The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny by Michael Wallis

I’m going to assume that you know the basic story of the Donner Party.  Just in case, here is the Wikipedia article; it’s fantastic. I also had a pretty good grasp of their story before reading Michael Wallis’s recent book about them, The Best Land Under Heaven. So, did I learn anything? Was the book worth reading? Yes, and mostly yes. The full extent of what … Continue reading The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny by Michael Wallis

A Brief History of the Vikings by Jonathan Clements

Jonathan Clements book A Brief History of the Vikings is very old school history, very one event after another.  Lots of successions of rulers and records of who won and who lost various battles. It was just the thing to pass the time I spent last week riding the ferry boat back and forth between my home and San Francisco where I was taking a class … Continue reading A Brief History of the Vikings by Jonathan Clements

Cinderella’s Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding by Dorothy Ko

I often tell my students that reading is like swimming, the only way to get better at it is to do it.  Which is only partially true.  If you really want to get better at swimming, and at reading, you need to push yourself to perform at a higher rate than you typically do. Sometimes, you need a coach. Sometimes you need to challenge yourself. … Continue reading Cinderella’s Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding by Dorothy Ko

Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest by Matthew Restall

None of this is true, what we were told in history class if you’re my age,  but the story goes like this… When Moctezuma, the Aztec Emperor met Conquistador Hernan Cortez in 1519, he thought the Spaniard was the god Quetzalcoatl returned to fulfill a prophecy ending the empire.  Though he had just  a few soldiers with him, Cortez was able to use superior armor and guns … Continue reading Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest by Matthew Restall

A Brief History of Paper Moons

At the end of nearly every school year, someone cleans out a classroom closet and leaves a box of books on the table in the faculty room. Take whatever you want. Typically, they are pretty slim picking. There’s really no use, beyond collage, for old textbooks anymore.  But this year I found a copy of Hal Morgan and Andreas Brown’s book on early real photo post … Continue reading A Brief History of Paper Moons

Two with Pictures: The Singing Bones and Yvain, the Knight of the Lion

I’ve been doing some reading for work. Since I teach 7th grade history and English reading for work takes me places it might not take other grown men. Not that I mind. Two strong contenders for actual classroom use this time around. The first is M.T. Anderson’s graphic novel (illustrations by Andrea Offermann) Yvain, The Night of the Lion based on the 12th century French epic … Continue reading Two with Pictures: The Singing Bones and Yvain, the Knight of the Lion

Becoming Charlemagne by Jeff Sypeck

The farther you go into history, the more interesting things become. I’ve been teaching Medieval world history to seventh graders for nearly two decades now.  So I know a bit about it, but I’m very far from an expert.  Which is one reason why I like to read a book of history now and then. That, and I generally enjoy them anyway. The story of … Continue reading Becoming Charlemagne by Jeff Sypeck

Sunday Salon: Why the Booker Short List Ruins my Reading and Other Bookish Items

I’m one of those people who get excited over the Man Booker Prize.  Almost every year, once the long list is announced, I head over the my local library to get as many of the nominated books as I can.  Typically, there are a few not yet available in America, and there are a couple my library doesn’t have yet. So I check out two … Continue reading Sunday Salon: Why the Booker Short List Ruins my Reading and Other Bookish Items

Role Models by John Waters.

I heard about this book on an episode of A Good Read my favorite book related podcast from BBC 4. The host and both of her guests loved it, went on and on about how good it was, with a few caveats, it is the BBC after all. I’ve been a fan of Mr. Waters’ work since I first saw Pink Flamingoes, with my hands over my eyes … Continue reading Role Models by John Waters.

Nothing to Envy: Love, Life and Death in North Korea by Babara Demick

While I enjoyed Babara Demick’s book, and found the stories in it compelling and enlightening, a picture she features on page one tells so much that it remains the single starkest image I take from reading Nothing to Envy.  I’ve included it towards the bottom of this review.  You might want to scroll down and take a look before reading further. Reading Nothing to Envy … Continue reading Nothing to Envy: Love, Life and Death in North Korea by Babara Demick

HHhH by Laurent Binet

Is it insulting to turn a real person into a character in a book? The nature of historical fiction and the inherent trustworthiness of it is foregrounded in HHhH by Laurent Binet.  Mr. Binet wants to tell the story of two men, Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík,  who carried out an assassination attempt on the life of Reinhard Heydrich, second in command of the Nazi SS … Continue reading HHhH by Laurent Binet