1 2

Staff Picks Category: History

Lives Worth Living []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

When I went to the Northampton Senior Center for a special Northampton Commission on Disability screening of Lives Worth Living I didn’t know anything about the film or its subject the disability rights movements. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the film was not just informative, but a well-crafted and incredibly moving introduction to the subject that left me eager to learn more.

At just 54 minutes in length, Lives Worth Living is too short to be more than an introduction to the story of disability rights (which it traces from the polio epidemics of the early twentieth century and the treatment of disabled veterans up to the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990), but it makes excellent use of the time it has. We briefly learn about the discrimination and negative attitudes faced by the people with disabilities who were too often assumed to be without potential or worth. We briefly learn about the shocking maltreatment of people with mental disorders and about the Willowbrook State School and the abuses that occurred there and at similar institutions throughout the country. We learn about the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and other early legislation, but more importantly we learn about the advocates who pushed to expand protections for the disabled, unifying diverse groups (associations for the blind, the physically handicapped, mental patients and others), and how disability rights became recognized as civil rights. And we learn about the protesters—the individuals who occupied buildings, locked themselves to bus shelters, and even crawled and pulled their way up the capitol steps to make their message heard.

Lives Worth Moving is a powerful film, well worth watching and relevant to us all. I cannot recommend it enough.

Tagged: , , , ,

The Ukrainian and Russian Notebooks by Igort []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

New graphic nonfiction by Italian comics artist Igort!
Over the past few decades only a small handful of Igort’s work have been translated into English, despite his status as an award winning graphic novelist and the founder of esteemed publishing house Coconino Press, so a new arrival of his to our shores is always a reason for excitement.
For his newest graphic novel Igort spent two years in Ukraine and Russia collecting stories from survivors and witnesses of life under Soviet rule. Focusing on the government sanctioned famine of 1932, and the assassination in 2006 of journalist and human rights activist Anna Politkovskaya, this collection of deeply affecting interviews is rendered in Igort’s stark yet compassionate illustrative style. A single opening panel just telling the year can pack as much emotion and connotative information as some other artist’s entire novels, simply through his layering of images and line work — a true master of the craft.
Definitely not an easy read in terms of its direct depictions of human atrocities, but certainly one of the most important graphic novels of the year, humanizing events that have mostly been told through a skewed western lens, while also connecting current turmoil in the region to its tumultuous past, helping create a more complete and honest history.

Tagged: , ,

Hidden by Loïc Dauvillier []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

Memories of being hidden, and keeping those memories hidden… A grandmother tells a special story from her childhood in this touching graphic novel about being young during World War II.

Douina’s lives with her mother and father in Paris. Her life is relatively normal until she is made to wear a star on her jacket. Her father had told her it was a sheriff’s star but everyone begins to treat her differently. Soon her parents are taken away to work camps and Douina is left to be cared for by neighbors and kind strangers. As she settles into her new life and new name, Simone, she can’t help but miss her mother and father. Once the war has ended and it is safe again, she travels back home and begins the search for her parents.

This book offers children a glimpse into the past- what it was like to be young during WWII and how some children and families were affected by the Holocaust in France. Words by Loïc Dauvillier and art by Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo

Tagged: , , ,

The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America by Timothy Egan []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

What does a fire in the Bitterroots have to do with Teddy Roosevelt and the Forest Service? The Forest Service was started by Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the USFS, in 1905. However, many politicians wanted to sell off the forests to large corporations, and thought conservation was a horrible idea. That might sound familiar, but this was at the beginning of the 20th century. A huge fire in 1910 was the catalyst to prevent this new agency from being blown away. Interesting look at the politics of the time, and an adrenaline-inducing account of the front lines of the fire. This book is a coming-of-age story for the United States Forest Service.

Tagged: ,

Midnight in Peking by Paul French []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

In 1937 foreigners and native Beijinger’s alike were shocked when the mutilated body of a young woman was found just outside of of Beijing’s Legation Quarter. Clearly, a terrible crime had been committed, but what had happened? The investigation was complicated by the bureaucratic system that made it difficult for law enforcement in the Legation Quarter and in Chinese Beijing to work together and the detectives in charge of the case struggled with a lack of information and communication—and what seemed all too often to be pure obstructionism from above. Paul French’s Midnight in Peking offers a fascinating glimpse of China at beginning of the Second World War, a time when powerful Europeans were leaving China, and many refugees were arriving in Beijing and nearby cities, fleeing from the USSR and Nazi Germany, and from the increasingly hostile and militaristic presence of the Japanese within China.

French’s narrative follows both the official investigations, and the unofficial investigation conducted by the victim’s father. There are some surprising twists along the way, and French takes advantage of them to keep the reader on her toes. An engaging read, but not for the squeamish or those who prefer to read stories in which justice is fulfilled.

Tagged: , , ,

Winter in Wartime [, ]

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

This beautifully shot period film follows 13 year old Michiel, a small town boy in Nazi-occupied Holland in the Winter of 1945.  Michiel’s childhood innocence and restless desire for adventure lead him into increasingly dark and morally ambiguous territories when the realities of war,  resistance and adulthood collide and converge upon his small town life. He is apprehensive about his father’s uneasy cooperation with their German occupiers and looks up to his uncle Ben, a resistance fighter whose connections, gifts and attitude intrigue Michiel. When an allied fighter pilot crashes near the village, Michiel and his sister, a young nurse, are drawn into the search for the pilot and must debate whether to take action or remain silent, and question who they can truly trust. The film, while somewhat conventional in some of its WWII era plotlines, offers enough twists and intrigue to keep the viewer’s attention, but its real appeal is grounded heavily in the films setting. The scenes are filmed beautifully and the village, woods, snow, bicycles, knitwear and natural light combine to give the film an enchanting sense of place, and ground the viewer in Michiel’s conflicted world, caught between action and fear, occupation and resistance and childhood innocence and the risks of adult responsibilities. This film is one of several Forbes films now added in Blu-Ray and DVD (both discs are included in one case, so patrons will not mistakenly get home and find the film unplayable), and the Blu-Ray is especially recommended for its crisp picture, which captures the film’s setting wonderfully.

Tagged: , , , ,

Maphead : charting the wide, weird world of geography wonks by Ken Jennings []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

I like maps, I like geography and I mostly liked this book. Ken Jennings’ book had many interesting stories to tell; my favorites being the sections on early cartography, the London Map Fair and the National Geographic Bee. He lost me however with the couple of chapters devoted to GPS (games and navigation) and geocaching. I was disappointed that I did not love this book in its entirety but would recommend it nevertheless because of the author’s informative and witty writing.

Tagged: , , ,

Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

A romp through Puritan history. Vowell, a commentator on NPR’s This American Life narrates this witty and sarcastic look at a small slice of Puritan history, intermixed with popular culture references. This quote from the book will give you a good sense of how she looks at history:
“I wish I didn’t understand why Hutchinson risks damming herself to exile and excommunication just for the thrill of shooting off her mouth,” writes Vowell. “But this here book is evidence that I have this confrontational, chatty bent myself.”
Includes music and quotes read by such luminaries as John Oliver from The Daily Show. 6 discs, 7 hours

Tagged: ,

At Home by Bill Bryson []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

At Home: A Short History of Private Life is not particularly short, and it is too rambling and unfocused to be a useful history, but it is full of surprising facts and entertaining anecdotes about our homes and how they got that way. We learn about architecture, gardening, furniture, food, sanitation and much else besides. Although we learn a little about life in ancient times, and a wee bit about homes in the Middle East and in North America, the bulk of the content focuses on British homes in the last few hundred years. Many sections of the book tell us little about the lives of all but the most wealthy, which is disappointing but also understandable, but Byrson makes up for this imbalance by keeping the text engaging, readable, and always interesting.

Tagged: ,

Across Asia on a bicycle by Thomas Gaskell Allen, Jr. and William Lewis Sachtleben. []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

After graduating from George Washington University in 1890, Thomas Allen and William Sachtleben, two American students wishing to expand upon their education with practical experience, decided to travel around the world. Wishing to meet the people along their route, instead of being insulated from them as they would have been had they traveled by more customary means, the two young men chose the newly invented “saftey bicycle” as their primary method of transport. This book tells the story of the most exciting portion of their travels, their journey across Asia, taking the seldom used northern route from Turkey, through Persia (now Iran) and through western China. (The safer and more used path would have led them south through India.)

This book is fascinating as much for what it reveals about the attitudes of these two Americans as it is for what it reveals about the people they met upon there way. It provides an interesting glimpse at the attitudes and politics of the time, and, of course, it is also a great adventure story.

Tagged: , ,

Calvin Coolidge At Home in Northampton by Susan Lewis Well []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

Using original material from the collections of the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum, Well presents the daily life and residences of Calvin Coolidge in Northampton, Massachusetts. She uses new sources to document the unique and interesting personal life stories of Coolidge’s landlords and neighbors.

Tagged: , ,

Cod: A Biography of the fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky []

book-jacket

view/request in library catalog

This book will, of course, teach you a fair amount about codfish, but it will also teach you a great deal about history. As it turns out, the history of cod fisheries and the the trade in salted cod have had an enormous impact on world events, playing a crucial role in the slave trade, the exploration of the New World, and the American Revolutionary War. Mr. Kurlansky’s writing is engaging; he will make you excited about cod.

Tagged: , ,