Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: The secrets of Afghanistan / The female gaze on film / 2019’s best books / Loving and hating the New York subway / Boris Johnson and the future

This week: The secrets of Afghanistan / The female gaze on film / 2019’s best books / Loving and hating the New York subway / Boris Johnson and the future

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. Learn more about my academic background here.

1. The Afghanistan Papers: A secret history of the war
By Craig Whitlock, Leslie Shapiro and Armand Emamdjomeh | The Washington Post | December 2019
“In a cache of previously unpublished interviews and memos, key insiders reveal what went wrong during the longest armed conflict in U.S. history.”

2. ‘Hustler’s’ Greatest Trick Is Its Take on the Female Gaze
By Alison Willmore | Vulture :: New York Magazine | October 2019
“The intention is not to evoke the lust of the money-hurling mass of customers but to show us Ramona the way Destiny sees her, as this powerful, enviable whole.”

3. How photos taken from the sky are helping farmers
By Andie Corban and Kai Ryssdal | Marketplace | October 2019
“Technology is changing the way most of us work these days, and farming is no exception. There are several new ag-tech companies dedicated solely to making agriculture more efficient.”

4. Our 50 Favorite Books of the Year
LitHub | December 2019
“Highlights From a Year in Reading by the Literary Hub Staff”

5. I Still Kind of Love the New York Subway
By Maeve Higgins | The New York Times | December 2019
“Sometimes I wonder if I can stand many more years of unreliable service. Then something happens that gets me all mushy again.”

6. Could Boris Johnson Be the Last Prime Minister of the U.K. As We Know It?
By Jonah Shepp | Intelligencer :: New York Magazine | December 2019
“British — or rather, English — politicians a generation from now could find themselves in a downsized House of Commons, debating whether breaking up with the European Union was worth breaking up their own union as well.”

7. The worst takes of the 2010s
The Outline | December 2019
“The past decade had a lot of pieces that should have been left unpublished.”

8. How Fiction Can Defeat Fake News
By Amitava Kumar | Columbia Journalism Review | Fall 2019
“There is fiction and then there is fiction — falsities that lead to lynchings and riots. Both rely on storytelling, but that’s like saying soil is used both in gardens and in graves. The way language is used in each case is entirely different, if not opposed.”

9. A Tiny Leak Led to a Massive, Unexpected Collapse at Kilauea Volcano
By Stephanie Pappas | Scientific American | December 2019
“Its caldera’s dramatic, surprisingly slow collapse could point to other risks worldwide.”

10. The War That Continues to Shape Russia, 25 Years Later
By Andrew Higgins | The New York Times | December 2019
“Haunting images show how the first Chechen war humiliated post-Soviet Russia, exposed its weakness, strengthened hard-liners and enabled the rise of Vladimir V. Putin.”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Transgender troops / Deciding what’s sexy / Explain my shyness / Space in relationships / How to crack a whip

This week: Transgender troops / Deciding what’s sexy / Explain my shyness / Space in relationships / How to crack a whip

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. Transgender Troops Caught Between a Welcoming Military and a Hostile Government
By Dave Philipps | The New York Times | March 2019
“This has been an uneasy time for transgender troops in the United States military, caught between a commander in chief who wants them out and court injunctions that, at least temporarily, said they could stay.”

2. There are the 20 books travelers are always leaving behind at their hotels
By Andrea Romano | Travel & Leisure | September 2018
“Topping the list is Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel from 1985, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ which is now a Golden Globe-winning TV series.”

3. How I Learned to Embrace Power as a Woman in Washington
By Wendy Sherman | Politico Magazine | September 2018
“It took the better part of a career in Washington, where calcified work structures make it so difficult for women, to learn how to be comfortable owning my own power—a necessary step if you are to wield it successfully.”

4. Who Decides What’s ‘Sexy’ — And Who Pays for It
By Soraya Roberts | The New York Times Magazine | January 2018
“After more than 120 years of use, ‘sexy’ resists overnight reconstruction. We may try to chip away at Venus’s stone curves, but the transformation is slow and complex. Women can lay their claim to it … but a tradition of objectification persists.”

5. Why Am I Shy
CrowdScience :: BBC World Service | March 2019
“Is shyness down to nature or nurture – and how can you overcome it if it’s causing anxiety”

6. A coral reef cemetery is home to life in the afterlife
By Kelli Kennedy | Associated Press | August 2018
“[T]he Neptune Memorial Reef is home to the cremated remains of 1,500 people, and any snorkeler or scuba diver can visit.”

7. How a Uruguayan town revolutionized the way we eat
By Shafik Meghji | BBC Travel | January 2019
“Located on the banks of the Uruguay River and named after a 17th-Century hermit, the sleepy town of Fray Bentos produced one of the most influential food brands of the 20th Century.”

8. People Didn’t Used to Ask for ‘Space’ in Their Relationships
By Julie Beck | The Atlantic | December 2018
“The expression caught on in the 1970s and is now so common as to be a cliché — but it’s still as confusing as ever.”

9. How to declutter your mind
By Ryder Carroll | Ideas :: TED.com | February 2019
“Write down the things that you need to do, the things that you should be doing, and the things that you want to do.”

10. How to Crack a Whip
By Malia Wollan | Tip :: The New York Times Magazine | February 2019
“Bring the whip up to about eye level and then flick your wrist groundward. Repeat until you get a consistent burst of noise.”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: FEMA and Hurricane Maria / Dear Abby and #MeToo / Learn to be happy at Yale / Understanding Sarah Huckabee Sanders / Summer books, movies, and TV

This week: FEMA and Hurricane Maria / Dear Abby and #MeToo / Learn to be happy at Yale / Understanding Sarah Huckabee Sanders / Summer books, movies, and TV

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. FEMA Was Sorely Unprepared for Puerto Rico Hurricane, Report Says
By Francis Robles | The New York Times | July 2018
“The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s plans for a crisis in Puerto Rico were based on a focused disaster like a tsunami, not a major hurricane devastating the whole island. The agency vastly underestimated how much food and fresh water it would need, and how hard it would be to get additional supplies to the island.”

2. Plane Bae Teaches Us That Other People’s Lives Are Not a Movie for Us to Watch
By Dan Solomon | Texas Monthly | July 2018
“How a chance encounter on a flight to Dallas turned into an internet sensation, and why it shouldn’t happen again.”

3. Dear Abby, #MeToo
By Jessica Weisberg | The New York Times | April 2018
“[#MeToo] created room for the sort of discussions that once were restricted to, essentially, just one type of public space: advice columns. For decades, the columns were where women with creepy bosses or abusive husbands went to air their grievances.”

4. At Yale, you can take a course on being happy
By Billy Baker | The Boston Globe | April 2018
“The success of the class has been unprecedented. So many students signed up that the meeting space had to be moved to Woolsey Hall, a cavernous, cathedral-like auditorium typically used for things like symphony concerts. The sheer volume of students requires two dozen teaching fellows.”

5. Margaret Atwood on How She Came to Write The Handmaid’s Tale
By Margaret Atwood | The Folio Society :: LitHub | April 2018
“The origin story of an iconic novel”

6. The Puzzle of Sarah Huckabee Sanders
By Jason Schwartz | Politico Magazine | May/June 2018
“How a bright, competent and likable young operative became the face of the most duplicitous press operation in White House history.”

7. Hear Stanley Kubrick Explain the 2001: A Space Odyssey Ending In a Rare, Unearthed Video
By Matt Miller | Esquire | July 2018
“The director famously refused to give his interpretation of the sci-fi masterpiece.”

8. Summer Reading: Movies & TV
By Ben Dickinson | The New York Times Book Review | June 2018
New books about Bruce Lee, David Lynch, The Wire and 2001: A Space Odyssey, along with recommendations on new thrillers, true crime, travel, sports and more.

9. How Syria Came to This
By Andrew Tabler | The Atlantic | April 2018
“A story of ethnic and sectarian conflict, international connivance, and above all civilian suffering”

10. The Woman Who Brought Down Bill Cosby
By Neeti Upadhye | The New York Times | April 2018
“Andrea Constand is the only woman among more than 50 accusers whose complaint against Mr. Cosby has resulted in a conviction. A jury found him guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault.”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Iran’s conquest of Iraq / Great Texas beach reads / Watermelon feta mint salad / What China truly fears / Corey Flintoff on Russia

This week: Iran’s conquest of Iraq / Great Texas beach reads / Watermelon feta mint salad / What China truly fears / Corey Flintoff on Russia

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. Iran Dominates in Iraq After U.S. ‘Handed the Country Over’
By Tim Arango | The New York Times | July 15
“From Day 1, Iran saw … a chance to make a client state of Iraq, a former enemy against which it fought a war in the 1980s so brutal, with chemical weapons and trench warfare, that historians look to World War I for analogies. If it succeeded, Iraq would never again pose a threat, and it could serve as a jumping-off point to spread Iranian influence around the region. In that contest, Iran won, and the United States lost.”

2. Brexit followed by Corbyn in No 10 would put UK flat on its back — Blair
By Peter Walker | The Guardian | July 15
“[Former Labor prime minister] Tony Blair has warned that the combination of Brexit followed by a Jeremy Corbyn government would soon leave Britain ‘flat on our back,’ arguing that a deeply divided country needs a fundamental rethink of its political ideas.”
Also: Read Blair’s article here.

3. Why China’s leaders are so terrified of dissent
By Fred Hiatt | The Washington Post | July 13
“The answer, I believe, has something to do with the story China’s rulers tell their people, and maybe themselves, to cling to power.”

4. Wonderful Political Tales for Beach Reading
By R.G. Ratcliffe | BurkaBlog :: Texas Monthly | July 10
“Books that will take your mind off of Russians and Special Sessions”

5. A Conversation with Corey Flintoff: The Resurgence of Russia
Texas Public Radio :: YouTube | July 12, 2017
“TPR, in partnership with the World Affairs Council of San Antonio, hosted [the discussion on] June 23, 2017, at the McNay Art Museum.”

6. Maryam Mirzakhani, groundbreaking mathematician and Fields Medal winner, dies at 40
By Omar Etman | The Rundown :: PBS NewsHour | July 15
“She won the prize for a 172-page paper on the trajectory of a billiards ball around a polygonal table that has been hailed as a “titanic work” and the “beginning of a new era” in mathematics. Mirzakhani studied the complexities of curved surfaces such as spheres, doughnut shapes and hyperbolas.”
Also: Read her award-winning paper here.

7. Spain’s King Felipe VI addresses the British Parliament
SkyNews :: YouTube | July 12
The Spanish monarch’s speech followed a visit with Queen Elizabeth II.

8. Watermelon Feta Salad with Mint
ToriAvey.com | June 2011
“Even those of you who don’t like sweet, fruity salads may appreciate this one — the flavor is truly unique.”

9. How to Write an Internet Essay to Support Your Novel
By Gabe Habash | Coffee House Press :: LitHub | June 5
“You should probably write something about your book, now that it’s being published. But you are worried because you don’t have anything left to say about your book.”

10. Uncovering the brutal truth about the British empire
By Marc Perry | The Guardian | August 2016
“The Harvard historian Caroline Elkins stirred controversy with her work on the crushing of the Mau Mau uprising. But it laid the ground for a legal case that has transformed our view of Britain’s past”

Longreads: Robert B. Silvers, 1929-2017

“I believe in the writer—the writer, above all.”

via Robert B. Silvers, Editor of The New York Review of Books: 1929-2017 — Longreads

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Sinking Mexico City / The brief Trump presidency? / A lurking Hitler double / Michael Flynn’s symbolism / Big Mama Thornton’s soaring blues

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This week: Sinking Mexico City / The brief Trump presidency? / A lurking Hitler double / Michael Flynn’s symbolism / Big Mama Thornton’s soaring blues

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. Mexico City, Parched and Sinking, Faces a Water Crisis
By Michael Kimmelman | The New York Times | Feb. 17
“Unlike traffic jams or crime, climate change isn’t something most people easily feel or see. It is certainly not what residents in Mexico City talk about every day. But it is like an approaching storm, straining an already precarious social fabric and threatening to push a great city toward a breaking point.”

2. The Thinning of Big Mama
By Cynthia Shearer | Oxford American | Feb. 15
“She seems to have dwelt by necessity in the margins of prosperity and material success. Considering the successes of her many contemporaries and collaborators, as we listen to her music today … Big Mama’s story raises a persistent question: How could she flourish this way (however briefly) but ultimately fail to thrive?”

3. Michael Flynn, General Chaos
By Nicholas Schmidle | The New Yorker | Feb. 18
“What the removal of Flynn as the national-security adviser reveals about Donald Trump’s White House. ”

4. Austrian authorities seeking Hitler double seen around birthplace
By Michael Shields | Reuters | Feb. 11
“The man, estimated to be 25 to 30 years old, was last seen in a local bookstore browsing through magazines about World War Two, adding he had identified himself in a local bar as ‘Harald Hitler.’ ”

5. These books were beloved. But what happens after their owner dies?
By Laura Krantz | The Boston Globe | Feb. 17
“In this region of intellectuals, used bookstores find themselves inundated with calls as more baby boomers die and others downsize. At the same time, many libraries have faced budget cuts that make them unable to accept the extra stock, and the Internet has rendered many reference books useless.”

6. An essential reading list for understanding Donald Trump
By Pete Vernon | Columbia Journalism Review | Feb. 14
“[T]he profiles and investigative pieces on the list range from skeptical to outright hostile. But despite being burned time and again, Trump seems addicted to the limelight that comes with attention from the media. From Wayne Barrett’s early investigations into a little-known, Queens-born developer to Maggie Haberman’s look at Trump’s life in the White House, the president has welcomed journalists into his life in ways few politicians ever have.”

7. The Talk
Austin American-Statesman | February 2017
“For generations, black parents have had The Talk with their children about how to survive interactions with police: Don’t argue. Don’t get shot. Don’t give them a reason. Come home.”

8. Donald Trump is on his Way to the Second or Third Shortest Presidency in American History
By Ronald L. Feinman | History News Network | Feb. 15
“[Vice President Mike] Pence could … invoke the 25th Amendment, Section 4, with the approval of a majority of the cabinet, which would make Pence ‘Acting President.’ Some might call it a ‘palace coup’ but Pence could make a convincing case that it is too risky to leave Trump in power.”

9. The fire this time — the legacy of James Baldwin
By Lanre Bakare | The Guardian | Feb. 15
“His work fell foul of civil-rights-era binary racial and sexual politics but, as a new film shows, now Baldwin’s ideas are used to explain everything from Trump to Black Lives Matter”

10. The President Who Never Earned His Varsity Letter
By Michael Beschloss | HistorySource :: The New York Times | November 2014
“When Nixon ran for president a second time, in 1968, he quietly pondered recruiting the Green Bay Packers’ Vince Lombardi for his ticket — until his campaign manager (and later attorney general) John Mitchell discovered that Lombardi was a Democrat.”

Book gems of 2016, Part 2

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on presidents and the political world.

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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 presidents and the political world.

Editor Edith Gelles presents Abigail Adams: Letters (Library of America, 1180 pp., $40), a stellar collection of correspondence capturing the complexity, nuances, and uncertainties of the American Republic’s earliest era and of its first generation of political and intellectual leaders. It is a tribute to her intelligence, insight, bravery, and patriotic devotion. It is best read alongside John Adams: Writings from the New Nation, 1784-1826, edited by Gordon S. Wood (Library of America, 905 pp., $40). Taken together, the books illustrate a decades-long romance between a brilliant man and woman, the intellectual and cultural forces that shaped their lives, and an inspirational example for all Americans who should be just as devoted to the enrichment of their democracy as the Adamses.

Ronald L. Feinman’s Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman & Littlefield, 274 pp., $38) grimly examines the consistent danger faced by presidential candidates when the harsh public spotlight is perverted into a bullseye on their lives. Feinman turns the historic attempts and successful murders into case studies analyzing the government’s and public’s reactions to the crimes, providing fascinating and important perspectives on a too-often understudied aspect of presidential and political history. Mel Ayton’s Plotting to Kill the President: Assassination Attempts from Washington to Hoover (University of Nebraska Press, 376 pp., $32.95) takes a broader and more casual approach to the same issues, but from a different time frame and with many more details and anecdotes. They should complement each other quite well.

Seymour Morris Jr.’s Fit for the Presidency? Winners, Losers, What-Ifs, and Also-Rans (Potomac Books, an imprint of University of Nebraska Press, 462 pp., $32.95) arrives at the perfect time, just when Americans are overwhelmed from the campaign season’s speeches, news coverage, political ads, and scandals. If it makes us feel any better, previous generations of Americans did not have it much better. Morris unfurls an amazing and very colorful tapestry of personalities, ambitions, bizarre surprises, and the raw emotions of victory and defeat. Nothing better complements or enriches presidential history than the shadow history of the people those presidents defeated.

Jefferson Cowie’s The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics (Princeton University Press, 288 pp., $27.95) promises to be a fascinating and sobering reminder that any progress toward economic equality in American society is essentially paddling against the stream of traditional social and economic inequality. A strong, centralized, pro-active federal government forcibly reordered the democratic system to better benefit the lower-class citizens, from the early 1930s to the early 1960s, and that may be what is required for today’s America. Cowie’s book is not just a smart history but a call to action for today’s citizens and political leaders, along with a warning from the past of what resulted from inaction.

Marne L. Campbell’s Making Black Los Angeles: Class, Gender, and Community, 1850-1917 (University of North Carolina Press, 246 pp., $29.95) paints an extraordinary portrait of black families from the post-Mexican War era to World War I, illustrating how they grew, endured countless forms of discrimination, and struggled to build and sustain a viable community as the town steadily grew into an important city. Women, she discovered, were key to strengthening the relationships between different classes of black communities, thereby enabling their entire community to fight for economic independence, racial expression, and, ultimately, political power.

LBJ’s Neglected Legacy: How Lyndon Johnson Reshaped Domestic Policy and Government, edited by Robert H. Wilson, Norman J. Glickman, and Laurence E. Lynn, Jr. (University of Texas Press, 493 pp., $29.95), is an excellent essay anthology examining the lasting effects of Great Society legislation on modern American society, government, and economics. As the title suggests, the contributors argue that Johnson receives too-little credit for how his ambitions and political skills built the governmental and ideological architecture shaping today’s American society and the issues over which today’s loudest debates take place.

Doreen Mattingly’s A Feminist in the White House: Midge Costanza, the Carter Years, and America’s Culture Wars (Oxford University Press, 304 pp., $23.96) reminds us that the fight for feminism and equal rights could be difficult even under Democratic presidents. Costanza challenged President Jimmy Carter to support women’s right to choose, LGBTQ rights, and gender equality. She was a bright light in a dark America desperate for an undeniable and intelligent voice in the halls of power. Mattingly’s portrait challenges today’s generations to remember the heroic efforts that lead the initial assaults in the civil rights struggles still waged today.

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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

Book gems of 2016: Part 1

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As you plan your reading for 2016, consider these eight recently published or forthcoming titles. Watch for more recommendations and book reviews in the coming weeks.

ANTIQUITY
Mary Beard, classicist and author of the blog A Don’s Life, offers SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (Liveright, 608 pp., $35), a perceptive tour of the birth of Rome, the political entity, from the shadows of obscurity and its circuitous evolution into the Roman Republic. Step by step, she interrogates the traditional academic assumptions of its leaders, origin myths, and governing structures and analyzes them, often through the prisms of recent archaeological and historical discoveries, and presents a fresh and comprehensive history of Rome before its imperial era.

Richard Alston’s Rome’s Revolution: Death of the Republic and Birth of the Empire (Oxford University Press, 408 pp., $29.95) examines the chaotic and blood-soaked transition of the Roman Republic to Roman Empire. Another civil war erupted in 44 BC following the senatorial assassination of Julius Caesar, and in the end three men were left standing — Octavian, Mark Antony, and Lepidus. They agreed to share power and administer separate parts of the Roman world. Octavian governed Rome and the west. Antony took the eastern territories (basing himself in Alexandria, where he met Cleopatra), and Lepidus took the rest of Africa west of Egypt. Ultimately, however, Roman rule could not be shared, and Octavian eventually eliminated his partners, terminated the 500-year-old republic, and assumed supreme power as emperor of a new Roman Empire. Alston’s story effortlessly swings back and forth between experiences of Romans on the street and Romans in the halls (and bedrooms) of power as they all experienced, whether they realized it or not, one of the most significant political revolutions in human history.

CIVIL WAR
Simon Cameron, Abraham Lincoln’s first secretary of war, is remembered for little more than his departure under the shadow of corruption, incompetence, or intransigence. Paul Kahan’s Amiable Scoundrel: Simon Cameron, Lincoln’s Scandalous Secretary of War (University of Nebraska Press, 408 pp. $36.95) confronts the fog of historical negativity swirling around Cameron and argues that not only was Cameron a product of his time, his time was partly a product of him. Before joining Lincoln’s Cabinet — an intelligent political move on Lincoln’s part — Cameron was a political powerhouse in Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, present at the birth of the Republican Party, a key voice in formulating Northern military strategy, and an early supporter for inclusion of black Americans in the ranks of the Union forces. He witnessed, was a part of, or a target of the most important political and military debates before and during the early months of the Civil War. Kahan’s portrait of Cameron and his times reminds us to not overlook Cameron’s crucial influence and historical importance and to remember the larger political forces Lincoln needed to succeed.

As powerful men influenced historical events, even more powerful women influenced the men. Candice Shy Hooper focuses on four of these women in Lincoln’s Generals’ Wives: Four Women Who Influenced the Civil War — for Better and for Worse (Kent State University Press, 440 pp., $39.95). Jessie Fremont (wife of John C. Fremont), Nelly McClellan (wife of George B. McClellan), Ellen Sherman (wife of William T. Sherman), and Julia Grant (wife of Ulysses S. Grant) watched their husbands rise up the ranks of Union command, worried for their safety as they fought the biggest and bloodiest battles in the history of the Western Hemisphere, traveled around the war-torn country, and offered their opinions and guidance as politics and war coalesced into the same battlefield over supreme power. Hooper deftly (and amusingly) explores how the wives’ personalities and outlooks resembled those of their spouses. They viewed Lincoln either with contempt or respect. They encouraged their husbands to either undermine or support him, ultimately intensifying either their husbands’ intransigence, and thereby dooming them to removal from command, or challenging them to do better, thereby securing their husbands’ places in the pantheon of U.S. military history.

Kelly D. Mezurek’s For Their Own Cause: The 27th United States Colored Troops (Kent State University Press, 344 pp., $37.95) promises to go beyond the traditional unit history to illustrate why black Americans volunteered to fight in the Union Army, how they endured racism and unfair treatment and assignments, and what they expected from the democratic republic they had bled for and died to save. The free Ohio men that comprised the 27th USCT fought in North Carolina and Virginia, serving from April 1864 to September 1865, months after the Confederacy collapsed. They returned to Ohio determined to build better and stronger communities for their children, linked to the promises of the the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Their story further brightens the scholarly illumination of black veterans’ excruciating struggle to secure equal rights for all Americans and ultimately realize the promise of American democracy.

Richard M. Reid’s African Canadians in Union Blue: Volunteering for the Cause in the Civil War (Kent State University Press, 308 pp., $28.95) offers an exciting and fresh perspective on black Union soldiers who joined their American counterparts in the fight for freedom in North America. The transnational perspective sparks new considerations of the nature of black Northern societies that stretched far beyond international borders and cultures. It also contributes to the larger conversation about why men and women fought on either side in the Civil War. Reid’s Canadian soldiers join the array of other foreign soldiers — including Latinos from Mexico, Cuba, and the Caribbean — who fought their own larger world war for freedom and democracy.

WORLD WAR II
The process of intellectual preparation for the wars of the future is a complicated landscape for any historian to analyze and illustrate. But John M. Lillard’s Playing War: Wargaming and U.S. Navy Preparations for World War II (University of Nebraska Press, 224 pp., $39.95) offers the ideal vantage point for both scholars, students, and enthusiasts of military history. While other studies might underestimate the Naval War College’s interwar contribution to the U.S. Navy’s eventual strategies and tactics, Lillard argues that the College’s multi-level war games, experiments with new technologies, and perceptive simulations of the future wars all lay at the heart of U.S. victory in 1945.

SPACE
Astronauts inspire us like none others. Their scientific, technological, and intellectual achievements are unrivaled, their bravery in the face of certain death is unforgettable, and their patriotism is unassailable. They are the first to admit that what they achieved was the result of their participation in efforts that involved thousands of men and women around the world. They are also the first to remind their admirers that not everyone survived the journeys into history. Colin Burgess, Kate Doolan and Bert Vis collected the stories of sixteen Americans and Russians who died during their nations’ efforts to reach the moon in a new edition of Fallen Astronauts: Heroes Who Died Reaching for the Moon (University of Nebraska Press, 448 pp., $36.95). Some died in training accidents, others on the launch pad, and one died in an automobile accident. Fallen Astronauts promises to deepen the reverence for those who lost their lives, for those who dared to move forward, and for those who made it to the summit, never forgetting those they lost. Heroism transcended nationality, ideology, or culture.

******

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

Undiscovered countries: The books we need

Insightful celebrations of worthy works, considerations of upcoming titles, and general musings on great writing will all meet here on a regular basis.

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Stillness of Heart‘s range of popular and academic book criticism widened and deepened in recent years, and many more reviews are on the way. Insightful celebrations of worthy works, considerations of upcoming titles, and general musings on great writing will all meet here on a regular basis.

As always, the Stillness of Heart community of writers, readers, intellectuals, historians, journalists, and artists welcomes your ideas and recommendations. Tell us what we should be reading.

*****

Some of 2015’s best Civil War books … so far
Cold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaign, edited by Gary W. Gallagher and Caroline E. Janney
Defining Duty in the Civil War: Personal Choice, Popular Culture, and the Union Home Front, by J. Matthew Gallman
The Civil War and Reconstruction in Indian Territory, by Bradley R. Clampitt
The World the Civil War Made, edited by Gregory P. Downs and Kate Masur
Fortune’s Fool: The Life of John Wilkes Booth, by Terry Allford
The Smell of Battle, the Taste of Siege: A Sensory History of the Civil War, by Mark Smith
The War That Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters, by James M. McPherson
Learning from the Wounded: The Civil War and the Rise of American Medical Science, by Shauna Devine
Originally published in July 2015
“Publishers in 2015 offer excellent work that both casual and serious readers of the Civil War should know about.”

The Silent Enemy
Polio: An American Story, by David M. Oshinsky
Originally published in December 2014

“The United States battled polio long before it ever faced the Soviet hegemonic threat, but only during the Cold War did the U.S. achieve significant victories in the battle against the virus.”

From a flame into a firestorm
A consideration of the French Revolution and its unexpected consequences.
Originally published in September 2014
“Why the French Revolution devoured its own people”

Dealing with the real America
Puerto Rican Citizen: History and Political Identity in Twentieth-Century New York City, by Lorrin Thomas
Originally published in August 2014
“Dealing with Puerto Rico means dealing with the key issues of the 21st century. Few in the U.S. government may have the stomach for that rollercoaster.”

The wars over the war
Hospital Sketches, by Louisa May Alcott
Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War, by Charles B. Dew
The Revolution of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict, by Andre Fleche
The Union War, by Gary W. Gallagher
The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians 1861-1865, by Mark Grimsley
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs
“The North American Crisis of the 1860s,” by Patrick J. Kelly, in The Journal of the Civil War Era
“Who Freed the Slaves?” by James M. McPherson, in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society
“Who Freed the Slaves? Emancipation and Its Meaning,” by Ira Berlin, in Union & Emancipation: Essays on Politics and Race in the Civil War Era
Originally published in July 2014

“Nine key books and articles taken together can explain what led to the first sparks of civil violence and how those sparks ignited what evolved into the bloodiest and most important war in U.S. history.”

Endless Borderlands
Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, by Gloria Anzaldua
Peace Came in the Form of a Woman: Indians and Spaniards in the Texas Borderlands, by Juliana Barr
Walled States, Waning Sovereignty, by Wendy Brown
Pacific Connections: The Making of the U.S.-Canada Borderlands, by Kornel Chang
The Comanche Empire, by Pekka Hämäläinen
A Tale of Two Cities: Santo Domingo and New York after 1950, by Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof
Bridging National Borders in North America: Transnational and Comparative Histories, edited by Benjamin H. Johnson and Andre R. Graybill
Migra!: A History of the U.S. Border Patrol, by Kelly Lytle-Hernandez
The Line Which Separates: Race, Gender, and the Making of the Alberta-Montana Borderlands, by Sheila McManus
Border Dilemmas: Racial and National Uncertainties in New Mexico, 1848-1912, by Anthony P. Mora
Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality and the Law in the North American West, by Nayan Shah
Line in the Sand: A History of the Western U.S.-Mexico Border, by Rachel St. John
Bárbaros: Spaniards and their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment, by David Weber
“On Borderlands,” by Hämäläinen and Samuel Truett, in the Journal of American History
“From Borderlands to Borders: Empires, Nation-States, and the Peoples in Between in North American History,” by Jeremy Adelman and Stephen Aron, in American Historical Review
Originally published in June 2014
“Fifteen essays and books explore the borderlands field with passion and intelligence, daring their readers to leave behind their old worlds and follow them into new ones.”

The Battle for Boricua
Reproducing Empire: Race, Empire, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico, by Laura Briggs
Originally published in January 2014
“Is Puerto Rico the battleground for America’s intellectual future?”

Torn in the USA
Polio: An American Story, by David M. Oshinsky
Make Love, Not War: The Sexual Revolution: An Unfettered History, by David Allyn
Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939, by Lizabeth Cohen
Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class, by Jefferson Cowie
In Search of the Black Panther Party: New Perspectives on a Revolutionary Movement, edited by Jama Lazerow and Yohuru Williams
Quixote’s Soldiers: A Local History of the Chicano Movement, 1966-1981, by David Montejano
“Resistance in the Urban North: Trumbull Park, Chicago, 1953-1966,” by Arnold R. Hirsch, in the Journal of American History
“Crabgrass-Roots Politics: Race, Rights, and the Reaction against Liberalism in the Urban North, 1940-1964,” by Thomas J. Sugrue, in the Journal of American History
Originally published in September 2013
“Life, liberty, and the doomed pursuit of happiness.”

Nixon lurking in the shadows
Richard M. Nixon in books, in the news, on TV, and in my dreams
Originally published in December 2011

“Richard Nixon was in my dream last night. The post-presidency Nixon. The bitter, self-pitying, damned Nixon, coiled in the shadows of La Casa Pacifica in San Clemente, dark eyes glaring at the world as it spun on without him.”

Homo universalis
A reflection on my intellectual ambitions.
Originally published in July 2011
“I’ve always been blessed with a hunger for knowledge, a curiosity that often flares into full-blown passion for new arenas of experience, a curiosity perhaps sparked by a bittersweet frustration that I don’t know as much about literature, science, mathematics, history and culture as I think I should.”

Loreta Velazquez: The Civil War spy emerges from history’s shadows

lv

For my readers in San Antonio — if you’re as fascinated with Loreta Velazquez as I am, this presentation and discussion of her life on Thursday at UTSA should be a treasure trove of information.

I’ve included a PDF with more information:
Maria Agui Carter Flyer