May 22, 1856: A MEMBER OF CONGRESS FROM SOUTH CAROLINA WALKS INTO THE SENATE CHAMBER, LOOKING FOR TROUBLE.
That Congressman, Preston Brooks, was ready to attack Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts over remarks Sumner made slamming senators who supported slavery in Kansas. Brooks lifted his cane to beat Sumner, and here the action in the book stops, so that Steve Sheinkin can explain just where this confrontation started. In the process, he unravels the complicated string of events - the small things, the personal ones, the big issues- that led to The Civil War. It is a time and a war that threatened America's very existence, revealed in the surprising true stories of the soldiers and statesmen who battled it out. "Two Miserable Presidents" is a 2009 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.
I was born in Brooklyn, NY, and my family lived in Mississippi and Colorado before moving back to New York and settling in the suburbs north of New York City. As a kid my favorite books were action stories and outdoor adventures: sea stories, searches for buried treasure, sharks eating people… that kind of thing. Probably my all-time favorite was a book called Mutiny on the Bounty, a novel based on the true story of a famous mutiny aboard a British ship in the late 1700s.
I went to Syracuse University and studied communications and international relations. The highlight of those years was a summer I spent in Central America, where I worked on a documentary on the streets of Nicaragua.
After college I moved to Washington, D.C., and worked for an environmental group called the National Audubon Society. Then, when my brother Ari graduated from college a few years later, we decided to move to Austin, Texas, and make movies together. We lived like paupers in a house with a hole in the floor where bugs crawled in. We wrote some screenplays, and in 1995 made our own feature film, a comedy called A More Perfect Union (filing pictured below), about four young guys who decide to secede from the Union and declare their rented house to be an independent nation. We were sure it was going to be a huge hit; actually we ended up deep in debt.
After that I moved to Brooklyn and decided to find some way to make a living as a writer. I wrote short stories, screenplays, and worked on a comic called The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey. In 2006, after literally hundreds of rejections, my first Rabbi Harvey graphic novel was finally published.
Meanwhile, I started working for an educational publishing company, just for the money. We’d hire people to write history textbooks, and they’d send in their writing, and it was my job to check facts and make little edits to clarify the text. Once in a while I was given the chance to write little pieces of textbooks, like one-page biographies or skills lessons. “Understanding Bar Graphs” was one of my early works. The editors noticed that my writing was pretty good. They started giving me less editing to do, and more writing. Gradually, I began writing chapters for textbooks, and that turned into my full-time job. All the while, I kept working on my own writing projects.
In 2008 I wrote my last textbook. I walked away, and shall never return. My first non-textbook history book was King George: What Was His Problem? – full of all the stories about the American Revolution that I was never allowed to put into textbooks. But looking back, I actually feel pretty lucky to have spent all those years writing textbooks. It forced me to write every day, which is great practice. And I collected hundreds of stories that I can’t wait to tell.
These days, I live with my wife, Rachel, and our two young kids in Saratoga Springs, New York. We’re right down the road from the Saratoga National Historical Park, the site of Benedict Arnold’s greatest – and last – victory in an American uniform. But that’s not why I moved here. Honestly.
This is my third book by this author, and I liked it as much as the other two. Sheinkin's writing style is relatable and amusing. Perfect for keeping middle-grade readers engaged while reading about history.
Once upon a time, there was a stupid smart girl. That is, she did really well on all those "How Smart Are You?" tests; but she often had trouble in school, because she couldn't learn anything unless she was genuinely interested in it.
Eventually, she dropped out and wandered around until she signed with a literary agent, because it turns out that learning about stuff you're really interested in can be a paying proposition if you promise to write a book about it afterwards.
But she felt a little distressed by all the gaps in her education. Her knowledge of American history was especially spotty. She saw no way around this, though, because she simply could not talk herself into being interested in her own country -- not when places like England and Japan were so much cooler.
Meanwhile, a writer named Steve Sheinkin was making a successful writing career for himself. Like our stupid smart girl, he did a lot of research. Unlike her, he thought American history was pretty nifty. So he was hired to write school textbooks on the subject.
There was a catch, though. He had to leave out all the cool stuff he found in the course of his research. All the interesting, very human stories that made history come alive had no place in textbooks. Otherwise kids might get excited and engaged and maybe even learn something.
So Mr. Sheinkin dutifully wrote boring textbooks. But he held on to the fascinating anecdotes he kept finding. They piled up all around him until his family started to complain. (Tripping over an anecdote in the middle of the night can be very painful -- almost as bad as stepping on a Lego brick barefoot.)
He realized he had to do something with his treasures. But what?
Finally, he got the idea of writing history books that people didn't have to read. They just could if they wanted to.
"But why would we want to read about American history?" the stupid-smart girl and others like her demanded.
"Because...coolness?" Mr. Sheinkin suggested.
"Prove it," they said.
"Okay," Mr. Sheinkin said.
And he did.
He told stories of female Confederate spies who hid coded messages in their long hair, and slaves with names like Dangerfield Newby who fought for freedom.
He told of girls who dashed across battlefields unharmed though their dresses were sliced through by bullets, and men whose ridiculous haircuts made their fellow soldiers laugh even in battle.
He told of women leading bread riots in the South, and men leading race riots in the North.
He told of white soldiers who pinned their names and home addresses to the backs of their coats before major battles so their families could be notified of their fates, and black soldiers who kept the American flag flying high even when they were wounded by gunfire.
And the stupid-smart girl learned that history, even American history, is only boring when the good bits are left out. And she even managed to learn a little about it, though it would never be her favorite subject.
And they all lived happily ever after. (Except all those Civil War spies and soldiers and civilians, who eventually died.)
History was never my strongest curriculum area. It was just list after list of names, places, and dates that tended to jumble together as the lists grew. Nothing was ever "alive" enough for me to gain an actual understanding of the events--what happened, who was involved, and, most importantly, why things happened.
Steve Sheinkin has changed that, first with King George: What Was His Problem? and now with Two Miserable Presidents. Combining historical fact with little-known anecdotes, quotes from letters and journals, and bits of trivia, he has--for me, at least--caused Civil War names to evolve into actual personalities, turned the places into more than background scenery, and changed a list of "events leading to the Civil War" into "ohhh, that makes sense, now I get it." And trust me, that is quite the accomplishment.
I would finish a chapter, then look at my husband and ask, "Did you know that more Americans died in the one-day Battle of Antietam than have died on any day in history before or since? Did you know the Emancipation Proclamation didn't actually free anyone? Do you know why Southerners hate William Tecumseh Sherman with a white-hot, passionate hatred?" Because I didn't know those things. You probably do, but I didn't.
Now, if I, as class Valedictorian (huzzah, huzzah) can struggle with understanding major American history events like the Civil War, it is possible that some of our students today struggle as well. They need someone to help them genuinely understand that history if they're really going to learn it. Sheinkin's collection should be placed firmly in the hands of every Social Studies and History teacher. And if you know a kid (from age 9 to 99) who is studying the Civil War, buy him or her this book. Read through it with him; you'll both enjoy it. Some of the stories are humorous, some heartbreaking, but all memorable. And with every page you turn, your student's understanding will grow.
The title led me to believe this would be a compilation of only the odd stories that don't make it into textbooks. Maybe a bit like "Lies My Teacher Told Me". Instead, it is a full, but condensed, history of the civil war from start to finish. It is told in an engaging way, with an emphasis on the stories of individual people, especially those whose stories were a little unusual or exciting. Some of those stories probably won't make it into school books, but they should.
This was shelved in the children's section of my local library, next to picture books about fluffy bunnies. But this would best be appreciated by teens and older. The battlefield descriptions would probably not be appropriate for most younger children.
I'd definitely rather read this sort of history rather than some 1000 page door-stopper with endless lists of dates and battles. I will not hesitate to read other books by this author.
How does he do it? I never would have been the least bit interested in this subject if not for prior positive experience with the author, but I am thankful to have read this. Recommended. ................ "[Q]uestions in a math textbook used by Southern students during the war:
1. A Confederate soldier captured eight Yankees each day for nine days. How many Yankees did he capture in all? 2. If one Confederate soldier can whip seven Yankees, how many Confederate soldiers can whip forty-nine Yankees?" ................ Harriet Tubman's adventure did not end when the need for the Underground Railroad ended. Look up her Combahee River raid. ................ "Winning (by Lincoln in 1864) 78% of [the soldier's] vote is amazing when you think that soldiers were basically voting on whether or not to continue the war. They wanted peace more than anyone--but they also wanted to finish the job they had begun."
This was on my Want to Read shelf from almost ten years ago, a time when I regularly read books about presidents and especially ones about Lincoln. What I discovered when I read this one was that it was not so much a book about Lincoln as it was one about the Civil War. If you are interested in the Civil War, this is the book for you. Reluctant readers may also enjoy it as it is only 202 pages, has short chapters, illustrations, quotes and the use of different font sizes.
The author's website describes these books as "guaranteed-never-boring history books, packed with all the true stories and real quotes he was never allowed to use during his career as a textbook writer."
Despite the comical look of the series, Sheinkin includes a serious historical overview of the war, which highlights all the key events leading up to the war, from the Fugitive Slave Act to John Brown, the Dred Scott decision, and the Lincoln-Douglas debates, among others, as well as the key events of the war itself. Like Ken Burns, Sheinkin includes many anecdotes from ordinary citizens, as well as highlighting lesser-known participants such as Rose O'Neal Greenhow, a Confederate spy known as the Wild Rose of Washington.
Sheinkin does not forget to profile some of the famous colorful personalities of the war, who continue to fascinate us, such as Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, George McClellan, Ulysses S. Grant, and of course, Lincoln. Did you know Lincoln was a terrific wrestler? The author also provides plenty of details on ordinary life for soldiers, especially how hungry they were.
Sheinkin's book ends with Lincoln's assassination, but he provides an excellent "What Ever Happened to" appendix which provides follow-up information on key personalities who appear in his book. He also provides a bibliography of many of the sources he used, which is divided into specific categories including general books on the war, biographies of major Civil War figures, books about everyday life during the war, books on specific battles, memoirs by Civil War personalities, and more.
I highly recommend this book for young readers, not only those who enjoy history but more importantly for those who think history is boring; unfortunately, this is an attitude which is not surprising given how dry our history textbooks for young people are. It even makes a great review of the Civil War for adults who want to brush up on this fascinating period of our history.
I thoroughly enjoyed this treatment of The American Civil War. Along the way, I couldn't help exclaiming aloud how stupid and how senseless some of the battles were. The book makes all the generals and the two presidents, especially Lincoln, seem completely incompetent. I wonder if there hasn't been quite a bias here: in order to "entertain" the young readers, the book is slanted heavily toward magnifying the aspects that are ludicrous about the War. It might be true that all wars are senseless and ludicrous, but I couldn't help thinking to myself: is this really the true and whole story of the Civil War? The subtitle IS "Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn't Tell You About the Civil War" but from the text and the intro. and the after matters (which are very detailed,) it seems to me that Sheinkin was writing something that he believes school children should read, instead of the text books. Maybe I read that wrong. I would definitely recommend this as a good supplemental material for history teachers teaching this time period. Lots of juicy bits to liven up the classroom sessions :)
The author used to write textbooks, and was frustrated by the dry style of writing that he was required to use. So he saved all the unusual, funny, amazing, and surprising stories and quotes that he couldn't use in textbooks, and wrote his own highly readable book about the Civil War.
The two presidents were Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, who was the president of the Confederate States. But the stories aren't so much about them as they are about the men, boys, and even a few women who fought in the war. From spies to stinky socks to picnics on hills overlooking battlegrounds, these are stories you've never heard before.
Written for ages 9-14, this slim volume is a thoroughly entertaining look at the human side of the Civil War. There are no footnotes, but in the back the author has listed attributions for all the quotes he used. A valuable addition to a U.S. History class, and entertaining for all ages.
It's really clear here that Sheinkin was a textbook writer - not that this is dry, but that it is written in an almost dispassionate, just-the-facts way. And I'd take issue with the "Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn't Tell You" subtitle. Nothing here is new to me - but it is presented in a coherent, comprehensive way. It's not especially deep, but it does touch on almost every event. That's what's most impressive.
This is another well-researched and riveting history book from Steve Sheinkin. Had he been in charge of writing textbooks when I was in school, I would not have been so put off by history class. All those names and dates and places with no real context is a real bummer.
His ability to combine a careful, but concise detail of the events along with anecdotal tales of bravery, blunders, intrigue, and espionage, and mixed in with first-hand accounts of soldiers and others, like Clara Barton and Belle Boyd, in the war, makes for an engaging book.
"More than 25,000 men were killed or wounded in the battle of Antietam, making it the bloodiest single day of the entire Civil War. In fact, more Americans dies that day than on any other day in American history, before or since." (p. 102)
"And next thing you know, John Burns, wearing his War of 1812 army jacket, was marching into battle with the boys of the Seventh Wisconsin." (p. 136)
"When asked why she had joined the angry mob, an eighteen-year-old woman explained: 'We are starving. We are going to the bakeries and each of us will take a loaf of break. That is little enough for the government to give us after it has taken all our men.'" (p. 155)
"The only flaw in her plan, Tubman later said, was her choice in clothing. In the rush to escape, people (and animals) kept stepping on and ripping the end of her dress. 'I made up my mind then I would never wear a long dress on another expedition of the kind,' Tubman said." (p. 160)
"Varina Davis and Julia Grant became close friends and were often seen around town together. Both women hoped their visible friendship would help heal the deep wounds left by the Civil War." (p. 208)
Two Miserable Presidents is a great book! Steve Sheinkin tells you everything from the civil war that you did not know. It is funny and it explains all about the civil war; from Frederick Douglass to John Brown, I could not think of another event or person that this book did not cover. And it talks from every perspective. It talks about the perspectives of the soldiers, the presidents, the generals, even an artist who was painting a portrait of Lincoln at the time. I recommend this book for 4th grade and up, because of some mild violence and a lot of deaths and gruesome descriptions of stray body parts.
This book was absolutely amazing with its fun facts about the Civil War! The genre of this book is historical fiction (obviously). *SPOILER ALERT* The book begins before the Civil War with the Preston Brooks almost beginning to hit Charles Summer. Why? Well Charles Summer was the man who did rip the country apart with the Civil War. The book gives a thirteen step guide to how tear the country apart. Step one: Plant cotton. This step shows how Eli Whitney had his big chance to met Catherine Greene who owns a plantation in Georgia. The reason Eli Whitney wants the Plantation because the best way to make money is to sell cotton and lots of cotton! Step 2: Grow apart. In this step is based on the North gradually getting ride of slavery because the north believed it was wrong. Most people could not afford slaves with there small farms so they got rid of the slavery.The southern states were all about cotton and Tabasco so they got rid of slaves because they believed people would like to by things naturally grown by them only instead of enforcing slavery. Need less to say people did not by there products and it was a bust. Step 3: Keep your balance, Meaning the North and the South are puling apart and are going back and forth on slavery so there fighting vigorously this is dividing them in slave nations. Step 4: Fight Slavery, after hearing the states going back and forth on the issue a man named Fredrick Douglass was at the time eighteen decided to stand up for himself a speak up instead he got beat by his owner as white men watched. He filed a claim but it was denied because he was a slave so he had no word of assault. Henry Douglas later got the papers and had his case solved resulting in the state having to end slavery for good. The Election day of 1864 a life or dead moment were Abraham walked down to the White House To meet his competitor Gorge McClellan (Democrat) Who lost with the ballot vote of 21 to Abraham with 212 Wow! McClellan did not even have a close tie or anything. He truly lost the votes and not are dear Abraham is the 5th president of the U.S.A Later on the states still frighted so they deiced it was war time and resulted in well the Civil war with there current senior at hand it was a sure lose so they turned to President Lincoln who saved us from the over 10,000 battles that the Civil war lead to. After the whole war they faced Abraham Lincoln saved the union and ended slavery all together. Abraham Lincoln saved us all and ended the Civil War for good. I give this book a 4-5 because of the amazing story and the history behind it. I would recommend this book to everyone it was amazing and I love it and I hope others will to.
I really wanted to like this more, having read two of his other histories for kids and teens. Unfortunately, I kept running into things that were distracting, like errors in the names of people. For instance, Union general Irvin McDowell becomes "Irving" and Confederate general Joseph Johnston becomes two separate people in the index [Johnston and Johnson], either due to error or typos that didn't get corrected. Several "autobiographical" accounts are taken at face value to provide cool but dubious quotations, although he mentions that one has been challenged by historians. Otherwise, it reads as if he skimmed a lot of sources and chose the parts that seemed interesting, and put them in this book. Because the point of this book seems to be to challenge school textbooks, rather than history in general, the approach wasn't horrible, but the results were very superficial. The entire American Civil War in roughly 200 pages can't contain a lot of details, but this just felt a little too rushed. Sheinkin's work on smaller subjects has been much better than this, and perhaps I wouldn't be so grumpy if I hadn't already read some of those. This book could be read by a 5th grader to good effect, and such a kid might to on to read more specific works.
Another good kid's history book, that grandpa enjoyed. People I hadn't heard of, like Robert Smalls, a black naval pilot, who took control of Confederate ship, Planter, and turned it over to the Union, and Harriet Tubman who guided Union ships up the Combahee River and showed the sailors Southern warehouses & plantation houses to destroy. Much better read than the one on the Winning of the West.
The doctor checked this out for SkyGirl because she got Battle Cry, a Civil War board game, for Christmas. She, SkyGirl, wanted to know more about the Civil War. I started reading it and it was great. For a quick review of all the important battles and events around the Civil War. And it's humorous, clever and well-written.
I originally saw this at my partner Ryan McIntyre’s house a few months ago when we were over for dinner. I Kindled it and dove it. I loved it – super easy to consume and a very playful way to learn, or relearn, some history. I’m planning at least one serious Lincoln biography in 2015 so this was a good way to get a taste of it.
This book is about the conflict between the North and the South in the 19th century . It covers major characters such as Abraham Lincoln and Robert Lee, battles like Gettysburg and Palmito Ranch, and very Interesting stories that you would not normally find in a history book. This book also focuses on the two presidents at the time, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis.
I give this book a 9 out of 10. The title of the book states“ History… with the good stuff put back in” and I completely agree with this claim. Unlike most history books, this book will include interesting stories and unique quotes that always keeps the reader interested. This book was made for people with short attention spans because it’s engaging and has short chapters. This makes the book easy to read because you can read it in small increments rather than spending 30 minutes on just one chapter.
This book strongly reminds me of the Nathan Hale Hazardous Tales book Series. Both books try to make history fun and appealing no matter the demographic. The Two Presidents book has fun stories that usually don't make it into a normal texts book. In the Hazardous Tales series, they keep everything fun and engaging just like the other book. Both books always keep you reading and interested.
Even though this book has many great qualities, it also has its downsides. Unlike most books, this one doesn't follow one main character. It takes bits and pieces of different people's efforts in the war and pieces them together. This can make the book hard to understand if you don’t have any prior knowledge of the Civil War. This book also has a hard time concluding the story. The beginning part of the book very clearly describes the causes of the war. Unfortunately, there is only a one-paragraph ending to the entire civil war. If you know nothing about the civil war, you would not understand the aftermath. How did they merge together? Was there still conflict after the war? What happened to all the unfreed slaves?
Overall, I strongly recommend this book. Not only is it a funny and engaging book, it also will introduce you to one of America's most important historical events.
I had to pick up this book when I saw it on the bookstore shelf! I love history and just flipping through it was enough for me to buy this bad boy. I always liked more fun and accurate stories from history rather than the squeaky clean history that most textbooks offer kids these days and in my days as a student of history. I really like Sheinkin's little author note at the first page of this book. It really resonates with me. He mentions how he used to write for the textbook publishers that took all the fun stuff out of history and how he didn't like that and wanted to tell a more fun story about history that is also true! So this book is a blast I think it is a great book for a classroom to get kids actually engaged and learn fun facts about history that might actually stick with them. This book in particular goes over how hard the civil war was on both sides. It's books like these that really open people's eyes to how dark history can really be but in a fun way! It also gives fun facts and neat little illustrations with little snippets of the war it's blast and I highly recommend it.
If you can only have one book on the Civil War, this is it. No one tells this story better than Steve Sheinkin. In fact, I would say, this is Sheinkin's best work. Given his portfolio of excellent nonfiction books for kids, this isn't a statement to take lightly.
Like his similar book King George: What Was His Problem?, Sheinkin uses humor in just the right dose to make this an easy, entertaining, light read about the Civil War. And yet, he manages to cover everything. His writing is so masterfully simple than you might actually remember what you read. He throws in all the extraneous, but highly interesting tidbits too that no one else bothers to mention in their books. I definitely can't do this book any kind of justice, but trust me, if you know any kid with the slightest interest in the Civil War, get this for him, and you'll be the coolest person he knows.
Sheinkin, Steve. Two Miserable Presidents: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About the Civil War. Roaring Brook Press, 2008. Steve Sheinkin was a textbook writer who defected from the trade to write short, easy-to-read histories that included all the quotes and stories he had to leave out of the textbooks he wrote. He tells moving and sometimes humorous stories, such as those of cross-dressing women soldiers and of a guy in the crowd at the Gettysburg Address who told Lincoln to put on his specs, which he did with a quip. Sheinkin’s research comes from standard, previously published, histories and memoirs. As a result, many of the stories are more familiar than his title suggests. That said, a 200-page romp through the Civil War was an entertaining way to spend an evening. Other readers who paid more attention than I did have pointed out some distressing misspellings of names and a failure to always assess the credibility of his sources. That is the problem with good stories—they tend to be embellished. 3.5 stars.
I'm so glad I read this book. Engaging. Entertaining. Informative. Rewarding on so many levels. I truly didn't want this book to end. I wanted Steve Sheinkin to keep on telling me about all that happened next in American history.
I am definitely looking forward to reading Sheinkin's other two related books: King George: What Was His Problem?: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn't Tell You About the American Revolution AND Which Way to the Wild West?: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn't Tell You About Westward Expansion. I truly hope Sheinkin writes more books in this "Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn't Tell You" series. It is phenomenal. We (children and adults) need this education about our history and about the world around us.