Really cool book. It's about so much more than the 1927 flood. It starts with understanding engineers who fought over the best way to control the MissReally cool book. It's about so much more than the 1927 flood. It starts with understanding engineers who fought over the best way to control the Mississippi, moves into genteel Southern society with a strong dose of post-Reconstruction race relations, detours slightly for an adventuresome Herbert Hoover, and then floods almost the entire Mississippi River drainage valley....more
As America expanded beyond its original 13 colonies, almost all new states and territories were added through treaties, purchases or by claiming landAs America expanded beyond its original 13 colonies, almost all new states and territories were added through treaties, purchases or by claiming land the U.S. government felt no one owned. Texans will tell you their state was an independent country before annexation although Mexico refused to acknowledge its independence.
Then there’s Hawaii. The chain of islands, annexed in 1898, was originally a series of island kingdoms before being unified in 1810 under Kamehameha I after a series of battles. Seven kings and one queen ruled the island chain before the monarchy crumbled under an influx of foreigners who invested heavily in the country.
Julia Flynn Siler’s Lost Kingdom details the end of Hawaiian independence in a fact-filled book that falls just short of a must-read.
The story of Hawaii’s downfall is readymade for Hollywood – kings and queens fighting for their people, villainous sugar-cane magnates, midnight coups, secret messages encoded in songs. The facts as Siler lays them out should be a more compelling read than they are. Perhaps Lost Kingdom’s shortcomings are only apparent when judged against other history books, such as those by Erik Larsen. And it may be unfair to judge Siler’s work against Larsen. The two writers have different styles, and a reader’s personal preference may determine which comes out on top.
Siler begins her tale of Hawaii before its last monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani takes the throne. The book explains the Hawaiian acceptance of visiting missionaries and lays the groundwork for what should be a peaceful future.
To the Hawaiians’ detriment, the foreign population brings disease for which the native population has no natural defense. The native population begins to decrease as Europeans and Americans increase their numbers. Marriages between Hawaiians and outsides further dilute the native population.
As children raised by missionaries come of age, economic forces begin to tug at Hawaii. The islands can grow sugar and foreign investors are quick to start building empires and making their fortunes. When the crown needs to borrow money, it is foreign loans that shore up the throne. And with those loans come requests for favors and political power.
Siler portrays an almost inevitable march to Hawaii’s subjugation to outside influence. By 1887, King Kalākaua is forced to sign what becomes known as the Bayonet Constitution. The new constitution moves power from the King to his cabinet and legislature. Foreign resident aliens could now vote as could Hawaiians who met economic and literacy requirements. Asian immigrants, who made up a substantial part of the islands’ population, saw their right to vote taken away.
Lost Kingdom wants to place Lili’uokalani as its central figure, but history dictates other figures take center stage before Lili’uokalani gains the throne. Siler is rightly fascinated by Hawaii’s queen (whose authorship of one of Hawaii’s most famous songs “Aloha Oe” is among her many accomplishments), but that fascination sometimes leads to a less detailed portrayal of other monarchs or the sugar barons. The book is not an objective look at Hawaii’s history; Siler tells the story from Hawaii’s point of view. Claus Spreckels, Lorrin Thurston and other foreigners are clear villains, motivated by profit and not caring about the Hawaiian people. After reading Lost Kingdom, it’s hard to argue otherwise, particularly in the case of Thurston who seemed to take personal pleasure in destroying the monarchy. One suspects another side of the story exists.
Lost Kingdom is a worthwhile read for those interested in Hawaiian history and culture, America’s expansion and how less powerful governments and people can be swept away by an economic tide. It’s not a perfect book and readers truly interested in Hawaii should seek out a more balanced book, but Siler’s story is interesting....more
In the late 1930s, Ernest Hemingway filed dispatches from the Spanish Civil War for the North American Newspaper Association. His experiences coveringIn the late 1930s, Ernest Hemingway filed dispatches from the Spanish Civil War for the North American Newspaper Association. His experiences covering the war would inform his masterpiece For Whom the Bell Tolls along with other works. He would be one of the driving forces behind the documentary film The Spanish Earth, serving as its narrator and shaping the content.
Alex Vernon’s Hemingway’s Second War examines this critical period in Hemingway’s life and investigates the ripples it cast in his writing, his relationships and his politics.
Vernon is an associate professor of English at Hendrix College, Conway, Ark. His specialties include Hemingway, and American War Literature, making him well qualified for the comprehensive analysis of For Whom the Bell Tolls in this context.
The book begins with a biographical overview of Hemingway’s coverage of the Spanish Civil War. The opening chapters provide background for subsequent parts discussing The Spanish Earth and For Whom the Bell Tolls. Vernon’s intention is to provide a literary biography, not merely a recitation of facts about the war (sadly, not well known to many Americans) or a straightforward criticism of the novel. As Vernon puts it:
Literary biography is one part detective work, one part library science, one part journalism, one part literary criticism, one part history, one part pop psychology and one part gossip column.
Vernon accomplishes what he sets out to do, but his work is perhaps best appreciated by fellow academics and Hemingway scholars. At times, the book reads as a series of academic lectures, complete with asides and apologies from Vernon that don’t always feel smooth. “It is worth quoting at length this dispatch’s transition to first person,” he writes at one point. The frequent commentary on the act of writing the book can be intrusive. On occasion, Vernon can also introduce a thesis and provide strong support for it, only to reject it (with equal support) paragraphs later. For academia which encourages debate this would be suitable. A reader here may wish Vernon had chosen a side and stuck with it.
That is not to say Hemingway’s Second War is a dry piece of academia. At times, it sings. A section on life in Madrid stands out in particular. Quotes from Hemingway’s fellow journalist Virginia Cowles help draw a detailed picture of the circus and camaraderie among correspondents who live close to war but are not active participants. Vernon’s references to Hemingway’s contemporaries is one of the stronger points of the book, although without a preexisting understanding of the players, some nuance may be lost on a casual reader.
The bulk of the book devoted to For Whom the Bell Tolls also stands out. Vernon digs into every layer of symbolism and finds parallels with reality and draws strong comparisons to Hemingway’s life and other works.
By organizing the book by subject matter – biography, film, novel – a sense of chronology is lost, but as Vernon pointed out, the book is not merely a history. The organization, which may work well in a class devoted to Hemingway, leaves a scattershot impression on the casual reader who picked up Hemingway’s Second War to learn about Hemingway or the Spanish Civil War and finds himself confused about the book’s focus. The section on The Spanish Earth could stand on its own as a lengthy article or complete book. As with his discussion of war journalism, Vernon provides valuable insights into the documentary process from funding and initial planning onto lighting through editing and distribution. It’s when Vernon really digs into a tight subject that the book becomes alive.
The breadth of Vernon’s task is both a fault and a merit of Hemingway’s Second War. The examination of almost anything and everything related to Hemingway, The Spanish War and For Whom the Bell Tolls is comprehensive and certainly of interest to Hemingway aficionados. Other readers may feel pulled in too many different directions as they search for a through line.