In January I signed up for Reading for a Cure, a great challenge issued by Wendy, doyenne of the book blog Caribou’s Mom. The idea behind the challenge is raise money for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, a renowned non-profit that funds research, state-of-the-art equipment and instruments, parent and patient care, and support for doctors at a number of leading pediatric hospitals. All you have to do is read–something most of us love to do anyway!
I’ve been enjoying the challenge, and I think it would be a fun summer project with kids as well. In the first quarter, it seemed like I was batting 1.000 with my book selections. This spring, I wasn’t as lucky, for I didn’t find a single fiction book I liked much. But I made up for it by reading several terrific histories that I highly recommend!
Washington’s Crossing, by David Hackett Fischer. 1776 wasn’t even over, and the Continental Army was on the ropes. It appeared the American Revolution was over before it had really begun. Then, in the dead of a New Jersey winter, George Washington crossed the Delaware to launch an audacious counter-offensive that turned the tables on the British and their Hessian mercenaries. David Hackett Fischer is one of my favorite historians, and this book includes many fascinating details on Washington’s momentum-changing campaign. But what makes this great book such a gem is the sweeping context that will make you ponder how character and individual decisions can have incalculable effects on world history.
Landscape Turned Red, by Stephen W. Sears. I am going to visit the Antietam battlefield soon, so in preparation I read this classic study of the battle. In September 1862, the armies of Robert E. Lee and George McClellan met in a tiny town in southern Maryland; the result was the bloodiest day in American history, with over 3600 men killed, 17,000 wounded, and 1700 missing (most presumed dead). Sears does a great job from start to finish setting up the circumstances that led to the battle, relating a blow-by-blow of the ghastly fighting, and then detailing the unexpected aftermath, which included emboldening Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.
When Elvis Died, by Neal and Janice Gregory. Everyone in our family was a big Elvis fan. When Elvis died on August 16, 1977 (which happened to be Mary’s 10th birthday), we all felt we had lost someone really important. Elvis were more than another entertainer; he was a friend. I enjoyed reading this very interesting study of the media response to the King’s death and how it was anything but hype; rather, it was driven by intense public demand. In reading it, I was reminded of the recent movie “The Queen,” about how the royal family had to play catch-up after flubbing their initial response to Princess Diana’s death. The book ran out of steam as it moved on to the later commercial exploitation of the Presley phenomenon, but the chapters focusing on the enormous outpouring of emotion those few days in August are powerful and fascinating stuff.
The Lost City of Z, by David Grann. This was by far the best book I read this spring. In 1925, famed British explorer Percy Fawcett disappeared in the Amazon jungle while on a quest for evidence of a lost Indian civilization. In the years that followed, finding Fawcett became something of an obsession, and several other adventurers lost their lives attempting to retrace his steps. As you might imagine, I love to read books about explorers, and this book gives great insight into Fawcett, a self-made man of proven ability who had taught himself to survive in one of the harshest terrains in the world. But by the time he mounted the “Z” operation, Fawcett was in his 50s, suffering from PTSD from his World War I experiences, and increasingly devoted to his interest in the occult. As a narrator, Grann is both interesting and unobtrusive, drawing us into his own quest without being intrusive or obnoxious in the vein of say, Tony Horwitz. A great read with a surprise ending. Highly recommended.