As his title implies, Up From History, seeks to restore our understanding of Booker T. Washington by placing him firmly in the context of the post-recAs his title implies, Up From History, seeks to restore our understanding of Booker T. Washington by placing him firmly in the context of the post-reconstruction South. The misrepresentation of Washington began even during his life, as he was under constant attacks from both white supremacists in the south and northern black men who sought to replace him as the perceived leader of his race. Sadly, it was the latter who were most effective in tarnishing Washington's reputation for much of the 20th century.
Washington was a very private man, so there are no revelations here, no newly discovered papers to reveal his inner life. What is here is a careful analysis of the events the day and how Washington responded to them. In an era of rampant lynchings and disfranchisement, Washington carefully advocated for increased education and opportunities for African Americans. He worked unceasingly to raise money for Tuskegee and other schools, believing that education and economic success would lead to better race relations. He advised President T. Roosevelt, advocating for fair minded men to receive federal appointments. He worked tirelessly to promote the ideal of unity and fight the stereotypical images of blacks in popular culture. He financially supported lawsuits to forward equality and lobbied against disfranchisement. Because his actions were liable to provoke more lynchings and riots, he often hid his involvement in political matters from public view, at least in the south.
In his concluding chapter, Norrell explores the reasons Washington's achievements and contributions were so maligned by later generations, and offers a fair assessment of his legacy.
Unlike Horwitz's other books, Midnight Rising is a straight biography, no humorous modern day excursions as Horwitz follows a historic trail, and I adUnlike Horwitz's other books, Midnight Rising is a straight biography, no humorous modern day excursions as Horwitz follows a historic trail, and I admit that I picked it up thinking it would be like his earlier books. I was familiar with John Brown and the raid on Harper's Ferry, and it was not the topic that drew me to the book. It was Horwitz's name on the cover.
Once I began reading it, however, I found Brown a compelling subject. Horwitz neither demonizes nor glorifies Brown. Drawing on primary sources, using many of John Brown's own words, we see a complex man fixated on the greatest social injustice of his day. Brown's radical views on equality were rooted in his conservative Calvinist Christianity and were much more liberal than even the outspoken, secularly driven abolitionists of his day. This combination of deeply held orthodoxy leading to extreme liberality of thought so contradicts the mainstream bias of today, that the exploration of it fascinates. I hope it challenges readers to confront their own assumptions about the interaction of religious faith and progressive thought. ...more
Van Gogh was a complicated, demanding, and offensive individual, and Naifeh and Gregory White Smith do not shy away from this. Unlike many popular porVan Gogh was a complicated, demanding, and offensive individual, and Naifeh and Gregory White Smith do not shy away from this. Unlike many popular portrayals of the great artist, here we meet a man less misunderstood by his family and more alienated by his own difficult behavior. Sympathy runs both ways - for Vincent who is unable and unwilling to behave in a manner which would allow the closeness he desperately sought with others, and for his family, especially his brother Theo, who were emotionally and financially drained by the demands of an adult son who would not support himself and left a trail of broken relationships behind him. It is this conflict which dominated Van Gogh's life - his desire for close familial bonds with either his own family or one he invented, a dream made impossible by his own obsessive and overbearing nature - and much of the narrative is devoted to the way this cycle repeated itself throughout his life.
Artistically, it was interesting that the painter considered a master of color and landscape so long resisted either. Despite pleas from his brother, he insisted upon drawing pen and ink portraits for years, despite his lack of skill in this area. He was drawn to what eluded him, both in life in art.
Vincent's mental illness, compounded by syphilis and alcohol, is explored as it was revealed at the time. In this way, we see Vincent as both he saw himself and as others saw him. I think that is the brilliance of this biography - being able to feel for both Vincent and those who did care for him; not judging or romanticizing either; knowing that great art came from great pain and longing and that none had the means of easing that pain....more
In a book describing the horrific treatments of American POWs held by Japan, the most startling realization it holds is: why do we so quickly forget?In a book describing the horrific treatments of American POWs held by Japan, the most startling realization it holds is: why do we so quickly forget? I do not mean, why do we not hold a grudge longer. I mean, why do we forget that men have endured horrors beyond our imaginings? Why are we so unwilling to hear and believe the stories of our veterans, and remember them.
Like Holocaust memoirs, Unbroken takes us to the point where a person has been stripped of every thing possible. Even the flesh on their bones has been starved away. They are left with nothing except what they can muster from within their souls. We see both the very best and the very worst of mankind, and we ponder our own hearts, our own untested strength, in light of it.
Zamperini was one of our best. In his story, we recognize, as he did, both the sheer will to survive, and the divine at work in his life. The former may have been sufficient for his physical survival, but not for his ultimate healing.
Laura Hillenbrand deserves every bit of praise she has received for Unbroken. A vivid storyteller, she interweaves background on the state of aviation without interrupting the narrative flow. She describes the living terror of being a POW without overwhelming the reader with overly graphic details. She treats her subjects with the dignity which was deprived of them by their captors....more