This account of what was essentially a legal lynching in the Florida of the late 1940s and early 1950s—endorsed and pursued against four innocent blacThis account of what was essentially a legal lynching in the Florida of the late 1940s and early 1950s—endorsed and pursued against four innocent black men by the local police and judiciary—is still depressingly familiar in the 21st century. In 1949, a young white woman called Norma Padgett claimed that she had been abducted and raped by four black men. Despite overwhelming evidence in favour of the men's innocence, the defense of the "flower of white Southern womanhood" required that all four—Ernest Thomas, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin—be hunted down, and either shot on the spot (as was the case with Ernest Thomas) or put on trial for their lives. Thurgood Marshall, later to become the first African American justice of the US Supreme Court, was one of the NAACP lawyers who defended the men—ably, but in vain, because no amount of evidence was going to lead to the exoneration of four black men in a Florida county whose sheriff was a known KKK member, a sheriff who had killed one of the accused, and would go on to murder at least one more of them.
While I could wish for more thorough footnoting at points, and while I feel that there's a little too much of that popular history genre tendency to tell us what someone "must have" felt or thought, Gilbert King's account is a powerful one. It is a thorough-going indictment of the racism inherent in the US justice system, and of how the willful ignorance and complacency of white people enables the perpetuation of that racism. Devil in the Grove is a horrifying and uncomfortable read—and because of that, a necessary one. ...more
Kathryn Burns' Colonial Habits looks at the roles played by three convents—the Clarissan Santa Clara, the Dominican Santa Catalina and the Carmelite SKathryn Burns' Colonial Habits looks at the roles played by three convents—the Clarissan Santa Clara, the Dominican Santa Catalina and the Carmelite Santa Teresa—in the economic and social life of Cuzco from the mid-sixteenth through to the nineteenth centuries. Using primarily the convents' own archives, Burn shows how the ties between the convents and local elite families allowed the nuns who lived there to play a key role in regional economic development. They also provided a refuge for women and for orphaned children, as well as an education for the offspring of noble families; in their internal convent hierarchy, the distinction between nuns of the black veil and nuns of the white veil preserved external social destinctions between criolla and mestiza. Just as with their medieval European foremothers, these religious women were not cut off from the wider world by the simple fact of their claustration.
Burns writes clearly and with nuance, and is able to drawn upon an enviably wide array of empirical and statistical data relative to what is often available to those of us working on medieval and early modern religious women. There are some things, of course, which are not recoverable given the extant sources—there is little here about the interior lives of these women—and Burns clearly finds the earlier colonial period far more interesting than the late eighteenth and nineteenth century periods of decline and shifting focuses. However, this is still a very useful and interesting study of communities of unjustly marginalised women. ...more
This is an absorbing and meticulously detailed biography of Malcolm X. It isn't definitive, as Marable readily admits, largely because how much FBI doThis is an absorbing and meticulously detailed biography of Malcolm X. It isn't definitive, as Marable readily admits, largely because how much FBI documentation on Malcolm's life remains classified. It's still an impressively thorough biography; while I haven't read the Autobiography, it's clear that Marable is attempting to write a counterpoint to that work which strips away much of the hagiographical mystique that has come to surround Malcolm in the years since his murder. Marable follows Malcolm through his life's numerous "reinventions": from the young Malcolm Little of Omaha, Nebraska, to zoot-suited petty criminal to divisive, conservative black nationalist to orthodox Muslim campaigner for human rights. The man Marable writes about is a profoundly flawed individual who was nonetheless brilliant and committed to his work, a polished rhetorician, who was clearly killed just at the moment when he was about to reinvent himself again. Definitely recommended. ...more
This slim book is a very interesting look at how a community of Western Apache people—centered around the village of Cibecue, Arizona—conceive of theiThis slim book is a very interesting look at how a community of Western Apache people—centered around the village of Cibecue, Arizona—conceive of their relationship with their past, the process of passing on their culture, and how they view the physical world around them. "Wisdom Sits in Places" is more than a catchy title; it is how the Apache themselves think of 'wisdom'. It's something which is gained from a long meditation on the symbolic dimensions of the physical landscape, and on the stories which are linked to particular locations through place names. Indeed, the Apache people see the land around them—their continual contact with it, how they have shaped it and named it, and how they continue to remember those moments of naming—as being a far better means of understanding themselves as a people than an abstract process of placing discrete events into a linear chronological narrative (in other words, the Euro-American historical tradition). Really fascinating reading. ...more
The Inventor and the Tycoon is readable, but I think that's more in spite of Edward Ball's writing than because of it. The subject matter is great: EaThe Inventor and the Tycoon is readable, but I think that's more in spite of Edward Ball's writing than because of it. The subject matter is great: Eadweard Muybridge, an Anglo-American who was as notorious for the murder he committed as for his pioneering photographs and Leland Stanford, the railroad tycoon and founder of Stanford University. Both men played key roles in the history of 19th century California, and both were utter bastards to boot. Great fodder for a book, right?
Sadly, The Inventor and the Tycoon could profitably be used in the college classroom as an example of how not to write history. Ball's narrative jumps backwards and forwards in time for no good reason; I think he was attempting to add drama, but all of his attempts fall flat. The same information is often given three or four times, the thematic links which Ball could have emphasised are often ignored, and Ball has a terrible penchant for speculating about what someone "might have thought" and for reading people's character through portrait photography. Yes, someone might well seem distant and reserved in a mid-19th century formal portrait, when the subject had to hold themselves still for a minute or more in order not to spoil the shot—that doesn't give us some deep insight into their personality! Someone needed to go through this manuscript with a red pen, excise a hundred pages and rearrange the rest in order for this to work. ...more
This is an interesting look at the impact of Martin Luther King's assassination on American politics and racial discourses. April 4, 1968 was publisheThis is an interesting look at the impact of Martin Luther King's assassination on American politics and racial discourses. April 4, 1968 was published just before Barack Obama won the Democratic presidential nomination, and so now feels very incomplete as an analysis of MLK's legacy. Still, Dyson's consideration of how various leaders have taken on the mantle of charismatic black leader in the years after MLK's assassination is mostly an incisive one, and while more commentary than empirical, well worth the read. The one thing which I was really iffy about was the rather hokey epilogue, in which Dyson conducts an imaginary interview with MLK on his 80th birthday. Not only does it read like poor MLK fanfiction, but it makes of the man just the kind of paragon which Dyson was trying to deconstruct throughout the rest of the book. ...more
This is a pretty entertaining, if somewhat shallow, slice of pop history which derives much of its verve from its vivid subject matter: the EverleighThis is a pretty entertaining, if somewhat shallow, slice of pop history which derives much of its verve from its vivid subject matter: the Everleigh Club, an exclusive, world-famous brothel founded in fin de siècle Chicago, populated by Balzac-quoting prostitutes and run by sisters Minna and Ada. Sin and the Second City covers the club's foundation, its rise to notoriety, its ongoing battle with reformers and religious campaigners, and its eventual closure, and it rattles along at a breezy pace.
As a narrative, it's very readable, a sort of nonfiction equivalent of an airport thriller, though as history it's much less satisfying. There are things which Abbott claims are unknown which she could surely have made an attempt at verifying (though I'm sure that doing so would remove a little of the story's glamour and mystique), things which she states as fact which are surely invented (how on earth does she know what people were thinking or feeling at particular moments?), things which are not explored as thoroughly as they could be (race, gender; the fates of some of the prostitutes who passed through the Everleigh Club, because I'm sure some of them at least could be traced).
Abbott's desire to romanticise the sisters—so much classier than those other madams! and of course she never even tries to question their assertions that they never engaged in the practice of buying women or coercing them into prostitution, though by her own account they barter with another madam over a prostitute at least once—is super problematic on a couple of levels, particularly a class one. Have sex with someone for 50 cents: Awful! Be referred to in the text as a whore! Have sex with someone for $500: Well, nothing inherently wrong with that! Be referred to in the text as a courtesan! Blergh.
Great subject matter, but could probably be treated much more thoughtfully by another writer. ...more
I picked up this book because I was curious to learn more about Sojourner Truth beyond the vague outline I'd picked up: a nineteenth century African-AI picked up this book because I was curious to learn more about Sojourner Truth beyond the vague outline I'd picked up: a nineteenth century African-American woman who'd campaigned for an end to slavery and for women's rights, a towering figure known for addressing a white audience with her famous "Ain't I a woman?" speech. And it turns out that preconceptions like that are Nell Irvin Painter is trying to undo with this biography. Painter ably demonstrates that Truth's life has been co-opted and transformed by the need of later writers—feminists, womanists, social justice activists in particular—to create an iconic image of a Strong Black Woman, often by ignoring the documentary evidence about Truth's life. Truth likely never said "Ain't I a woman?", but the myth is often more enticing (and less challenging) than the reality. I would actually have liked to have seen more of the book devoted an exploration of that symbolism, and to a dissection of the ways in which even eminent historians of American history like Linda Kerber have fallen prey to the myth-making. However, the space which Painter devotes to the postbellum women's rights movement in the States is very absorbing and makes good use of the sources (though I have to say, as a medievalist, I found Painter's frequent complaints about the paucity of the sources amusing—while it's true that they're fewer than we would like, and there are none from Truth's point of few as she was illiterate, there are still far more things that we know about Truth than we do about the vast majority of medieval European women, regardless of colour or social status.)...more
Drift is probably not a book you'll want to read in public—by which I mean, not that it's a book you'll be embarrassed to be seen with, but rather thaDrift is probably not a book you'll want to read in public—by which I mean, not that it's a book you'll be embarrassed to be seen with, but rather that it's one that will make you exclaim a lot. Things like "Wait, that's legal?" or "No one got prosecuted for that?!" or "There's an unexploded nuclear bomb sitting somewhere in a swamp in which part of North Carolina?" Yes, you read that correctly: the remains of a 3.8 megaton nuclear bomb, lost in the crash of a US Air Force plane in the 1960s, are still about 100ft below the surface of a swampy field near Goldsboro, North Carolina. If it were ever to blow up, it would have a 100% kill zone extending out to 17 miles around it, a force twice that of the Hiroshima or Nagasaki explosions.
That's something to keep you awake at night. Especially when you realise that's one of eleven nuclear bombs which the United States military has lost track of over the years. Eleven. (This is one reason why nuclear power frightens me.) And I'm not sure if that count includes the time that two US military dirty bombs exploded in Spain.
Maddow's book explores how war as waged by the United States has drifted from something fought by the US Army after a joint decision by Congress and the President, to something fought primarily by secretive (and mindbogglingly expensive) contractors, with engagement decided by executive fiat and Congress' approval sought later, if at all. She traces the progress of this drift from the aftermath of the Vietnam War, accelerating under Reagan and Bush I, to be accepted seemingly as normal by all later presidents. Some of what she talks about I already knew, albeit in a vague sort of way; other things were new to me, as I was far too young to understand, say, the Iran-Contra scandal at the time and it's not exactly a part of contemporary Irish political discourse. It all made me raise my eyebrows more than once—I think I'm going to have to search out a book now which explains why on earth Americans love Ronald Reagan so much. Is it the same kind of willful self-delusion which still makes some Irish people think that Charlie Haughey was anything other than a self-serving, criminal asshole?
Maddow's style is engaging and conversational, and in written form she indulges in fewer of the verbal tics that occasionally make her MSNBC show irritating to me. Fascinating, and probably necessary, reading....more
This is a really exemplary piece of scholarship, as Ulrich uses the diary of a rather obscure woman—Martha Moore Ballard, a midwife from the small towThis is a really exemplary piece of scholarship, as Ulrich uses the diary of a rather obscure woman—Martha Moore Ballard, a midwife from the small town of Hallowell, Maine—to tease out a history of life in late eighteenth century America. Ulrich uses the diary as a springboard to talk about a wide range of social and political issues—everything from sexual morality (40% of the deliveries Martha carried out were births to unmarried women!) to changes in attitudes towards medicine to politics and religion—comparing and contrasting it with other surviving (male-authored) sources from the time.
The picture we get is of a world in which women had much greater involvement in the social and economic life of their communities than "traditional" historical narratives would have us believe. There are no "angels in the home" here, just women trying their best to make a living despite domestic strife and political turmoil. Ulrich writes clearly and I think how she uses her evidence is a model for all historians, no matter the field, because of how measured and balanced she is. Fascinating, and an impressive accomplishment—Ulrich has really succeeded in bringing back to life a woman who would otherwise be largely forgotten....more
This is a really interesting, thoughtful book about Hawaii during the Second World War. The island chain was seen as unimaginably foreign by servicepeThis is a really interesting, thoughtful book about Hawaii during the Second World War. The island chain was seen as unimaginably foreign by servicepeople, both white and black, stationed there from the U.S. mainland—its ethnic diversity and the degree to which the different populations interacted, while far from making Hawaii a bastion of racial harmony and equality, marked it out as being entirely unlike the still provincial and segregated Lower 48. Yet Hawaii was still an American territory, and seen as being on the front lines of the war.
Bailey and Farber don't attempt any radically new arguments (as far as I know; neither U.S. nor Hawaiian history are my forte) or innovative methodology here, but they write with a quiet empathy which is very pleasant to read. The use of copious primary sources—taken from letters, diaries, and interviews—really helps the reader to conjure up the claustrophobic, overcrowded nature of Hawaii, in particular Oahu, from '41 to '45. There are some very interesting and revealing anecdotes, which show both the absurdity, the cruelty, and the real world ramifications of classification by race. For example, the fact that in the pre-war census, the tiny black population on the islands was largely of Puerto Rican descent. However, Puerto Ricans were mostly of white Hispanic descent, and were classed as such on the census, so almost the entire black population of Hawaii was classified as Caucasian, according to the census—in other words, there were officially no black people!
A highly readable book, and definitely recommended if you have an interest in its subjects....more
This is a really magisterial overview of the US Civil War, especially when one considers the sheer amount of material that McPherson compresses down iThis is a really magisterial overview of the US Civil War, especially when one considers the sheer amount of material that McPherson compresses down into less than a thousand pages. I was left longing for coverage of other aspects of the war—what women were doing; the social impact; more things from an African-American perspective—but McPherson clearly set out to write the political and military history of the war, and in that he succeeds triumphantly. It's clearly a work of synthesis—my impression was that the majority even of his quotes from primary sources came from other secondary sources—but McPherson seems to have weighed them all well, and he gives arguments, ideologies and actions from both North and South their due. As a non-American, I started this book with only a sketchy knowledge of the war's events, but finished it both with a much better understanding of how it has shaped modern America (and indeed modern Americans' conceptions of their country) and firmly convinced that the cause of the war was slavery, not states' rights. Highly recommended....more
The product of extensive archival research, The Hemingses of Monticello traces three generations of an enslaved African-American family in the eighteeThe product of extensive archival research, The Hemingses of Monticello traces three generations of an enslaved African-American family in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The tale of the Hemings family, unlike those of most enslaved families, is at least partially recoverable by historians because of their relationship with Thomas Jefferson, who had a decades long relationship with Sally Hemings and had at least six children by her. In an earlier work, Gordon-Reed proved conclusively that, despite the dismissal of earlier (white) historians, Jefferson really was the father of those children; in this book, she attempts to trace the relationship of Jefferson and Hemings and to place them in the context of contemporary racial, gender and political relations. Because of the paucity of sources, Gordon-Reed also looks outwards to other members of Hemings' wider family and examines the roles which they took on in Monticello and in their wider community.
Gordon-Reed mostly writes well, and I think a lot of what she's saying is plausible. But here's the problem: she's not a historian. She holds a history chair at Harvard, but she has no graduate level training in history. She's a lawyer, and it's very obvious that this book was written by a lawyer. Lawyers are trained to see the possibilities and build a story they're going to sell on behalf of their client, and that's what Gordon-Reed is doing here a lot of the time. There are times when I buy what she's saying, but there were a lot more moments when I balked. She has very scanty evidence from which to work, but builds a huge scaffold on it by using maybes and most likelys and must have felts; there are even times when she makes a case for how the dynamic between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson operated based on how heterosexual relationships operated "throughout history." (e.g. "Youth in females has attracted men in all eras across all cultures"; no heterosexual man can live in a house with a young woman without it leading to sexual attraction/involvement, etc.) I mark down undergrad history papers for using that phrase—really, you're going to make a case for some essential kind of heterosexual relationship across time and space? you're going to make the case that heterosexuality is a universal, timeless construct?—and it really shouldn't be appearing in a prize winning work of history.
I'm also left intensely uneasy by her insistence that the relationship between Hemings and Jefferson must have been one of love, and that those who refer to sexual relationships between white male slaveowners and their black female slaves as one of rape do so out of a desire to degrade black female sexuality. It's possible, she argues, for people to fall in love even in such circumstances. Well, perhaps; but the logic of emotions which Gordon-Reed uses to argue her case seems a tad anachronistic, and requires a lot of straw man arguments (she doesn't cite anyone who actually argues what she says people are arguing). There's room to argue for black female agency in the America of the early Republic without denying that enslaved women regularly faced rape, coercion, exploitation, and other forms of abuse.
The Hemingses of Monticello is perhaps a little too dry and too repetitive for those who don't have an interest in the history of race/gender/slavery at the time (the book could easily have been 100 pages or so shorter), and I wished that Gordon-Reed had given us some more information at the end about the later lives of Hemings' and Jefferson's four surviving children, but despite these quibbles, this is still an interesting read....more
Slightly piecemeal, but still interesting and highly readable introduction to the history of feminism, the writing of women's history, and some notablSlightly piecemeal, but still interesting and highly readable introduction to the history of feminism, the writing of women's history, and some notable female historical figures. In only 200 pages, it's hard for Thatcher Ulrich to really cover anything in depth, and I think for anyone who's done extensive reading in the field, it would be a little simplistic. I will, however, keep it in mind as something to recommend to people who are only starting to explore the field and want to understand how women's experiences shape, and are shaped by, their societies. ...more
Henrietta Lacks, a young African-American mother of five children, died in Baltimore in 1951 from a highly aggressive form of cervical cancer—but moreHenrietta Lacks, a young African-American mother of five children, died in Baltimore in 1951 from a highly aggressive form of cervical cancer—but more than fifty years after her death, part of her lives on in the form of HeLa, a cell line cultivated from a tissue sample of hers which played a key role in several major scientific and medical breakthroughs. Skloot's book tells Lacks' story, partly to pay tribute to a woman who was forgotten by all but her family for many years despite her importance to medicine; partly in order to examine the complex attendant issues of medical ethics, race and class.
Skloot's writing is fluid and accessible, and I learned some things which were shocking though not surprising to me (see the organ retention scandal which broke in Ireland a few years ago). That said, I would have liked for a stronger focus on the ethics and the science aspect of the novel and less on the lives of Lacks' children and other relatives. Skloot's focus on them and on some of the more unpalatable aspects of their lives felt quite voyeuristic to me at points, recounted not because Skloot wanted to examine the effects of the vicious cycle of poverty on people's lives but because it would inject more drama into the book. The author talks at length about the less-than-pure motivations of those who had previously profited from Lacks' cells, and their refusal to compensate Lacks' family in any way, about how she was financing her research with credit cards and student loans—and yet her end-goal was always to acquire a book deal, and her account of her relentless attempts to get in touch with members of the Lacks family made me highly uncomfortable. Much of the latter half of the book dealt with the relationship between Skloot and Deborah, Henrietta Lacks' youngest daughter—again, uncomfortable to read about at several points, and not especially relevant to the book's main thrust.
Overall, an interesting read, but I feel that The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks could easily have been edited down to half its length—and focused more on Henrietta because of it....more
This is a brief, quirky and sharp history of Hawaii in the nineteenth century, from the early contact of its people with Europeans and Americans to thThis is a brief, quirky and sharp history of Hawaii in the nineteenth century, from the early contact of its people with Europeans and Americans to the cowardly, shameless way in which the kingdom was annexed by the United States. Vowell writes not with mere sympathy for the Hawaiian people, but with empathy as well, seeing in their history strong parallels with the treatment of her own Cherokee ancestors. She has a talent for a wryly devastating turn of phrase—reading, I was often reminded of Eddie Izzard's sketch in Dress to Kill, in which he talks about the Pilgrims arriving in America and telling the indigenous peoples there, "Sorry we were a bit brusque when we first arrived, we didn’t realise you owned the entire country! But you have no system of land ownership? Hmm, interesting, maybe that can come in useful later… Hmm? Yes there are more of us coming, but don't worry—we all keep our promises." Definitely recommended as an introduction to the history of the islands....more
This is a really fascinating book, using the Battle of Little Big Horn—or the Battle of the Greasy Grass, as it is known to the Lakota—as a lens throuThis is a really fascinating book, using the Battle of Little Big Horn—or the Battle of the Greasy Grass, as it is known to the Lakota—as a lens through which to examine the history of the Lakota people in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Marshall is a Sicangu Lakota, and draws on the oral history of his people as his primary source. He doesn't write chronologically but thematically, using events immediately before, during, and after the battle as pivot points around which he can examine pre and post-reservation Lakota society. This does result in some narrative redundancy, but overall it's an interestingly elliptical approach, and I felt that I learned a lot despite the book's brevity. ...more
A ground-breaking autobiography, made all the more vivid when you consider that it was written by a man who was forbidden from learning how to read. DA ground-breaking autobiography, made all the more vivid when you consider that it was written by a man who was forbidden from learning how to read. Douglass' remarkably restrained account of the horrors of slavery gives extra power to the narrative—especially when he discusses how an appearance of piety can hide the worst of sins. I will have to keep an eye out for a biography of Douglass' later life; I am very interested to know more about what became of him after he escaped to freedom....more
An interesting if slightly disorganised work, Under the Banner of Heaven examines the history of religious fundamentalism within the Mormon church andAn interesting if slightly disorganised work, Under the Banner of Heaven examines the history of religious fundamentalism within the Mormon church and some of its off-shoots. Krakauer frames his narrative around the horrific case of Dan and Ron Lafferty, two fundamentalist Mormons, who in 1984 murdered their young sister-in-law Brenda and their 14-month-old niece Erica.
It's a very readable introduction to some of the more fringe elements of the LDS faith—some of whose names would turn up in the news not so long ago, following the raids on those FLDS compounds in Texas—and it certainly makes for compulsive and shocking reading. Krakauer does try his best to be fair to both the LDS and the FLDS, though I felt he did not always succeed at this (and I say this as an atheist). His worst failing as an historian/journalist, though, and the biggest problem I had with the book, was that Krakauer doesn't seem to know how to structure an argument effectively. He also goes off on tangents—extremely interesting ones, sometimes, about the horrible, misogynistic and abusive practices of FLDS communities in Canada—which give a broader picture of Mormonism and its offshoots but which he fails to connect to the argument he's making. ...more
The grace and the dignity with which Jacobs recounts her life story—living as a slave in the American South in the 1840s, and enduring seven years inThe grace and the dignity with which Jacobs recounts her life story—living as a slave in the American South in the 1840s, and enduring seven years in a hiding place reminiscent of that endured by the Franks a century later, before she could escape to the North—is absolutely humbling. Were I in a situation one quarter as bad as she was, I don't know if I could be as temperate in her descriptions of people as Jacobs was. The writing style situates it very much within the kind of sentimental/Gothic genre so beloved of the nineteenth century. At times, that makes the dialogue Jacobs attributes to people a little hard to swallow—it can be almost Brontean in tone—but the knowledge that she was no doubt refining absolutely vile and hateful speech so that the work could be published at all does counterbalance that. A sobering and horrific read, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl should be required reading....more
This is a really wonderful microhistory of a small county in central Virginia where, in the early nineteenth century, a small group of freed slaves seThis is a really wonderful microhistory of a small county in central Virginia where, in the early nineteenth century, a small group of freed slaves set up a community for themselves in a place they called Israel Hill. Ely does a great job of examining constructions of race and race relations in the antebellum south, challenging both our assumptions about the period and our complacency about race relations in our own time. Ely doesn't argue that slavery was anything less than a barbaric, horrific, shaming institution, but demonstrates the agency which African-Americans could have within the small space allowed them by the white community, and how both communities could recognise the humanity of the other (though the fact that whites were well aware that the people they kept as slaves were as human as they were makes the history of slavery ever more horrific and shaming to think about). The book plods a little towards the middle, but I think only because of the sheer amount of detail which Ely has gathered together to assist in his recreation of this fascinating community and its wider context. There is a lot in this book, but it's well worth the read....more
I got this on my first trip to South Carolina, back in... I think it was '97? God, I was so young. Anyway, it's an interesting little collection of foI got this on my first trip to South Carolina, back in... I think it was '97? God, I was so young. Anyway, it's an interesting little collection of folk tales and legends from the Carolinas. They were obviously not something I'd come into contact with before, so I can't answer as to whether or not it's a representative collection of the kinds of stories that were passed down in that region, but I thought it was interesting....more
A highly interesting and candid memoir from a woman who made her way from the destruction of post-Second World War Europe to one of the highest governA highly interesting and candid memoir from a woman who made her way from the destruction of post-Second World War Europe to one of the highest governmental positions in the United States. Albright recounts her achievements and involvements in an engaging, forceful, and funny manner; while I don't agree with all her political stances or methods (she's perhaps a little one-size-fits-all in her advocacy of American-style democracy throughout the globe), I love that what she wants to be remembered for having taught her generation of women that you could get somewhere if you pushed hard enough, and for having showed to younger women the power of interrupting. Her descriptions of the negotiations in which she took part during her tenure as Secretary of State are lively and evocative, and give the sense of what it's like to be at the heart of such things, rather than on the outside looking in. Well worth the read if you have any interest in US foreign policy in the late twentieth century....more
The strange thing about America: The Book is that it's simultaneously both one of the most hilarious, and one of the most depressing, books that I havThe strange thing about America: The Book is that it's simultaneously both one of the most hilarious, and one of the most depressing, books that I have ever read. I mean, I can say that I--one of those dreaded liberal commie pinko Europeans--have learned something about the American political process by reading it. On the other hand, while I was reading the chapter on the modern news media I thought, you know, there's something to be said for wilful ignorance.
A really fascinating look at women's history in the United States from the late eighteenth century through to the nineties, framed not in terms of theA really fascinating look at women's history in the United States from the late eighteenth century through to the nineties, framed not in terms of the struggle to gain equal rights, but in terms of the struggle to gain equal obligations under the law--whether to vote, to serve on juries, to fight on the front lines in combat situations, etc.
Meticulously researched and cogently argued, Kerber looks at how the refusal to legislate for women's obligations within these spheres had a negative impact on their ability to exercise what rights they did have, and on the movement to gain equal rights. It gave me a number of tools with which to re-evaluate the fields of women's history I've already studied, and gave me a basic education in American women's history, which I was only vaguely acquainted with before; not to mention that it made my jaw drop a number of times in sheer disbelief. I found the comparisons between the civil rights movement and the feminist movement to be especially interesting; how advocates from the two separate movements (or both) learned to identify with one another, their points of commonality and their differences with one another.
Highly, highly recommended if you have any interest at all in this area of history. Don't let the fact that it focuses on constitutional law put you off; normally, legal history ranks only slightly above economic history with me for topics to switch me off, and I still sped through this and wished for more....more
Worth buying—if you want a model of how not to write a biography. Dull and superficial, it's little more a five hundred page long summary of Adams' leWorth buying—if you want a model of how not to write a biography. Dull and superficial, it's little more a five hundred page long summary of Adams' letters, managing to provide absolutely no insights into her personality, or the historical and social forces at work in the world around her. There's little interpretation at all; there were plenty of openings which I could see in the quoted sources for gender/race commentary, but Levin passes them all by with seeming complete obliviousness. Whoever edited this book also deserves a good scolding, both for the awful use of subordinate clauses, and Levin's irritating habit of liberally sprinkling her text with a word or two from Adams' letters at a time, often for no other apparent reason than to point out that eighteenth century orthography is different from that of the present day. Avoid....more