‘Tis the season for talking about explorers, colonizers, and the people who had to deal with them. Here are my four off-the-top-of-my-head favorite books to date. The ones that if I need to quick grab something from the shelf, here’s what I grab.
(I should note that I will be grabbing from other people’s shelves: three from my local public library, and the fourth from my dad’s house. 3 of the 4 come with a ‘buy’ recommendation, but since I don’t have to do so myself, I won’t.)
Read all four, and you should be well on your way to being able to discuss all the hot Thanksgiving-related history topics that will be no doubt swirling around the table next week.
This one showed up on the New Books shelf of my local library either last winter or the year before, and I grabbed it despite myself. From the title and cover it sounded like it was going to be one of those cute little wow-your-friends-with-trivia books written in large print with lots of bulleted lists of amazing factoids, destined to circle the internet in spamlets for years to come. Not so. Far from it.
Each chapter is devoted to a famous moment in American History, as usually taught in American public schools. Columbus, Pilgrims, all that stuff. (You can look at the table of contents on amazon). The content is the setting-the-record-straight work that college professors do to incoming freshman, essentially filling in the details and nuances to stories that are too-often summarized in three sentences through most of k-12.
I think I must have found the book tedious at times — I had to make myself finish it for the purpose of being able to write a review. For certain there are moments when Davis gets on roll and his politics start showing, especially when he steps beyond his area of expertise. And of course if you read the book this week, you may find yourself an insufferable dinner companion at Thanksgiving next week when a well-meaning relative tries to tell the neices and nephews about ‘The story of Thanksgiving’ and you feel compelled to offer additions and corrections.
All that said, it is still a useful reference for anyone who is interested in US history but hasn’t been through a good college-level course lately. Loaded with details and facts surrounding various controversial moments in US history. If you have your brain intact and can therefore read critically and reserve the right to form your own opinion, this book is a good starting point for making the transition from a sound-bite ‘knowledge’ of history to a competent understanding of what actually happened, to whom, by whom, when and how.
–> I recommend it as a library find. Not sure I’d pay for it (above and beyond my regularly scheduled tax dollars), but I’m glad I read it.
Mayflower 1620 published by the National Geographic Society is one we bring home every year from the library. If I couldn’t get it there, I would buy it. The topic is the historic voyage of the Mayflower, with photos from the travels of the living history group that re-enacted the trip. Lots of good, solid, detail-laden historic evidence.
Look for it in your children’s department, but the book would be of interest to anybody who wants a thorough primer on the topic. The text is for older-elementary years and up. As a read-aloud to younger children, I find myself having to do way too much explaining. Younger kids, however, will enjoy the photos, and you can tell a pared-down version of events as you browse.
(Nerd-person tip of the week: Because it is easily readable, illustrated with lots of captions, and interesting across age ranges, this would be a fun one to bring along to Thanksgiving, for the browsing pleasure of people who don’t do football, and are otherwise at a loss for post-dinner conversation. If yours is the sort of family where perusing a history book could count as ‘fun’. It probably is, if you read this blog.)
And here are two that longtime readers may remember:
And finally, moving off the whole Thanksgiving topic, but still very much concerned with the early encounters between europeans and native americans is the novel Cacique by Bishop Robert Baker. Unless you’re from Florida (and even then) you may not have studied the history of the early spanish missions in that state. This is a very fun way to learn a good bit about the topic, if you like breezy action-adventure tales. (Who doesn’t? And written by a real live catholic bishop, so you can feel virtuous for reading it.) My original review is re-posted immediately below.
That does it for this week. Have a great Thanksgiving, and try to be gentle with your fellow diners as you whip out all your newly-acquired historical knowledge.