Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted On Equality For All by Martha S. Jones

February 3, 2021


There has been a great deal written about the historic fight for women’s suffrage, particularly last year during the Centennial celebration of the 19th Amendment, however the role that Black women played in this fight has often been overlooked. This compelling, fascinating book by Professor Martha Jones explores the rich history of African American women’s political lives, focusing on the intersections of racism and sexism that have always informed that history. While Black women played a much bigger role than is often recognized in the fight for the 19th Amendment, the passing of that Amendment was not the end of the fight for voting rights for Black women. The book traces the many ways in which Black women fought to gain political power and make their voices heard – in churches, in clubs, as orators, as authors. While you may recognize some of the names of the women talked about in the book, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Rosa Parks, Shirley Chisholm, and Stacey Abrams, you may come to understand their stories in the context of so many other Black women throughout history whose names are just beginning to be known, thanks to books like this. Vanguard is available at the Library.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

September 29, 2020


Several of the books I’ve read in the past few months, particularly Deacon King Kong by James McBride, and The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, revolve around characters who were part of the Great Migration, in which 6 million or so Black people left the Jim Crow South for Northern cities during the period of time between World War I and the 1970s. The Great Migration was not something I had learned about in school. For me this wonderful book offers such important context for understanding the lives of people like the characters in those novels, and more broadly, the history of this country and the devastating impact of slavery and its aftermath. I’m not a frequent nonfiction reader, and when I do read it, I am generally drawn to books like this that feel almost like reading a novel. Wilkerson writes beautifully, and she very effectively focuses this very big story around the lives of 3 people, each of whom left their homes in the South for different parts of the country – one to New York, one to Chicago and one to Los Angeles – during the decades of the Great Migration. The blending of the personal stories and the wider historical context makes it a very readable book. It’s not new – it was published in 2010, but is extremely relevant and very much worth reading. The book is available from the Library, and the ebook is available on Libby/Overdrive.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Staff Favorites – Lightning Round

April 9, 2020


Favorite historical fiction and nonfiction books?

The Radium Girls: The dark story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore Available as eBook and audiobook on Hoopla and Libby/Overdrive

The Unexpected Spy by Tracy Walder Available as an audiobook on Libby/Overdrive .

The Unexpected Spy - Audiobook

The Art of Resistance: My Four Years in the French Underground by Justus Rosenberg Available as an eBook on Hoopla .

The Art of Resistance

A Castle in Wartime by Catherine Bailey Available as ebook and audiobook on Libby/Overdrive .

A Castle in Wartime - ebook

Favorite Historical Fiction books?

Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini Available as an ebook on Hoopla and as ebook and audiobook on Libby/Overdrive.

Resistance Women

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See Available as ebook and audiobook on Libby/Overdrive.

Title details for The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See - Wait list

The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman Available on audio on Hoopla.

The Wartime Sisters

Mistress of the Ritz by Melanie Benjamin Available as ebook and audiobook on Libby/Overdrive.

Mistress of the Ritz - ebook

The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton Available as ebook on Hoopla and on Libby/Overdrive.


She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

March 6, 2020


I know what you’re thinking. A biography of a historical figure? You’re going to recommend that for pleasure reading. You’re going to suggest I do “homework” during my precious little respites from an increasingly exhausting and chaotic world. No thanks, please return to your reviews of strange cookbooks, comics, and the fluffiest fiction you can find. 

I hear you, but let me counter. This book is 137 pages. Yes, that’s right, it’s less than two hundred pages. Author and historian Erica Armstrong Dunbar has done something truly extraordinary. She has written a powerful, accessible, and enjoyable biography of an important historical figure that so many of us know of, but do not truly know. In addition to details on her escape from slavery and her numerous journeys as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, this book also delves into Harriet Tubman’s work within the union army during the Civil War, her advocacy for women’s suffrage, and her contributions to the creation of a home and hospital for the elderly.

It’s a pager turner filled with beautiful illustrations. And the audiobook (which is less than 4 hours long) plays just like a good podcast. So check out She Came to Slay

Image result for she came to slay harriet tubman

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

January 9, 2019


This book would be interesting enough if it just told the story of the 1986 fire in the Los Angeles Public Library, the search for the suspected arsonist, and how the community came together to rebuild, but it is about so much more than that – and that is why I loved it. Susan Orlean does a great job of balancing of historical context and personal stories in a way that kept me completely engaged from start to finish. Even things that I’m not especially interested in, such as architecture, were interesting to me in this book. We learn about libraries throughout the world and throughout time, the dark history of book burning and libraries being targeted in wartime. This broader historical context is juxtaposed with individual stories, including the string of fascinating people we meet who ran the L. A. Public Library from its founding up to the present. We learn of Ray Bradbury’s personal connection to this library (he wrote Fahrenheit 451 there). You can feel the pain and trauma of the library staff in the aftermath of the fire. And throughout the book you can feel the personal connection Susan Orlean has to books and to libraries, both as an author, and because of mother, who always wished she had become a librarian herself, and whom Orlean was losing to dementia through the process of writing this book. This is a beautiful, interesting book. Highly recommend.

The Library Book can be found as an eBook and an audiobook on Libby/Overdrive.

Never Caught: the Washingtons’ relentless pursuit of their runaway slave Ona Judge, by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

October 23, 2017

[Tricia] Never Caught tells the true story of Ona Judge, one of George and Martha Washington’s slaves who lived and worked in the presidential residence in Philadelphia during much of George Washington’s presidency. Risking absolutely everything for a life of freedom, Ona escaped and, with the help of a network of free blacks in Philadelphia, made her way to Portsmouth, NH. This book offers crucial insights into the day to day lives of enslaved people, the differing attitudes about slavery and abolition among the states during the late 1700s, and the unthinkable risks and costs of escaping slavery. Particularly revealing is George Washington’s attitude toward slavery, and his seeming inability to comprehend why Ona Judge would choose freedom over what he took to be the relatively privileged position of being a slave in the President’s home. He simply couldn’t accept that, as Ona Judge said herself, she would “rather suffer death” than return to slavery. This book offers an important examination of the meaning of freedom.

Never Caught can be found on Libby/Overdrive.

Never Caught - ebook

The Red House, by Sarah Messer

February 18, 2015

[Lesley] The subtitle for this book is: being a mostly accurate account of New England’s oldest continuously lived-in house. It’s another quirky, interesting book/memoir. If I was making a mini-collection of these, this one would go with Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight and Dogtown. This is the kind of book that I love discovering in the library stacks and why I would never want to be without the eclectic selection at the library (vs. the mainstream/most popular selection at chain bookstores).

Sarah Messer’s family buys the Red House of the title – the first owners not of the original family line. In her quasi-memoir we get the history of the house and some of the people who lived there – in typical fashion, pieced together from stories, rumors, letters, wallpaper, how the house was built/added to, etc. – and the history of two families, one of which Messer is growing up in.

The “characters” are what you would expect of old New Englanders and I loved getting to know each of them. Some of the stories are haunting (like the one about the mother and child and a fire), and some are funny. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing.

Dogtown, by Elyssa East

January 19, 2014

[Lesley]  I have seen this book going in and out at the library for years and every time I think – “that looks interesting… I should read that.” Well, I finally checked it out and I was right! This is an intriguing book looking at one small area of Cape Ann from historic, artistic, spiritual, true crime, and anthropologic perspectives. The entire book is framed by the author’s own interest in this area, sparked by her admiration for and connection to the paintings of Hartley Marsden that center on the rock formations in Cape Ann’s dogtown. As she searches for an epiphany in her own life she discovers the fascinating history of Dogtown and other “towns” like it as well as more recent events (murder, conservation efforts, and invasive species – plants and people) that become more “proof” of what people already feel and think about the transcendent and dark qualities of this mostly unclaimed piece of earth. A great read – I’m sorry I waited so long to discover it!

Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town

The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss – Edmund de Waal

January 25, 2011


I thought this was a really wonderful book. The author explores the history of his family, a rich, powerful Jewish family from Odessa, by tracing the story of their collection of Japanese netsuke from the mid 1800s to the present – moving through high society Paris in the late 1800s, Vienna in the years leading up to the first World War, to 1950s Tokyo. The book is about art and history, but is also a deeply personal family history. I found it fascinating and moving.

Available as an audiobook on Libby/Overdrive and on Hoopla.

The Hare with Amber Eyes - Audiobook