Monday, September 18, 2017

Adding to the List

By Jeff Burns
            Due to various circumstances, I’ve probably read less than summer than any other summer in my life.  It wasn’t a bad summer at all; I just couldn’t get into a reading mood.  That didn’t stop me from adding great books to my reading list.  Here are some titles I hope to get to very soon.

 Annette Gordon-Reid has made a name for herself as a leading historian on the subject of Thomas Jefferson, particularly his relationship with Sally Hemings.  In 2009, she published The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family.  It is about more than the relationship between Jefferson and Hemings; it is also about their children and their relationship with Jefferson.
            Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips is about one of the darkest moments in Georgia history, the organized violent campaign in 1912 that forced more than 1,000 black citizens of Forsyth County. For the next seventy years, the county remained all white.
            On a lighter note, food history is another of my interests, and there are a couple of new food history titles on my list. Michael Twitty is a chef and food historian whose specialty is African-American cooking and its influence on southern cuisine. His book is called The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the South.

            Laura Shapiro writes about food history from a women’s history perspective, and her latest is What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Foods That Tell Their Stories. Read it and find out what food reveals about Eleanor Roosevelt, Eva Braun, and four others in a sort of culinary biography.
            Finally, a story about food, medicine, quackery, the food industry, and major sibling rivalry: The Kelloggs: the Battling Brothers of Battle Creek.  You know they created the whole breakfast cereal industry and changed the way Americans ate breakfast, but you might not know the origin story of their food and their company, and the intense family dysfunction between the two brothers.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Books and Historical Fiction for Young Adults

The love of history and reading grew together in my house. I grew up reading about history and visiting historical sites. History and books inspired conversations and trips. I have fond memories of historical fiction from that the described Revolutionary- Era Boston  and took me across the great plains in a covered wagon. I could share in their experiences and enjoy their adventures. 

As a teacher and a parent I have had the chance to share the love of reading about history and visiting historical sites with a new generation. From the Magic Tree House series to Bud not Buddy; I have continued to share books about history written for young readers and young adults.

The young readers of today benefit from the growth of books being published about history for them. Books published about history or with historical themes continue to grow.  If you are looking for a history book to share with young adult readers in your life, check out our list of old and new favorites.  

History books and historical fiction for young adults offer some great options for engaging readers. Have a suggestion to share? Let us know in the comments or send us a pin on Pinterest. We are always on the lookout for a good book.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Tales of Hollywoodland

By Jeff Burns
            My wife and I have been enjoying the series Feud: Bette and Joan, about Hollywood legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and their epic clashes in and around the filming of the movie Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?  I always enjoy stories of the glamour and the grime of the early days of Hollywood. Actors seemed to be just so much more interesting then. Dig a little below the glitz and glam, and you’ll find stories of murder and deception that the greatest Hollywood screenwriters couldn’t imagine. Here are some books about Hollywood history.

The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine by E.J. Fleming tells the story of Eddie Mannix, the general manager of MGM from the 1930s to the 1960s.  His job was to “fix” scandals that tarnish the reputations and careers of MGM stars before they went public.  The recent movie “Hail, Caesar!” is loosely based on his life. The book details scandals from unwanted pregnancies to murders that involved such stars as Jean Harlow, Lana Turner, Spencer Tracy, and Marlene Dietrich, and many others. 

            William Mann’s book, Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood, demonstrates that scandal rocked the movie industry from its very infancy.  Set in the very early 1920s, it revolves around the murder of a leading director, William Desmond Taylor. Taylor’s murder has long been one of Hollywood’s greatest unsolved mysteries, with one dark secret after another coming to light.  Mann investigates thoroughly and also details the infighting among the rising Hollywood moguls, battling for movie supremacy, and the mounting public crusade against the indecency of the industry.  If you like Erik Larson books, especially Devil in the White City, you will like this book.   

WARNING: ADULT THEMES. If you’re looking for real dirt, and you can handle graphic language and situations, you might consider Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars by Scotty Bowers. Bowers writes about his life in Hollywood, beginning as in 1946.  Fresh out of the Marines, he finds himself with a unique talent. He basically becomes Hollywood’s pimp, providing male and female sex partners for the biggest stars of the day.  He holds nothing back.  

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Book Recommendations from NCHE 2017

By Jeff Burns

I recently had the opportunity to attend the National Council for History Education’s annual conference held in Atlanta. Whenever a group of historians and/or history teachers meet, books, old and new, are bound to be discussed.  Here’s a list of books that were featured in sessions or by exhibitors, in no particular order.

The Snipesville Chronicles is a series of time travel books aimed at young readers (but also enjoyed by adults) written by Annette Laing, a purveyor of non-boring history.

Drum Taps, a collection of poem about the Civil War by Walt Whitman

Edward Larson was one of the keynote speakers.  He’s written several books about science and technology in history and American history including the Pulitzer-winning Summer for the Gods, about the Scopes Monkey Trial.  Other books include An Empire of Ice, A Magnificent Catastrophe, Evolution’s Workshop, and his latest, The Return of George Washington.

March is the autobiography of civil rights movement figure John Lewis, in a graphic novel trilogy.

All Quiet on the Western Front is the classic World War I novel by Erich Maria Remarque.

Another keynoter was Bruce Lesh, the author of “Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer?”: Teaching Historical Thinking in Grades 7-12.

Fire in a Canebrake: the Last Mass Lynching in America by Laura Wexler tells the story of the murders of two black couples in 1946. Considered the last lynching in Georgia, no one has ever been prosecuted for the crime.

The final keynoter was Micki McElya, the author of The Politics of Mourning: Death and Honor in Arlington National Cemetery and Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth Century America.

Screening a Lynching: The Leo Frank Case on Film and Television by Matthew Bernstein

Thursday, January 26, 2017

History TV

By Jeff Burns

It pains me to say it, but if you love history like the Histocrats love history, you’ve noticed that the History Channel is no more.  There is as much history on the History Channel as there is music on MTV.  On a brighter note, there are now many television viewing options, and the history addict can find his or her fix elsewhere.

Amazon has a couple of great current options.  I just finished the second season of The Man in the High Castle, and found it to be very interesting speculative – What If? – history.  It is set in a world where the Axis powers won World War II and divided America between them.  If you’ve read the book, don’t worry, the series is totally different, and in my opinion, improved.  (That may be the only time I’ve ever said that a movie or show improves on the book.)

Good Girls Revolt is in set in the late 1960s and is based on the true story of female researchers at Newsweek who united to fight against the sexism at Newsweek magazine, which denied them the opportunity to be real reporters, relegating them to uncredited and underpaid roles as researchers who did most of the work while the male reporters took credit for the stories. If you liked Mad Men, you’ll love Good Girls.  It’s a step back into the turbulent 60s, not only addressing women’s rights and the broader sexual revolution, but also civil rights, Vietnam, and the other issues of the day.

My favorite new show is on Netflix. The Crown is the story of Queen Elizabeth II, starting from just before her father’s death and her coronation.  The first series takes the viewer through much of the 1950s. The acting is phenomenal.  John Lithgow plays Winston Churchill and dominates every scene he’s in, but the other actors are no slouches. While the series obviously takes liberties with envisioning private conversations and thoughts that will likely never become public, the history behind the show seems to hold true, and it is a great series.  I’m not much of a binge watcher, but I watched this entire season in a weekend.