Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Robert Frost / Puerto Rico’s enduring agony / A Mediterranean megaflood / Men and mental health / Repealing the Second Amendment

This week: Robert Frost / Puerto Rico’s enduring agony / A Mediterranean megaflood / Men and mental health / Repealing the Second Amendment

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. A Bittersweet Journey Back to Puerto Rico After Maria
By By Luis Ferré-Sadurní | The New York Times | March 2018
“The Times joined a family on their return to Puerto Rico months after fleeing Hurricane Maria’s fury. The homecoming was not what they expected.”

2. Why Dictators Write
By Colin Dickey | The New Republic | March 2018
“What Saddam Hussein’s romance novels and Kim Jong-il’s film criticism reveal about authoritarianism.”

3. In Her Orbit
By Helen MacDonald | The New York Times Magazine | March 2018
“Nathalie Cabrol searches the Earth for the secrets of life on Mars”

4. America’s Most Widely Misread Literary Work
The Atlantic | March 2018
“Robert Frost’s poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ is often interpreted as an anthem of individualism and nonconformity, seemingly encouraging readers to take the road less traveled.”

5. A Megaflood-Powered Mile-High Waterfall Refilled the Mediterranean
By Katherine Kornei | Scientific American | March 2018
“Buried sediments near Sicily suggest water rushed into the sea’s partially dried-out eastern basin at speeds reaching 100 miles per hour”

6. A Brief History of Trump Insulting Women Who Call Him Out
By Lisa Ryan | The Cut :: New York Magazine | March 2018
“Here, a look back at Trump’s habit of degrading women who accuse him sexual misconduct or impropriety — or who simply dare to stand up to him.”

7. How Trump favored Texas over Puerto Rico
By Danny Vinik | Politico | March 2018
“A POLITICO investigation shows a persistent double standard in the president’s handling of relief efforts for Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria.”

8. Repeal the Second Amendment
By John Paul Stevens | The New York Times | March 2018
“Rarely in my lifetime have I seen the type of civic engagement schoolchildren and their supporters demonstrated in Washington and other major cities throughout the country this past Saturday. These demonstrations demand our respect. … But the demonstrators should seek more effective and more lasting reform. They should demand a repeal of the Second Amendment.”

9. We Asked People Why They Got Sober
By Graham Isador | Vice | March 2017
“In my life, most stories of sobriety had been fed to me through after-school specials or sensationalized retellings on the evening news. The following are stories from real conversations I had with friends about why they stopped drinking and drugs. At times, the stories felt both much bigger and much smaller than I had expected them to.”

10. Men don’t talk about mental health. They should.
By Jordan Rubio | Houston Chronicle | March 2018
“Going through such emotional lows has been deeply shameful to me. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just tough it out and get over it. I disparaged myself, thought myself weak and worthless and pathetic. The guilt of going through something like this haunted me as though it were a great sin.”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Caesar’s literature / A fashion show in 1968 / The genocide surprise / My Lai remembered / The history of natural disaster

This week: Caesar’s literature / A fashion show in 1968 / The genocide surprise / My Lai remembered / The history of natural disaster

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. Trump’s Man in Moscow
By Amie Ferris-Rotman, Emily Tamkin and Robbie Gramer | Foreign Policy | March 2018
“Most of Washington is scared to meet with Russians. Jon Huntsman wants to meet as many as possible.”

2. Caesar Bloody Caesar
By Josephine Quinn | The New York Review of Books | March 2018
“When Julius Caesar was thirty-one years old in 69 BCE, so the story goes, and serving as a junior Roman magistrate in Spain, he once stood lamenting before a statue of Alexander the Great because he had achieved so little at an age by which Alexander had already conquered the world.”

3. The Conversation Favourites
By BBC World Service | March 2018
“Meet the women who have inspired us”

4. The 1968 Fashion Show, the History Lesson Melania Missed
By Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell | Politico Magazine | March 2018
“It was supposed to showcase America First fashion. But not long afterward, manufacturing moved to China, and eventually, the Trumps moved into the White House.”

5. The Genocide the U.S. Didn’t See Coming
By Nahal Toosi | Politico Magazine | March/April 2018
“The Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations, primarily in the country’s Rakhine state, and have long faced severe discrimination from the Buddhist majority, which views them as illegal migrants. But this latest wave of violence is the worst in modern memory.”

6. 50 years ago, the My Lai massacre shamed the US military
By Tran Van Minh and Grant Peck | Associated Press | March 2018
“The American soldiers of Charlie Company, sent on what they were told was a mission to confront a crack outfit of their Vietcong enemies, met no resistance, but over three to four hours killed 504 unarmed civilians, mostly women, children and elderly men, in My Lai and a neighboring community.”
Also see, from American Experience: “My Lai,” a documentary film

7. Disasters Have Histories
By Chad H. Parker, Andy Horowitz and Liz Skilton | Process :: The Journal of American History/The American Historian | March 2018
“To many observers, disasters can seem like they erupt out of nowhere, in a catastrophic instant, but as historians, it’s our job to place them in time and space. So when I approach events like the recent storms, I start by asking: who was in danger? When did they arrive there? Why? Almost by definition, seeing disasters as products of history makes them seem less random and less inevitable.”

8. Today’s Eerie Echoes of the Civil War
By Manisha Sinha | The New York Review of Books | March 2018
“Even before what historians call the political crisis of the 1850s, the rise of an interracial abolition movement had encountered mob violence in the streets and gag rules in Congress. From then on, abolitionism in the United States was tied to civil liberties and the fate of American democracy itself. By the eve of the war, in 1861, most people in the northern free states felt that the democratic institutions of the country were being subverted.”

9. The Daring Diplomat Who Proved One Person Can Thwart an Empire
By Emily Ludolph | Narratively | March 2018
“A whistleblower puts his life on the line to defy Soviet aggression. Sixty years later, this forgotten story of subterfuge, smears and suspicious death has never felt more timely.”

10. Does anyone have the right to sex?
By Amia Srinivasan | London Review of Books | March 2018
“Desire can take us by surprise, leading us somewhere we hadn’t imagined we would ever go, or towards someone we never thought we would lust after, or love. In the very best cases, the cases that perhaps ground our best hope, desire can cut against what politics has chosen for us, and choose for itself.”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: White House chaos / A stolen puppy returns / Cardi B’s success / McMaster’s surrender / Racism in ‘National Geographic’

This week: White House chaos / A stolen puppy returns / Cardi B’s success / McMaster’s surrender / Racism in National Geographic

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. 32 Weeks: The making of a cop
By Emilie Eaton | San Antonio Express-News | March 2018
“A reporter and photographer from the San Antonio Express-News spent a year following a group of cadets to document their training at the San Antonio Police Department’s nationally recognized academy.”

2. Cabinet chaos: Trump’s team battles scandal, irrelevance
By Jonathan Lemire | Associated Press | March 2018
“One Cabinet member was grilled by Congress about alleged misuse of taxpayer funds for private flights. Another faced an extraordinary revolt within his own department amid a swirling ethics scandal. A third has come under scrutiny for her failure to answer basic questions about her job in a nationally televised interview. And none of them was the one Trump fired.”

3. A pardon expert emailed me his life’s work. Then he killed his two sons and himself.
By Gregory Korte | USA Today | March 2018
“A White House correspondent tries to reconcile a professor’s valuable contribution to the study of the presidential mercy with his horrific final acts.”

4. Does the Adult Brain Really Grow New Neurons?
By Helen Shen | Scientific American | March 2018
“The observation that the human brain churns out new neurons throughout life is one of the biggest neuroscience discoveries of the past 20 years. … But new findings in humans, reported online in Nature on Wednesday, pump the brakes on this idea. In a direct challenge to earlier studies, the authors report adults produce no new cells in the hippocampus, a key hub for processing memories.”

5. A Texas family had their dog stolen. It was returned the next day, injured and with a note.
By Fernando Ramirez | Houston Chronicle | March 2018
“Michelle Carnline, an Austin-area resident, said her family’s 6-month-old chocolate Great Dane disappeared from her backyard on a Sunday evening two weeks ago. At first, the family thought their dog, Landon, had somehow managed to escape. But after finding muddy human footprints in the backyard, it didn’t take long to realize what had happened.”

6. Ta-Nehisi Coates Talks Writing, President Trump, and Quitting Twitter For Good
By Doyin Oyeniyi | Texas Monthly | March 2018
“At his SXSW keynote speech, Coates shared the thoughts that he’ll no longer be tweeting.”

7. For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It
By By Susan Goldberg | National Geographic | April 2018
“We asked a preeminent historian to investigate our coverage of people of color in the U.S. and abroad. Here’s what he found.”

8. Cardi B: The Artist Thriving in a System Not Meant for Her
By Amy Zimmerman | The Daily Beast | March 2018
“Cardi B’s remarkable story is one of merit shining through in an industry and a country that’s far from a meritocracy.”

9. Introduction to Reading Other Women
By Rafia Zakaria | Boston Review | September 2016
“Literature can be a primary engine of dialogue and empathy, but it — or rather, the reading public — is often complicit in the silencing of global women of color.”

10. Dereliction of Duty?
By Jonathan Stevenson | The New York Review of Books | March 2018
“His rationale — or at least his rationalization — was likely that the position would best be filled by a warrior-scholar with the spine and rectitude to protect the country against Trump’s rash leadership.”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Al Pacino’s career / Denis Johnson / Remembering the Branch Davidians / W.E.B. Du Bois and America / Colin Powell on raising children

This week: Al Pacino’s career / Denis Johnson / Remembering the Branch Davidians / W.E.B. Du Bois and America / Colin Powell on raising children

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. Al Pacino on His Legendary Roles
By David Edelstein | Vulture | March 2018
“The actor discusses his first major New York retrospective.”

2. Astronomers get glimpse of dawn of universe 13.6 billion years ago
Associated Press | February 2018
“After the Big Bang, it was cold and black. And then there was light. Now, for the first time, astronomers have glimpsed that dawn of the universe 13.6 billion years ago when the earliest stars were turning on the light in the cosmic darkness.”

3. Lying Down in the Dirt
By Janet Steen | Longreads | February 2018
“An Interview with Denis Johnson”

4. The Ghosts of Mount Carmel
By Michael Hall | Texas Monthly | April 2003
“In the ten years since a devastating fire took the lives of 74 Davidians, a group of survivors has returned to the windswept plains east of Waco, like ghosts haunting the site of their former compound. A new church has been built at Mount Carmel, and inside, they listen to their leader preach the same apocalyptic doctrine, and they wait for David Koresh to return.”

5. 33 of the Weirdest Philip K. Dick Covers We Could Find
By Alicia Kroell | LitHub | March 2018
“Eyes, Brains, Babies, and Marilyn Monroe”

6. When W. E. B. Du Bois Was Un-American
By Andrew Lanham | Boston Review | January 2017
“Du Bois … fought furiously against persecution. He crisscrossed the country giving speeches, wrote passionately about his trial, and built a small but vigorous coalition that helped preserve social justice causes during a decade that tried desperately to strangle them.”

7. Trump’s Fantasies Meet the Harsh Reality of His Presidency
By Jeet Heer | The New Republic | February 2018
“He got rich by spinning a false narrative about himself. That strategy isn’t working in the White House.”

8. Kids need structure
By Colin Powell | TEDxMidAtlantic | October 2012
“How can you help kids get a good start? In this heartfelt and personal talk, Colin Powell, the former U.S. Secretary of State, asks parents, friends and relatives to support children, starting before they even get to primary school, through community and a strong sense of responsibility.”

9. The Afterlife of Pablo Escobar
By Jon Anderson | The New Yorker | March 2018
“In Colombia, a drug lord’s posthumous celebrity brings profits and controversy.”

10. Slavery and the American University
By Alex Carp | The New York Review of Books | February 2018
“From their very beginnings, the American university and American slavery have been intertwined, but only recently are we beginning to understand how deeply.”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: 2017’s few, terrible disasters / The life of former president Obama / An Inca code cracked / David Attenborough talks retirement / Eudora Welty, Margaret Atwood and the mystery of Mary Trump

This week: 2017’s few, terrible disasters / The life of former president Obama / An Inca code cracked / David Attenborough talks retirement / Eudora Welty, Margaret Atwood and the mystery of Mary Trump

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. Disasters pound North America in 2017; overall down globally
By Seth Borenstein | Associated Press | December 2017
“Disasters kill about 30,000 people and affect about 215 million people a year. This year’s estimated toll was lower — about 6,000 people killed and 75 million affected. Was it random chance, statistical quirk or better preparedness? Experts aren’t certain, but say perhaps it’s a little bit of each.”

2. Obama’s post-presidential life: what does his second act have in store?
By Tom McCarthy | The Guardian | December 2017
“‘There is nothing more pathetic in life than a former president,’ said John Quincy Adams — but a year on, what to make of our most newly minted ex?”

3. Favorite Visual Stories Of 2017
By Emily Bogle | NPR | December 2017
“In 2017, politics dominated the news cycle along with the solar eclipse and hurricane coverage in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.”

4. Margaret Atwood: the unlikely style soothsayer of 2017
By Hannah Marriott | The Guardian | December 2017
“Thanks to two hit adaptations of her books, the writer has had a big impact on fashion this year.”

5. Harvard student helps crack mystery of Inca code
By Cristela Guerra | The Boston Globe | December 2017
“The discovery could be a first step to unlocking far more Inca history.”

6. Humans can spot small signs of sickness at a glance, research suggests
By Nikola Davis | The Guardian | January 2018
“Humans may use a host of facial cues – visible just hours after an infection starts – to avoid contracting illnesses from others, study indicates.”

7. David Attenborough: I’ll retire if my work becomes substandard
By Graham Ruddick | The Guardian | January 2018
“In rare comments on subject of retirement, Blue Planet II narrator says physical problems could also force him to quit”

8. The ‘Nuclear Button’ Explained: For Starters, There’s No Button
By Russell Goldman | The New York Times | January 2018
“William Safire, the former New York Times columnist and presidential speechwriter, tracked the origin of the phrase ‘finger on the button’ to panic buttons found in World War II-era bombers. A pilot could ring a bell to signal that other crew members should jump from the plane because it had been damaged extensively. But the buttons were often triggered prematurely or unnecessarily by jittery pilots.”

9. Eudora Welty, The Art of Fiction No. 47
By Linda Kuehl | The Paris Review | Fall 1972
“Once the interview got underway, she grew more at ease. As she herself might say, she was ‘not unforthcoming.’ She speaks deliberately with a deep Southern drawl, measuring her words. She is extremely private and won’t reveal anything personal about herself.”

10. The Mystery of Mary Trump
By Michael Kruse | Politico Magazine | November/December 2017
“Donald Trump reveres his father but almost never talks about his mother. Why not?”
Also: Presidents and Their Moms, A Short History

Amerikan Rambler: Helena, Arkansas, and Southern History

From Sept. 2012: “I had the opportunity to visit Helena, Arkansas, a true Delta town about two hours east of Little Rock. The town has a lot of history.”

Helena produced more Confederate generals than any other southern town of its size. Unfortunately, the town has fallen on hard times. If you’re a history buff, Helena is well worth a visit. It contains not just a newly restored Fort Curtis, but also a terrific (and hilly) Confederate cemetery, not to mention the Helena Museum, the Delta Cultural Center, and the Phillips County Museum.

via Helena, Arkansas, and Southern History — Amerikan Rambler: Everybody Has a Story

Amerikan Rambler: Stonewall Jackson’s Arm

From June 2012: “Jackson had just helped Robert E. Lee win one of his greatest victories against a northern army that outnumbered the Rebels 2:1. Yet, it was a dearly bought victory.”

Stonewall Jackson was wounded at the battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863 by his own troops while scouting a mission in the dark. Anxious Confederate pickets thought he was a Yankee and opened fire on him and those riding with him.

via Stonewall Jackson’s Arm — Amerikan Rambler: Everybody Has a Story

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Obama is back / Celebrating Fiesta in San Antonio / Adrift commanders / What ‘The Last Jedi’ might destroy / Intellectual Trumpism / Man Booker Prize shortlist / The fading Rockefellers

This week: Obama is back / Celebrating Fiesta in San Antonio / Adrift commanders / What ‘The Last Jedi’ might destroy / Intellectual Trumpism / Man Booker Prize shortlist / The fading Rockefellers

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism. Learn more about me on Academia.edu and LinkedIn.

1. Obama making first public appearance of post-presidency in Chicago
By Jordan Fabian | The Hill | April 21
“It ends a three-month period of relative silence since Obama left office on Jan. 20, much of which he has spent on vacation in Palm Springs, Calif., on a Caribbean island with English billionaire Richard Branson and at an exclusive resort in French Polynesia.”

2. Cascarón Confusion? Your Guide to All Things Fiesta
By Jessica Elizarraras and Bryan Rindfuss | San Antonio Current | April 20
“Aside from urging you to hydrate, stock up on sunscreen and cash, here’s a quick explainer on what you should know about San Antonio’s largest celebration which runs from April 20-30.”

3. Trump Unleashes the Generals. They Don’t Always See the Big Picture.
By Eric Schmitt and Helene Cooper | The New York Times | April 20
“Taken together, the episodes illustrate how even the military’s most seasoned four-star field commanders can fail to consider the broader political or strategic ramifications of their operational decisions, and some current and former senior officials suggested that President Trump’s decision to unshackle the military from Obama-era constraints to intensify the fight against terrorists risked even more miscues.”

4. The Knight’s Move
By Gideon Lewis-Kraus | The Nation | April 19
“Can a new Trump-inspired intellectual magazine transcend its contradictions?”

5. The Man Booker International Prize 2017 shortlist announced
The Man Booker Prizes | April 20
“The settings range from an Israeli comedy club to contemporary Copenhagen, from a sleepless night in Vienna to a troubled delirium in Argentina. The list is dominated by contemporary settings but also features a divided Jerusalem of 1959 and a remote island in Norway in the early 20th century.”

6. Science confirms the incredible story of Lithuania’s Holocaust escape tunnel
By Sarah Birnbaum | The World :: PRI | April 19
“Shortly after the Nazis invaded Lithuania in June 1941, they started bringing groups of Jews from the nearby city of Vilnius, known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania, to the Ponar forest. The Nazis lined them up, shot them at close range, and tossed the bodies into pits.”

7. Will The Last Jedi destroy everything we think we know about Star Wars?
By Ben Child | The Guardian | April 19
“Was Yoda just an old fool? And why is Luke Skywalker calling for an end to the Jedi? Rian Johnson, director of Episode VIII, is veering into dangerous territory”

8. With the death of a patriarch, have the Rockefellers lost their power?
By Michael Kaplan | The New York Post | April 2
“When former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller passed away in 1979 of a heart attack, it was allegedly after having made love to his secretary. Steven Rockefeller shocked everyone by marrying Anne-Marie Rasmussen, his family’s housemaid, in 1959. In 1951, Winifred Rockefeller, great-niece of John D. Rockefeller, killed herself and two of her children inside their Greenwich, Conn., home. Ten years later, in 1961, while hunting down art in New Guinea, 23-year-old Michael Rockefeller was supposedly eaten by cannibals.”

9. Inspired by nature: the thrilling new science that could transform medicine
By Laura Parker | The Guardian | October 2016
“Jeffrey Karp is at the forefront of a new generation of scientists using nature’s blueprints to create breakthrough medical technologies. Can bioinspiration help to solve some of humanity’s most urgent problems?”

10. Party Hopping
By Dave Mann | Texas Monthly | May 2017
“As they lose sway among Texas Republicans, big businesses should try something radical: an alliance with Democrats.”

Book gems of 2016, Part 6

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on World War I and World War II, science, culture, and literature.

IMG_1422

Summer is upon us, and the season of leisure is the perfect time for new stories, characters, ideas, and adventures. Stillness of Heart concludes its occasional series of critical recommendations, from Civil War battle histories to memoirs, and from intellectual histories to photobooks almost as beautiful as the natural world they celebrate.

Read Part 1 of this 2016 series here and subsequent essays in this series here.

Finally … a brief look at some of the best works on World War I and World War II, science, culture, and literature.

David M. Lubin’s Grand Illusions: American Art and the First World War (Oxford University Press, 304 pp., $31.96) challenges us to appreciate how the trauma of war on individuals and on society as a whole has a powerful effect on how that society and its most creative minds express themselves through artwork. Political statement, illustration of shattered psyches, celebrations of victory and glory, reflections of societies that will never be the same again — the wartime and postwar motivations for beautiful and horrifying works analyzed in Lubin’s book were as varied and complex as the artists themselves. This valuable book reviews the work of famous artists and introduces us to previously unknown artists we must know about to fully understand the full spectrum of artwork from the Great War era.

Benjamin E. Jones’s Eisenhower’s Guerillas: The Jedburghs, theMaquis, and the Liberation of France (Oxford University Press, 336 pp., $23.96) reminds us that as the D-Day invaders floated off-shore and the paratroopers floated down from the sky, an Allied insurgency distracted, disrupted, or destroyed German operations in the hours and days before the invasion. This stunning book collects the stories of the daring teams that accepted incredible risks and executed impossible missions in the struggle to free France from Nazi domination.

Theresa Kaminski’s Angels of the Underground: The American Women who Resisted the Japanese in the Philippines in World War II (Oxford University Press, 512 pp., $27.95) offers a story of patriotism and bravery in the midst of brutal conquest. Four women contributed in different and priceless ways to the resistance efforts, the return of the American forces, and the final defeat of the Japanese invaders. Kaminski places their efforts in the larger historical context of the military operations, Japanese treatment of American prisoners, and the place of the Philippines in the overall calculus of Pacific strategy.

J. Samuel Walker’s Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs against Japan (University of North Carolina Press, 168 pp., $25), reissued this fall in a third edition, analyzes the contemporary debates over the use of the weapon, evaluates the intelligence available to the Truman administration officials at the time the decision had to be made, and includes fresh information from recently opened Japanese archives. The work masterfully illustrates the incredibly complicated considerations made by the Americans and the Japanese as the world — and warfare itself — stepped into a new era.

Miri Shefer-Mossensohn’s Science among the Ottomans: The Cultural Creation and Exchange of Knowledge (University of Texas Press, 262 pp., $55) pushes back against classic Western assumptions that the Ottoman Empire lost its cultural ambitions and interest in technological advancements — two key aspects of an intellectually vibrant entity — throughout the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, thereby dooming itself to (and justifying) European domination after World War I. Far from it, she argues, for the Ottomans retained their intellectual passion for new solutions to old problems, particularly in the field of communications, when, as early as the 1870s, they were one of the world’s leaders in telegraph technology. For centuries, the Ottoman Empire deliberately and nobly strove to create and maintain a rich creative and artistic culture, championing new inventions, embracing and improving innovations from other regions, and building on the mountainous achievements inherited from Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Safavids, and other great civilizations. This work refocuses academic attention on those accomplishments and challenges Western scholars and students to grant Ottoman civilization the credit and respect it richly deserves.

Apollo Pilot: The Memoir of Astronaut Donn Eisele, edited by Francis French (University of Nebraska Press, 192 pp., $24.95), promises to be an incredible story from an incredible individual. Eisele was selected for the Apollo 1 mission, the first in a series of manned missions to the moon. A training injury suddenly grounded him, and then news came that a fire killed the Apollo 1 crew, including his replacement. The disaster paralyzed NASA’s lunar program, and it was up to the next Apollo crew, including Eisele, to face down dual challenges: restart the Apollo mission program and also recover Americans’ faith in the grand endeavor. Apollo 7 did both. Eisele’s memoir of scientific triumph and personal tragedy brings a new dimension to the literature of space flight and of the heroes that won the space race.

Allan Metcalf’s From Skedaddle to Selfie: Words of the Generations (Oxford University Press, 232 pp., $19.95) promises to be a smart and light-hearted stroll through the history of American vernacular and the societies, cultural fads, fashions, and events that inspired or were defined by them. Metcalf’s work is a vital reminder that the stories behind common and colorful language, ranging from the Revolutionary era to today, are complicated but crucial elements of our nation’s history and cannot be underestimated.

Reading Debra Hamel’s Reading Herodotus: A Guided Tour through the Wild Boars, Dancing Suitors, and Crazy Tyrants of The History (Johns Hopkins University Press, 360 pp., $29.95) is like sitting on a beach near Bodrum, formerly Halicarnassus, with Hamel next to you, the classic book open on your lap, as she illuminates every incredible and sexy story — just the way Herodotus hoped we would enjoy his work.

James A. Michener’s Legacy (Penguin Random House, 144 pp., $16) re-appears on the literary stage with a new paperback edition. The 1987 novel centers on Norman Starr, loosely modeled on Iran-Contra figure Oliver North, as he prepares to answer for his actions before a congressional committee. He looks for moral strength in his ancestry, and the novel unspools an incredible cast of characters ranging across American history, each having played a part in forming the democratic republic Starr’s actions may have threatened.

******

Book gems of 2016
An occasional series
Jan. 3: Antiquity, Civil War, World War II, and space
June 22: Presidents and the political world
June 29: Texas and Texas history
July 6: Latin America
July 13: Slavery and the Civil War era
July 20: World War I and II, science, culture, and literature

Book gems of 2016, Part 4

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on Latin America.

IMG_1470

Summer is upon us, and the season of leisure is the perfect time for new stories, characters, ideas, and adventures. Throughout the next few weeks, Stillness of Heart continues its occasional series of critical recommendations, from Civil War battle histories to memoirs, and from intellectual histories to photobooks almost as beautiful as the natural world they celebrate.

Read Part 1 of this 2016 series here and subsequent essays in this series here.

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on Latin America.

Emily Berquist Soule’s The Bishop’s Utopia: Envisioning Improvement in Colonial Peru (University of Pennsylvania Press, 320 pp., $36) tells the story of an incredible intellectual and scientific endeavor: the Spanish and Indian study of the cultures, botany, agricultural, and topography of northern Peru. Directing the project was Baltasar Jaime Martinez Companon, a Spanish bishop who also added to the collection of specimens a nine-volume series of books filled with images from throughout the region and painted by the Indians themselves. He intended to use the shipment of artwork and specimens to reassure Spanish officials that his part of Peru would be prosperous and peaceful. But for modern scholars, his efforts entrusted to us a snapshot of the era’s scientific understandings, Spanish cultural biases, and Indian artistic talents.

Karoline P. Cook’s Forbidden Passages: Muslims and Moriscos in Colonial Spanish America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 288 pp., $36) is a groundbreaking examination of the symbolic and religious significance of Moriscos — Muslims who converted to Christianity — in imperial Spain and in the Spanish New World. Spain would allow only Christians with long, verifiable Christian lineages to settle in the Spanish territories, but many moriscos secretly made the journey despite the mortal danger. Cook explores how these men and women, some still practicing Islam, introduced their faith to a new world, resisted Spanish persecution, and fought for their religious and political identities in hostile Spanish courtrooms. Cook’s work reminds today’s readers that personal struggles in this land over immigration, one’s place in society, religious freedom, and identity are nothing new, and neither are the moral determinations made to protect and defend those inherent human rights.

David F. Slade’s and Jerry W. Williams’s Lima fundada by Pedro de Peralta Barnuevo (University of North Carolina Press, 648 pp., $85) promises to be a magnificent achievement. In 1732, Peralta, a poet in Spanish Peru, wrote an epic poem that championed the notion that Peru belonged to the Peruvian descendants of Spanish conquerors. It criticized an imperial power structure that advanced the Spanish-born over the Peruvian-born. He considered it one of his greatest works. Since 1732, only fragments of his masterpiece have been republished, but the entire poem was never re-issued … until now, almost three centuries later.

Rafael Rojas’s Fighting over Fidel: The New York Intellectuals and the Cuban Revolution (Princeton University Press, 312 pp., $35, translated by Carl Good) is an incredible analysis of the searing currents of political thought coursing throughout New York City’s intellectual world and of the debate over the Cuban Revolution intensified that thinking. Rojas creates a vibrant swirling galaxy populated by brilliant writers, volatile artists, ambitious politicians, and fevered revolutionaries, all fighting over the ideals and consequences of Cold War ideologies, nationalist dreams, and personal affinities and hatreds.

Jonathan Colman’s The Cuban Missile Crisis: Origins, Course and Aftermath (Oxford University Press, 256 pp., $31.96) promises a definitive history of the Crisis, based on new primary sources and wide-ranging historical research and analysis. In the light of recent developments in U.S.-Cuban relations, Colman’s work arrives at the ideal time for readers and students seeking to understand the tumultuous Cold War and post-Cold War history that casts a long shadow over that relationship and still threatens the hope of so many Americans and Cubans for a brighter future.

Cruz Miguel Ortiz Cuadra’s Eating Puerto Rico: A History of Food, Culture, and Identity (University of North Carolina Press, 408 pp., $27.95) is a classic of Puerto Rican culinary literature. It’s a virtual tour of Puerto Rican history that jumps from one essential food item to another, essentially combining them like ingredients into a complete and savory cultural meal. The framework also enables him to anchor his larger analysis of change over time, specifically how U.S. control of the island transformed how Puerto Ricans gathered, processed, and related to those foods, and what that means to Puerto Rican identity, citizenry, racial status, and economics.

For May 2017
Paulo Drinot’s and Carlos Aguirre’s The Peculiar Revolution: Rethinking the Peruvian Experiment Under Military Rule (University of Texas Press, no other information available) should be an extraordinary analysis of an extraordinary time in Cold War-era Peru. More information to come.

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Book gems of 2016
An occasional series
Jan. 3: Antiquity, Civil War, World War II, and space
June 22: Presidents and the political world
June 29: Texas and Texas history
July 6: Latin America
July 13: Slavery and the Civil War era
July 20: World War I and II, science, culture, and literature