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White Eskimo: Knud Rasmussen's Fearless Journey into the Heart of the Arctic (A Merloyd Lawrence Book)
White Eskimo: Knud Rasmussen's Fearless Journey into the Heart of the Arctic (A Merloyd Lawrence Book)
by Stephen R. Bown
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.78
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mixed feelings, January 30, 2016
Now approaching 80, forty six years ago I spent only weeks traveling by canoe in the Canadian Barren Grounds. Yet, I am still fascinated by people who lived or traveled across remote Arctic stretches and explorers of the other antipode. Among the many books about the Arctic I have read or taught from, I wondered why Rasmussen was so often mentioned but little was written solely about him. I knew of him but haven’t read his works. Neither have the several friends of mine interested in colder climes pointed me towards his work. There are what I would consider definitive biographies of Nansen, Diamond Jenness, and others and many good books about Samuel Hearne, Hornby the Hermit, John Rae, Shackelton, Amundsen and Scott. Yet, as the author points out nothing of that scale about Rasmussen. So I appreciate this book. But something about it makes me uncomfortable. I would like to explore that here.

It may just be the author’s breezy style where I would have liked something more serious. Rasmussen, like Nansen, had a youth of travel and middle age of worldly endeavors. Nansen became a diplomat, but Rasmussen continued to focus his concerns on his beloved Eskimo peoples. While the author made much of Rasmussen’s ability to charm and befriend his Inuit subjects, I found the title a bit of an overstatement. It may be that the Inuit did regard him as a white Eskimo, but his childhood and his genealogy made him in many ways more Eskimo than white. So maybe the title should have been “Eskimo White Man”. Of course there were others who are sometimes mentioned who were real Eskimo white men. I would have liked Rasmussen viewed in that context rather than being reminded time and time how unique his connection with Eskimos was for a white man. It is this kind of literary romanticism that puts me off. I should emphasize that this is my particular bug a boo, not one that I image a general reader would be aware of. It has a lot to do with the kind of adjectives an author chooses. It inflates the hero, who might really be worthy, but I would like that worthiness explored without the superlatives.

What else. In the early parts of the book the reader is told that Rasmussen is a prince among men. Other than his youthful awkwardnesses, he knows how to charm and endear himself to people. In some circumstances he is outspoken. As the book goes on, I get the sense that Rasmussen had a rather less pleasant side to him. He makes fun of people. He is dictatorial, He fathers a child with apparent indifference. He is what, one might call, an emotionally abusive father and husband, by omission as much as adulterous commission. In that he may have just been living Eskimo morality. But he defends Eskimo emotional attachment moderated by the necessities of survival. He counters people who say Eskimos repress emotion. His treatment of Eskimo women with whom he had sexual and living relationships may have been acceptable to them and Eskimo Society. But his marriage and liaisons with European women had much to be desired. The author doesn’t explore this to my satisfaction.

There is another issue that stands out for me. I like the way the author matter-of-factly reports on the treatment of Eskimo dogs. If I remember correctly Scott was hesitant to use dogs because of British sentimentality, a la “man’s best friend.” Amundsen had no trouble consuming dogs on the way home. So Rasmussen reports the feeding dogs to dogs as needed for food especially when they could no longer pull . The most gruesome scene is of a female pupping and other dogs eating the young as they emerged, the mother finishing the last one. I recently watched a cartoon in the house of a computer graphic artist. In it a cute little dog greedily eats all sort of junk food. It took me a long time to even understand what the film was about. After about the third engorgement, I realized, “oh yes,” an imitation of a human junk food eater. I found the cartoon, strange, even a bit obscene. I was tempted to related some of Rasmussen’s story, but realized how inappropriate that would have been.

While the author goes into detail about the four early Thule Expeditions I feel he gave short shrift to the Fifth. Yes Rasmussen was very interested in the ethnology of the Eskimo groups he met. But I would have like to know much more about the subtle differences among them and also more about the challenges of travel and what he found along the way. That reflects my particular interest in the Canadian Arctic.

In any case this is written for a general audience and I am asking for a definitive biography including how his anthropology came out of who he was. So some of my comments are unfair. As a general biography, the author has done a very good job. He keeps the reader interested, even on the edge of his/her seat. He is a good writer. For those who want to know about Greenlanders and the north I can recommend the book. After reading it go on to read Gretel Ehrlich’s This Cold Heaven to get sense of how the changes Rasmussen encouraged undermined traditional Eskimo culture. Rasmussen also made money bringing about those changes. I wonder how much his heirs made when the Americans built Thule Air Force base during WWII? The author notes the irony of Rasmussen’s desire to preserve Eskimo culture museum-like while feeling that Eskimos needed to enter the modern world.

Charlie Fisher, emeritus prof. and author

Slaughterhouse: Chicago's Union Stock Yard and the World It Made
Slaughterhouse: Chicago's Union Stock Yard and the World It Made
by Dominic A. Pacyga
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $26.00
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good history, January 13, 2016
There are three ways I can look at this book, personally, as narrative history and as a conjecture about the formation of the modern world. 47th and Ada is where the Independent Casing Co. stood in 1954 when I worked on the “floor” at age fifteen or sixteen pushing barrels in and out of coolers shipped from Iraq filled with salted sheep intestines or hauled out salted hog guts for liver sausage casings. The company made what kept the hot dog inside. Occasionally I stood at the water tables with the Polish ladies scraping off gore, cutting off anus hairs, searching for holes, measuring and tying the sheep casings into hanks. The Packinghouse Workers Union run by Ralph Hellstein had to struggle with the Polish women who wouldn’t share bathrooms with black women. the Union must have become increasing non-white because, as the author points out, they were a majority by 1958. Somewhere in the middle of his book the author mentions that during the anti-trust hearings and prosecutions in the early 1900s there was testimony that casing profits alone covered the cost of slaughtering. That was a wakeup for me. Because it was the casing business which supported my father from the mid 1920s on and then our family from the mid thirties. My father and two other upper employees bought the company from its previous owner in the late 1930s. Two surviving partners sold the company to Hygrade Foods of Detroit around 1959, by which time I was on my way to becoming a scientist.

Outside of the front windows of Independent Casing you could see the wall of the Union Stockyards across 47th St. We attended the annual Stock Show and probably ate in the Steak and Sirloin Club. I certainly remember the men’s clothing store where my father must have bought his Stetsons. At the University of Chicago in the late 1950s you could still get wafts of the Stockyards when the wind blew from the west.

The narrative history of the yards is straight forward. I liked the way the author wrote about publicity, the physical plant of the yards, the formation of the companies and the growth and decline of the business. The fact that slaughtering of animals would be such a tourist attraction is something as the author points out, which would offend current sensibilities. PETA would be shocked that hundreds of thousands of Americans thought nothing of seeing cows, pigs and sheep stuck. And Temple Grandin would improve the way slaughter had been done in The Yards because it diminished the quality of the meat not that we kill animals to eat them. Despite the volume of animals processed by the packinghouses surrounding the Yards, the place seemed to be more of a transit point than an end point. Refrigeration made the Yards became what it did and then undermined it. As an exchange it rerouted animals all around the country. But that was more expensive because much of what was not immediately used need not have been shipped. Then refrigeration made it possible to send only the meat whose refrigerated life was about two weeks, and by-product could be treated so only the end products need be shipped. The invariable logic was, “why ship the animals at all,” and so from the 1920s on meat processing moved closer and closer to its source, eventually leading to the demise of the Stock Yards. This all leads me to wonder where that high profit casing business ended up. Artificial casings came in the early fifties, and tennis rackets and sutures no longer needed to made from animals. So are casing only now used for high end sausage? I have to find out.

Where I have questions for the author comes from his use of the word modern. I think I know what he wants to convey with it but I have reservations and it could have been explored more by him. First of all, I would have liked to have some more of the contemporary history of Chicago included in his book. He explores a bit of the ethnicity of the workers, but not of the owners. We get a sense of how the Yards related to the University but I would have liked to have at least a bit more about University Settlement House and the Back of the Yards organization. I know that was not the author’s main interest but I missed hearing more of its role. The Yards was certainly an ethnic mix master.

So “modern?” Did the production lines in the packinghouses really beco me the model for Henry Ford’s? But the issue of what is modern about industrialization is a complicated one. Sydney Mintz would have the first factories the slave operated sugar plantations of the Knights of Malta. Here cutting, grinding, and distilling of refined sugar was done by one the plantation. So that is one sense of modern. Marx on the other hand would see the machine as the key ingredient of manufacturing. His paradigm was the textile mill. Here work which had been done by hand in various stages in cottages was done by steam driven machines operated by or simply cared for by laborers. The assembling of textiles needed few hands actually manipulating the material. The disassembling of animals seems different. It isn’t so much machines that took the animals apart (that came later) but division of labor where workers handling tools repeated over and over again smaller parts of the job. Instead of one or several persons doing the whole job (and takes a lot of work doing many different things to dress even a chicken) the jobs is broken down. Pictures of lines men with meat saws cutting through the same bones of many animals are illustrative. And there isn’t even a moving production line. So humans with tools remained important. But I wonder how this changed over time. I would have liked to heard more about this from the author. So it was “modern” because the raw material was moved around the Yards more efficiently and in vast numbers and the raw a materials were disassembled and processed in an increasing division of labor by workers with hand tools. Volume here seems important to the modern as it was, of course, in the case of the Knights of Malta. It was modern also because of labor revolts, but they too happened in slave and serf society. Until the UPWA really won its battles in the 1940s, besides some moves toward corporate paternalism, a modern worker/owner relationship wasn’t really in effect. And modern seemed to have happned early on in the Yards because of the careful accountability of raw materials and public knowledge of flow and price. So modern presents us with a problem. Busting up big meat companies seemed harder than big oil, because it was not only business combination that was involved but also labor which had not yet become organizationally big. The 1920s were a terrible setback for packinghouse workers which only the end of the new deal seemed to have remedied. And who knows now with illegal immigrant labor in places like Iowa and Nebraska.

I enjoyed reading this book. I had very special interests but it covers an important part of American history and the subject sits in the memory of us older folk who were residents of the Windy City. Thank you.

California Mushrooms
California Mushrooms
by Michael G. Wood
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $38.89
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, October 29, 2015
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For a California mycophile Professor Desjardin has laid a treasure in my lap. Now after three years of drought I need rain to put it to use. In Marin county last year I probably managed to find about 20 species of mushroom over the entire season while my buddy Bob Stewart up in Arcata approached 200. If I had a coffee table I would but “California Mushrooms” on it. Because, despite the seasonally-so-far lack of shrooms, I pick it up and read through one section after another. I wonder whether the older standard reference book we all know will fade. (I lobby its author to bring it up to date.) Of course our professor author needs not resort to humor as his predecessor did, but I would have like a little more help with synonyms. That is what us old guys, who learned taxonomy a while ago, now use as an excuse to use older claudistics which can be applied in the field to identify species. This is not a problem in this book. But more synonyms by way of common names and confused scientific names would have been useful.

The pictures in the book are excellent. It doesn’t quite match the weight of “Lichens of North America,” but maybe equals Jespson’s flora for which people had handy cloth carrying cases. I wonder if the publisher will reduce it too a handbook to carry in the field. This book is a must for shroomers in California.

Charlie Fisher, author of “Meditation in the Wild” and “Dismantling Discontent.”

The Conquering Tide: War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944 (Pacific War Trilogy)
The Conquering Tide: War in the Pacific Islands, 1942-1944 (Pacific War Trilogy)
by Ian W. Toll
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.03
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A well told tale, October 29, 2015
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Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942

Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942
by Ian W. Toll
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $27.83

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4.0 out of 5 stars A well written tale, October 29, 2015

This review is from: Pacific Crucible: War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942 (Hardcover)
From the TV serial “Victory at Sea” in the 1950’s and Churchill’s self justifying volumes which sat in my father’s library, how many books have I read on WWII? So when I pick up a new volume it often feels like I have heard it all before and I am ready to jump on sloppiness, weak generalizations, and missing political or economic elements. But this book manages to tell an exciting story and hits most of the really important points. The narrative flowed easily and I found myself interested in what would come next.

I have a few questions more about tone and style than anything else. Since this is the second book of a trilogy and I haven’t read the first I may be jumping the gun. The first may have portrayed the expected outcome of the war in the Pacific more grimly than this: I don’t know. The superiority of Zeroes, the greater experience of Japanese pilots, soldiers and navel forces all may have been portrayed as leaving the outcome in doubt. In the movie “Pearl Harbor” the actor playing Admiral Yamamoto gravely says something like, “We have woken a sleeping giant and we will live to regret it.” But there seems to be absolutely no doubt after Guadalcanal that America’s vastly greater industrial capacity, larger population, superior air and radar technology and tactical abilities would win the war. I wondered whether the narrative tilt in this direction was a little overdone. The author is saying that Japanese bonzai mentality, abuse of recruits, inability or unwillingness to withdraw troops, lack of emphasis on rescuing downed pilots, poor onboard ship firefighting ability made the Japanese inevitable losers. Once American fighter planes could out perform the Japanese and the pilots had better training, the air war was essentially over. Zeroes flimsy construction made them particularly vulnerable. And the Japanese did not bring back experienced pilots to train the newbies. They were worn out or killed. Guadalcanal was again the tipping point. Night attacks by Zero’s and both air and sea delivered torpedoes were a real threat. But that receded as American fighters could take more abuse and both ship and airborne radar improved. Ack-ack could put up an almost impenetrable barrier and submarines had less chance of getting through protective attack ships.

One of the main points that the author is making is that both strategically and tactically Japanese culture made their warring abilities inferior to the Americans. Bonzai attacks were suicide. On Guadalcanal it lead to the destruction of land based defenders. And with the notion of winning one great sea battle the Admirals lost the war. The idea that a great victory after Pearl Harbor would bring the US to a negotiated peace seems absurd. The same arrogance that was embedded in seppuku for failure blinded the Japanese as to whom their enemy really was. Once Guam was taken and the homeland was exposed to direst bombing the war was over. The Japanese model of western fighting abilities was built upon their defeat of the Russians in the 1894 war and the great defeat of their fleet at Tsushima. But they didn’t seem to take in their own defeat in against the Soviet Union in Mongolia in 1939. Some people argue it was this stalemate which led the Japanese to turn southward.

I don’t understand what role MacArthur played. From volume two it seems like Nimitz won the war. Why not just skip over New Guinea, The Netherland East Indies and the Philippines. Once the homeland was defeated these could either have been defeated one by one or they would have surrendered on orders from Hirohito. (And by the by he is portrayed as really a bad guy—egging his generals on when they knew they were losing.) But then this is volume two and I have yet to read volume one and three hasn’t been written.

So where the Japanese were really fearsome was on the beach and in the hills and the jungle. Casualty rates were two to one, but mortality rates were more like ten to one, because the Japanese didn’t surrender. I have always wondered about the special hatred of soldiers toward the Japanese. Was it worse than toward the Germans? It seems so. To go from pillbox to cave with a flame thrower must have been a terrible thing to do. I think the author says that Marines and soldiers eventually got used to it. I wonder.

If I have one complaint about the book it was the mentioning of so many of the officers. This reader could not hold all those names in mind, so references became hard to follow. The tale could probably have been told without half the specific references. (And of course better maps.) Still, if the book kept me interested after all my reading on the subject, then it is a good book. I recommend it.

Charlie Fisher, author of "Meditation in the Wild" and "Dismantling Discontent."

Singing The Fishing: A Radio-Ballad About Britain's Herring Fishing Communities
Singing The Fishing: A Radio-Ballad About Britain's Herring Fishing Communities
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5.0 out of 5 stars Can't go wrong with Ewan and Peggy, September 8, 2015
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a great piece of music and history

The Narrow Edge: A Tiny Bird, an Ancient Crab, and an Epic Journey
The Narrow Edge: A Tiny Bird, an Ancient Crab, and an Epic Journey
by Deborah Cramer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.87
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars OK I am depressed, September 8, 2015
How am I to relate to a book like this? Red Knots. I have never seen one. Horseshoe crabs, I used to see lots of them at Plum Island or there abouts forty years ago. Weird creatures they are. A little bit creepy. This book overwhelmed me with interesting facts. Red knots are not likely to make it because of environmental changes which seems to be the fate of all kinds of creatures whose narrow habitat demands fall afoul of human activities.

The author has collected a trove of materials on how the world has changed for red knots and dozens of other creatures she encounters in her exploration of knots’ landing places. I am convinced that maybe hermit crabs should be used more carefully by pharma. But people’s lives versus crabs, that is a hard one. In her bemoaning environmental and species loss the author piles species upon species and repeats herself so many times that my depression about the fate of the world simply grows. In two pages we have the decline of seed spreading from the Atlantic US to Africa, pesticides and the decline of vultures in India who eat Tibetan sky buried corpses and other corpses leading to the increase in feral dogs who cause rabies, the increase in Lyme’s disease tick larva because passenger pigeons may have kept the populations of Lyme’s carrying chipmonks and mice in check by eating acorns on which their populations depend. The literary overload is further burdened by her many romantic descriptions of landscapes. I tire of that in many nature books. Someone’s description is not substitute for experience and you don’t have to go to exotic places to experience nature: take for instance the great book on the weeds of Boston. And you don’t need poetic words if you take in the nature that surrounds you. Only occasionally do these descriptions work:
I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding

So back to this book. It took me to page 154 until I was stopped dead in my tracks: hundreds of million birds die colliding with windows; 1-4 billion are killed by cats; 5-7 by collisions with towers, 60-80 million by cars, 70-90 million by pesticides. Whoa! 5 billion birds and we are worried about a few knots. But maybe they are just starlings, robins, crows blackbirds, pigeons, and other trash species whose numbers are so great that human caused mortality is insignificant.

Turning my criticisms on their heads, I like this book very much, but reading it over a period of maybe four weeks while I was in “remote” northwestern British Columbia, I got overwhelmed. I could not remember the long list of researchers when she mentioned one or another later in the book. I also kept thinking I had read a particular passage before. I want to cry when I drive along the several hundred mile long power line along a road that maybe never should have been ripped through the almost taiga of BC forty years ago. But now they left out a beauty strip to hide the newly built line. And the clear cuts of the last forty years---junk wood for paper or particle board---never was there an environmental assessment and for the latest mine the BC government does not to enforce the laws and regulations that now exist. So the mine companies do what they want. In a desperate attempt to keep an extraction economy going despite the fall in demand for resources, it looks like the government will allow anything. And you, know the locals (both white and indigenous) are of a mixed mind about it. Convenient jobs for some, destruction of their heritage for others. And in the end there seems no way to fight it.

Why I liked the book is because I felt the author was not only thorough but gave interesting pictures of the places and people who are trying to understand the knot and other species with which it intermixes whether they be polar bears or other shore birds. Oh for noisy turnstones and waders. I would be thrilled to find a red knot on the Christmas Bird Count at the end of Point Reyes I have done for fifteen years now. Adding it to the occasional surfbird and wandering tattler would be a feather in my cap at the count dinner. From the arctic to Tierra del Fuego the reader gets a sense of the world of long distance migraters, their landscapes and the scientists who study them.

Among the many facts the author mentions is that polar bear predation of nesting birds in the arctic archipelago has increased with global warming. With the increased melting of ice along shorelines the breathe holes where bears caught seals are vanishing and the bears are replacing rich seal diets with eggs and nestlings of the many birds reproducing on land. The lack of a one seal is replaced by an impoverished diet of many many eggs and birds. Hence population reduction.

This books is only about the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico migrations. There is another great migration from the south Pacific to the Russian Arctic. My artist friend Janet is doing a series of paintings for one of the Pacific knot researchers with the idea of raising awareness and money for the work. The paintings are of the places that the knots land along their migration. Each portrays the habitat, images of what threatens that habitat and some representation of how people used that habitat before the threat occurred. Most of the paintings are done. The challenge now is how to use them to further the cause of knot survival. Researchers are not always good promoters of their work. I guess that is an added reason to recommend this book.

This is a good book to read, if you read it continuously, have the stomach for some pretty gruesome facts about vanishing species, and want to learn a lot about the habitats of knots and the species that surround them.

Charlie Fisher, emeritus prof. and author of “Dismantling Discontent” and “Meditation in the Wild.”

A Year of Watching Wildlife (General Reference Guide)
A Year of Watching Wildlife (General Reference Guide)
by David Lukas
Edition: Paperback
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4.0 out of 5 stars Useful, June 8, 2015
When I was given this book for my birthday, I thought, “My god,” has David Lucas (the author of this book even though it is credited to Lonely Planet) been to all these places. Though I haven’t been out with him for years, I remember him as a talented naturalist and good teacher. Here he takes on Lonely Planet’s’ mandate to help travelers, this time those interested in nature. It is a good book tempting nature tourists to times and places where creatures from great bustards to augrabie’s flat lizards can be seen. The photos in the book are very good, although they are not always labeled as to species. The book is also not PR for private touring companies. The web links after each section are to parks and governments.

This said, I have problems with Lonely Planet’s agenda. 40 or more years ago walking around southern Mexico, British Honduras and hitchhiking into Guatemala, I thought I might write a book a la Lenin with a title like, Tourism, Imperialism’s Final Insult. While on the road or in back of what seemed to be WWII Toyota pickup trucks, I realized that my pack, my boots and even my rain coat separated me so completely from the locals that there was almost no bridging the gap. And when I watched locals looking at Americans, Japanese, and French tourists, ugly a la the book of that name about Vietnam, I justified myself by thinking, “at least I slept on the ground and trudged back trails with Indians hauling freight to remote camps.” And I talked with them as human equals both of us speaking a foreign language. The most memorable comment from a Mestizo I heard was when he was looking at an American tourist with a large dog: “The dog eats much more than I do.” I never did write the book but I vaguely remember some one may have.

Now tourism is a giant worldwide business turning the indigenous people of Quintana Roo into maids and bus boys where I remember empty beaches and people farming their milpas or fishing. I just checked and the carbon footprint for world tourism is 5%. Bad or good, I am not sure but certainly most of my friends, even those who are ecotourists, don’t think about it at all or the political-economic impact of their travels. Now I might like to see manta rays in the Maldives or red crabs in Australia, things my neighbors sometimes do and yet, by driving 10 miles and wading in a bay they can chase bat rays or watch Velella also called sea raft, by-the-wind sailor or purple sail when they blow in by the thousands. As Thoreau said, it takes a lifetime to get to know two square miles. The insects in my neighborhood or the weeds of Boston are certainly as interesting as carnivorous plants in the Amazonian rain forest (and there are carnivorous plants to be found in the quaking bogs 15 miles west of Boston) but it is not as romantic as a boat ride up the Amazon.

Enough of my ranting. David Lucas’ book is certainly aesthetic and useful to those who wish to catch sight of the extraordinary in nature. Me, I would rather hear a few more nesting birds sing in my yard in this drought year when the dawn chorus has become ominously quiet.

Charlie Fisher

Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad
Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad
by Eric Foner
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.22
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5.0 out of 5 stars A historical challenge, June 5, 2015
Eric Foner is a historian’s historian. I assume a red-diaper baby, he has been an important part of the rewriting of American history showing how unexceptional America was in its treatment of black people. We all know about the Underground Railway, but its detailed history is as obscure as the failure of reconstruction was until Foner exposed the truth of economic, political and social re-enslavement. As was his book on reconstruction this is not a popular history and that is both its strength and weakness. I almost wanted a fire and brimstone history with all the failed escapes and heroic rescues. And it is not as if he doesn’t mention many of those but, because of the missing evidence a real historian doesn’t have to work with, what emerges is a history more focused on organizational aspects of the railway as it existed in New York city and connected stations in the northeast. The picture that can be captured is of a relatively few people who assisted most of the escapees for whom we have record. They and their organizations went trough the inevitable conflicts of ideology, the recolonizers in the early days actually attacking the people who wanted full citizenship here, and later railway operative's disagreements sometimes expressed in their respective newspapers. Yet those later participants were able to work with each other when it came to helping escapees.

Because of where the record’s lay we get an astounding picture of very few people doing a great deal for many runaways. The New York Lawyer, Sydney Howard Gay and his two black assistants, William H. Leonard, and Louis Napoleon, were surely great heroes. Gay dipped into his own pocket when necessary. Given the hostility of New York immigrants and natives to blacks and the draft riots, how they carried out their activities is, for me, still a mystery, but that they did so takes a kind of courage I have only witnessed in the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam War Movements. It is interesting how much the resources for helping escapees depended on a very few people. The penny-a-week drives of black supporters were inspiring but I assume came nowhere near meeting the needs.

Of course, I would have liked to know more about all the Quaker and Free State supporters who aided runaways. From William Freehling’s book on the ante-bellam south we know that, particularly, Ohio had many and I have not seen a history of those networks. Slavery leaked out of Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri. But then the more humble individuals who took part kept fewer records than more prominent people in New York, Boston and Philadelphia.

It is interesting how legally and constitutionally correct were Southerners in their claims that abolitionists and their allies were the real disunionists. They openly disobeyed the spirit of the Constitution and laws before 1850, and continued to flout the Fugitive Slave act. States even passing laws that directly contradicted the act. It seems that both intransigent Northern officials, rioting crowds, and individuals prevented more slaves from being returned than officers of the law, owners and bounty hunters were able to return.

This is a good book for those of us who want to fill in the corners of American history we only know little of. I hope it does well commercially as the author deserves.

Charlie Fisher, emeritus prof. and author of “Meditation in the Wild” and “Dismantling Discontent.”

Princes at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britainís Royal Family in the Darkest Days of WWII
Princes at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britainís Royal Family in the Darkest Days of WWII
by Deborah Cadbury
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.11
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Skillfully done, May 27, 2015
Writing a book of this kind presents two great challenges. The first is the challenge not to turn the story into a kind of society page gossip book as Doris Goodwin did in A Team of Rivals, filled with fashion and the details of dinners, and the gossip of personal life much of which was irrelevant to the great events happening around the people involved. I call this chick literature a la chick movies. The author was very good at keeping perspective on what was important as it impacted the struggles of the time. Of course that required telling us much about the lives of the main characters. But not in such a way to manipulate sentiment which is a cardinal feature of chick movies. Nonetheless I was touched by both King George and Churchill’s personal feelings, although it is hard to be sympathetic to Churchill because he was such an extreme narcissist. The King keeping him out of Normandy without laying down the law was, I think, a cardinal mark of the growth of the kings personality and a sign of his inability to really confront people, particularly his brother, Windsor. This is a main theme of the book. The author claims that George the V’s gentleness in handling Windsor was one of the former’s great acts of compassion. But he did force Windsor and Wallis to leave Spain on pain of revealing his desertion from his military post in Paris, and we will never really know whether in refusing Windsor’s request to return to England and give Wallis the title HRH George did not hint or even use Windsor’s treason. If he really had balls he would have threatened Windsor with incarceration if Windsor didn’t lay low. And so he was troubled by Windsor for the rest of his reign. That Windsor acceded to being cuckolded fits well with the anecdotes I got from my mother and Alfred North Whitehead’s sister.

My mom was a student at the University of Manitoba when Windsor made his grand tour in the 1920s. One of her basketball teammates was chosen to be the Duke’s date for the evening. He was known as notorious lady’s man, but the report to teammates the next day was that he was so drunk that he was no threat. In the late sixties I was sitting one day in Bartel(yb)y’s Burger shop in Harvard Square, Cambridge Mass when the nattily dressed Harvard librarian sitting next to me invited Miss Whitehead to join us. The following is my memory but it does not fit the facts that I can locate on the web about Alfred or his one sister Shirley. Miss Whitehead came to keep her brother’s house when he was invited to teach at Harvard in 1924. I remember her saying that he was a bachelor (which he wasn’t: he had a wife and three sons. Alfred’s sister Shirley was born in 1859 which would have made her over a hundred at the time of the hamburgers.) Despite all these discrepancies here is what I heard. Miss Whitehead remembers walking with Russell around their estate when she was a girl. Russell DOM (dirty old man) would regale her with the hanky panky of the English elite (presumably Edward VII’s notorious affairs). She then went on to make fun of Wallace. She said that Wallace, in getting Windsor to reject his crown got what she deserved because Windsor, was impotent.

Of course, no evidence or even hint of this was presented in Cadbury’s book. But it would certainly make sense because of all the energy that Wallace put into acquiring baubles and her eventual public affair added to the fact that Windsor accompanied the cheating couple like a whipped dog.

But turning to the other literary challenge faced by the author. In a book about the public and semi-private affairs of the sons of George V from 1936 when the Duke of Windsor gives up his crown “for the woman I love” until after WWII, how much of the overwhelming history of the time can an author include without that history dominating the book and still make the importance of the actions of the principals sensible which they would not be without that history. In this the author does what I would call a respectable job. Of course it is an impossible chore and I would only take her to task here and there. The unbelievable loss of men and material that could be laid at Churchill’s feet is not really covered, especially Crete a horrible mistake in judgment, almost costing Egypt which was much much more important. Although it must be said she does go into the Cabinet crisis Churchill faced after all the British military defeats. So on the whole the author gave more than adequate background for the personal/political story she related. For that she really deserve plaudits.

Looking back on Windsor’s treachery, nay treason, it seems a grave error that both Churchill and King George covered it up. If the Monarchy can not stand the truth in a democracy then it doesn’t deserve to be there. As it was the Monarchy did contribute to Britain’s survival, even though Churchill deserved to lose the 1945v election because he would have resisted the Empire’s dissolution after the War. The times had changed and King George no longer could be the Emperor of India, Burma, etc. In the end the undeserved King earned his crown, though from excessive smoking and stress, he succeeded in bringing himself to an early grave, leaving his daughter whom he spent years of preparing (it would have been nice to have learned a little about this) fit for the job he never wanted.

Good book, even a good way of learning the outline of the British during WWII. Read it.

Charlie Fisher, emeritus prof. and author of “Meditation in the Wild” and “Dismantling Discontent.”

The Iron Road: An Illustrated History of the Railroad
The Iron Road: An Illustrated History of the Railroad
by Christian Wolmar
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.75
70 used & new from $3.98

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun, May 21, 2015
For those of us who are fascinated by railroads this is an entertaining book. At 8 years old laying in my bed on a hot summer night on the South Side of Chicago listening to the trains the romance of steam could not have been greater. When the family met my father coming in on the New York Central at the LaSalle Street Station, the fear and thrill of the last blast of steam as the train came to a stop is embedded in my psyche. So I found the pictures in this book quite intriguing. I know that building railroads cost thousands of lives and made possible the real destruction of wild places, nonetheless I would love again to experience the clicking of the rails and the chugging of a steam engine. I must say I liked the pictures more than the text of the book. I know much of the history which the text could hardly touch upon. I wonder about diesel electric versus pure diesel. At age 13 in 1951 I traveled alone on the Great Northern steel Vista Dome to Seattle and in the early 60’s took the Burlington Zephyr back and forth from Chicago to graduate school in Berkeley. In the late 60’s and early 70’s taking the Canadian Nation and Canadian Pacific from Montréal to either Vancouver or almost Prince Rupert. Lightening at night across the plains of the Dakotas is a found memory. And the picture of the lines of Chinese high-speed trains intrigues me. As politically incorrect as it is, although I don’t want to travel any more, I would love to take the Qinghai-Tibet RR. Maybe some day! It would, of course, be better if it was to an autonomous Tibet with a residing Dalai Lama.

Charlie Fisher, emeritus prof. and author of “Meditation in the Wild” and “Dismantling Discontent.”

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