Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Historiann's New York Times Book Review Challenge

Blogger Historiann has challenged her readers to answer the questions that James McPhereson was asked.  His answers were kind of predictable.  If it were 1985 maybe.  Is Bernard Bailyn still writing books?  He's still alive? 

What books are currently on your night stand?
Invisible Bridge, Rick Perlstein; Dead End in Norvelt, Jack Gantos
What was the last truly great book you read?
Thomas Andrews, Killing for Coal.  I'm a little behind but Andrews did amazing things with sources in that book. 
Who are the best historians writing today?
Jill Lepore, Laurel Thacher Ulrich, Richard White, and Bill Cronon. 
What’s the best book ever written about American history?
There isn't one.  Duh. 

Sorry–I didn’t realize.  Maybe I should ask if you have a favorite biography?
I don't really like biography.  The Kingdom of Matthias if that fits.  Or Midwife's Tale.  Neither is really a conventional biography. 
What are the best military histories?
Michael Sherry The Rise of American Airpower
And what are the best books about African-American history?
Not my area.  Let's talk multi-cultural history - that is history that treats more than one minority group at a time.    I think one of the best is still Sylvia Van Kirk's Many Tender Ties.  An amazing book that still holds up in my mind.  The Unequal Sisters series always impresses me.  Great teaching resources for my HS students there.  Just in Navajo History I really like both Colleen O'Neill's book on Navajo workers and Erika Bsumek's book on selling Navajo culture.  
During your many years of teaching, did you find that students responded differently over time to the history books you assigned?
Duh yes.  Do you really get paid to ask these questions?  Of course kids are different now than the were 10 or 20 years ago. 
What kind of reader were you as a child?
I read a lot.  And I reread a lot.  My Side of the Mountain and The Boxcar Children were huge escapist fantasies from my suburban upbringing.  Free to Be You and Me which I read most of when the stories ran in Ms. Magazine and my mom cut them out for me.  The Meet series.  (Meet George Washington, Meet John F. Kennedy, etc.)  Science Fiction as I got older:  The Tripod Series for example.  And lots of Life histories of World War II.  And 50 years of Life. 
If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?
At the time I read it I didn't think I was going to be a high school history teacher, but a professor.  That said, Graham Swift's Waterland is a book I returned to many, many times and I took different lessons from it each time.  And I had a 5th grade teacher who made me read Macbeth because I was very squirrelly in class, especially when I finished my work.  It took me all year but ever after I was like "I'm an intellectual, I read Shakespeare".  I'm pretty sure I was an annoying prick in Junior High. 
If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?
Seeing Like a State by James C. Scott for hubris.  Lizabeth Cohen Making a New Deal for understanding why the State needs to step it up sometimes. 
You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?
I would love to have dinner with Wallace Stegner and Joan Didion.  
Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?
I finish books.  I even finished Twilight.  And that sucker was a piece of crap.  I wanted to like The Corrections but I hated it.  Hated it.  I've been slowly working my way through Mark Fiege's Republic of Nature but the font is so small I can't read it. 
What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?
So many.  I'm like 10 years behind in terms of historiography.  I never read Foner's Reconstruction, not even the abridged.  I am ashamed. 
What do you plan to read next?
Andrew Needham's Power Lines:  Phoenix and the Making of the Modern Southwest. 


  1. Get reading glasses, Dave! Mark Fiege's book is really worth it.

    What about Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country by Marsha Weisiger? That's a really good book. Do you know it? I'm slapping myself for leaving it off my list. Clearly, McPherson's interview pulled me away from Southwest habitat and my Native American and Latin@ interests--thanks for contributing to the #historiannchallenge and pulling us back into that direction.

    Also: The Boxcar Children!!! OMG. I used to have fantasies about running away and damming up a stream and scrubbing the rust off of utensils with sand from the stream. Loved them.

  2. Re: glasses. If I thought I wouldn't constantly lose them, I'd already have them. If I can't read Fiege with this pair of glasses (3rd this year), I'm getting it on Kindle.

    I do like Marsha's book a lot. Masha, Colleen, Erika, and I were all kicking around the same places at the same time and I am fond of all their work. I should probably like Marsha's work more, but I was already very familiar with it before it was published, which isn't fair to what's really a great work of history. I should appreciate it more.

    I think I was frequently one of the female characters when I played Boxcar children as a kid. I had no idea that there were sequels, including one on uranium mining.