History dominates this summer's reading list
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, July 7, 2011

For those who have doubts, I can attest that there is a heaven. I spent much of the Fourth of July weekend there; or more accurately, suspended between heaven and earth in my hammock, listening to the 400 fast-oldies countdown on WODS 103.3 FM, and alternately reading fiction and nonfiction.

Not that the recently ended television season wasn't nice, too; I was intrigued by the ending of AMC's "The Killing" didn't see that coming.

Nothing better than the season finale of "The Mentalist" I'm still high on the justice/revenge ending, flawlessly done. Won't say more in case you missed this excellent cop series and want to catch up over the summer.

I myself am catching up with "Glee."

But summer is mostly for books. Early in 2011 I discovered a new reading front that I am enjoying immensely; enjoyment defined as learning new things and seeing part of my paradigm shifting. It started with "The Given Day" by Boston native Dennis Lehane, which I bought in paperback with a birthday coupon from The Paper Store in Vinnin Square.

Had been planning to eventually read this "great American novel" anyhow, which unlike Lehane's modern thrillers goes back into Boston history to the police strike in 1920. I'd always been curious about that event. Written as novelized history, it was riveting; wish I'd been able to read it before my years of working in Boston, which I realize now I didn't really get to know.

I did find a better understanding of why unions became so important to the police. One almost roots for them when they strike; until one sees the devastating results, then one roots for Calvin Coolidge again.

The book also quickly noted another Boston tragedy, which led me to "Dark Tide, The Great Molasses Flood of 1919." This was pure nonfiction written in 2003 by another Boston writer, Stephen Puleo, but timely now during ongoing discussions about corporate irresponsibility.

I'd never been a nonfiction reader, except for taxpayer-relevant political books; but this year I discovered Erik Larson after friends recommended "Devil in the White City," also written in 2003 about the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. From the title, I expected a true crime story, which it was; but what held me enthralled was the depiction of the United States during this period in history, which I barely knew.

I suspect I'm not the only one whose knowledge of American history starts with Columbus, drops by the first Thanksgiving, then the Revolutionary War, briefly visits the Civil War and the Alamo, notes the Titanic, then skips to World War II followed by the '60s.

Once I discovered the turn of the last century, I didn't want to leave. Using a Christmas gift certificate, I bought another Erik Larson book about "the deadliest hurricane in history" of 1900, which destroyed Galveston. ["Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History"] Not sure I can wait for Larson's latest book, exploring evil in early Nazi Germany, to come out in paperback.

I can stall for awhile with Jared Diamond's "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed," which I found on the Village Pharmacy sale table and have been slogging through for months. I've found some great books at the pharmacy, including my favorite novel so far this year, "The Last Child" by John Hart, published in 2009, which I grabbed when I saw the Washington Post blurb on the cover "Huck Finn channeled through Lord of the Flies." I actually do sometimes pay full price, wanting to support local bookstores, and knowing that The Spirit of '76's Bob Hugo will always recommend wonderful reads like the Stieg Larsson series and Jeanette Wall's "The Glass Castle."

I'm resisting getting a Kindle, an eventual threat to bookstores and used book stalls. Also, I like to mail books I've finished to family and reader friends, or drop them off at the library or Peter Smyth's Hand It Back Book Smyth on Route 114 in Middleton. Often I keep my favorites, which fill several bookcases and are piled up on tables in my house it would seem barren to me without them.

A large number of the keepers are political books to which I refer often: Beverly activist Michael Gendre just added "The Bastiat Collection" to mine. I've mentioned "Destined for Failure: American Prosperity in the Age of Bailouts" by Nicolas Sanchez, written in 2010. The non-fiction book I started this weekend is "Neck & Neck to the White House: The Closest Presidential Elections, 1796-2000" by former Salem News columnist Robert Kelly.

As noted earlier, I feel pretty confident in my knowledge of Revolutionary War history, but kind of let things drop after the signing of the Constitution. The history courses I took in school mentioned the John Adams-Thomas Jefferson split, the beginnings of the political parties, and the 1798 Alien and Seditions Act; but without the decades of my personal activist history to give them context and importance, they hadn't registered overmuch.

Now, facing another potentially close and world-changing presidential election next year, I am memorizing Kelly's facts that I need to understand what is happening here. Can't wait to read "2000: George W. Bush vs. Albert A. Gore" on the way to whoever vs. Barack Obama.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette.

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