing Practicing History I will be halfway through the list.
Book trivia: Because these are simply Tuchman’s essays there isn’t an index or bibliography to support the narrative.
Nancy said: Nancy said Tuchman explains her thoughts about her craft in Practicing History (p 225).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the obvious chapter, “Barbara Tuchman: Too Good To Miss” (p 224).
Brands, H.W. Age of Gold: the California Gold Rush and the New American Dream. New York: Doubleday, 2002.
Reason read: May is history month.
January 24th 1848 is considered the date of the birth of the gold rush.
Age of Gold takes a thorough look at a slice of American history. Beginning in 1848 Brands introduces the reader to people from all walks of life, uncovering every story from land and sea across several continents. Part One describes in detail the first adventurers to travel from every corner of the earth to seek gold. It is here John Fremont is introduced for the first time. Part Two is an introduction to the frenzied hunt for gold: panning, picking, cradling, digging, mining, sifting, sluicing. Part Three sees the birth of California’s borders and governing body. San Francisco becomes the first city in the state.
Confessional: When I first heard Natalie sing “Gold Rush Brides” I wondered what she used for inspiration to write a song about the gold rush from the point of view of the women on the trail. Some time later Natalie read a passage from Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey collected by Lillian Schlissel before performing the song. I can’t help but think of this book in comparison to Age of Gold.
Author fact: Brands also wrote bestseller The First American (also on my Challenge list).
Book trivia: Age of Gold includes a great group of photographs.
Nancy said: Nancy called Age of Gold “wide-ranging and engaging” (p 20).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “American History: nonfiction” (p 20).
Preston, Diana. Lusitania: an Epic Tragedy. New York: Walker & Company, 2002.
Reason read: on May 7th, 1915 the Lusitania was torpedoed on her 101th journey from New York to Liverpool, England. This reading is in honor of that horrific anniversary, 102 years later.
1915 – the year when everyone was in competition to see who could build the biggest, the fastest, the safest, the most stylish luxury ocean liner on the Atlantic. In the meantime, war was underway so another group was trying to build the fastest, the safest, the most stealthy and deadly underwater vessel called a U-boat. On May 7th, 1915 these two ocean vehicles would come together and make controversial history and spark one of World War I’s biggest mysteries. In 1915 the British vessel the Lusitania was the fastest passenger liner on the ocean. It was rumored to be able to outrun any U-boat enemy. However, what is fascinating about Diana Preston’s version of events is the amount of suspense she builds in the telling. I found myself questioning what I would do if I was set to board a British passenger ship, knowing full well its country was at war and the enemy had just issued a warning to passengers (to me!) stating they would attack my mode of transportation. In addition, I had options. There were neutral American boats going the same way.
I enjoyed Preston’s Lusitania so much I sought out documentaries about the May 7th, 1915 sinking to learn more.
Cache of worthless information:
- Admiral Lord John Arbuthnot “Jackie” Fisher would have been a solid contender on Dancing with the Stars.
- Admiral Lord Charles Beresford had a hunting scene tattoo across his buttocks “with the fox disappearing into the cleft” (p 19). Thank you for that image, Ms. Preston!
- Businessman Elbert Hubbard’s wife’s preoccupation with potted plants got on his nerves.
Quote to quote, “A disaster always seemed necessary to bring about safety improvements (p 59). Isn’t that always the case?
Here’s another interesting quote, “A group of bellboys had spent the night before sailing electrocuting rats…” (p 133).
But, the most devastating quote to me is, “The German government regretted that the American passengers had relied on British promises rather than heeding German warnings” (p 334).
As an aside, I enjoy when a book educates me further on things I wasn’t aware I needed to know. Reading Lusitania prompted me to look up Leonardo Da Vinci’s underwater suit. I wanted to know more about Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt. His portrayed him as a dashing man.
Author fact: There is a saying out there, “stick to what you know” and Preston certainly subscribes to that point of view. She has written four other books about the sinking of the Lusitania. None of these, nor any other Preston books, are on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: at first glance Lusitania: an epic tragedy is a hardy 438 pages long. In reality, its text is more like 380 pages once you remove all the awesome photographs, maps and diagrams. There are 80 photographs, 5 maps, 7 illustrations and 5 diagrams in total.
Nancy said: Nancy called Preston’s account “fittingly moving” (p 76).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 900s” (p 76).