Tag Archives: history

Sergeant Stubby: How a Stray Dog and His Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Stole the Heart of a Nation by Ann Bausum (2014)

stubbySergeant Stubby appeals to both military history buffs and dog lovers. This remarkable story follows James Robert Conroy and his brave canine companion, Stubby, from their early days to the battlefields of France during World War I, to their homecoming as heroes and then retirement. The soldiers’ lives during wartime are contrasted with the bond between soldier and dog. Photographs of Conroy and Stubby enhance the book.

In 1917, Conroy enlisted in the Connecticut National Guard and his unit became part of the 26th (Yankee Division) of the U.S. Army. Stubby was a stray that showed up at training on Yale University’s athletic fields and favored Conroy. He learned how to follow along with the soldiers as they paraded on the athletic fields and even learned how to salute. Stubby was smuggled and stowed away on the ship taking Conroy’s unit to France. Supposedly after officers became aware of Stubby’s presence, Stubby charmed them and became the official mascot of the unit.

James Robert Conroy returned to the States as a hero and Stubby became a celebrity.

Ann Bausum’s book was released to coincide with the 100th anniversary of World War I. If you are interested in reading further about World War I see All Time Faves: Our Favorite books about World War I.

March: Book One by John Lewis (2013)

marchbook1Jez, one of our Adult Services Associates, introduced me to this autobiography of U.S. Representative John Lewis written in a graphic novel format. I was skeptical that a graphic novel could adequately portray Congressman Lewis’ accomplishments as a young civil rights leader, but after reading several pages I found myself captivated by the narrative and accompanying illustrations. I learned that Lewis and other members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee used a comic book to educate civil rights workers about nonviolent resistance. It seemed fitting that Lewis would choose to write his autobiography as a graphic novel. My sole complaint is that March: Book One ends quite abruptly, and left this reader anxiously waiting for the next volume of Lewis’ autobiography.

The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter (2009)

The Monuments Men is a remarkable story of a unique chapter in the history of World War II. The author uses the key battles of the war in Italy, France, and Germany to document the story of the men who risked their lives saving the fine art treasure of Europe, which General Eisenhower saw as the symbols of “all that we are fighting to preserve.”

As Adolf Hitler was attempting rule the western world, his armies were seeking and hoarding the finest art treasures in Europe. A special force was created by the Allies to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture. Behind enemy lines, often unarmed, these American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Monuments Men, found and saved many priceless and irreplaceable pieces of art.

This book is recognition of the work of these brave individuals and a very good read.

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel and Brett Witter (2009)

My grandfather was a WWII veteran, plus I’ve always been fascinated by history. He spent time in Hawaii, New Guinea, and the Philippines, so my explorations of the war focused primarily on the home front and the Pacific theater.

My forays into WWII fiction covered Poland, England, and France, among others, but I had never before considered this slice of history. What happened to the irreplaceable artwork during wartime? Robert M. Edsel (with Brett Witter) explores that question in this fascinating study of a group of monuments men. In the real world, they were architects, museum directors, and conservationists. Now, they were racing across Europe in a war zone to preserve cultural treasures.

I love a personal take on history. It’s why I’m a fan of Unbroken, The Girls of Atomic City, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The Monuments Men is another exhilarating tale from the front lines. It’s a gripping combination of art, history, biography, war, and adventure.

Oh, and George Clooney turned it into a movie. Learn more about these heroes.

 

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan (2013)

For many years, authors have written about Jesus of Nazareth using the Christian Bible, historical works and their imagination. Recognized history outside of the Bible has little to say about Jesus (he was a Jew who was crucified under Roman authority) but much to say about his effect on western culture and civilization. Now in Zealot, Reza Aslan writes a description of Palestine at the time of Jesus to show how the man from the Gospels may have fit into that tumultuous time when our calendar began.

Aslan, a well-educated scholar of Christianity and other religions, writes to define Jesus as a special man much like other Zealots of his time but one whose miracles are not questioned through later centuries of controversy about his birth, divinity, and resurrection. Aslan emphasizes the confrontational aspects of encounters and parables in the Gospels to paint Jesus as a revolutionary against the Roman and Jewish temple authorities.

After the destruction of Jerusalem, Aslan believes Christian writers moderated the zealous teaching of Jesus from a revolutionary stance to one of a Kingdom beyond this world with mercy, justice and peace as its goals. Zealotry, that is excessive zeal and fanaticism, was seen to endanger the early Christian community by inviting violent repression from Roman authority. Aslan doesn’t give much value to the 2000 years of witnesses beginning with the Apostle Paul viewing Jesus as the Son of God. Christians may not find this work a best choice for Christmas reading.

 

Spotlight: American Musicals

Do you love the American musical? If so, then don’t miss the series of books on Broadway musicals by Ethan Mordden. The first book of the series, Make Believe: The Broadway Musical in the 1920s (1997) tells about all the composers, directors, and stars of the era. The series continues with a book for every decade up through the 1970s and ending with The Happiest Corpse I’ve Ever Seen: The Last 25 Years of the Broadway Musical (2004).

Here’s the books in between:

The Girls of Atomic City: the untold story of the women who helped win World War II by Denise Kiernan (2013)

Shrouded in secrecy, Oak Ridge didn’t officially exist despite its population of over 70,000 residents at its peak in 1945. Denise Kiernan unveils the amazing true story of the government’s efforts to harvest fuel for the atomic bomb by building industrial factories – and an entire town – from scratch in rural Tennessee. As a history major with an avid interest in World War II, I had never heard of this – so I’m guessing many others are unaware of this aspect of the Manhattan Project.

The Girls of Atomic City traces the lives of several women working in Oak Ridge for the war effort – which is about all they knew: that their job would help end the war, but no more. Workers were given just enough information to properly complete their jobs. Part military base (guards patrolled entrances), part small town America, Oak Ridge housed military and medical personnel, scientists, and skilled and unskilled laborers from all walks of life from across the United States.

Read this book – it provides a fascinating glimpse into a little known part of American history and effortlessly weaves history, science, biography, and ethics through vignettes about several strong women.

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson (2011)

Berlin in 1933 was no place for a peaceful university professor with a fun loving son, and a recently separated daughter looking for romance and adventure. Professor Dodd was not Roosevelt’s first choice for ambassador to Germany, but he accepted the appointment thinking it would be a good career move and give him time to complete his historical writing on the American Civil War.

The reader is greeted with an outrage by brown shirt paramilitary against an American doctor even before the Professor and his family arrive in Berlin. This outrage and others to come are initially regarded by the Ambassador and his daughter as isolated incidents that occur as Germany seeks to find its place among the powerful nations of the world. It takes some time for the Ambassador and his family to realize the dark nature of this German government.

Then in 1934, it became clear to the Dodds that the Nazis could not be trusted and would resort to clandestine and harsh measures to attain their goals. Dodd, through his critical communications, loses favor with both the U.S. State Department and his German hosts so that he and his family are required to leave Germany at the end of 1934. The reader can follow the narrative through this two year period with interest and gain some understanding of how the world did not recognize the great danger that was to come.

Find a copy of In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson today.

 

Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick by Paul Dickson (2012)

Bill Veeck was at different times the owner of the Cleveland Indians, the St. Louis Browns, and the Chicago White Sox (twice). Many people remember Bill Veeck as the baseball owner who brought Eddie Gaedel, a 3’7” tall man in as a pinch hitter in a baseball game between the St. Louis Browns and the Detroit Tigers in 1951, or as the White Sox owner responsible for Disco Demolition Night. Still others may remember him for the funny and outrageous but harmless promotions he conducted as owner of the Indians, Browns, and White Sox.

But he was much more than that.  He was a great humanitarian, an advocate of civil rights, a baseball fan’s owner who cared about the fans, a player’s owner who cared about his players, an employer who cared about his employees, an innovator who introduced many changes in the game, a patriot, a thinker, a listener, an avaricious reader and man who despite a severe physical handicap would never quit.

This is easily the best biography I have read in the last twenty years and maybe the best ever.  This book is especially for White Sox, Indians, and Browns fans. It’s for Cub fans too, as Veeck and his father had a profound influence on the Cubs as well (the ivy on the walls, Harry Caray and the singing of  “Take out to the Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch and others.)  But it is also for any baseball fan and for anyone who appreciates the story of man who lived a truly remarkable life. Read Bill Veeck: Baseball’s Greatest Maverick by Paul Dickson.

Chicago’s State Street Christmas Parade by Robert P. Ledermann (2004)

Reminisce about Chicago’s Christmas parade and other unique Chicago Christmas experiences. The first Chicago Christmas parade started in 1934 and signaled the start of the Christmas season. Although I never attended the parade, I enjoyed reading about it and viewing the photos of the floats, bands, and celebrities during various eras in this book.

More than half of the book features other Chicago institutions featured prominently at Christmastime: Carson Pirie Scott and Company, Berghoff Restaurant, Miller’s Pub, and Marshall Field’s. It brought back memories of going downtown and viewing the magical windows of Carson’s, Field’s, Wieboldt’s, and Goldblatt’s on State Street. Marshall Field’s was also well known for its main floor decorations and the great tree in the Walnut Room. Ledermann also wrote Christmas on State Street, 1940’s and Beyond (2002).