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13 Jun, 2017

Book Versus Movie – How to Survive A Plague

/ posted in: Reading Book Versus Movie – How to Survive A Plague How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS by David France
on November 29th 2016
Pages: 640
Genres: History, Nonfiction
Published by Knopf
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: New York

A riveting, powerful telling of the story of the grassroots movement of activists, many of them in a life-or-death struggle, who seized upon scientific research to help develop the drugs that turned HIV from a mostly fatal infection to a manageable disease. Ignored by public officials, religious leaders, and the nation at large, and confronted with shame and hatred, this small group of men and women chose to fight for their right to live by educating themselves and demanding to become full partners in the race for effective treatments. Around the globe, 16 million people are alive today thanks to their efforts.
In dramatic fashion, we witness the founding of ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), and the rise of an underground drug market in opposition to the prohibitively expensive (and sometimes toxic) AZT. We watch as these activists learn to become their own researchers, lobbyists, drug smugglers, and clinicians, establishing their own newspapers, research journals, and laboratories, and as they go on to force reform in the nation s disease-fighting agencies.
With his unparalleled access to this community David France illuminates the lives of extraordinary characters, including the closeted Wall Street trader-turned-activist, the high school dropout who found purpose battling pharmaceutical giants in New York, the South African physician who helped establish the first officially recognized buyers club at the height of the epidemic, and the public relations executive fighting to save his own life for the sake of his young daughter.
Expansive yet richly detailed, this is an insider's account of a pivotal moment in the history of American civil rights. Powerful, heart-wrenching, and finally exhilarating, How to Survive a Plague is destined to become an essential part of the literature of AIDS.

Goodreads

Think back to a time not that long ago when:

  • The New York Times banned the use of the words gay and lesbian in the newspaper
  • Hospitals and funeral homes turned away people they suspected were infected with AIDS
  • Weekly meetings of gay activists included a list of names of people who had been at the last meeting and who had died since

This book tells the story of ACT UP.  This was a group founded to pressure scientists, politicians, and drug companies to increase the number of drugs being investigated for possible treatment for AIDS.

One of the main problems in the beginning, besides a lack of funding, was government scientists’ insistence on doing double-blind controlled studies.  They weren’t wrong from a science perspective.  These trials have patients in two groups.  One group gets the treatment and the other gets a placebo.  Neither the patient or the doctor knows who is in each group.  The problem was that people with AIDS were dying so quickly that being in a placebo group for a few months, especially if you were required to go off all other medication, was basically a death sentence.  There are stories of trials in this book where all the placebo group died in the course of the trial.

Without these studies to cover them from liability no one was willing to go on record and recommend using drugs off label.  Doctors in the field, especially if they didn’t handle many AIDS cases, then didn’t know that giving a common antibiotic decreased the chances of patients dying of opportunistic pneumonia, for example.  This was the leading cause of death in AIDS patients.  It was almost entirely preventable and no one would officially say so.  ACT UP worked to streamline and humanize the drug trials.

They were able to:

  • Stop people having to go off all other medications (like antibiotics to prevent pneumonia) to be in the trial
  • Allow drugs to be tested on women and people of color
  • Allow a parallel track where sick people who couldn’t wait for formal drug approval could try the drugs in the trial at their own risk and data could be collected about their experiences
  • Get drug companies to stop increasing prices of the drugs as demand went up. 

I don’t remember hearing anything good about ACT UP at the time.  I only knew of them from news coverage that was always negative because of their dramatic demonstrations.  The first time I ever heard of ACT UP in a positive light was when I started watching Gay USA on TV.  One of the hosts talked about being in ACT UP.  Her name is Ann Northrup and she is in the movie a lot more than in the book.  The associate producer of Gay USA is named Bill Bahlman.  I know that because he does the intro to the podcast that I listen to now.  What I didn’t know is what all he did during the early days of the AIDS epidemic to reach lawmakers.

This book is a long, slow read.  It is very densely packed with names and actions and committee meetings.  The author was a young, gay journalist reporting on AIDS in New York at the time.  It is very focused on New York.  Occasionally it talks about San Francisco but you could get the sense that except for occasional mentions of Africa, that AIDS was only a New York/California problem.  It is also focused primarily on white gay men.  This was one of the criticisms of the drug trials.  They wouldn’t enroll women, people of color, or drug users.  Although ACT UP seemed to give equal representation to women, those women aren’t discussed much in the book with a few exceptions.

When I was almost finished with the book I watched the documentary that the book came out of.  It is also called How To Survive a Plague and is available on Netflix.

 

How-to-Survive-a-Plague

I don’t think that I would have understood the documentary as much if I didn’t already know what they were talking about from the book. Especially at the beginning of the documentary, there wasn’t a lot of context given for the video being shown. I understood where they were and what they were protesting from reading the book. It was interesting for me to see what I had read about but I don’t think the documentary did a good job of really explaining all the issues that they were fighting for.

This book is a must read for anyone interested in the history of medicine or the gay rights movement in the United States.  It is heartbreaking and inspirational.  This is civil action on so many levels.  It is interesting to look back now and see how far the United States has come in just the last 30 years – even when we feel like there is so much that needs to be better.

Other books that I like on this subject are And The Band Played On and My Own Country.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
02 Feb, 2017

Black Titan – The Story of A.G. Gaston

/ posted in: Reading Black Titan – The Story of A.G. Gaston Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins, Elizabeth Gardner Hines
on December 2003
Pages: 330
Genres: 20th Century, Biography & Autobiography, Civil Rights, History, Nonfiction
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Alabama

The grandson of slaves, born into poverty in 1892 in the Deep South, A. G. Gaston died more than a century later with a fortune worth well over $130 million and a business empire spanning communications, real estate, and insurance. Gaston was, by any measure, a heroic figure whose wealth and influence bore comparison to J. P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie. Here, for the first time, is the story of the life of this extraordinary pioneer, told by his niece and grandniece, the award-winning television journalist Carol Jenkins and her daughter Elizabeth Gardner Hines.

Goodreads

I had never heard of A.G. Gaston before this book showed up on Book Bub last year.  I’m glad I found out about him.  He had a remarkable life.

A.G. Gaston’s grandparents were slaves.  His grandfather worked with horses and his grandmother was an accomplished cook.  These were considered “privileged” positions.  When slavery ended they stayed on working for the family that previously owned them.  His grandmother taught his mother to cook and she also earned a living working for wealthy white families as a live-in cook and as a sought after caterer.  This put A.G. in contact with wealth at a young age.

When he was young there were two broad schools of thought about black advancement.  Booker T. Washington believed that black people should stay where they were and work hard to advance economically before looking for social equality.  W.E.B. DuBois believed in fighting for social equality and letting the “talented tenth” of black elites raise up the rest of the community.  A.G. Gaston spent his life firmly in Booker T. Washington’s camp.

After serving in WWI, he returned to Alabama and couldn’t find a good job.  He had to take work in the mines.  He saw widows begging for money to pay for their miner husbands’ funerals.  He started a burial insurance business.  From there he bought funeral homes.  Eventually he started a bank for black people and a business training school.

He was in his seventies and wealthy when the civil rights movement game to Birmingham.  He owned the only black hotel so Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference set up shop there.  I got the impression that he thought they were young radical whippersnappers.  He argued for moderation.  He wanted to negotiate instead of marching.  But, he was the person that repeatedly bailed them out of jail – whether they wanted bailed out or not.  He also argued vehemently against involving children in the marches and then secured the bond for the release of all the children jailed.  People spoke of him as being too deferential to the white businessmen, especially if they didn’t know that he was bankrolling a lot of the protests.

His hotel was bombed.   His house was bombed.  (He said he couldn’t be sure if it was white or black people who wanted to bomb his house.)  Bombs were set at other of his properties but were found before they went off.  He let the marchers on the way to Selma camp on one of farms one night.  He was even kidnapped.

After the protests moved away from Birmingham, he stayed and continued to serve the community.  He was a philanthropist.  Eventually he sold his business empire to his employees for a tenth of its worth to maintain local black control.

A.G. Gaston died at the age of 103.  His story is amazing.  He should definitely be better known.
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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • POC authors
23 Dec, 2016

Hidden Figures

/ posted in: Reading Hidden Figures Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
on December 6th 2016
Pages: 368
Genres: 20th Century, Biography & Autobiography, Civil Rights, History, Nonfiction
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Goodreads

“Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program—and whose contributions have been unheralded, until now.
Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as “Human Computers,” calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts by Jim Crow laws, these “colored computers,” as they were known, used slide rules, adding machines, and pencil and paper to support America’s fledgling aeronautics industry, and helped write the equations that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.
Drawing on the oral histories of scores of these “computers,” personal recollections, interviews with NASA executives and engineers, archival documents, correspondence, and reporting from the era, Hidden Figures recalls America’s greatest adventure and NASA’s groundbreaking successes through the experiences of five spunky, courageous, intelligent, determined, and patriotic women: Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Christine Darden, and Gloria Champine.
Moving from World War II through NASA’s golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the women’s rights movement, Hidden Figures interweaves a rich history of scientific achievement and technological innovation with the intimate stories of five women whose work forever changed the world—and whose lives show how out of one of America’s most painful histories came one of its proudest moments.”


In the 1940s airplanes were being studied in Virginia. Wind tunnels were built to evaluate minute changes in plane design in an effort to help win WWII. Large amounts of data were being collected. In order to process the numbers female mathematicians called computers where hired do crunch the numbers. Because Virginia was a segregated state, the women were kept in two areas. The East Computers were white and the West Computers were black.

A job as a computer was a step up for women with advanced degrees whose only hope for a job before this was teaching. This book covers the years from World War II to the beginning of the space age when Langley’s operations moved to Houston.

The author’s father had worked at Langley. The author grew up knowing several of the women but did not realize what they had done for space research. Most of the women were uncredited although several managed to get papers published over the years.

Eventually, women were absorbed into the labs that they had been supporting and the East and West Computer sections shut down. As machines became able to calculate faster than they could, they had to adapt to survive. Some moved more into research. Others became computer programmers to teach the machines the jobs that they previously did.

Among the women’s contributions were:

  • Calculating the time and location for a rocket to take off in order to have the capsule splash down near the Navy ships waiting to rescue the astronaut.
  • Calculating all the variables involved in getting the lunar landing module off the moon and able to meet up with the orbiting ship for the return to Earth.
  • Imagining the need for and then designing response scenarios for a systems malfunction like what happened on Apollo 13.

The scientific achievements of the black women profiled in this book were set against the backdrop of segregation and discrimination that they faced when they weren’t at work.  A good companion book to this would be Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County about the shut down of all schools by a county that did not want to integrate them. Many of these very educated women were from this area and/or had families affected by the shut down of the schools.

I enjoyed this book.  I’m looking forward to seeing the movie also even though it appears that it will be focusing mostly on the John Glenn orbital flight.  Read the book to find out the whole story.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins
| Amazon
| Barnes & Noble

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About Margot Lee Shetterly

margot-lee-shetterly-ap-photo-by-aran-shetterly Margot Lee Shetterly grew up in Hampton, Virginia, where she knew many of the
women in Hidden Figures. She is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow and the
recipient of a Virginia Foundation for the Humanities grant for her research on
women in computing. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Find out more about Margot at her website and connect with her on Twitter.

29 Nov, 2016

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank

/ posted in: Reading The Piano Shop on the Left Bank The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier by Thad Carhart
on March 12th 2002
Pages: 268
Genres: History, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Random House Trade Paperbacks
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: France
Goodreads

“Walking his two young children to school every morning, Thad Carhart passes an unassuming little storefront in his Paris neighborhood. Intrigued by its simple sign — Desforges Pianos — he enters, only to have his way barred by the shop’s imperious owner. Unable to stifle his curiosity, he finally lands the proper introduction, and a world previously hidden is brought into view. Luc, the atelier’s master, proves an indispensable guide to the history and art of the piano. Intertwined with the story of a musical friendship are reflections on how pianos work, their glorious history, and stories of the people who care for them, from amateur pianists to the craftsmen who make the mechanism sing.”


This book starts out with a mystery.  How does a small shop that repairs pianos survive in a neighborhood that isn’t around any other music stores?  The author is an American living in France, is fluent in French, and played the piano as a child.  He uses the excuse of asking if they know of any place to find a used piano to get into the store.  He is turned away for weeks with the excuse that they will let him know if they hear of any used pianos. Finally, a new worker, Luc, lets him know that he needs an introduction from a current customer to be allowed in the store.  Once he gains that password he is let into the back of the store where they keep an ever rotating collection of used pianos.  Luc takes on the task of finding the perfect used piano for the author’s family.

In between the story of learning how to be accepted in a very French establishment, the author tells the history of the piano.  We hear about trying to pick up the piano again as an adult.  He introduces us to people trying to make the most perfect piano possible.  He compares learning the piano as a child in France with the lessons that he continued to take when his family moved back to America.  He also discovers all the musicians that inhabit the world around him.

This is a quiet book that had a fascinating amount of history in it.  I learned more about how pianos work here than in years of music lessons.

 

16 Nov, 2016

Brazillionaires

/ posted in: Reading Brazillionaires Brazillionaires: Chasing Dreams of Wealth in an American Country by Alex Cuadros
on July 12th 2016
Pages: 352
Genres: History, Nonfiction
Published by Spiegel & Grau
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Brazil
Goodreads

“When Bloomberg News invited the young American journalist Alex Cuadros to report on Brazil’s emerging class of billionaires at the height of the historic Brazilian boom, he was poised to cover two of the biggest business stories of our time: how the giants of the developing world were triumphantly taking their place at the center of global capitalism, and how wealth inequality was changing societies everywhere.  Eike Batista, a flamboyant and charismatic evangelist for the country’s new gospel of wealth, epitomized much of this rarefied sphere: In 2012, Batista ranked as the eighth-richest person in the world, was famous for his marriage to a beauty queen, and was a fixture in the Brazilian press. His constantly repeated ambition was to become the world’s richest man and to bring Brazil along with him to the top.  But by 2015, Batista was bankrupt, his son Thor had been indicted for manslaughter, and Brazil its president facing impeachment, its provinces combating an epidemic, and its business and political class torn apart by scandal had become a cautionary tale of a country run aground by its elites, a tale with ominous echoes around the world.”


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This is a book that I would not have picked up if I wasn’t consciously trying to read more books set in South America. I’m glad I read it.

Alex Cuadros was selected for an unusual job.  He was to monitor the billionaires of Brazil.  He needed to maintain an up to date list of the net worth of the richest people in Brazil.  In trying to find out who these people were, he started to look at the world around him.  Who owns the company that makes your soap or the roads you drive on? There may be a hidden billionaire behind it.  Some billionaires weren’t so hard to find.  Eike Batista was one of these.  He flaunted his wealth.  He bragged on Twitter whenever he moved up in the rankings of richest people.  Then suddenly he lost it all.

The rise and fall of Eike Batista is told along with the stories of other Brazilian billionaires.  Some are in construction or broadcasting.  There is even a billionaire pastor.  Cuadros brings up the question — Is is possible to amass this amount of money in an ethical way in a country with such rampant poverty?  Is corruption endemic in a country founded on a system where slaves do all the work and higher classes live off of others?

I didn’t know anything about Brazilian history or politics.  This was a great introduction in an engaging story.  I enjoyed listening to the author narrate the book so I could hear the proper pronunciations of places and names in Portuguese.

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I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants to combine the voyeurism of watching how the super rich live with an education in the culture and politics of Brazil.

18 Oct, 2016

The Girls of Atomic City

/ posted in: Reading The Girls of Atomic City The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan
on March 5th 2013
Pages: 373
Genres: 20th Century, History, Nonfiction
Published by Touchstone/Simon & Schuster
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Tennessee
Goodreads

“The incredible story of the young women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who unwittingly played a crucial role in one of the most significant moments in U.S. history.
The Tennessee town of Oak Ridge was created from scratch in 1942. One of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities, it didn’t appear on any maps until 1949, and yet at the height of World War II it was using more electricity than New York City and was home to more than 75,000 people, many of them young women recruited from small towns across the South. Their jobs were shrouded in mystery, but they were buoyed by a sense of shared purpose, close friendships—and a surplus of handsome scientists and Army men!
But against this vibrant wartime backdrop, a darker story was unfolding. The penalty for talking about their work—even the most innocuous details—was job loss and eviction. One woman was recruited to spy on her coworkers. They all knew something big was happening at Oak Ridge, but few could piece together the true nature of their work until the bomb “Little Boy” was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, and the secret was out. The shocking revelation: the residents of Oak Ridge were enriching uranium for the atomic bomb.”


Oak Ridge was a temporary city in the middle of nowhere, hidden by topography, and never meant to see the light of day.  It had one purpose — to enrich uranium to feed the development of the nuclear bomb.  A lot of people were required to build and then run the huge plants.  How do you get a lot of people to agree to do a job that they aren’t allowed to know about or talk about?  Pay high wages and tell them it is for the war effort.

People left other jobs without knowing where they would be going or for how long.  Many were told to go to a train station and they would be met.  They had no idea where they were heading.

I can’t believe that people agreed to do this.  I’m too nosy.  If you gave me a job and told me to spend eight to twelve hours a day manipulating dials so that the readout always read the correct number, I couldn’t do it.  I certainly couldn’t do it for years without needing to know what I was doing.  I would have been fired and escorted out of there so fast.  How was the secret kept for so long?

Coming out of the Depression though, any job was a good job.  These jobs were hiring women and African Americans at wages they wouldn’t see elsewhere.  Of course, there was discrimination and segregation.  Housing for African Americans was poor and they were not allowed to live together if they were married.  When someone started wondering, “What happens if we inject this uranium into a person?” you know they picked a black man who just happened to have a broken leg to experiment on.  He did manage to escape eventually but not before they had done a lot of damage to him.

This book tells the stories of women in several different jobs – secretarial staff, Calutron operators, cleaning staff, and scientists.  They made a life in a town that wasn’t supposed to last long.  The audiobook was compelling listening.  The story sounds like a novel.

I went to vet school in Knoxville, which is 20 miles away from Oak Ridge.  I had friends who were from there and friends whose families had been forcibly removed from the area in order to build Oak Ridge.  It was interesting to hear what went on behind the scenes.

I would be interested in pairing this with this book:

Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear WarNagasaki: Life After Nuclear War by Susan Southard

“On August 9, 1945, three days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the United States dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, a small port city on Japan’s southernmost island. An estimated 74,000 people died within the first five months, and another 75,000 were injured.

Published on the seventieth anniversary of the bombing, Nagasaki takes readers from the morning of the bombing to the city today, telling the first-hand experiences of five survivors, all of whom were teenagers at the time of the devastation.”

The Girls of Atomic City does discuss the reactions of the citizens of Oak Ridge when they found out what they had been doing.  It discusses the guilt that some people still have for their part in making the bomb.


You know what I kept thinking about while listening to this?  This scene from Clerks.

Randal: There was something else going on in Jedi. I ever noticed it till today. They build another Death Star, right?

Dante: Yeah.

Randal: Now, the first one was completed and fully operational before the Rebel’s destroyed it.

Dante: Luke blew it up. Give credit where credit is due.

Randal: And the second one was still being built when the blew it up.

Dante: Compliments to Lando Calrissian.

Randal: Something just never sat right with me that second time around. I could never put my finger on it, but something just wasn’t right.

Dante: And you figured it out?

Randal: The first Death Star was manned by the Imperial Army. The only people on board were stormtroppers, dignitaries, Imperials.

Dante: Basically.

Randal: So, when the blew it up, no problem. Evil’s punished.

Dante: And the second time around?

Randal: The second time around, it wasn’t even done being built yet. It was still under construction.

Dante: So?

Randal: So, construction job of that magnitude would require a helluva lot more manpower than the Imperial army had to offer. I’ll bet there were independent contractors working on that thing: plumbers, aluminum siders, roofers.

Dante: Not just Imperials, is what you’re getting at?

Randal: Exactly. In order to get it built quickly and quietly they’d hire anybody who could do the job. Do you think the average storm trooper knows how to install a toilet main? All they know is killing and white uniforms.

Dante: All right, so they bring in independent contractors. Why are you so upset with its destruction?

Randal: All those innocent contractors hired to do a job were killed! Casualties of a war they had nothing to do with. All right, look, you’re a roofer, and some juicy government contract comes your way; you got the wife and kids and the two-story in suburbia – this is a government contract, which means all sorts of benefits. All of a sudden these left-wing militants blast you with lasers and wipe out everyone within a three-mile radius. You didn’t ask for that. You have no personal politics. You’re just trying to scrape out a living.

____________

This book is basically the point of view of the people building the second Death Star.

 

 

07 Oct, 2016

Mighty Be Our Powers

/ posted in: Reading Mighty Be Our Powers Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War by Leymah Gbowee, Carol Mithers
on September 13th 2011
Pages: 256
Genres: History, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Beast Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Liberia
Goodreads

“In a time of death and terror, Leymah Gbowee brought Liberia’s women together–and together they led a nation to peace. As a young woman, Gbowee was broken by the Liberian civil war, a brutal conflict that tore apart her life and claimed the lives of countless relatives and friends. As a young mother trapped in a nightmare of domestic abuse, she found the courage to turn her bitterness into action, propelled by her realization that it is women who suffer most during conflicts–and that the power of women working together can create an unstoppable force. In 2003, the passionate and charismatic Gbowee helped organize and then led the Liberian Mass Action for Peace, a coalition of Christian and Muslim women who sat in public protest, confronting Liberia’s ruthless president and rebel warlords, and even held a sex strike. With an army of women, Gbowee helped lead her nation to peace.”


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War came over Liberia in waves. First Charles Taylor took power and then a group of rebels fought him. Each group terrorized the citizens. The soldiers were boys with guns who were told to take what they needed as they moved through the country. They murdered and stole and raped their way across the country.

Leymah Gbowee had just graduated from high school when the fighting started. She had a bright future ahead of her and it all collapsed. Suddenly, getting food and water and a safe place to sleep was the only priorities. She went from being an aspiring doctor to being a mother of four children trapped in an abusive relationship in a few years. She got a job working with trauma counselors during a time of relative peace. She loved the work and was able to move into working with women who were the most impacted by the fighting.

When the war started again she mobilized the women in the capital and in the refugee camps to stage sit ins to protest for peace. She claims that her story shows how God worked in Liberia through the women’s prayer. I say that it shows the exact opposite. The mass protests (and prayers) were not effective until they were paired with direct political action. They would protest for weeks and then she’d get mad because nothing was happening. At this point they would get in the faces of the men who were obstructing the peace and cause change to happen.

To give all the credit for this to God erases the power and bravery of the women who stepped up and said, “Enough!”

This isn’t a fairy tale about bringing peace.  Their world was cruel and heartbreaking.  Leymah sacrificed her family over and over.  She is open about drinking to cope with what her life had become.  This book was published in 2011 just before she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work.

A documentary about her work called Pray the Devil Back To Hell was made.  You can watch it for free on Amazon. It puts faces to the women who she writes about.

I’d recommend this for anyone who loves women’s history and the power of women to demand change in the world.

30 May, 2016

67 Shots

/ posted in: Reading 67 Shots 67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence by Howard Means
on April 12th 2016
Pages: 288
Genres: 20th Century, History, Nonfiction
Published by Da Capo Press
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Ohio

At midday on May 4, 1970, after three days of protests, several thousand students and the Ohio National Guard faced off at opposite ends of the grassy campus Commons at Kent State University. At noon, the Guard moved out. Twenty-four minutes later, Guardsmen launched a 13-second, 67-shot barrage that left four students dead and nine wounded, one paralyzed for life. The story doesn't end there, though. A horror of far greater proportions was narrowly averted minutes later when the Guard and students reassembled on the Commons.
The Kent State shootings were both unavoidable and preventable: unavoidable in that all the discordant forces of a turbulent decade flowed together on May 4, 1970, on one Ohio campus; preventable in that every party to the tragedy made the wrong choices at the wrong time in the wrong place.
Using the university's recently available oral-history collection supplemented by extensive new interviewing, Means tells the story of this iconic American moment through the eyes and memories of those who were there, and skillfully situates it in the context of a tumultuous era.

Goodreads

When I moved here four years ago the words Kent State only brought to mind the historical event of the shooting in 1970.  Suddenly I was working with several people who went to school there and didn’t cringe every time they said the words like they were invoking a horrific event.  It was weird for me.  Now instead of a scene of carnage it was just that place down the street.

I was interested in reading 67 Shots to find out more about what happened on that day when 4 students were killed by the National Guard.

This book made me furious – but not in the way that I expected

I’m a liberal politically.  I’m fine with protesting.  I’m anti-war.  I’m generally anti-violence but reading this book made me want to slap people.  I’m glad that right now I don’t have any Kent State students in the office or else I’d have to go symbolically slap them for their predecessors’ stupidity.

How stupid were they?  These people (believe me I ran through a list of other words before deciding on the neutral “people”) were rioting for days in town and on campus.  They torched a military building.  They hacked at the firemen’s hoses when they tried to fight the fire.  They repeatedly threatened and threw human waste at the military.  They refused orders to disperse.  Why?  Because they thought that the National Guard didn’t have live ammunition.  They thought they were untouchable.

I was thinking as I was reading that this couldn’t happen like this again because everyone knows now that the police or military will shoot you.  Then I came across this paragraph and footnote that summed it up.

“Until the moment of the shooting, an implicit social contract had prevailed at Kent State.  White, middle-class Americans could scream and shout at each other; they could give each other the finger and throw tear-gas canisters back and forth, and shout ‘Fuck!” as loud as they wanted to.  They could even chase each other with bayonets and helicopters, throw bricks and cement and bags full of shit, but as bitter and divisive as the times were, they didn’t shoot each other, and especially didn’t shoot each other dead.  The sixty-seven shots fired across thirteen seconds at 12:24 p.m. on May 4, 1970, changed that bargain, and Guardsmen seemed as surprised as students that whatever unspoken truce existed had fallen apart for good.*”

“*Black Americans had a different history.  At Kent State, they avoided the weekend demonstrations like the plague.

Emphasis mine.

Yep.  That’s it.  That’s the problem.  Spoiled little white brats thinking that they were invincible.  Reading their interviews decades after the event, a lot of them still don’t seem to think that they did anything that could be considered out of line.  You were throwing bags of urine and feces.  Sure, you weren’t shooting at people but you have crossed far over the line of basic human decency.  By the time you get out of kindergarten, let alone started college, you should have learned to keep your human waste to yourself.


I went to the site of the shooting at Kent State and visited the May 4 memorial and museum.  Being there gave me a better perspective on where the shooting happened.  Because there are hills and buildings that everyone was moving around, being there let me understand it better than just looking at it on a map.

The demonstration was in a large field around a Victory Bell monument (seen in the header photo). This is bowl shaped area with a building at the top. The National Guard marched up the hill and to the right of the building that you see in the background of the picture as they were trying to disperse the crowd. The shooting actually took place there. The people that were shot were in a parking lot behind the building.

The places where they were standing have memorials now.

You don’t seem to get a very complete picture in the museum. There is a gallery about the political climate of the 1960s. Then you watch a movie about the shooting. Then you move to a gallery about the political aftermath.

Things not mentioned in the museum:

  • The rioting for days before the shooting
  • Why the National Guard was on campus

Seriously? That’s a big omission.  If I knew nothing about this I would wonder why the National Guard was there or maybe assume that they were stationed there or something.  There was a line at the very beginning of the movie that says that the National Guard came in after the building burned.  It is very quick.  I might have missed it if I hadn’t specifically been listening for some explanation of the background events.

The museum gives the impression that students were peacefully gathering to sing Kumbaya and the evil National Guard swooped down out of nowhere and shot them for no reason.

What I Think Now

  • Yes, the protest at that point on May 4th was peaceful
  • Yes, shooting at the students was unwarranted
  • Yes, they shot at students who had left the area of the protest and that is why people who weren’t involved at all were killed or injured.  That is all bad.
  • No, I don’t want to say that the students had it coming but I’m almost to that point.  When the National Guard is called away from guarding people crossing the picket lines at a Teamsters’ Union strike and they say they felt safer there than on the Kent State campus, that’s saying something about the level of tension.
  • This is a story of privilege run amok.  I feel sorry for the bystanders caught up in it and for members of the Guard but I don’t feel sorry for anyone else.
26 Apr, 2016

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sophia?

/ posted in: Reading How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sophia? Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary by Anita Anand
on January 13th 2015
Pages: 416
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Great Britain, History, Nonfiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in England and India

In 1876 Sophia Duleep Singh was born into Indian royalty. Her father, Maharajah Duleep Singh, was heir to the Kingdom of the Sikhs, one of the greatest empires of the Indian subcontinent, a realm that stretched from the lush Kashmir Valley to the craggy foothills of the Khyber Pass and included the mighty cities of Lahore and Peshawar. It was a territory irresistible to the British, who plundered everything, including the fabled Koh-I-Noor diamond.
Exiled to England, the dispossessed Maharajah transformed his estate at Elveden in Suffolk into a Moghul palace, its grounds stocked with leopards, monkeys and exotic birds. Sophia, god-daughter of Queen Victoria, was raised a genteel aristocratic Englishwoman: presented at court, afforded grace and favor lodgings at Hampton Court Palace and photographed wearing the latest fashions for the society pages. But when, in secret defiance of the British government, she travelled to India, she returned a revolutionary.
Sophia transcended her heritage to devote herself to battling injustice and inequality, a far cry from the life to which she was born. Her causes were the struggle for Indian Independence, the fate of the lascars, the welfare of Indian soldiers in the First World War – and, above all, the fight for female suffrage.

Goodreads

Ranjit Singh was the last ruling emperor of the Punjab.

Mahraja-Ranjeet-Singh

After his death, the British used the confusion surrounding his heirs’ succession to move into the area. Most of the adult heirs died suspiciously. When it was over, the ruler of this prosperous area was an 1o year old boy, Duleep. His mother was very politically astute so the British had her exiled from the country and then forced the child-king to sign over his lands and the symbol of his rule, the Kor-i-Noor diamond.

Maharaja Duleep Singh, c 1860s

Duleep Singh was then raised by British people until Queen Victoria decided that he was really cute and wanted him to go to England. She lavished attention on him and considered herself to be his best friend. He was not reunited with his mother until he was an adult.

Eventually Duleep married a woman from Egypt and had six children. The children were known as Princes and Princesses. Princess Sophia was his youngest surviving child from this marriage. Arrangements were made with the India office to provide for the family because they did not want them going back to India and stirring up trouble.


Sophia grew up in luxury until her father’s debts became too much.  He then tried to return to India with the family but was taken off the ship at the Suez Canal.  The family was sent back to England but Duleep Singh did not go with them.  Instead he publicly disowned them and started another family while trying to get back to India.  He never did.

Sophia and her sisters were able to get to India as adults. The experience of meeting people fighting for Indian independence awoke the political consciousness of Sophia. She returned to England and threw herself into the fight of Women’s Suffrage in the 1910s.

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh selling Sufragette subscriptions in 1913

I love this picture. Sophia lived across the street from the gates of Hampton Court Palace in a grace-and-favor house. That meant that she was allowed to live there as a favor from the monarch. She protested in front of the tourists coming to Hampton Court and sold suffragette newspapers to them. Despite being involved in many of the major protests of the era and even attacking politicians, she was never sent to prison like her fellow suffragettes.  She even refused to pay any taxes in an attempt to get arrested.  The spectacle of putting a Princess in prison was too much for law enforcement.

World War I curtailed the suffragette movement.  She became a nurse for Indian soldiers brought back to England for rest.


While I was reading this book, the Indian solicitor-general came out and said that India should not try to get the Kor-i-Noor diamond back and said it was “neither stolen nor forcibly taken”. It was a present.  Yeah, because a 10 year old with no friendly adult counsel can make those kinds of gifts.
AlexandraKohinoor

The Kor-i-noor is the diamond in the center of the front cross on this crown.  This is what reading nonfiction gets you.  It gets you yelling at the news in an very angry, yet informed, way.


The part of the book I found the most touching was a memory of the daughter of the elderly Princess’ housekeeper.

“We’d be walking, and she’d be telling me about the world and elections and how important they were.  And then she would kneel down in front of me, looking me right in the eye and say ‘I want a solemn promise from you’ even though I don’t think I knew what a solemn promise was at that stage.  She would say ‘You are never, ever not to vote.  You must promise me.  When you are allowed to vote you are never, ever to fail to do so.  You don’t realise how far we’ve come.  Promise me.’ For the next three years, Sophia made Drovna promise again and again.”

Drovna has kept her promise to the woman who fought hard to win the right for English women to vote.

15 Jan, 2016

Ada’s Algorithm

/ posted in: Reading Ada’s Algorithm Ada's Algorithm by James Essinger
on September 28th 2015
Pages: 272
Genres: Biography & Autobiography
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in England

Over 150 years after her death, a widely-used scientific computer program was named "Ada," after Ada Lovelace, the only legitimate daughter of the eighteenth century's version of a rock star, Lord Byron. Why?
Because, after computer pioneers such as Alan Turing began to rediscover her, it slowly became apparent that she had been a key but overlooked figure in the invention of the computer.

Goodreads

Ada Lovelace’s life sounds like it was made just for the tabloids.

Her father was the poet Lord Byron.  He was famous in England for his legendary affairs as well as for his poetry.  He decided to marry when he was in need of a major influx of cash to keep up his lavish lifestyle.  He married a heiress and soon fathered his only legitimate child, Ada.  His wife soon found out that he was still carrying on affairs, including one with his half-sister.  (Apparently, it didn’t count as real incest because they didn’t share the same mother.) She took Ada and left when the baby was one month old.  Lord Byron left England soon after, never to return.

Ada’s mother was determined not to let her child fall victim to the overactive imagination that she thought plagued the Byron line.  She had her schooled in mathematics.

Two events focused the direction of Ada’s life.  First, she learned about the Jacquard Loom.  This was an automated loom that used punch cards to tell the loom what threads to raise and lower.  Very complex patterns could be made this way.

This is considered the first computer program.

Secondly, she met Charles Babbage.  He was working on machines that could do complex mathematical problems.  She was fascinated by his work and started to help him figure it out.  She was also able to imagine the implications of the machine.  Her vision eclipsed anything Babbage had considered.  She published a translation of an article on Babbage and added extensive notes that explained what a future with computing machines could look like.

The combination of the “overly imaginative” Byron line and her mathematical education created a visionary.

However, as a woman, she knew she wouldn’t be taken seriously.  At first she didn’t even want to put her name on the article that became known as her Notes.  Babbage persuaded her to at least put her initials.  Over the years, her contributions to his work were downplayed.  Letters written late in her life when she was heavily drugged against the pain of terminal uterine cancer were used to claim that she was a madwoman.  However, letters to and from Babbage show that she was highly involved and that he valued her work.

Alan Turing referred to her work in the 1940s and 1950s when he was laying out the foundations for modern computing.  He called it the Lovelace objection.  She wrote that machines can only do what they are programmed to do.  He said that she meant that computers can’t take us by surprise.

Babbage ended up rejecting a proposal from Lovelace where she offered to essentially be his spokesman for his analytical engine.  She knew that he didn’t have the people skills to get it the exposure that she could.  She was right.  He never got it made.  Some historians now think that if he had listened to her about its potential that England could have had a technological revolution in the mid-1800s. This model was made later.

My favorite quote from this book sums up Babbage.  In college he and a group of friends “… founded a club which they called The Extractors, designed to help its members should any of them be the subject of a petition to get them sent to a lunatic asylum.”  Planning ahead is important.  It doesn’t seem that they never needed to invoke it.

This book is an excellent look at the life of an extraordinary woman.  She died at the age of 36.  Imagine what she could have accomplished had she lived longer.

The featured image at the top of the post is Ada’s Algorithm that she developed when working with Babbage.  My only issue with this book is that I found myself skipping over long passages quoted from her writing on mathematical theory.  My brain doesn’t like that kind of thing.

19 Nov, 2015

Meet Me In Atlantis

/ posted in: Reading Meet Me In Atlantis Meet Me in Atlantis by Mark Adams
on March 10th 2015
Pages: 320
Genres: History, Travel
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set mostly in Europe

A few years ago, Mark Adams made a strange discovery: Far from alien conspiracy theories and other pop culture myths, everything we know about the legendary lost city of Atlantis comes from the work of one man, the Greek philosopher Plato. Stranger still: Adams learned there is an entire global sub-culture of amateur explorers who are still actively and obsessively searching for this sunken city, based entirely on Plato's detailed clues. What Adams didn't realize was that Atlantis is kind of like a virus--and he'd been exposed.

Goodreads

First line –

We had just met the previous week in Bonn, my new German acquaintance and I, and here we were on the west coast of Africa on a hot Thursday morning, looking for an underwater city in the middle of the desert.

Most people don’t realize that everything we know about Atlantis comes from Plato.  Basically, he tells a story about finding this information in some papers of his ancestor Solon.  Solon traveled all over.  On a trip to Egypt a priest tells him a story about a civilization that was destroyed by water 9000 years ago.  There are a lot of very specific descriptions of the size and set up of Atlantis.  People have been looking for it ever since.

But, is it a real story or an allegory?  If there is a kernel of truth to it, what part is true?  There are many ancient Mediterranean powers that were destroyed by natural disasters.  Any one of them could have been the basis of the story if you discount the 9000 years before Solon’s time part.

The idea that Atlantis was on an island in the middle of the Atlantic comes from an American named Ignatius Donnelly who I learned about in this book.

Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the FreeIdiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free by Charles P. Pierce

(That’s a good book too.)

Most everyone else is looking in Spain, Morocco, or on islands around the western Mediterranean.

This book doesn’t give you any answers but it is an interesting look at what is known and what can be known about ancient civilizations. Some intriguing work is being down with under water exploration because many ancient cities are now in areas that are in the sea.

I now know more about Plato than I’d ever thought I would know. I skipped the chapter on his numerical theories though. It made my eyes hurt.

11 Oct, 2015

My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me

/ posted in: Reading My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me on April 15th 2015
Pages: 240
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs, History

When Jennifer Teege, a German-Nigerian woman, happened to pluck a library book from the shelf, she had no idea that her life would be irrevocably altered. Recognizing photos of her mother and grandmother in the book, she discovers a horrifying fact: Her grandfather was Amon Goeth, the vicious Nazi commandant chillingly depicted by Ralph Fiennes inSchindler's List—a man known and reviled the world over.

Goodreads

Jennifer Teege was born to a German mother and a Nigerian father in 1970 in Germany. She was placed in a children’s home. She was placed with a family at the age of three. Until the finalization of her adoption at age 7, she had frequent contact with her birth mother and maternal grandmother. She was very close to her grandmother.

She lived in Israel for five years as an adult and speaks fluent Hebrew. She was married and had two children. When she was 38 years old she was in a library and pulled a book off the shelf because the title sounded interesting. The author’s name was the name of her birth mother. In the book she saw pictures of her beloved grandmother and read the truth about her background.

Her grandmother was the mistress of Amon Goethe, the commandant of a Nazi concentration camp in Poland. He was the main bad guy in the movie Schindler’s List. In fact, Oskar Schindler had introduced her grandparents. Her grandmother had lived in the commandant’s house just outside the camp.

This doesn’t fit at all with Jennifer’s memories of a kind and gentle woman. She buries herself in historical research.

In alternating chapters, the books tells Jennifer’s story and discusses research about the affect of the Holocaust on German families. Most people don’t know or try to whitewash their grandparents’ roles.

This book is chilling. There is a picture of her grandmother posing with a dog. That dog was one of the two dog Goethe trained to kill prisoners.

She watches interviews with her mother and grandmother. Her grandmother was absolutely devoted to Amon Goethe until she died. She kept a picture of him over her bed.

“In 1948, two years after Amon Goeth’s execution, Ruth Irene Kalder asked the American authorities in US-occupied Germany to allow her to take on Goeth’s name, claiming that it was only the confusion at the end of the war that had prevented them from getting married.”

Two years after he was executed as a war criminal, she asked to take his name? How messed up is that?

In another interview she said:

“‘It was a wonderful time’, his widow said. ‘We enjoyed each other’s company. My Amon was king, I was his queen. Who wouldn’t have relished that?’ She added that she was only sorry it was all over.” As to Amon Goeth’s victims, Ruth Irene Goeth adds: “They weren’t really people like us. They were so filthy.”

After finding out about her family history, Jennifer gets in contact with her birth mother. She realizes the mother didn’t know about this until she was older either and the revelation has ruined her life.


I do recommend reading this book. I’ve never considered the affect of an ancestor’s participation in World War II would have on German people. In the U.S. it is generally considered to be a good thing. In Germany it is mostly hidden.

I don’t think that finding out that your ancestors did horrible things should change your perceptions of yourself but other people may have a harder time with that.

What do you think?

03 Oct, 2015

Sisters in Law

/ posted in: Reading Sisters in Law Sisters in Law by Linda Hirshman
on September 1st 2015
Pages: 416
Length: 13:29
Genres: History
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

The relationship between Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg—Republican and Democrat, Christian and Jew, western rancher's daughter and Brooklyn girl—transcends party, religion, region, and culture. Strengthened by each other's presence, these groundbreaking judges, the first and second women to serve on the highest court in the land, have transformed the Constitution and America itself, making it a more equal place for all women.
Linda Hirshman's dual biography includes revealing stories of how these trailblazers fought for recognition in a male-dominated profession—battles that would ultimately benefit every American woman. Hirshman also makes clear how these two justices have shaped the legal framework of modern feminism, setting precedent in cases dealing with employment discrimination, abortion, affirmative action, sexual harassment, and many other issues crucial to women's lives.
Sisters in Law combines legal detail with warm personal anecdotes, bringing these very different women into focus as never before. Meticulously researched and compellingly told, it is an authoritative account of our changing law and culture, and a moving story of a remarkable friendship.

Goodreads

I went into this book having read Sandra Day O’Conner’s book but I didn’t know much about Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

O’Conner is from Arizona. She grew up on a ranch. She went to Stanford Law School where she didn’t experience much discrimination for being a woman because Stanford was a fairly new school that just needed bodies. However, when she graduated near the top of her class, the only job she was offered was as a legal secretary. She became a Republican state senator and eventually a judge.

Ginsburg is from Brooklyn. She went to Harvard Law which was much more set in its discriminatory ways. The women in her class were invited to attend a dinner where they were forced to explain how they justified taking a seat in law school that should belong to a man. She went on to argue six major cases in front of the Supreme Court that helped establish legal equality for women in the 1970s. She then became a federal judge.

What I noticed over and over in this book was that even though they were discriminated against as women they had extraordinary privilege otherwise. Each of them had connections with several prominent politicians and/or political advisors who they lobbied to advance their careers. They have stories that prove that success is based a lot on who you know.

Of the two stories I found Ginsburg’s life more interesting. It is good to remember what rights we take for granted now that were so controversial in my lifetime. The importance of diversity on the court becomes apparent in discussions when male justices reveal that they think the lives of most women are similar to the lives of their wealthy wives and daughters. Later they were unable to sympathize with a 13 year old girl strip searched at school.

This author did a good job of making fine points of case law accessible and understandable for non lawyers.

13 Aug, 2015

Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County

/ posted in: Reading Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County by Kristen Green
on June 9th 2015
Pages: 336
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, History
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

In the wake of the Supreme Court's unanimous Brown v. Board of Education decision, Virginia's Prince Edward County refused to obey the law. Rather than desegregate, the county closed its public schools, locking and chaining the doors. The community's white leaders quickly established a private academy, commandeering supplies from the shuttered public schools to use in their all-white classrooms. Meanwhile, black parents had few options: keep their kids at home, move across county lines, or send them to live with relatives in other states. For five years, the schools remained closed.Kristen Green, a longtime newspaper reporter, grew up in Farmville and attended Prince Edward Academy, which didn't admit black students until 1986. In her journey to uncover what happened in her hometown before she was born, Green tells the stories of families divided by the school closures and of 1,700 black children denied an education. As she peels back the layers of this haunting period in our nation's past, her own family's role—no less complex and painful—comes to light.

Goodreads

Prince Edward County is in central Virginia.  In the 1950s there was a segregated school system.  The schools for black children were in horrible condition.  The students led a walk out to protest.  This led to a court case that was bundled in with others to become Brown vs The Board of Education, the case where the Supreme Court ruled the school segregation was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court said that school had to integrate but didn’t give a time frame.  Prince Edward County schools ignored the ruling for several years.  When it looked like they were going to be forced to integrate, local leaders enacted a plan that had been in the works for several years.  They closed all the public schools – white and black.  They then opened a private school to white children only.

This led to black children being either sent out of the county for education or not getting an education at all.  Families were scattered.  Some never recovered.

Kristen Green’s grandfather was on the board of the new private school.  Her grandparents’ housekeeper had to send her beloved only daughter north to get an education and she never returned.  The grandparents and the housekeeper never talked about it.  Green decided to investigate how this 5 year period of school closing affected the place where she grew up.  She is driven by the fact that she married a Native American man and now has mixed race children.  Would they be accepted in a place where segregation was so entrenched?


I was interested in the premise of this book because I know a family in Ohio who was involved in a similar situation.  They helped start a private school in the 1970s when there was going to be busing of students to better integrate schools.  I don’t know them well enough to ask questions about what exactly they were thinking so I read this book.

It is really sad.  There was such a conspiracy.  White families even gathered in the middle of the night to get vouchers for tuition paid for out of state funds for public schools.  The banks opened in the night to let them deposit the checks before anyone found out.

There were some ingenious strategies to get the black kids education too.  Colleges took some in.  One family rented a dilapidated house in a neighboring county.  It was too dangerous to go inside for long.  Kids would get dropped off there early in the morning.  They would stay in the backyard.  When they heard the bus they would go in the back door, run through the house, and go out the front door like they lived there and were heading to school.  This got so popular that at one point half the kids on the bus “lived” at that house.

This is a good book to read to see how racism can become institutionalized by people who don’t think they are doing anything wrong.  Over and over people tell her that she would have done the same thing if she was in their situation.  They just wanted a good education for their kids.  The black students were behind the white kids (because of the bad schools they had endured).  It would have hindered the white kids’ education to integrate.  It’s for the children, don’t you understand?  White children, that is.

 

 

About Kristen Green

Kristen Green has worked as a journalist for two decades for papers including the San Diego Union-Tribune and the Boston Globe. SOMETHING MUST BE DONE ABOUT PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY is a hybrid of memoir and history. Kristen examines the decision by white leaders of her Virginia hometown to close public schools rather than desegregate and considers her family’s role in this tragic history.

22 Jul, 2015

The Wright Brothers

/ posted in: Reading The Wright Brothers The Wright Brothers by David G. McCullough
on 2015-05
Pages: 368
Genres: 20th Century, Biography & Autobiography, History, Nonfiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Owned

On a winter day in 1903, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, two unknown brothers from Ohio changed history. But it would take the world some time to believe what had happened: the age of flight had begun, with the first heavier-than-air, powered machine carrying a pilot. Who were these men and how was it that they achieved what they did? David McCullough, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, tells the surprising, profoundly human story of Wilbur and Orville Wright. Far more than a couple of unschooled Dayton bicycle mechanics who happened to hit on success, they were men of exceptional courage and determination, and of far-ranging intellectual interests and ceaseless curiosity, much of which they attributed to their upbringing. The house they lived in had no electricity or indoor plumbing, but there were books aplenty, supplied mainly by their preacher father, who encouraged their studying. As individuals they had differing skill sets and passions but as a team they excelled in any given task . That they had no more than a public high school education, little money and no patron to open doors to their desires, never stopped them in their goal to take to the air. Nothing did, not even the self-evident reality that every time they took off in one of their contrivances, they risked being killed, or, at the very least, maimed. In this thrilling book, master historian David McCullough draws on the immense riches of the Wright Papers, including private diaries, notebooks, scrapbooks, and more than a thousand letters from private family correspondence to tell the human side of the Wright Brothers' story, including the little-known contributions of their sister, Katharine, without whom things might well have gone differently for them.

Goodreads

Everybody sort of knows the story of the Wright Brothers but in listening to this book I realized that I didn’t know much about them as people.

They were the youngest sons of a preacher who traveled widely.  They were very well read and educated.  Even their sister graduated from college but Wilbur and Orville did not attend college.  They started a printing business and then moved to bicycles.

They had been fascinated with flight since playing with some flying toys as children.  To get started with real flight experiments they wrote to the Smithsonian and asked for copies of all the research papers they had.  From there they experimented.

They decided to go to Kitty Hawk North Carolina because of the constant wind.  They first built gliders that could replicate some of the wing movements of birds.  It didn’t flap but they could steer by slightly changing the angle of the wings.

They would spend the fall at Kitty Hawk and then go back to their store in Dayton Ohio to make enough money to finance the next year.

Eventually they were able to fly with a motor. They then moved everything back to Ohio and tried to convince the world that they could fly. No one would believe them. Local reporters wouldn’t cover the story and said they were cranks even though people went out to watch them fly all the time. They tried to get a contract with the government but the government said they couldn’t do that because there was no proof they could fly. No one from the government would come out to see. I was super frustrated for them while listening to this part of the story.

Eventually, they made contact with the French government and Wilbur and a plane went to France. Again, no one believed they could fly. French aviation was considered the best in the world so they couldn’t fly yet so there was no way some backwoods Americans were going to be able to. Public demonstrations were made and finally, the officials believed. Wilbur became a star in France.

Orville was doing similar demos in Maryland for the U.S. government until a crash that killed a passenger and critically injured Orville.

I’m impressed with the imagination it took to figure out how to do something brand new and then explain it to the world.

 


This book made me understand this other book better.

One Summer: America, 1927One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this book there is a lot of talk about the supremacy of French aviation. Now I know why they were so into it. Wilbur Wright was a sensation and he taught some pilots before he went back to the U.S. The French aviation industry was energized in the year Wilbur spent there.

05 May, 2015

The Residence

/ posted in: Reading The Residence The Residence by Kate Andersen Brower
on April 7th 2015
Pages: 320
Genres: History, Nonfiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour

America's first families are among the most private public figures on earth. From the mystique of the glamorous Kennedys to the tumult that surrounded Bill and Hillary Clinton during the president's impeachment to the historic yet polarizing residency of Barack and Michelle Obama, each new administration brings a unique set of personalities to the White House—and a new set of challenges to the fiercely loyal and hardworking people who serve them: the White House residence staff.No one understands the president of the United States, and his family, like the men and women who make the White House run every day. Now, for the first time, their stories of fifty years, ten administrations, and countless crises, large and small, are told in The Residence. Drawing on hundreds of hours of interviews with butlers, maids, chefs, florists, doormen, and other staffers—as well as former first ladies and first family members—Kate Andersen Brower, who covered President Obama's first term, offers a group portrait of the dedicated professionals who orchestrate lavish state dinners; stand ready during meetings with foreign dignitaries; care for the president and first lady's young children; and cater to every need the first couple may have, however sublime or, on occasion, ridiculous.In the voices of the residence workers themselves—sometimes wry, often affectionate, always gracious and proud—here are stories of:

The Kennedys—from intimate glimpses of their marriage to the chaotic days after JFK's assassination

The Johnsons—featuring the bizarre saga of LBJ's obsession with the White House plumbing

The Nixons—including Richard Nixon's unexpected appearance in the White House kitchen the morning he resigned

The Reagans—from a fire that endangered Ronald Reagan late in his second term to Nancy's control of details large and small

The Clintons—whose private battles, marked by shouting matches and flying objects, unsettled residence workers

The Obamas—who danced to Mary J. Blige on their first night in the White House

And just as compelling are the stories of the workers themselves, including Storeroom Manager Bill Hamilton, who served eleven presidents over fifty-five years; Executive Housekeeper Christine Limerick, who married a fellow residence worker; Chief Usher Stephen Rochon, who became the first African American to hold the post; Executive Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier, who feuded fiercely with Executive Chef Walter Scheib; and Butler James Ramsey, who made friends with presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and whose spirit animated the White House through six administrations before his death in 2014. Working tirelessly to provide impeccable service and earning the trust and undying admiration of each new first family, these extraordinary White House workers served every day in the midst of history—and lived to tell the tales.

Goodreads

The Residence is an interesting look into the life of The White House. It is a subject that has always interested me. I’ve read books about the lives of the First Ladies by Margaret Truman and watched an old mini-series on White House staff. This book only covers the time served by living members of the White House staff.

You get the impression that they are trying not to come right out and say bad things but they let it be known who they liked and who they didn’t.

It is a quick and entertaining read for anyone who likes history. The husband is currently reading and enjoying it and he is planning on passing it on to a friend.

tlc tour host

About Kate Andersen Brower

Kate Andersen Brower spent four years covering the Obama White House for Bloomberg News and is a former CBS News staffer and Fox News producer. She lives outside Washington, D.C., with her husband and their two young children.

09 Apr, 2015

Born To Rule by Julia P. Gelardi

/ posted in: Reading Born To Rule by Julia P. Gelardi Born to Rule by Julia P. Gelardi
on February 7th 2006
Pages: 496
Genres: History, Nonfiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

Julia Gelardi's Born to Rule is the powerful epic story of five royal granddaughters of Queen Victoria, who reigned over the end of their empires, the destruction of their families, and the tumult of the twentieth centuryHere are the stories of Alexandra, whose faith in Rasputin and tragic end have become the stuff of legend; Marie, the flamboyant and eccentric queen who battled her way through a life of intrigues and was also the mother of two Balkan queens and of the scandalous Carol II of Romania; Victoria Eugenie, Spain's very English queen who, like Alexandra, introduced hemophilia into her husband's family---with devastating consequences for her marriage; Maud, King Edward VII's daughter, who was independent Norway's reluctant queen; and Sophie, Kaiser Wilhelm II's much maligned sister, daughter of an emperor and herself the mother of no less than three kings and a queen, who ended her days in bitter exile.Using never before published letters, memoirs, diplomatic documents, secondary sources, and interviews with descendents of the subjects, Julia Gelardi's Born to Rule is an astonishing and memorable work of popular history.

Goodreads

I love women’s history so I was excited hear about this book.  I was only familiar with Tsarina Alexandra before reading it.

All of these women spent a lot of time in their childhood in England with their grandmother, Queen Victoria. Each of them learned from her what it meant to be a monarch. They tried to follow her example in a changing world – sometimes to their detriment.

 

Marie Alexandra Victoria (Missy) was born to an English Duke and a Russian Grand Dutchess in England. She married Crown Prince Ferdinand of Romania. During World War I she worked as a nurse and then was a negotiator for her country with the Allied Powers to gain land for Romania. Men loved her. She always had new admirers. Her son King Carol II was a horrible human being who seemed to delight in tormenting his family by banishing them from Romania and contact with each other.

Alix Victoria Helena Louise Beatrice of Hesse was born in Germany to Princess Alice of Great Britain and Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse. After a long and determined courtship, Nicholas of Russia got her to agree to marry him. They had a happy marriage but they weren’t great leaders. She was very shy and was thought to be arrogant by the people in the court who she avoided for being fake. Her entire family was killed in 1918.

Sophia Dorothea Ulrica Alice (Sophie) was born in Germany to Victoria, Princess Royal of Great Britain and the future Emperor Frederick III. She married Constantine of Greece against the will of her brother, Kaiser Wilhelm. He hated her and worked against her but the fact that she was related to the Kaiser was held against her in Greece during World War I. She was thought to be a spy. The Greek royal family was exiled and then returned several times.

Maud Charlotte Mary Victoria was born in London and was the youngest child of Edward VII and Alexandra of Denmark. She didn’t want to be a queen and happily married Prince Charles of Denmark who was not going to become King of Denmark. However, when Norway gained independence from Sweden they chose to have a King and selected Charles who took the name Haakon VII. She probably had the happiest life because no one was trying to kill them or overthrow them.

Victoria Eugenie (Ena) was born in Scotland to Princess Beatrice and Prince Henry of Battenberg. Princess Beatrice was Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter who was assigned to keep her mother company so Ena grew up with the Queen. She married Alfonso of Spain and survived her first assassination attempt on her wedding day. The marriage fell apart when two of the couple’s sons were born with hemophilia. Alfonso blamed her for infecting the royal line. The Spanish monarchy was exiled during her reign but she was instrumental in negotiating for the reinstatement of her grandson, King Juan Carlos.

This book was very confusing to me at first. Each of the women have their full birth names, their nicknames, and the names they take as Queen. The author uses the names interchangeably sometimes in the same paragraph. It took a while to figure out who was who. The book is written chronologically and all the girls stories are intermingled. There is a family tree at the front of the book that really helped.

It got easier to understand once they all got married and went to different countries. Then I could keep them straight.

About Julia P. Gelardi

Julia P. Gelardi is an independent historian specializing in European royal history from the Victorian era to the present.

26 Feb, 2015

A Chosen Exile by Allyson Hobbs

/ posted in: Reading A Chosen Exile by Allyson Hobbs A Chosen Exile by Allyson Hobbs
on October 13th 2014
Pages: 382
Genres: History, Nonfiction, United States
Published by Harvard University Press
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

Between the eighteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, countless African Americans passed as white, leaving behind families and friends, roots and community. It was, as Allyson Hobbs writes, a chosen exile, a separation from one racial identity and the leap into another. This revelatory history of passing explores the possibilities and challenges that racial indeterminacy presented to men and women living in a country obsessed with racial distinctions. It also tells a tale of loss.As racial relations in America have evolved so has the significance of passing. To pass as white in the antebellum South was to escape the shackles of slavery. After emancipation, many African Americans came to regard passing as a form of betrayal, a selling of one's birthright. When the initially hopeful period of Reconstruction proved short-lived, passing became an opportunity to defy Jim Crow and strike out on one's own.Although black Americans who adopted white identities reaped benefits of expanded opportunity and mobility, Hobbs helps us to recognize and understand the grief, loneliness, and isolation that accompanied and often outweighed these rewards. By the dawning of the civil rights era, more and more racially mixed Americans felt the loss of kin and community was too much to bear, that it was time to pass out and embrace a black identity. Although recent decades have witnessed an increasingly multiracial society and a growing acceptance of hybridity, the problem of race and identity remains at the center of public debate and emotionally fraught personal decisions.

Goodreads

“Passing” didn’t always mean changing racial identities. At the beginning of the United States, both black slaves and white indentured servants sometimes passed as free people to run away. But as slavery became more entrenched in racial identity passing came to mean black people living as white.

Some people just did it occasionally to go into a certain segregated area. Others moved away from their hometowns where everyone knew them and cut off all contact with family and friends.

Immediately following the Civil War there as a period of more opportunities for black men. Some of those who might have passed in an earlier generation chose not to at this time.

image

P.B.S. Pinchback was the first black governor in the U.S. He was also elected to Congress but had difficulty being seated because of his race.

As Jim Crow laws were passed in the South, passing started to happen more often again until the rise of the Civil Right movement.

Liked

  • The stories of people who had to decide what was best for them to do and the impact on their families
  • The story of the man who integrated a southern college decades before the college fought against integration. He got his degree because everyone thought he was white.
  • It was sad to read about changing social mores that allowed a man to go openly to an integrated college but then barred his grandchildren because the college no longer admitted black students.

Didn’t Like

  • This isn’t the most narrative book so it could be slow going to read it. I had to take some breaks and then get back into it.

Quotes

“I decided some time ago that the Negro people need all the good, intelligent, unbelligerent representatives they can get in this world, and I’m trying to be one.”

– Herb Jeffries, an actor that producers tried to convince to bill himself as Latin, on why he refused.

“…although many of her friends would pass without a moment’s hesitation just to be free from color problems, poor-paying jobs and all the other vicious injustices that all too often go with being a Negro,’ she had a different perspective after experiencing the darker side of passing.  Listening to white coworkers speak about blacks with bitter contempt, teetering on a ‘state of nervous collapse,’ and living in constant fear that her secret would be discovered, she felt relieved to be ‘through with passing.’ No longer did she have to worry about returning coworkers’ social invitations or getting sick on the job and being taken home by a coworker who would discover that she lived in a black neighborhood.” 

– based on an anonymously article in Ebony in March 1951

 

23 Feb, 2015

Freedom’s Daughters by Lynne Olson

/ posted in: Current EventsFeminismReading Freedom’s Daughters by Lynne Olson Freedom's Daughters by Lynne Olson
on 2001
Pages: 460
Genres: 20th Century, Civil Rights, History, Nonfiction, Political Science, Social Science, United States, Women's Studies
Published by Simon and Schuster
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

The first comprehensive history of the role of women in the civil rights movement, Freedom's Daughters fills a startling gap in both the literature of civil rights and of women's history. Stokely Carmichael, Andrew Young, John Lewis, and other well-known leaders of the civil rights movement have admitted that women often had the ideas for which men took credit. In this groundbreaking book, credit finally goes where credit is due -- to the bold women who were crucial to the movement's success and who refused to give up the fight.

Goodreads

I found this book because I wanted to find out more about Diane Nash, who was featured in the movie Selma.

The book starts with Ida B. Wells who was a journalist in the 1800s reporting on lynching.

After the Civil War, black women were able to apply their educations in jobs such as teaching more readily than black men were allowed.  These educated women organized social services and groups to fight against injustice.  The backlash came swiftly.  Black pastors accused them of being too powerful and taking on roles that should be filled by men.  The sexism grew.

“Once male slaves were freed, they sought to claim what they saw as those rights of ownership, particularly control over black women to which white men had previously laid claim.” pg 44

It was women who kept pressing for more rights during the early 1900s. Pauli Murray and Eleanor Roosevelt were featured among others.

A recurring theme is that women would start a project and then when it was getting successful, men would come in and take over.

“News coverage, which the leaders sought, was, as Murray pointed out, a matter of men reporting on men.  Stories on the movement often read like accounts of sports contests or wars, keeping score of who was up and who was down, who won an dwho lost.  Conflict was always emphasized, whether between civil rights organizations or between local white aurthorities and activitis.  The behind-the-scenes activity that women specialized in – organizing, building consensus, sustaining a  sense of community – did not make good television, nor did it lend itself to dramatic newspaper or magazine headlines. page 235

During the 1960s black and white women worked together in most of the major campaigns. Opposition to Civil Rights was often because of fears of black men sleeping with white women. For this reason, white women were often kept in the office and not allowed to go out into the field with black men. They started to chafe under the restrictions of their “women’s work.” Black women often did not see their point about sexism because they didn’t have the same prohibitions. This led to splits in organizations and several of the white women who had been very involved in the Civil Rights movement started working with feminist organizations. This disconnect between black and white women over sexism can still be seen in discussions today around race and feminism.

I learned about women that I didn’t know anything about previously, including Diane Nash. She was incredible!

This book was a good compliment to the Rosa Parks biography I read. I’d recommend this for anyone interested in women’s history that they may not have heard before.

12 Feb, 2015

The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

/ posted in: Current EventsReading The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King
Pages: 266
Genres: History, Nonfiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

Goodreads

 

The author takes pains to point out that this is not going to be a traditional history.  It is a series of essays about Indian (his preferred term) and White relations in the U.S. and Canada.

It is pretty depressing.  He lightens it up some but it is more along the lines of laughing so you don’t cry.

There are chapters on cultural appropriation by Whites.  Hear the stories of Indian actors who didn’t look Indian enough to get Indian roles and White actors who made a career of playing Indians.

Learn about the history of Indian boarding schools designed to make children lose touch with their culture.  So many children died in these institutions and no one in authority cared.

He has chapters on government programs designed to steal land on the excuse that the Indians weren’t using it correctly.  In case you think this is all in the past, he talks about relations since 1985.

One example that got my attention was the story of the Kinzua Dam.  I grew up near there but didn’t know anything about it.  When the dam was built it flooded 10,000 acres of the Seneca reservation.  The Seneca were never told that the dam was going to happen.  (The image above is Kinzua Lake.)

I looked up Kinzua online to find out more and found this statement on Wikipedia.

“In addition, the Seneca lost a 1964 appeal over the related relocation of a four-lane highway through the remaining portion of the reservation.[8] This caused them to lose more land to the interstate (but, in turn, the reservation was able to reclaim the land around the old highway the interstate had replaced; that land sits abandoned and unused as of 2014).

Oh, look, Indians still aren’t using the land correctly in the opinion of this Wikipedia writer.

Don’t worry though. In exchange for submerging 10,000 acres and several towns the Seneca were given 305 acres to relocate the towns.  That’s good math.

This is a difficult and uncomfortable book to read but I think it is a necessary one.

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