Although the earliest years of American history are often presented to us through the singular view of the patriot story, history tells us that those who lived during the American Revolution were a myriad and complex group. We know for example only a third of the country supported revolt while another third remained loyal and yet another third remained ambivalent. The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution offers yet another lens onto the experience of Americans during this era. The book explores the experience of African-Americans, brought to the colonies as enslaved people and then largely denied citizenship in what would become the new nation. Author’s Sidney Kaplan and Ellen Nogrady Kaplan tell this complex history beginning with Crispus Attucks, the first victim of the Boston Massacre and then explores soldiers and sailors on both sides of the conflict, clergymen, businessmen, artists and public advocates. This richly compelling though historically rigorous work will offer readers a new view on the oft-told stories of the American Revolution.
Book Review: The Black Presence in the Era of the American RevolutionRamin Ganeshram
1776, as the year implies, the book chronicles many of the key military events (Siege of Boston, Battle of Brooklyn, Battle of Trenton) at the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775 and 1776. It also profiles many of the individual personalities behind these serial engagements. It is an excellent work made even better with a side by side read of David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize winning biography of John Adams. McCullough has a fantastic way of taking extremely well-researched source material and bringing it to life in a style that will remind you of your favorite college professor.
Community Book Review: 1776 by David McCulloughDavid Krasne
Love stories of spies, love-triangles, revenge, and whodunnits? The Royal Art of Poison may be the perfect read for you. The piece of non-fiction is split into two parts: The first explores the history and circumstances that led to danger for the aristocracy of the past, while the second examines well-known cases of alleged poisoning to determine if victims were really done in by an assassin or simply succumbed to a terrible (but natural) end. Accessible for history hobbyists as well as historians, The Royal Art of Poison is a delight in its agonizing themes.
Book Review: The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most FoulNicole Carpenter
German author Timur Vermes 2012 novel, Look Who’s Back: Hitler and the Nazis, expertly balances the horrifyingly twisted ambitions of the Third Reich, while also exploring the dangers of assuming that it could never happen again. This dark satire begins with Adolf Hitler waking up in modern Berlin, completely unaware of how he got there and without knowledge of his modern surroundings. Vermes’ plot mockingly follows Hitler as he attempts to slowly (and comically) understand the new world around him and attempt to once again reach the heights of power. Great read for both historians and those examining modern politics.
Book Review: Look Who’s Back: Hitler and the NazisNick Foster
A YouTube channel featuring historic dress creation and a behind-the-scenes book about Pilgrim life.
If you’re a history buff, fashionista or just plain in the mood for some calming afternoon content, the YouTube channel of one Bernadette Banner might be the place for you. Ms. Banner, an “independent online content creator,” showcases historical dress prior to the electric sewing machine with the intent of understanding their construction, function and place within the historical record. Banner creates her own garments and models them for viewers. Her videos contain helpful sewing tips, relaxing commentary and opportunities to see how clothing of the past was created. Whether you are a sewer or simply a history connoisseur Ms. Banner’s channel will make you appreciate fashion’s past and will transport you to a different time.
What better time than this, the 400th anniversary of the 1620 Pilgrim landing in Plymouth, Massachusetts to read a comprehensive and entertaining history of the Plymouth Bay Colony. In The Mayflower: The Families, the Voyage, and the Founding of America, author Rebecca Frazer tells a great story from the colony’s creation into the mid 18th century. Following the Pilgrims as they flee England for Holland seeking religious freedom and then being driven from that land onto to America, Frazer’s book paints a detailed picture of the ambition, fervor, and politics behind the oft-told and beloved legend of the founding of America. The author also explores the human foresight of the Pilgrims beginning with the Mayflower Compact, which bound these people into “a civil body politic” — “the first experiment in consensual government in Western History between individuals with one another, and not with a monarch” as well as their failures and foibles. Not only does Frazer explore the hardship of weather and scarcity that killed half the colonists in the first year alone, but also offers a realistic view of the next 80 years during which two unnecessary wars were fought, first with Pequots Natives and then King Philip’s War with Wampanoag peoples and how Puritans and their Congregational churches both helped and hindered the creation of a new nation. History buffs will appreciate being more intimately introduced to many historical figures—among them, Edward Winslow and William Bradford (key figures of the early colony), and Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson and Thomas Hooker. Readers will come away with a greater understanding—and not a little awe—that despite all their tribulations, their Puritans’ civil body politic somehow endured.
Community Book Review: The Mayflower: The Families, the Voyage, and the Founding of AmericaBill Chase
A review of a classic Twilight Zone episode, rediscovering Great Expectations, and a novel for genealogy nerds.
If you are a genealogy nerd, like I am, this book has a little bit of everything you’ll love. The main character, Peter Sefton, is an amateur genealogist who finds a marriage certificate from 1900 for sale in an antique mall. Why would he purchase it? As a person who knows how hard marriage records can be to find, I know exactly why he bought it: He knew there was someone who was going to be interested in it, and he just had to find them! With that purchase Peter’s adventure begins. Through twists and turns, he researches the couple identified in the certificate and finds out that a professional firm is also researching them because someone’s financial future is at stake. The story shifts perspective from Peter Sefton to the maid of honor at the marriage in question, whose own journey helps to shape the story playing out over 100 years later. This novel features a marriage, an accident, a gruesome death, and genealogical research–what’s not to love? With plot twists and intrigue waiting around every corner The Marriage Certificate was a page-turner that I couldn’t put down. Highly recommend for anyone who loves a good mystery and if you’ve got the genealogy bug like me, you’ll love it even more! Now I’m just waiting for the movie adaption! Download on Kindle Unlimited for free!
Book Review: The Marriage Certificate by Stephen MolyneuxSara Krasne
Great Expectations takes place over nearly thirty years from 1812-1840 and is about an orphan named Pip who struggles through life as a member of England’s underclasses. We follow him through his younger years where he meets mysterious criminals in graveyards and as he falls in love with the upper-class girl, Estella. Later when he comes into a great sum of money from an anonymous benefactor, we join Pip’s new quest: To become a gentleman. This book is detailed and thoughtfully written. It will leave you astonished about the way of life so long ago. You will fall completely in love with the wacky characters that help Pip through his journey. No stranger to hardship in his youth, Charles Dickens used his novels to reveal the desperate plight of those who were most unfortunate in his society. This 19th-century novel is an international classic and definitely worth your time to read.
Classic Book Review: Great Expectations by Charles DickensStaples Sophomore, Sydney Griffiths
Among Westport’s notable residents was writer-producer Rod Serling whose famed television series The Twilight Zone invited viewers into the shadowy interstitial realm of the “Fifth Dimension” where inexplicable–and often odd–things took place. In the 1960 episode entitled A Stop In Willoughby, Serling paid homage to Westport in both subtle and overt ways. The main character, Gart Williams, is a beleaguered and disillusioned ad-man with an overly-ambitious wife. Each night Williams takes the commuter train home with (pre-climate change!) November snow swirling outside its windows. When he dozes off after the conductor calls “Stamford!” he has a lucid dream about a stop called Willoughby where it is sunny and warm (the new conductor tells him it’s July) –but it is also 1888. He awakens just before the conductor calls “Saugatuck-Westport!” At home, Williams quarrels with his ambitious wife, Janey, noting that “Some people aren’t built for competition or big, pretentious houses they can’t afford, or rich communities they don’t feel comfortable in, or country clubs they wear around their neck like a badge of status.” After telling Janey about his peculiar dream on the train she angrily retorts “You were just born too late! You’re the kind of guy who could be satisfied with a summer afternoon or an ice wagon being drawn by a horse.” (Sounds like our kind of guy!) Vowing to eventually get to Willoughby, Williams looks forward to his evening commute and his dream-land visits to the idyllic 19th century town but then, in true Twilight Zone fashion, things take a bizarre turn. A Stop in Willoughby and all other episodes of the Twilight Zone are available as part of Hulu and Netflix streaming plans.
Classic TV Review: The Twilight Zone, A Stop At WilloughbyRamin Ganeshram
The mysterious Louisa May Alcott, Yellow Fever: and poking fun at histories villains.
A young reader’s book that will appeal to all ages, Fever 1793, recounts the Yellow Fever epidemic in Philadelphia. The sickness, was carried by mosquitoes and gripped the city yearly when warm temperature and standing, putrid water in ponds and swampy areas near the Delaware River provided ideal conditions for mosquitoes to thrive. The year 1793 was a particularly bad one for Yellow Fever and Halse Anderson’s novel brings the panic and desperation of the terrified public to life through the eyes of her 14-year-old protagonist, Polly. Well researched with some creative liberties as to the timing of historic events, this book is a page-turner at any time—but particular now when we find ourselves looking to the past as a roadmap to the difficulties of the present and hopes for the future.
Fever 1793Ramin Ganeshram
Listening to podcasts are a wonderful way to pass the time during this public health emergency, even better is to continue to learn history while getting in a good laugh! Behind the Bastards is hosted by Robert Evans, conflict journalist and author, along with a rotating cast of comedic guests discussing the things you don’t know about the very worst people in history. Described as diving “in past the Cliffs Notes of the worst humans in history and exposes the bizarre realities of their lives” the series is well researched, witty and side-splittingly hilarious. Evans and his guests educate and entertain while challenging viewers to discuss these figures and their connections today. While great content, the show is geared for adults, parents should listen before allowing teens (15-16+) to tune in. Click here for access to this free podcast.
Behind the BastardsNicole Carpenter
Although written for ages 12 to 17, The Revelation of Louisa May by Westport’s own Michaela MacColl, brings the Concord, Massachusetts girlhood of Little Women author Louisa May Alcott to life. Part thriller, part romance, Louisa finds herself in charge of the family home at just 15 years of age as her mother goes away for the summer to earn money—something her transcendentalist philosopher father does not deign to do. Even as Louisa struggles to hold household management together, she must also step into her mother’s place as a conductor on the Underground Railroad—all while grappling with her budding romantic feelings for an old family friend. MacColl’s precise research into Alcott’s family, friends and town is apparent and charmingly told. Those who loved Little Women will delight in MacColl’s skillfully drawn parallels between the Alcott home and the March house of Little Women.