Category Archives: History

The Age of Radiance by Craig Nelson Book review

19769305Two things I would say will help dictate whether you are likely to enjoy the book “The Age of Radiance: The Epic Rise and Dramatic Fall of the Atomic Era” by Craig Nelson. The first and most obvious is whether you have interest in the subject matter of learning about the sweeping history of the atom, radiation and nuclear weapons, power, and medicine. The second reason is if you like the style of historical writing that is used by author Craig Nelson. The style that Nelson uses and which is not unique to him is to make liberal use of quotes normally from people involved or who lived through the events described.  Nelson likes to construct his story with a smaller mixture of his telling of events and then more weighted towards his  use of quotes. If you like hearing more directly from the people involved then you will be more inclined to like this book given that is the style it uses.

The book covers a larger span of time than you might imagine for this topic. It covers the discovery of x-Rays in 1895 to the nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan in 2011. If you are looking for a heavy dose of science and how exactly things work, that is not what you will find with this book. Nelson gives you a moderate understanding of the scientific principles in play when talking about x-Rays, radiation, the splitting of the atom, nuclear energy and weapons among other topics talked about. While at certain times I wish I had gotten a bit more detailed scientific information than I did get, I can see the balance that Nelson likely had to walk in giving you enough information on the science behind the topics discussed but at the same time not getting bogged down in the details so that it would not become inaccessible to your average reader.  In that sense I think Nelson has done a good job of giving you enough of a taste of the scientific underpinnings of the story he is telling to allow you to understand the topics discussed. Nelson also gives you a good idea of the large and varied group of people that you encounter over the course of the history of this topic and the politics and personal stories that are prevalent with in this subject.

If you are looking for a good but not extremely technical look at radiation and nuclear based devices this book is certainly worth a look in my estimation.

“Lincoln’s Boys” A peak into the making of history

5190p2uQsJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_From the excerpt I have read of  Lincoln’s Boys: John Hay, John Nicolay, and the War for Lincoln’s Image by Joshua Zeitz in the Smithsonian Magazine it certainly seems like it could be a good book.  More likely a book for people who have a fondness for history and in this case Abraham Lincoln. The excerpt below gives a little taste of it.

It is little wonder that historians consult Hay’s and Nicolay’s writing frequently—their letters and journals provide eyewitness accounts of their White House years. But their major life’s work after the Civil War is a largely forgotten story.

“The boys,” as the president affectionately called them, became Lincoln’s official biographers. Enjoying exclusive access to his papers—which the Lincoln family closed to the public until 1947 (the 21st anniversary of the death of Robert Todd Lincoln)— they undertook a 25-year mission to create a definitive and enduring historical image of their slain leader. The culmination of these efforts—their exhaustive, ten-volume biography, serialized between 1886 and 1890—constituted one of the most successful exercises in revisionism in American history. Writing against the rising currents of Southern apologia, Hay and Nicolay pioneered the “Northern” interpretation of the Civil War—a standard against which every other historian and polemicist had to stake out a position.

via The History of How We Came to Revere Abraham Lincoln | History | Smithsonian.

I think I am likely to get a copy of this when it comes out, but will see.  If you get enjoyment out of learning about history this certainly seems like a book worth checking out.

AMC’s ‘Turn’ Spy Drama TV trailer.

AMC’s new TV show Turn based during the American Revolutionary period interests me mainly because I have always enjoyed that period of history.  The American Revolution era period of roughly 1760-1800 has been an era of history that I love to study and learn more about.  The TV show is about the Culper Spy ring that came about during the war and was very helpful to George Washington as he fought the British.

The TV show premieres Sunday, April 6th.

Steven Spielberg the historian with his movie Lincoln?

Lincoln PosterThe New York Times has an interesting piece on how Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” actually might be advancing the way the historians look at Lincoln with what the movie speculates about why Lincoln’s reasoning was on two different subjects.  One of those being why Lincoln pushed so hard to get the 13th Amendment passed before the new Congress came in later that year.  Here is an excerpt from the post about one of the ways the movie could be advancing the way we look at Lincoln.

The movie, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th president, makes two especially interesting historical arguments.

The first is to explain why the passage of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, was overwhelmingly important to Lincoln in January 1865. The issue is not why passage was important; the movie explains that clearly enough. Instead, the problem is to explain the frenzied work to pass it in that month. As the historian Michael Vorenberg has observed, “No piece of legislation during Lincoln’s presidency received more of his attention.” Why the all-out effort in January, in a lame-duck session before a newly empowered pro-Lincoln Congress began? If Lincoln had waited until March, he could have called a special session of the new Congress, confident of having enough votes for House passage.

The question has long vexed historians. The movie’s answer is that Lincoln and his right-hand man in this work, Secretary of State William H. Seward, realized that the war might end at any time and that, when it did, any prospect for passing the amendment as a means to win the war would end with it.

This is an intriguing argument. But the book the movie cites as its main evidentiary source, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals,” does not make it. 

via Steven Spielberg, Historian –

The second argument is about the connection between the peace talks and getting the votes Lincoln needed for the 13th amendment.  The full article is a great piece to read and I would recommend reading it if you like Lincoln or history.

Why you should see the movie “Lincoln”

Two weeks ago I was lucky enough to see a preview screening of the new Steven Spielberg film “Lincoln”.  Possibly because I have an interest in politics and history (my two majors in college) I was already predisposed to like this movie, but I greatly enjoyed the film.  While I have not seen every recent Spielberg film, I think this is one of his better films in a while. Though the movie is not fast paced or action packed, it had enough movement to not make it seem slow to me.

The basic setting of the movie is from January to April of 1865, when Lincoln was trying to pass the thirteenth amendment to the constitution abolishing slavery and the U.S. Civil War was coming to an end. It worked out well that Spielberg chose a small part of Lincoln’s life to make into a movie. If he had not I do not think he would have been as successful as he was with this film.  The time frame that they ended up choosing for the film I think worked well.  They picked a period where there was a lot going on for Lincoln not just with the war exclusively, but also the hard fought battle of one of Lincoln’s bigger legislative fights that he faced with the thirteenth amendment. The time they picked helped to show the continuing cost the Civil War was having not just on Lincoln but the country as well.

For me the cast led by Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln did a great job all around.  Lewis portrayed Lincoln excellently and very convincingly brought him to life I thought, showing the conflict and great stress that the war and the amendment fight brought to Lincoln, along with his family issues he faced. Tommy Lee Jones also did a great job as one of the politicians working for passage of the amendment.  If Daniel Day-Lewis does not get Oscar nomination I would be shocked.

The issue of equality was the great issue that was at stake during the discussion of the thirteenth amendment. I think it is still very relevant to our country today in a different way  at least to me.  Today we are fighting about whether people can marry whom ever they want to marry legally. Having just gone through a tough constitutional amendment fight here in  Minnesota about whether we should ban gay marriage it is a very divisive issue still and bet it will be for a while.  While that connection may not come up for every one who watches this movie, but since I saw this movie before the 2012 election that issue was certainly on my mind.

Overall I think you have a lover of history or Lincoln himself I recommend seeing this film.

The movie is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin‘s biography of Lincoln, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.  Trailer for the film below:

Osama is dead

Certainly an historic day in American and World history.

“It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened by the worst attack on the American people in our history. The images of 9-11 are seared into our national memory: hijacked planes cutting through a cloudless September sky; the twin towers collapsing to the ground; black smoke billowing up from the Pentagon; the wreckage of Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA, where the actions of heroic citizens saved even more heartbreak and destruction. And yet we know that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world: the empty seat at the dinner table; the children who were forced to grow up without their mother, or their father; parents who would never know the feeling of their child’s embrace… Nearly three thousand citizens taken from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts. On September 11 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors our hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.”

President Barack Obama, May 1, 2011, statement on Osama bin Laden’s death [video]

The Civil War 150 Years Later, book by Adam Goodheart

Yesterday April 12th was the 150th anniversary of the start of the U.S. Civil War with shots being fired on Fort Sumter.  The book below that I have included two quotes from the article about it certainly seems like it might be worth reading.  Might have to check it out.

“[At Fort Sumter] the Southerners thought that they would be able to drive the Yankees off of Confederate territory, and [they thought that] the North would feel like it wasn’t worthwhile to fight to bring the South back into the Union,” says Goodheart. “Suffice to say, they miscalculated hugely.”

Goodheart is the author of 1861: The Civil War Awakening, a social history of the earliest days of the Civil War, a time when the country — soon to be two separate nations — was preparing itself for battle. He chose the year 1861, he says, because there were so many uncertainties all over the United States.

via Adam Goodheart: Looking At The Civil War 150 Years Later : NPR.

The start of baseball season & baseball books

It is officially baseball season now with the regular season starting this last weekend.  While my Minnesota Twins, did not have a great first series to start out with, hopefully they will have a good season.

For me I personally kicked off the baseball season when last Tuesday, March 29th, I went to hear author/baseball historian John Thorn talk about his new book ‘Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game’.   While I already had some background knowledge on the early history of baseball, it was great to hear Thorn speak and learn details about the early history that I did not know much about.  Garrison Keillor was the person who was interviewing Thorn, before they opened it up to audience questions.  What Thorn talked about it is how the myth of Abner Doubleday creating baseball is just that a myth, and went on to talk about the real influences on the early history of baseball and how it changed early on became something that was able to grow and become popular.  Overall it was a great event and a nice way to kick off the baseball season for me.  I did end up buying the book on amazon the day after and look forward to reading the book at some point this summer.

I also ordered another baseball book at the same time from amazon, called ’56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports’ by Kostya Kennedy. The takes a look at the 1941 baseball season and Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak and the impact that it had on different parts of the country.  Short blurb from the book description:

In 56, Kostya Kennedy tells the remarkable story of how the streak found its way into countless lives, from the Italian kitchens of Newark to the playgrounds of Queens to the San Francisco streets of North Beach; from the Oval Office of FDR to the Upper West Side apartment where Joe’s first wife, Dorothy, the movie starlet, was expecting a child. In this crisp, evocative narrative Joe DiMaggio emerges in a previously unseen light, a 26-year-old on the cusp of becoming an icon. He comes alive-a driven ballplayer, a mercurial star and a conflicted husband-as the tension and the scrutiny upon him build with each passing day.

From the little I have skimmed over since I have gotten it, it seems like a nice mix of looking at the story line of DiMaggio and his actual hitting streak along with as describe above the impact it had.

Stephen King’s New book & it involves JFK

The Premise for Stephen Kings new book:

On November 22, 1963, three shots rang out in Dallas,

President Kennedy died, and the world changed.

If you had the chance to change history, would you?

Would the consequences be worth it?

The premise makes me quite interested given my enjoyment of history and I have always enjoyed thinking about what if scenarios in history. With JFK assignation being one of bigger alternate history story lines.  It will be fun to see how King handles the book and what alternate history his story has/the consequences the tease talks about.

via Stephen King’s 11/22/63 – In Stores November 8th 2011.

How New York City almost left the Union

Interesting that as a history buff, I did not know that New York City had talked about secession during the Civil War.  As the article talks about, it would have greatly crippled the North because of the huge loss of tax revenue from New York City.  Certainly provides some interesting historical what if’s, if New York City had gone had with secession.

In the wake of South Carolina’s vote to secession in late December 1860, Americans both North and South anxiously wondered which state would be next to leave the Union. Little did they realize that the next call for secession would come not from a Southern state, but from a Northern city — New York City.

What’s more, pro-Southern and pro-independence sentiment was widespread in New York, particularly among the merchant class. Their pro-independence stance was partly a matter of economic opportunism: New York was not only the richest and most populous city in the country, but it was also the critical source of federal tax revenue in these days before income taxes.

via First South Carolina. Then New York? –