Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Recent Acquisitions to My Library

When it comes to books, I'm not usually an impulse buyer. I try to read reviews, see who published the book, learn more about the author if I am unfamiliar with him or her, add it to my wish list and then hope the price drops. 

That was not the case last evening, where Ed Ayers was our February speaker at the Petersburg Civil War Roundtable. I was familiar with Ayers's previous work and had actually met him about nine years ago in Richmond at a history conference. At that time I had him sign a copy of In the Presence of Mine Enemies: War in the Heart of America. I had enjoyed the book, as well as several others on Southern history that he had published and I appreciated the fact that when I met him he was so down-to-earth and humble. So, when I was lining up folks for the 2018 Petersburg Roundtable slate of speakers, I thought I'd ask and he accepted. 

The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America is the follow up book to In the Presence of Mine Enemies and continues the stories of Augusta County, Virginia and Franklin County, Pennsylvania from Gettysburg through Reconstruction. The stories of these two counties come from the documents that make up Ayers's "Valley of the Shadow Project" digital history initiative that he developed when he was at the University of Virginia. I had planned on purchasing the book at some point, but after hearing his talk last evening, I decided to buy one and have him sign it on the spot. I'm really looking forward to diving into this one and reading Ayers's grounds-eye-view approach to the people that lived the war and the reunification of the nation.

I also try not to purchase a book solely on its title. Authors and publishers can sometimes be tricky. The title can sometimes make one think the book will cover certain issues only to find that is not the case. However, Word by Word: Emancipation and the Act of Writing by Christopher Hager, was a title too good to pass on when I came across it. 

Enslaved African Americans were often not allowed to read and write. Although there are a number of exceptions, and a couple of the slave states did not make literacy illegal, most owners wanted to control their human property as much as possible and keeping the illiterate helped toward that end. Writing was an act of freedom and expression that those few enslaved who could do it enjoyed. When emancipation came others who had been deprived sought to learn. However, expressing oneself in writing during Reconstruction could be extremely dangerous. I'm excited to read what voices of the enslaved and freedmen Hager uncovers and how he analyzes this previously overlooked historical subject.

I am currently reading The F Street Mess: How Southern Senators Rewrote the Kansas-Nebraska Act by Alice Elizabeth Malavasic. This intriguing book looks into the relationship of four Southern senators, who were all in some sense the proteges of John C. Calhoun, and who worked to legislate slavery's movement into the western territories before the Civil War. 

Robert M.T. Hunter, James Murray Mason, Andrew Pickens Butler, and David Rice Atchison shared a living space on F Street in Washington D.C. (thus the "mess" in the title) and developed a strong friendship due to their like-mindedness. Hunter and Mason from Virginia, Butler from South Carolina, and Atchison from Missouri, all played the high stakes political games that helped bring about the eventual election of Abraham Lincoln, the secession of eleven slave states, and the outbreak of the war. The Slave Power conspiracy is one that has been kicked about by historians and this book looks to add another piece toward better understanding the contentious mid-1850s.

Few events helped spark the effectiveness of the Civil Rights Movement as did the murder of Emmett Till in 1955 in Mississippi. The injustice of this crime has been the subject of a number of books and documentaries, but few have actually looked into who Emmett Till actually was. The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson is self described as "part detective story and part political history," and apparently uncovers previously unused sources to tell the story of this young man and his impact of human rights. 

I've read and found Tyson's previous books Radio Free Dixie and Blood Done Sign My Name both to be alarmingly eye-opening and informative reads. I'm fairly certain that this one will follow suit.

Don't Hurry Me Down to Hades: The Civil War in the Words of Those Who Lived Through It by Susannah J. Ural promises to be another of the growing grounds-eye-view Civil War books. I truly appreciate the historians who make the war real by showing its effect on people by using their own words. Doing so helps cut out so much "hind-sight history" and nostalgia. Here one gets to read the thoughts of those who lived it. This one looks to be right up my reading interest alley. 

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