Back to index of "words and books and such" pages by Donald Sauter.

Book reports

The inspiration for this page came from a similar page by Alex Measday. (I hate to include links to such ephemera as other people's web pages, but I'm sure you can find him easily enough from google. I mean, how many can there be?)

Mr. Measday reviews a lot of books he can't understand. I got around that problem by borrowing most of mine from the local elementary school libraries. That was James McHenry Elementary School in 1999-2000, and later Seabrook Elementary School, both in Prince George's County, Maryland. (By now, I've thrown in some grown-up books.)

The most recently added book reports are flagged as *NEW* in the table of contents below.

NOTE, Oct 2009: It appears that my noble intention of "whipping up" a little review of every book I read didn't last long. It's so hard to organize thoughts into written words. That's a long way of saying you won't see any ***NEW*** flags below.

NOTE, Mar 2002: I moved MUSIC-related book reports to their own page, which you can find easily in the music section of my main page.

Table of contents

Heroes Of Polar Exploration , by Ralph K. Andrist and the editors of Horizon Magazine, 1962.
Buried In Ice - The Mystery Of A Lost Arctic Exploration , Owen Beattie and John Geiger with Shelley Tanaka; 1992.
Nat Turner, by Terry Bisson; 1988.
The View From Saturday , by E. L. Konigsburg (Elaine Konigsburg); 1996.
From The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E. L. Konigsburg (Elaine Konigsburg); 1967.
The Cardinal's Snuffbox, by Kenneth Roseman, illustrated by Bill Negron; 1982.
The Beak Of The Finch; a story of evolution in our time, by Jonathan Weiner; 1994.
The Neck Of The Giraffe; where Darwin went wrong, by Francis Hitching; 1982.
Zipper, by Robert Friedel; 1994.
American Beat, by Bob Greene; 1983.
Prince George's Bounty, by students of Queen Ann School; 1984.
1900s, by Gail B. Stewart; 1989.
1910s, by Gail B. Stewart; 1989.
1920s, by Gail B. Stewart; 1989.
1930s, by Gail B. Stewart; 1989.
My Fellow Americans - A Family Album, by Alice Provenson; 1995.
Jesse Owens, Olympic Hero, by Francene Sabin; 1986.
Jackie Robinson, by Francene Sabin; 1985.
With Xenios In Greece, by Angeliki Varella; 1999.
Many Stars & More String Games, by Camilla Gryski; 1985.
The First Americans, by Joy Hakim; 1993.
Making Thirteen Colonies, by Joy Hakim; 1993.
Mike's House, by Julia L. Sauer; 1954.
Money, by Peggy Burns; 1995.
Stranded At Plimoth Plantation, 1626, by Gary Bowen; 1994.
Migrant Worker, a boy from the Rio Grande Valley, by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith; 1996.
Fun With Puzzles, by Joseph Leeming; 1946.
Henry Aaron, quiet superstar, by Al Hirshberg; 1969.
The Watsons Go To Birmingham - 1963, by Christopher Paul Curtis; 1995.
Stephen Hawking - Understanding The Universe, by Gail Sakurai; 1996.
The Papermakers, by Leonard Everett Fisher; 1965.
The Glassmakers, by Leonard Everett Fisher; 1964.
The Printers, by Leonard Everett Fisher; 1965.
A Pictorial Album Of Jamestown; Birthplace Of America, by Sidney E. King (paintings) and J. Paul Hudson (text); 1963.
The Colony Of Maryland, by Gene and Clare Gurney; 1972.
How Books Are Made, by David C. Cooke; 1963.
Sorry, Chief..., by William Johnston; 1966.

Heroes Of Polar Exploration
by Ralph K. Andrist and the editors of Horizon Magazine, 1962

Buried In Ice - The Mystery Of A Lost Arctic Exploration
Owen Beattie and John Geiger with Shelley Tanaka, 1992

I checked out "Heroes Of Polar Exploration" to brush up on... well, polar exploration. I've always had trouble keeping straight who did and didn't do what at which pole, and how. There's just too many short names heavy on ps, rs and ss (Parry, Peary, Ross, Ross, Scott and Byrd), with a few oddball middle names (Falcon and Evelyn - and Falcon is not the flyer), and too many of these guys jumping from one pole to the other.

The highlight for me was learning more about Roald Amundsen. What a guy! All I had known is that he was the first to the South Pole. Well, if that isn't enough, he was also the first one through the northwest passage - something people had been looking for for hundreds of years. I would have been proud as a peacock to go down in history with just one of those accomplishments under my belt, but for Amundsen, they were no bigger deals than a couple of hikes in the woods. His only dream was to be the first one to the North Pole. Imagine hitting 100 home runs one year in baseball, and scoring 50 touchdowns in football, but all that mattered to you was not winning 6 golf majors.

And even at that I'm wondering, has anyone ever posed the question, was Amundsen maybe the first one to make it to the North Pole? I don't think anyone believes Peary or Cook got there on the surface, and there is serious doubt about whether Byrd nailed it on his 1929 airplane flight. So maybe Amundsen was the first - in his dirigible trip a few days later. If so, what a hat trick! But I suppose this ignorant speculation will send polar exploration scholars guffawing...

Amundsen also died a true hero. There were some problems with the dirigible in the flight over the pole. The man who had designed it, Umberto Nobile, was on the flight, and afterwards Amundsen criticized the dirigible's performance. Nobile took it personally and had another dirigible made and attempted another flight to the pole. This one crashed, and Amundsen jumped into the search, feeling somewhat responsible for Nobile's undertaking. Amundsen took off in a French seaplane, which went down, and Amundsen was never seen again. (Nobile was picked up by other rescuers.)

Antarctic explore Douglas Mawson was not mentioned. Perhaps that's because he wasn't attempting to get to the South Pole. For my money, his is the single most incredible survival story of all time. I intend to write a book report on "Mawson's Will" one day. For the time being, just take my word for it - throw away whatever you're reading now (book, I mean, not this web page) and get started on "Mawson's Will".

It's kind of funny reading about the difficulties experienced by oh-so-smart-and-civilized explorers in an environment that the Eskimos call home sweet home. They had to bust their guts to do what for Eskimos is like rolling out of bed. The smartest ones of the explorers, such as James Clark Ross and Francis McClintock studied and used Eskimo ways of life and travel.

Peary took whole Eskimo villages with him on his arctic expeditions. The Eskimo women made clothes in the native way, the men drove sledges, built igloos and made trails. Seventeen members of his "successful" 1909 expedition to the pole were Eskimos. Four of those who made it to the top (if not the actual pole) were Eskimos. The author wrote, "By now [Matthew Henson] had become a first-rate handler of dog teams, almost as skilled as an Eskimo." So you see praise was doled out on a scale established by the Eskimos.

Going back hundreds of years, we make a big deal out of the Vikings getting to Greenland, but we take it so for granted that the Eskimos were there (and may have eventually destroyed the Viking colonies) that how they got there isn't even addressed.

Here are a few random tidbits from "Heroes Of Polar Exploration" I found interesting. Even into the 1800s people believed that the North Pole was surrounded by an ice-free ocean. At the time the book was written, 1962, the arctic supported a populaton of more than a million. Some of Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf floats, but much of it rests on the sea bed.

Has anyone made a modern surface expedition (but no motors) to the North Pole, fully documented and filmed for a tv special? For one thing, after reading the book, I'm still not sure whether anyone has ever done it, and for another, I'm dying to see how accurate my mental image of such a journey is. It seems like such a hit-or-miss deal, waiting for your ice floe to bump into the next one so you can jump on that one and scurry a little closer to the pole - that is, if the floe isn't drifting away faster than you can scurry.

These polar exploration stories were written very clearly. It was all more entertaining than fiction. I guess the writers didn't want their prose laced with dates, but I think it would have been handy to have more years explicitly shown for the events, and a few more maps showing exploration routes. The illustrations are great. The book reproduces a color photo from Scott's expedition to the South Pole, but doesn't call attention to how remarkable that is.

"Buried In Ice" is mostly all gloss. It tells about a 1984 expedition to unravel the mystery of the 1845 Franklin expedition. Anthropologist Beattie has a theory that it was lead poisoning from improperly canned food. Not surprisingly, by returning to the grave sites and digging up 3 bodies and performing some chemical analyses, he confirmed his theory. (This is what I refer to as the "ouija board effect" in scientific research, which I discuss in other web pages.) Beattie writes, "I was struck by the horrifying truth - lead had contributed to the declining health of the entire crews of the Erebus and Terror." Funny to be "struck" by something he was gunning to find in the first place.

Beattie doesn't go so far as to blame all the deaths directly on lead poisoning. In fact, the bones he examined showed that scurvy was a factor. But he concluded that lead poisoning "played an important role in the poor health and judgment that doomed the famous expedition," and that may be. After all, Franklin took 8000 cans of food canned by a method that was prohibited some decades later. But, speaking for myself, if I had been stuck on a frozen, near-arctic island for 19 months, and moved by desperation to start a brutal slog southward in a last ditch hope of reaching civizilation, I doubt if I would need lead poisoning as an excuse for expiring.

Beattie also examined bones from the site where this expedition gave up the ghost. "As I was looking closely at a thigh bone, my attention had been captured by something unexpected." Beattie found marks from a knife! "I remember slouching back in my chair as the significance of this discovery sank in. The awful possibility of cannibalism among Franklin's dying men was first mentioned by the Inuit in 1850s, but these reports were greeted with stunned disbelief in Britain. Yet the thigh bone I held in my hand seemed to prove that cannibalism had taken place during the last dark days of the expedition."

Beattie takes partial credit here for something everybody else already knows. He should have read "Heroes Of Polar Exploration" for a full account. In October 1854, Dr. John Rae reported, "From the mutilated state of many of the corpses and the contents of the kettles, it is evident that our countrymen had been driven to the last resource." See 1848 in the chronology below.

I remember when Beattie's team dug up the 3 frozen graves in 1984. The Washington Times ran a large picture of one of the corpses on the top half of the front page. The caption and accompanying article were sneakily kept on the bottom half of the page, so you had to buy a copy if you were viewing it in a newspaper box and your curiosity was piqued - and how could it not be? Likewise, I think the publisher of "Buried In Ice" figured he could use pictures of frozen, dead guys to sell a bunch of books.

"Buried In Ice" devotes about 30 of its 60 pages to a fictionalized story of the 3 men who died early in the expedition (and who were dug up by Beattie), although I didn't see any statement to the effect that it was fiction. That's not good.

Comparing "Heroes Of Polar Exploration" and "Buried In Ice" may be a case of apples and oranges, but it also might show evidence of a trend from old-time substance towards modern-day fluff in our books for young people.

Here is a very condensed history of polar exploration, from the 1962 book:

Arctic exploration

4th Century B.C.  Greek scientist-adventurer PYTHIUS sails to Iceland.
825 A.D.  Irish monks reach Iceland in coracles (tiny boats of hide 
    stretched over a wood frame.)
900 Gunnbjo"rn ULFSSON sights Greenland's bleak coast.
982 ERIC THE RED sails from Iceland and discovers Greenland.  
986 ERIC THE RED leads colonists to southwest coast of Greenland.  
1300s  Greenland civilization dies out completely, possibly because of 
    increasing scarcity of food, possibly Eskimo attacks.  
...  No activity for a few hundred years.
1553 First English expedition looking for a northeast route to the orient.  
     One ship gets separated and meets Russians, leading to profitable trade 
     between England and Russia.  Rest of the expedition dies.  
1576 Martin FROBISHER sails in search of a northwest passage.  Makes it to 
     Baffin Bay.  Thinks Eskimos are Asians.  Brings back an Eskimo, who 
     dies.  Brings back a rock; assayer says it contains gold.  
1577 FROBISHER's second voyage brings back more samples.
1578 FROBISHER's 15 ships bring back loads of the ore - really fool's gold!  
     Frobisher disgraced.  
1585-1587 Three expeditions by John DAVIS.  Reached 72.7 degrees N in Baffin 
     Bay.  Collected much data about the North.  
1594 Dutchman William BARENTS sails to find northeast passage, and trade route 
     with Russians.  Could have made it, because of ice-free conditions that 
     year, but returns home to report on his progress.
1595 BARENTS sets out with more ships, but meets impassable ice this time.
1596 Two-ship Dutch expedition sails north to Spitsbergen, and to 80 degrees N.
     Ships separate; BARENTS' crew winters in arctic.  Barents dies.  The 
     wintering site is found 274 years later, in 1871.  
1607 Henry HUDSON sets out to reach Cathay by sailing over the North Pole.  He 
     gets to within about 575 miles of the pole, a record which stands for 166 
1608 HUDSON tries for the northeast passage.  Thwarted by ice.
1608 (HUDSON explores North America.)
1610 HUDSON tries for the northwest passage.  Crew mutinies.  Hudson, his son, 
     and a few others were put in a boat and never seen again.
1612? William BAFFIN pilots an expedition to the top of Baffin Bay, 75.5 
     degrees N.  This would eventually be the route to the North Pole, but 
     no one will get so far in this area for 236 years.  
to 1631: Several other expeditions into Hudson Bay, generally involving much 
     suffering.  Then exploration stops and whaling takes over for this and 
     the next century.  
1725-1730 Vitus BERING travels overland to eastern coast of Russia, then sails 
     through Bering Strait.  Received official criticism(!) for not sailing 
     further in order to prove that Asia and America aren't connected.
1740 BERING gets another chance.  Sails to Alaska.  Ship wrecks on return. 
     Crew marooned on Bering Island for 9 months.  Bering dies.  His 
     exploration led to Russian settlement of northwestern North America.
1778 Englishman James COOK seeks northwest passage from the Bering Strait.  
     The sky is clear and he sees Asia and North America at once, which Bering 
     never could because of fog.  
1818 Britain wants to discourage Russian expansion into arctic Canada.  Sends 
     out 4 ships commanded by John FRANKLIN and John ROSS.  Franklin's 2 ships 
     are battered by storms and turned back.  Ross's 2 ships "rediscover" 
     what Baffin had found 200 years earlier.  Ross turns back when he thinks 
     he sees mountains.  
1819 British expedition led by Edward PARRY to determine if Ross was "seeing 
     things."  Turns out, he was.  Parry penetrates much of the confused 
     waterways north of Canada.  Later, Parry makes 2 more unsuccessful 
     attempts to find the northwest passage.  The Royal Navy ceases 
     exploration activity.  
1827 PARRY tries to reach North Pole by pulling small boats with runners.  
     Thwarted by the drift of the ice, but still made it to 82.75 degrees N.
1829 John ROSS makes a privately-financed stab at the northwest passage with 
     a steamship.  The engine is useless and tossed overboard.  They get 
     iced in; raid one of Parry's shipwrecks for food; get resued by a whaler 
     in 1833; and return to England after having been given up for dead.  
     Ross's nephew James Clark Ross is on the expedition and studies Eskimo 
     ways and discovers the North Magnetic Pole.  
1845 Britain wants to beat Russian and U.S. navies to the northwest passage.  
     Ships are fitted with screw propellers; accommodations are luxurious.  
     John FRANKLIN commands the expedition.  The Terror and Erebus never 
1848 James Clark ROSS leads an unsuccessful search for Franklin.  For the next 
     6 years there is a huge effort to find Franklin.  A campsite and 3 graves 
     are found in 1851.  In 1854, Eskimos lead John RAE to the remains of 
     30 of Franklin's party.  He reports, "our miserable countrymen had been 
     driven to the last resources" - a euphemism for making tasty morsels of 
     each other.  England was not happy.  
1859 Leopold McCLINTOCK, in a search funded by appeals from Franklin's widow, 
     finds more remnants of the Franklin expedition, including a written 
     record.  In 1860 American Charles Francis HALL interviews Eskimos and 
     learns that some of Franklin's men had gone to live with the Eskimos 
     before setting off on a doomed march towards civilization.  In that way, 
     they had lived a few years longer - a lesson important to future polar 
1878 Swede Nils NORDENSKO"LD leads expedition easily and undramatically 
     through the northeast passage to the Bering Strait.  
1893 Norwegian Fridtjof NANSEN tries to use polar drift to take his ship, the 
     Fram, over North Pole.  Realizes he will miss it, and sets out with 
     dogs and sledges for the pole.  He gets to 86.2 degrees N.  
1896 Swede Salomon ANDREE tries to reach the North Pole by balloon.  It was 
     discovered in 1930 that the balloon came down 300 miles from where it 
     took off.  It remains a mystery why the men died, since their camp had 
     plenty of food and they were dressed warmly.
1903-1906 Norwegian Roald AMUNDSEN explores coastlines north of Canada; 
     observes natives; makes scientific observations; and completes northwest 
1908-09 Robert E. PEARY's 4th attempt to reach the North Pole.  In this, as 
     in his previous efforts, opening channels of water were the major 
     obstacles.  He claims he made it.  He returns home to find that 
     Frederick A. COOK claims he had made it a year earlier.  (Does anybody 
     now believe either claim?)  
1926 Richard E. BYRD flies over (or near?) the North Pole.  His round trip 
     flight is 1440 miles, and takes 16 hours.  He is greeted on his return 
     by AMUNDSEN, who wanted to fly his dirigible there first.  Amundsen 
     accomplishes this a few days later.  

Antarctic exploration

time of ancient Greeks:  Geographers believe a southern continent exists.  
      It is needed to balance the northern hemisphere continents.  It is 
      a land of beauty and wealth.
1772-74 Englishman James COOK leads expedition which sights the antarctic's 
     flat-topped icebergs, and crosses the Antarctic Circle.  He does not 
     sight the continent.  He claims, "no man will venture further [south] 
     than I have done", thereby halting antarctic exploration until the 1800s. 
     His discovery of a few islands leads to massive seal hunting.  
1820 England claims William SMITH and Edward BRANSFIELD are the first to sight 
1821 Russian Fabian von BELLINGSHAUSEN is the first make a landing on an 
     island below the antarctic circle.  He sights Antarctica.  
1821 Nathaniel PALMER sights Antarctica.  America claims he is first.
1822 James WEDDELL sails further south than Palmer, into Antarctica's Weddell 
     Sea.  He makes scientific measurements.  
1837-1843 France, Britain and the U.S. send expeditions:  
1840 Jules d'URVILLE looks for the south magnetic pole; claims a stretch of 
     coast for France.  
1840-43 James Clark ROSS looks for the south magnetic pole; discovers the Ross 
     Sea and Ross Ice Shelf; discovers the volcano Mount Erebus; claims some 
     territory for England.
1838-1840? Charles WILKES commands U.S. expedition which is poorly prepared 
     and accomplishes little.  As a result, the U.S. has nothing to do with 
     Antarctica for an entire century.  
1897 Belgian Adrien de GERLACHE leads scientific expedition which is the first 
     to spend the winter below the Antarctic Circle.  AMUNDSEN takes over when 
     scurvy breaks out.  Dr. Frederick COOK forces men back to health with 
     seal and penguin meat.  Yum.
1898 Norwegian Carsten BORCHGREVINK leads an English expedition which spends 
     the winter on Antarctica.  This sets off rush to the south polar regions. 
1901-03? Robert Falcon SCOTT leads expedition to within 400 miles of the South 
     Pole.  The dogs die of a mysterious illness, putting Scott off dogs in 
     the future.  Ernest SHACKLETON almost dies of scurvy.  
1908-09 SHACKLETON leads an expedition trying for the South Pole.  He brings 
     a motor vehicle which is not too effective, and horses, which give out.  
     He gets within 97 miles of the South Pole.  
1911-12 AMUNDSEN heads for the South Pole after being beaten by Peary at the 
     North Pole.  He reaches the South Pole and returns almost effortlessly.  
1911-12 SCOTT leads an expedition for the South Pole.  He chooses to rely on 
     horses.  Eleven miles from the pole he finds tracks left by Amundsen's 
     team in the snow.  At the pole, he finds the Norwegian flag and a tent 
     and equipment from Amundsen's visit - plus a letter to him from 
     Amundsen!  Scott and his men die on the return trip.  
1914-16? SHACKLETON attempts to reach the South Pole and continue across the 
     continent.  His ship gets caught in ice; the men take to the ice.  It 
     is miserable.  Shackleton sails to South Georgia island in a tiny boat 
     for help.  He obtains a ship and returns to rescue his men.  
1928-29 Richard BYRD sets up Little America on Antarctica.  He flies over the 
     South Pole.  
1934 BYRD makes winter-long weather observations in a tiny hut 125 miles 
     south of Little America.  
1939 BYRD leads the first official U.S. expedition to Antarctica since Wilkes' 
     a hundred years earlier.  Little America III is set up for scientific and 
     territorial reasons.  It is abandoned in 1941.  
1946 The U.S. Navy sends a huge expedition - led by BYRD - to Antarctica to 
     test ships and equipment in polar waters.  Also, 60% of the coastline was 
     covered and photographed.  
1957-58 International Geophysical Year, in which scientists from 12 nations 
     set up in 50 bases on Antarctica.  

Nat Turner
by Terry Bisson, 1988

This is the unhappiest book I've ever read.

Nat Turner masterminded a slave revolt in Virginia that got underway on August 22 1831. That he got as far with it as he did is remarkable, but, in the end, it would seem it has to be counted as a tragic failure. The author doesn't say this, of course. He puts the most positive slant on it as possible: "[Turner] destroyed forever the notion that the slaves would not, or could not, fight for their freedom... He became the spiritual father and political inspiration to subsequent generations of freedom fighters..." Still, there's a matter of 3 decades between Nat Turner's rebellion and the Civil War, and it's hard to imagine the memory staying fresh that long.

The final death count was about 60 whites versus 200 blacks, more or less.

The book itself is excellent. It's aimed at the younger reader, but leaves you wondering, who could need or want more detail? If it glossed over anything, I don't want to know. Atrocities are described that will make me cringe to my dying day. There was one little moment where the writer snuck past the defenses of the Nonfiction Neutralization Police (editors), and actually sounded like himself (I suppose). In describing Gabriel Prosser's stillborn slave revolt in 1800, Bisson spit sarcasm: "The leaders were captured, and the Americans showed their love of liberty by hanging all those Africans who conspired to gain it." That's not allowed, is it? If not for the grim subject matter, I would have smiled.

The book has many old, old photographs of places involved in Nat Turner's rebellion - such as the cave he hid in before he was eventually found. It has many other fascinating reproductions - such as a newspaper clipping on the revolt; a letter from the governor of Virginia putting a bounty on Turner's head; and a page from Nat Turner's Confession, which he wrote before he was executed.

Turner was articulate and literate. He was a preacher at several black churches from 1825 to 1830. He had visions, and received directions from heaven to "slay my enemies with their own weapons." There was a bizarre atmospheric condition on August 13 1832 which allowed people to look directly at the face of the sun - and they saw a black spot crossing it. Turner took this to be the final sign to go ahead with his rebellion. He told his inner circle, "Just as the black spot passed over the sun, so shall blacks pass over the earth." The most direct cause of the failure of his insurrection was his men getting drunk on the brandy they found at the farmhouses they ransacked. Turner gave the crowd at his hanging the creeps when he died perfectly calmly, without the slightest hint of a struggle. One witness wrote, "Not a limb or muscle was observed to move."

Nat Turner's is an incredible story... a rotten, stinking, lousy incredible story.

The View From Saturday
by E. L. Konigsburg (Elaine Konigsburg), 1996.

From The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
by E. L. Konigsburg (Elaine Konigsburg), 1967.

Both of these books are goodies, but something really wild happens if you read them in the order shown above - and your brain works anything like mine.

What drew me to "The View From Saturday" was the first sentence of the blurb on the inside front cover: "How had Mrs. Orlinski chosen her sixth-grade Academic Bowl team?" I've always enjoyed quiz shows like "Jeopardy!" - which even gets a mention on page 144 - and the ones for high schoolers, called "It's Academic" in the Baltimore/Washington area.

(Big aside: It took me a year and a half to warm up to "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire". I despised the trivially easy questions; the contestants' longwinded explanations of how they knew an answer that 120 million watchers also knew; and the set and background music which evoke a futuristic torture chamber. Now I see how the easy questions are part of the essence of the show; it moves along at an acceptable clip; and I can almost ignore the torture chamber. I'm pleasantly amazed at the good blokes who make it to the show. You'd never know that there remain such people on planet earth by a sampling - or heavy diet - of the rest of tv. Keep in mind that they get there by passing tests, not auditions - not that there are any tv shows that screen for nice, ordinary people. It also warms my heart to see that these "smartest" people in our society seem to be such fine, well-balanced, friendly people. Of course, I, like everyone else I know, head for the hills as soon as I see it's one of those jerk celebrity "specials". Mindboggling that the producers can't grasp how utterly in opposition that is to everything that made the show so popular...)

In "The View From Saturday" a group of students mesh so well that they go on to the state championship - an unthinkable feat for a team of sixth-graders - and then win the whole thing from an eighth-grade team. There are separate stories for each of the four 6th-graders and the teacher, who is paraplegic. These individual stories connect in ways that are extraordinarily unlikely, but these connections make the book. The characters are so distinct that you have to marvel they came out of one writer's head. It's a bummer whenever it hits you that 6th-grader Julian Singh is not a real person. He's a wonderful character, with wonderful talents. And I almost forgot to mention Ginger, the genius dog.

There's a lot about prejudice in here, but note that the author takes some good swipes at our current multiculturalism goofiness.

Each student's story involves an experience that makes him something of an expert on a crucial competition question. Saying this doesn't ruin any surprises; the neat thing is the way the individual stories and the competition are presented like pieces of an intricate puzzle which all fit snugly by the end. Konigsburg goes for a super-realism, and a story about academic competition gives her even more opportunity to lay on the facts. Was she already an expert on sea turtles (for example), or did she study up on them just for this story? Either way, most impressive...

As I've said, it was tremendous fun unraveling the intracacies. When I detect that an author has written something that will be explained later, I write "fref" in the margin. This is the most concise way that I came up with to say, "unresolved" or "revisit" or "loose end." Fref means "forward reference" - to my mind a funny little seeming contradiction. You are welcome to use it yourself. (I suppose we could use a modern acronym like TBD - "to be determined" - but... yuck.)

So, after coming away from "A View From Saturday" blown away by the talents of the author, I pulled "From The Mixed-up Files Of Mrs. Basil Frankweiler" from the same library shelf (Seabrook Elementary School in Prince George's County, Maryland.) This one was published 30 years earlier.

Before the story starts in chapter 1, there's a letter from Mrs. Frankweiler to her lawyer. She says in its last paragraph, "You never knew I could write this well, did you? Of course, you don't actually know yet, but you soon will... I fitted all the pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle... Well, Saxonberg, read and discover."

So cool! That's really our author talking about herself! (Yes, Konigsburg, I do know how well you can write - from a book you will do in 30 years. That one was - I mean, will be - a puzzle story, too.)

Thus the body of the story is written in the first person, although so few "I"s pop up - mostly in parenthetical, fref comments to Saxonberg - that you're lulled into thinking you're reading a standard third person delivery. At least I was. To be honest, I had fumbled the introductory letter completely, putting it aside as one big fref. And when everything finally fell into place for me - almost at the end of the book - I got a kick out of it that's hard to describe. Chalk one up for my crummy reading skills! Although, in defense of myself, Mrs. Frankweiler doesn't announce her entry into the story until page 123.

And it wasn't until page 19 that we got her very first, totally baffling (to me) "I", as follows: "I wholeheartedly admire Claudia's thoroughness. Her concern for detail is as well developed as mine." For the second time, Konigsburg brags on herself, yeeee-haaa!

All I'll say about the plot is that it's about the adventures of two kids who spend a few weeks hiding in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's a lot of fun, plus there's something deeper going on, too. I hear there was a version made for television, but I can't imagine that having the effect of the book.

Finally, let me share my favorite paragraph:

I don't like to waste time, so when I at last turned around, I did so abruptly and asked directly, "Are you the children who have been missing from Greenwich for a week?" (You must admit, Saxonberg, that when the need arises, I have a finely developed sense of theatrics.)

(And she does it again!!!) If you want context, read the book.

The Cardinal's Snuffbox
by Kenneth Roseman, illustrated by Bill Negron, 1982.

Roseman teaches us a lot about what it would have been like to be a Jew in Spain around 1500 - another one of those times and places not conducive to being Jewish. The powerful and feared Spanish Inquisition convinced Ferdinand and Isabella that Jews should be expelled to make Spain fully Catholic.

There are really 76 different stories here. At the end of each page the reader has to decide what he would do in the main character's situation, and then turn to the appropriate next page.

Do you convert to Catholism, or remain Jewish? If you remain Jewish, do you head towards the haven of Holland, or eastward towards Italy or Turkey, or all the way to Eretz Yisrael - or perhaps even to the New World? Who do you trust along the way? Which career choices do you make? If you decide to convert, do you join the clergy or the military? If you do convert, do you have second thoughts about it?

There are other neat things about this book. It works in real historical figures. The snuffbox in the title is real; the author's family still has the snuffbox given by a sympathetic cardinal to a family ancestor on his flight to freedom.

There's a useful map - something that many books which should have, don't. There is a nice glossary, which makes as good reading as the stories. Here are a few examples:

Crusader - A soldier in the service of Christian armies sent from Europe to win control of Palestine from the Moslems during the Middle Ages. The Crusaders were notorious for their unprovoked attacks upon Jewish civilians in Europe and the Middle East.

Dominican Monks - During the twelfth century, Dominicans in southern France burned Jewish books. Their feelings did not abate with the passage of time.

Henry VII - King of England from 1485 to 1509. Although Jews were not legally supposed to live in England between 1290 and 1656, the kings of England permitted them to enter because they were famous as good businessmen.

Inquisition - ... The basic function of the Inquisition was to assure proper belief and practice among people who were already Catholic. They were especially interested in Jews who converted and who might be involved in heresy. After the expulsion [of the Jews] they became concerned with Jews who might lead Catholics to sin... The name of its most notorious Chief or Grand Inquisitor, Torquemada, is almost synonymous with torture, oppression and ruthlessness.

Judaizer - A Jew who pretended to practice Catholicism [to stay in Spain] but who secretly kept some of the Jewish ways. Many people were brought before the Inquisition's court, accused of being Judaizers, and convicted. It is not certain, but it is probable, that many of these accusations were false, made up so that the person's money could be taken or so that he could be thrown out of a good job.

Marrano - a term meaning "pig" that was used to mock Jews who had converted to Catholism in Spain.

Ninth of Av (Tishah b'Av) - ... A Jewish fast day recalling the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E. by the Babylonians and of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. by the Romans. The date was chosen deliberately for the expulsion from Spain in order to add more insult and humiliation.

Shown below are all the routes through The Cardinal's Snuffbox. You could not possibly make a clean sweep by winging it without such a road map. A period (.) indicates an endpoint. In spite of the hopelessness pervading what you read above, Roseman gives most of these scenarios happy endings.

    Pages 1-4
            |-- 5
            |   |-- 7
            |   |   |- 11
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            |   |   |   |   |   |- 64.
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            |   |-- 8
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                |-- 9
                |   |- 15
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                |                    |- 77.
                |- 10
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                    |- 26
                        |- 49.
                        |- 50
                            |- 86.
                            |- 87.

The Beak Of The Finch; a story of evolution in our time
by Jonathan Weiner, 1994.

This book report resides in my evolution page. I found its gushing proclamations of "evolution in action" to be somewhat less than satisfying.

The Neck Of The Giraffe; where Darwin went wrong
by Francis Hitching; 1982.

An account of the stunning lack of evidence for one of the most earth-shaking, widely-accepted and ferociously-defended theories of all times. My report is at the end of my evolution page.

by Robert Friedel; 1994.

I heard the author talk about this book at the National Archives a few years ago, and I reckoned it was the most fun and fascinating lecture I had ever heard. I made a point to read the book - and now I have!

It's the history of the zipper, from the first patent in 1893 for a fastener using a zipper-like action, through the invention of the fully modern zipper 20 years later, and the following 25-year struggle to get it accepted by the clothing industry. This book bursts with fascinating detail, and there's a cast of characters that could have come right out of "The Music Man".

Gideon Sundback perfected the zipper in 1913. The precursors had used a slide to fasten and unfasten a row of hooks on one side with a row of eyes on the other. These were never gotten to work very well, and never found wide use. Indeed, since they rusted, you had to remove them from from your clothing before washing!

The author invites us to take a close look at the "scoops" - what you and I would probably call "teeth" - on our metal zippers. What you see at the end of each one is a bump on the top, and a hollow on the bottom. But not just any old bump and hollow; they are rectangular. That was Gideon Sundback's stroke of genius. As Friedel explains, "If the [bumps and hollows] were rounded, then the interlocking stacks would be able to swivel, like a hinge. They would easily pop apart (since they could be twisted out of line)."

If you look at a zipper and think, "Yeah, that's pretty clever, but probably lots of people could have come up with it - maybe me," keep in mind that Sundback was an engineer extraordinaire who also designed and built the machinery to automatically make zippers. A strip of cloth tape goes in here, a metal wire goes in there... and out comes a strip of zipper! How about that, smarty-pants?

Two years before Sundback's brainstorm there was a Swiss patent by Katharina Kuhn-Moos and Henri Foster for an almost-identical zipper - but with rounded bumps and hollows. There seems to be no evidence anywhere that Sundback was familiar with that patent. Amazing. But the earlier patent caused big headaches down the line. Sundback would have to build "working" models of the earlier patent, just to show in court that those zippers did not and could not work.

There's a pothole or two in the story of how the "hookless fastener" came to be known as a "zipper". The word "zip" dates back to the late 19th century. It imitated a hissing sound, as of a speeding bullet. In 1917, a tailor told the Hookless Fastener people, that he had copyrighted the name "ZIP" for an aviator vest he designed using the fastener. (Could he really do such a thing? In any case, Friedel indicates the vest was not produced.) About 5 years later, the B. F. Goodrich put the the fasteners in galoshes and called the boots "Zippers". From there, the word somehow latched on to the fastening device, itself.

This deal with the B. F. Goodrich company was the first really big breakthrough for the Hookless Fastener Company. Up to then they had been beating their heads against the wall trying to interest the New York garment district in the hookless fastener. This effort is documented with fascinating clarity because the letters survive between the president of the company and his two sons who were sent to New York to do the selling. What they describe sounds like an exercise in torturous frustration. The hookless fastener first found a degree of success in novelty-type applications, such as in money belts and tobacco pouches, before the big deal with Goodrich.

Finally, just before World War II, the zipper people busted the garment industry wide open. But - talk about a bummer - WWII came along and crippled the zipper industry. The War Industries Board preached "simplicity"; no effort was to be wasted on introducing new styles and gadgetry. Moreover, the copper, zinc and nickel was needed for the war. The zipper would have to wait for the war to end, whereupon it rapidly became omnipresent.

I wasn't thrilled with the parts of the book devoted to the BIG QUESTION of why inventors invent, and why inventions become accepted by industry and by people. Throughout the book, Friedel refers to the zipper in terms of an "invention for which neither need nor function... explain its origins or success." He asks, "What, indeed, does a zipper do that cannot be done by simpler, older means?" Maybe I'm being superficial, but it seems to me that somebody thought it would be nice to fasten and unfasten things with one, simple, quick motion; plus the zipper makes a continuous closure, as opposed to the gaps left by buttons and hooks. Wasn't there a jeans maker a few years ago that thought it would be groovy to put buttons on the fly? I hear that every guy who bought a pair tossed them right out after his first almighty struggle with them in the men's room.

I was even less thrilled by the "Alligators of ecstasy" chapter, which makes a big thing of the zipper as sexual image. I don't recall ever in my life thinking a zipper was sexy. But that's just me.

Friedel mentions earlier efforts to document the story of the zipper. I thought I remembered from his lecture that it hadn't been done before and the story might easily have been lost forever. That such a thing could conceivably happen to something so recently developed and so common as the zipper should give pause to anyone with an interest in history. Friedel talked about the excitement of finding a box of documents (the above-mentioned letters between father and sons?) in somebody's garage. That anecdote wasn't in the book.

Another nice little memory from the lecture, and missing from the book, was the story of how he became interested in the subject. A female student in one of his history of technology classes wrote a paper on the zipper. Not an excellent paper, mind you, but one that sent a curious professor on a lengthy journey.

I've gone on long enough here, but I have to give Whitcomb Judson a handshake across the centuries. Besides having such a cool name, he's the man with the first zipper-like patent, applied for back in 1891. Among his other inventions was a "pneumatic street railway". Compressed air turned a shaft below the street. Streetcars had wheels which reached down to the turning shaft. The speed of the street car depended on the angle at which the wheels contacted the shaft. The Judson Pneumatic Street Railway Company actually built a mile-long system in 1891 in Washington D.C. along part of what is now Georgia Avenue. What a guy!

There's a typo on page 29. "Pennsylvania," should be "Pennsylvania.".

American Beat
by Bob Greene; 1983.

"American Beat" is a collection of about 80 articles Bob Greene originally wrote for his syndicated newspaper column and Esquire magazine. Some of the material is inherently interesting, but more often Greene takes completely mundane subject matter and makes it interesting or touching in the way he does.

Isn't it funny how people immediately list what they didn't like about something, like a concert or show, even when they agree it was actually quite good? This is easy to understand - there's safety in negativity. Say something positive about something and you get shot down in flames. Well, I guess I'm just like all the rest. Here we go, starting with some of the worst flops in this fine book.

There is a really dumb article called "The truth about 1968". A sample: "PARENTS - We all killed our parents." Ha ha. There's a piece about the week leading up to some Super Bowl. Yuck. There's one about two 15-year-old boys killing time at a shopping mall. Double yuck. I couldn't finish the one about a club formed by laid-off mid-level managers whose lives became meaningless without their productionless jobs. There's one about a tupperware party for women's underwear, good grief. In another, Greene tries to wax poetic about planes arriving and taking off from O'Hare airport, but it was no go.

Greene tortures us with his experience tagging along behind somebody called Kristy McNichol on a shopping trip. Perhaps there's value in misery, I don't know, but I do know that Greene dropped the ball here. The person's grandfather started to recount how he was a winner on the Arthur Godfrey "Talent Scouts" program in 1947. Now that sounds like a story.

Greene missed the boat in a piece about a man who was Bachelor of the Month in Cosmopolitan. He received over 700 letters from women around the country. Greene contacted some of them. What was wrong with the men in their own towns? The women were looking for someone more "interesting". Greene forgot to ask the women what was so interesting about themselves.

Greene gets all philosophic about how some neanderthal in our enlightened age can have an endless stream of girls passing through his life. (Pssst, Bob, it's about the multi-millions of dollars.)

In the article about trying to catch the "Tylenol killer" an FBI agent says, "All these people worrying about tylenol. It doesn't have to be Tylenol next time. Whoever is doing it could put the poison anywhere. He could inject it into a pickle."

Yeah, millions of people could do that. Every day, every person in the country could cause hundreds of deaths and get away with it. Why don't they? Does our sorry joke of a justice system scare us into behaving ourselves? Or could it be that maybe people are just not that fundamentally evil?

Every day when, in a country of 260 million people, thousands or millions of people aren't poisoned to death, or shot up in high schools, or shopping malls, or McDonald's, or post offices, consider the simple probability and statistics describing what didn't occur. Even on the days when there is a tragedy that makes national news, think about the statistics. Then think about government by majority rule. (See my main page.)

You'll see in another web page that I can't make sense of prisons. We all know now that life in prison for Richard Speck was a big party. It's on videotape. Here are a couple of interesting extracts from Bob Greene's interview with Speck:

I asked him if he wasn't afraid of getting in trouble for talking about contraband kept in his cell. Speck laughed.

"How am I gonna get in trouble?" he said. "I'm in here for 12 hundred years."


"Do you laugh a lot in here?" I said.

"What am I supposed to do, cry for 12 hundred years?" Speck said.

Looks like those jerks who shot up the Denver high school missed out on a good time by blowing themselves away. What idiots.

On a somewhat lighter note, Greene describes what happened one day at an audition for a musical. The atmosphere was relatively comfortable, until a weird guy came on, crawling and slithering about the stage. This dampened the mood in the hall for the rest of the audition. Why I mention it is because it sounds so much like a bizarre act I saw on the Gong Show once. Anybody else see that?

An amazing tale was that of a rejection-weary writer who, as an experiment, typed up the text of a book that won the National Book Award for 1969 and then submitted this "manuscript" to 14 publishers - 4 of whom had published books by the award-winning author. None of the publishers thought the submission was worthy of publication. None of them even recognized it. Whew.

We read the story of rocker Bob Seger who finally hit the big time at the advanced age of 35. Greene dwells on the BIG SIGNIFICANCE of plugging away for so long in pop music when everyone else had chucked their guitars for a regular job at 22. This is how rough it was:

Traveling by car, he sometimes played as many as 265 one-nighters a year, and no one outside the Michigan-Illinois-Ohio circuit cared who he was. In a good year he might walk away with $6,600.

Well, geez, Seger, there's your problem. You take a hundred days off a year and you expect to get somewhere??? The Beatles played at least 744 jobs during the course of 1961-1962. That works out to more than a job per day!

By the way, Greene doesn't address how Seger eventually broke through. I saw him once in concert as an opening act, playing generic rock and roll. You could sing "ah, ah, honey, lay offa dem shoes" to every one of his songs. (I did this.) Some time later - a year or two? - I hear sounds coming from the radio identified as Bob Seger but sounding to my ears suspiciously like '70s mega-star Bruce Springsteen. Hmmmm...

Greene gives us a peek at the raw entries in the diary he kept as a high school student in 1964. He fleshed those entries out to create his book "Be True To Your School". I enjoyed that book immensely, partly because of the unrevised, first-hand look at the impact the Beatles made at that time. There's no exaggerating it. This book, "American Beat", has an interview with Ringo. Greene asked him if he "considered himself a part of history."

"I am," Starr said. "I can't help it. I'm being pompous answering that way, but I can't choose it. We changed everything, and I know it."

By the way, Beatle fans, you can find references to the band on pages 42, 80-82, 99, 114, 139-141, 235, 239 and 242. In Greene's words (page 141): "It was something very simple, and yet something that no politician, no author, no artist was ever quite able to do. The Beatles made us happy. God, it was something."

Speaking of politics, Greene tells us about his visit with former president Richard Nixon. Greene had admitted to Nixon that he had been among Nixon's "legions of young critics." He doesn't go so far here as to tell Nixon, "I see now that maybe you are not evil incarnate," but he does apologize weakly, saying that people beating up on Nixon at the time never considered that there was a human being on the receiving end. "Nixon had always seemed so much bigger than we were, so far removed, that at the time it had not seemed possible that he could have his feelings hurt."

Nixon's response: "If I had feelings, I probably wouldn't even have survived."

Some years after the Watergate business blew over it started sinking in what a piddling matter it was that brought the president down; that the Europeans had it right when they couldn't see what the big deal was. The break-in was such small potatoes that even now nobody can tell you what it was about. And, in spite of everybody's best efforts, President Nixon has never been linked to the break-in, only that he covered it up. "Cover-up" sure sounds bad, but when you consider that it only meant not blabbing about somebody else's misdeeds, you'll realize that each and every one of us is guilty of "cover-up" 24 hours a day.

But the country was in the mood for kicking butt. I envision most mortals put in Nixon's shoes exploding with frustration, pleading to the nation, "What did I do??? Just tell me what I did, will you???"

Speaking of cover-up, I wish our media would stonewall spelling bees. Greene idolizes a girl who won the 54th National Spelling Bee. Man, don't you know what an embarrassment spelling bees are to the U.S? Lots of countries have languages where words are spelled the way they sound, and they bust a gut laughing at us, "Americanos (heh heh) can't (haw haw) spell (hee hee hee). They have contests! aaaah ha ha hAA HAAAA...!!!"

I also have to respond to Greene's rant on the implications of misspelled words. He boasts that he may have misspelled 3 words - but probably none - in his 10 years writing for newspapers. I've heard his bone-headed logic a million times in my life:

"If I know a person can't spell, then I have trouble trusting anything else about him. If he can't even get the spelling of a word right, then why should I put any faith in his version of events, or opinions?"

Because the ability to spell well is unrelated to those things, Bob. We all have strengths and weaknesses. The person you can outspell, Bob, can outdo you in a thousand other areas. The absolute worst speller I ever met also happened to be just about the fastest reader I ever met, and scored within a few points of 800 on the verbal part of the SAT. (She scored a rock bottom 200 on the math part.)

The other thing to keep in mind is that a person may misspell a word he knows perfectly well how to spell because of a finger slip, or his mind may be churning away on what he is writing about - something far more important than the apostrophe in "its". This is called a "slip", and explains why the world's greatest musician will sometimes botch a note, or why you get your neighbor's mail on rare occasions, or why, indeed, the world is not perfect place.

And then, and then... On page 155, in your article on the Putt-Putt with 3 courses, you wrote that a player "nodded in the direction of one of the Court No. 2 light poles."

Huh? Court No. 2? What court No. 2? Putt-Putt offers tennis in Illinois??? Oh, he meant Course No. 2. That's COURSE - C - O - U - R - S - E - COURSE No. 2, Bob. Fer cryin' out loud, Bob, if you can't even spell "course", how can I ever put any faith in your version of events, or opinions?

We won't even talk about "Tutti Fruitti" on page 293.

All mock outrage, of course, Bob. Thanks for all the jumping off points for discussion. (Still, about this "version of events" business: on page 285 you gave "The Ballad Of Davy Crockett" an unbelievable 16 weeks at Number 1 in 1954. Try a still-impressive 5 weeks.)

Prince George's Bounty
by the students of Queen Ann School. 1984.

The subtitle is, "Oral history portraits in our 'nearby world' as collected by journalism students of Queen Ann School in Upper Marlboro, Maryland." That's the county seat of the county I live in, Prince George's County. (Now do you get the pun in the title?) The book was inspired by the Foxfire project in Rabun Gap, Georgia.

You might not guess it from the suburbs outside of Washington D.C., but PG County has a very upper-crusty tradition - large estates and fox-hunting and thoroughbred racing and all that. Its wealth came from tobacco farming.

My favorite chapter was the interview with Joseph Harley, "county farmer and so much more". He gives the kids the lowdown on preparing tobacco for the market, gathering oysters, hunting rabbits and raccoons, and butchering hogs.

Q. What's a chitlin'?

A. That's where you take the intestines out... and you drain them. Split 'em. And then you turn 'em wrong side out. And you wash 'em three or four times... then you cook 'em. Deep fried!

Q. What did you do with the rest of the hog - his knuckles, feet, ears, head...?

A. Ate 'em! [Laughter]

Q. What is raccoon meat like?

A. Almost between a rabbit and a deer... If you take it and kill it today and eat it today. We just put 'em in salt water for 12 hours. Then, we'll take and freeze them for a day. That'll take all the wild animal taste out of it.

But a possum... we had to catch him and bring him home and put him in a barrel [alive] for 3 weeks. The only thing you give him is bread and water, 'cause he eat anything, so you got to clean him out. But a raccoon... he very particular.

Q. Why didn't the women and girls go on the hunting trips?

A. Too many briars! They went through fields, marshes... everything [general laughter].

His description of catching bats was also good for a laugh - and educational. You catch them in a funnel of chicken wire like a dip net (for crabs). "When he drop to fly, he'll land right in that net. He can't get up... Because he's a mouse. He'll bite you... He got to go down to start... so he land in the net, and he can't get up."

In another chapter, Tom Mayr describes the operation of the grist mill his father operated from 1910 to 1929. He also supplies some particulars about what slave life was like in this area of Maryland. In PG County, they had individual cabins, while on the Eastern Shore (across the Chesapeake Bay) the slaves were all locked up at night in what was essentially a jail.

Ella Edwards reminisced on segregation. None of the journalist students were black. Mrs. Edwards had been in education in PG County for about 20 years (as of 1984). She said that when she first came here in 1960, from Howard University (in Washington D.C.), "I didn't know that we were better off segregated... That's a hard thing to say... we were better off segregated than we are today [1984]... It's gonna take us 20 years to catch up... [The 2 black high schools in PG County] were run just like a college!

"When we started integrating about 5 years later - that was about 1965 - things started happening. They started taking our best black teachers... and putting them in your predominantly white schools. They'd take the best first. They'd take the cream of the crop. Then, they'd give us the worst of the white teachers... And we're not supposed to see that?"

Mrs. Edwards also related her heartbreaking story of applying for a dance class in New York City after college. They didn't know from the phone call that she was black, and when she showed up, she sat there for an hour and a half before asking, "What's going on?" The receptionist, a young white woman, broke down crying and told her, "I'm sorry. We don't admit blacks."


Gail B. Stewart. 1989.

Each book in this series takes a decade, and within that decade goes year by year describing some of the most important and interesting events of that decade. Even for the historical events you already knew about, the author provides interesting details. Plus, there are many good photos.

Here's a sampling of things I felt a need to comment on or just pass on. (Some of the material below is approximately quoted from the books, even where not specifically shown in quotes.)

1902: Fanny Farmer revolutionized cooking. She gets credit for the wide use of oven thermometers and measuring cups. I have since found a copy of the first American cookbook which suggests the prior situation wasn't all that bad. It's on display at the Library of Congress. It's called "American Cookery", by Amelia Simmons, 1796. Here's a recipe for cookies that seems fairly straightforward:


        One pound sugar boiled slowly in half pint water,
        scum well and cool, add two tea spoons pearl ash dissol-
        ved in milk, then two and half pounds flour, rub in
        4 ounces butter, and two large spoons of finely pow-
        dered coriander feed, wet with above; make roles 
        half an inch thick and cut to the shape you please; 
        bake fifteen or twenty minutes in a slack oven - good
        three weeks.

Now I know what to do with all that pearl ash in my pantry.

1902: The National Education Association approved some simplified spellings, such as "program" for "programme", "catalog" for "catalogue" and "thru" for "through". What happened to that last one??? My buddy David hates "thru" so much that I'm scared to use it on scribbled notes to myself, even.

1903: The United States formally recognized Panama after having supported the revolt of pro-canal groups in what was Colombia. "Some historians claim that Americans planned the revolt so that they could build and control the canal."

1904: A cryptographer cracks the code of a man named Roger Bacon who had invented gunpowder in the 1200s. He put the formula in code because he was afraid it would be used for destructive purposes. Lucky for us, other people invented it independently.

1904: There are occasional entries of horrible tragedies in these books. In this year, 1000 people died in a fire on the steamboat General Slocum in New York City. It was heading for a church picnic. The captain turned away from shore 300 feet away!

1905: The forward pass became legal in football. I guess that changed things some.

1905: Sears catalog advertises rouge. Prior to this, most American women did not use makeup.

1906: Typhoid Mary was tracked down after an 8-year search. She was a carrier of the disease and spread it to many others, although she was not sick with it herself. She had to be isolated until her death - 32 years later!

1911: A man takes it upon himself to paint the first lines down the middle of a road to separate traffic. It worked. And the first argument I always hear against unarchy is, "What about roads and traffic, huh, huh?"...

1911: The Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre. It was recovered 2 years later. Well, I never knew that.

1912: Arizona became the 48th state. President Taft had denied statehood to Arizona because its constitution allowed for the recall of judges doing a lousy job. (Makes sense to me. Heck, recall 'em all.) Arizona dropped the idea; statehood was granted; and Arizona amended its constitution to allow for the recall of judges. Good move!

1917: The Ouija Board was introduced. When I was a kid, our family had a set made by the original Fuld company in Baltimore, our hometown. I claim that the same phenomenon that makes the pointer move around the Ouija board is also at work in the analysis of the data collected in scientific experiments. Find my page on dumb science.

1921: Of 600,000 teachers in the United States, 30,000 had never gone beyond 8th grade. Almost 20% of America's teachers were under 21 years old. Sounds pretty dismal, but just think: those teachers were teaching the kids that would put America head and shoulders above the rest of the world.

1923: Emile Coue' touts the benefits of repeating the mantra, "Day by day, in every way, I'm getting better and better." And here I thought that was a soundbite from the '60s.

1924: Albert Ostman was held captive by Bigfoot (Sasquatch) for a week. If you believe him.

1924: Ku Klux Klan membership was up to its high point - 4 million. There's an eye-opening (for me, at least) photo captioned, "Thousands of women participated in the Ku Klux Klan march in Washington D.C."

1928: Another tragedy: in the Los Angeles area, the St. Francis Dam broke early in the morning, killing 400 people. There is a striking photo of the one remaining wall of the dam.

1936: Jockey Ralph Neves was thrown from his horse in a race at Bay Meadows Racetrack in California. A horse landed on top of him. He had no pulse or heartbeat. The spectators stood in silence as he was taken to a morgue. Less than an hour later, he woke up, hailed a cab in his white linen sheet, and arrived back at the ractrack to the astonishment of everyone present. Doctors gave him permission to ride the next day.

1937: In New London, Texas, a school fire killed 500 people, most of them children.

1939: The poem "Rudolph, The Red-nosed Reindeer" was written as a giveaway for Montgomery Ward shoppers at Christmas. There was some difficulty deciding on the final name; Reginald and Rollo had been rejected before the writer's 4-year-old daughter suggested Rudolph. The poem wasn't set to music until 1947.

My Fellow Americans - A Family Album
by Alice Provenson, illustrated by the author; 1995.

This is a scrapbook of hundreds of famous Americans in all fields. The author has come up with about 25 categories to hold everybody. Some, like "The visual artists" and "The enduring icons: entertainers, impresarios and superstars" contain dozens of members; "Worker in the vineyard" and "Eccentric autocrat" each have one (Cesar Chavez and Henry Ford, respectively.)

What we get for each American is a few words (not necessarily a sentence) and a drawn picture. The layout on the huge, foot-square pages presaged our current "all-over-the-place" web-page style. That's all right, don't worry about my poor old brain that was designed to accept information bits one after another in some sort of ordered sequence.

I suppose more than half of the people in this book I haven't heard of, or have barely heard of. Viewed strictly as a reference book (which isn't the author's intent), this book gives more information and is a lot more fun to look at than the "Biographical entries" section of my dictionary.

The author writes short editorials about each of the categories of famous Americans. This is at the back of the book, but make sure you read the corresponding editorials as you go through the book. (I wish someone had told me that.) The author gets feisty here.

For example (page 58, column 3): "'We have lost perhaps the greatest Californian of the 20th centry,' the president of the California State Senate said of [Cesar] Chavez, when he was safely in his grave."

She quotes Robert E. Lee (page 57, column 2): "It is well that war is so terrible - we would grow too fond of it." The author posits, "But fond of it we are," and points out that there have been only 268 war-free years in the last 3448. Yeah, but everybody wasn't involved in all those wars. And probably most of them were kicked off by one or two power-crazed leaders.

After mentioning the Wright brothers' first flight (page 60, column 3), the author goes into a rant against the unnecessary speeds at which our modern aircraft fly, and lists the ways in which they damage our environment and quality of life.

Here are some interesting things, among many, I learned from these essays. Peter Cooper, of Tom Thumb railway engine fame, made millions from manufacturing glue, and was "America's first municifent philanthropist." All the other early mega-millionaires subscribed to J. P. Morgan's philosophy: "I owe the public nothing."

The way Eadweard Muybridge captured the movement of a galloping horse, say, on film was to have the horse run through a bunch of fine threads, each connected to the shutter of a camera. Good thinking!

Fifteen out of 16 baseball teams voted against integration in 1944 (or thereabouts.) The new baseball commissioner Happy Chandler would have none of it. "If a black can fight for his country in Okinawa... he can play organized ball." There were rumors that teams would refuse to play the Dodgers if they hired a black player. To this, the president of the National League, Ford Frick, said, "I don't care if half the league strikes... This is the United States of America, and one citizen has as much right to play as another."

Of interest to me (and probably not too many others) is a quote from Henry James (page 59, column 1). James was a writer, but is found here in the "Expatriates: Americans abroad" category. The quote is a litany of things that America lacks - literature, museums, cathedrals, personal loyalty, great universities, and on and on and on. But he didn't mention music - very odd, considering the low regard in which American music, and especially 19th century American music has been held. (Brings to mind Bob Dylan's Rock And Roll Hall of Fame acceptance speech after Beach Boy Mike Love's tirade: "I want to thank Mike Love [breath] for not mentioning me.")

Jesse Owens, Olympic Hero
by Francene Sabin, illustrated by Hal Frenck; 1986.
Jackie Robinson
by Francene Sabin, illustrated by Michael Sheean; 1985.

These 2 books were written for young readers, but work great for adults as well. You might find just the right amount of information, and presented very clearly and logically. In fact, there's more information in these mere 50 or 30 pages than you will remember, so what you gonna do with 300 pages worth, huh?

Most moving for me was the story of the relationship between Jesse Owens (Negro) and German rival Luz Long (Master Race) in the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. Long gave Owens support and advice to help him qualify for the finals. And when Long hurt himself in the broad jump finals, Owens hurried over to massage his leg.

Neither of these biographies mentioned the other, but there was an eyebrow raising tie-in for anyone cross-correlating the two. Jesse Owens won one of his 1936 Olympic gold medals in the 200 meter. In the other book, we learn that Jackie Robinson's older brother, who was an inspiration and kind of a father figure to Jackie, won a silver medal in the 1936 Olympics - in the 200 meter.

With Xenios In Greece
by Angeliki Varella; pictures by Nicholas Andrikopoulos, 1999.

This is a friendly invitation to get to know Greece, and maybe even visit. It is in the words of a gentle, old (3000 years) man, Xenios - the "Spirit of Hospitality". It's a funny mix of fiction and fact, but how could they leave out Greek mythology? It's also kind of funny in that there are no photos, or even realistic illustrations, to entice potential tourists to Greece.

I picked up a bit of Greek history and geography. "In 1204 A.D., knights in armour conquered Greece. With the Crusades as an excuse - they were going to save the Holy lands - they grabbed the opportunity and settled in Greece, and built their castles." The decaying castles still stand, apparently.

Three seas surround Greece - the Ionian, Cretan and Aegian. But where is the Icarian, into which Icarus crashed? A map would have been nice. Greece is noted for its shipping; its merchant fleet is second in the world. Onassis built the first oil tanker. Greek sea captains "offered their fortunes and boats for the struggle for freedom in 1821." (Freedom from whom?)

The British Museum has decorations taken from the Parthenon. ("It wants them back," says Xenios.) St. John wrote the book of Revelations in a cave on the island of Patmos.

I'd heard of the battle of Marathon - trivia game fodder - but "the rest of the story" is interesting. "The Marathon [race] was established in honor of Pheidippides, a citizen of ancient Athens. He ran the distance from Marathon to Athens, to announce the victory against the Persians. He said the words 'We won', and then died."

Many Stars & More String Games
by Camilla Gryski; illustrated by Tom Sankey; 1985.

This turned out to be a whole lot of fun. What first caught my attention in the book was a string trick from the Bantu people of Africa. It gives the illusion of a string passing through your head. When I took a closer look at the instructions on how to do it, I thought, aww, how could this fool anybody? But then I tried it out on a few kids, and then older people, and it seems to surprise everybody.

The rest of the book is devoted to string figures - moths and wells and rabbits, etc. - made by manipulating a string loop which weaves back and forth between your hands. Both the verbal instructions and the drawings are very good.

As the author points out, there is a nice feeling of satisfaction in seeing the final figure, and in performing the motions that create it. My favorite one was "Open the gate". It has a touch of magic to it; after you've made the gate, pulling on the ends causes it to slide open.

Other favorites are the "Giant clam", which opens and shuts, and "Fire", with a nifty final maneuver of twisting your hands around to make the design appear. Camilla was a bit premature in congratulating me for accomplishing this step, but I did finally get it. Nothing to it, in retrospect.

Honorable mention goes to "White man's cot", which makes a fine necktie in a pinch (if you have an extra hand you can dedicate to keeping it stretched out.)

The First Americans
by Joy Hakim; 1993.

This is the first in a series of 10 books by the same author covering all of American history for the younger reader. It's great. In fact, I'd say I've never felt a stronger pull to keep forging ahead to the next chapter. And not just because of Hakim's trick of using micro-chapters of just a few pages each, but because the material is that exciting.

This book starts with people crossing the Bering land bridge more than 10000 years ago and ends with the fading of Spanish dominancy on the seas. In between, there's gold. And gold. And more gold. And, come to think of it, even more gold. On the brain, at least, if not in hand. You couldn't accuse the Spanish of a lack of singlemindedness. They walk up to the Grand Canyon and say, "Phooey, no gold here."

Of course, where there is gold (or thoughts of it), there is death and destruction. I've never not known this, but was still dismayed by what came pouring off of almost every page. We know the American Indians weren't all perfect little angels, but you almost want to cheer when Magellan buys it; and Ponce de Leon buys it; and Pizarro buys it; and de Soto buys it; and 396 out of 400 of Narvaez's happy little gang buy it. Still, such meager consolation...

It's folly to pass on even a fraction of what I learned or relearned from this book. The glimpse of various North American Indian cultures in the different regions was mostly new to me, and intriguing. It's exasperating what we don't know. The Indians of the northwest threw huge parties. (But why?) The Anasazi of the southwest built their homes in cliffs. (But why?) The Woodland Indians of the midwest built huge mounds in the shapes of snakes and bears. Mound-building went on for 2000 years - and we don't know why.

Call me ignorant or naive, but I was surprised to read of the extent of slavery among North American Indians. Captain Cook was horrified by the harsh treatment of slaves by the Indians of the northwest in 1778.

Oh yeah, all that gold just messed up the Spanish economy.

Making Thirteen Colonies
by Joy Hakim; 1993.

The follow-up to the above book, and another high recommendation. Hakim brings into focus the amount of religious intolerance present in the various colonies, many of which began in a quest for religious freedom. She also makes it clear just how different the colonies were from each other, because of the people who founded them and because of the geography.

It's about time I developed an at least partially focused picture of how our country limped from the starting gate. First there was Roanoke which disappeared completely. (See the first book.) Then, in 1607, settlers came to Jamestown and started dropping like flies. In 1620 they came to Plymoth and did likewise. Man, at this rate, you figure it'll take a few centuries just to fill a ballpark. But they kept coming - for a variety of reasons - and kept learning from earlier mistakes and within a few decades we have 12 colonies. (Georgia, lucky 13, came along in 1731.)

There is much information on the escalation of slavery, starting with the first boatload of Africans taken to Jamestown in 1619.

As in the first book, the Indians take a drubbing. I've started to read Woodrow Wilson's "A History Of The American People" (1901), partly to compare the spin of a male writer from almost a century earlier. So far, Wilson's book is a regular snoozefest compared to Hakim's. But, compare:

Hakim (page 21): The Indians were just real people, like the English. They lived in families, in towns, governed by leaders. They farmed, hunted, played games, and fashioned beautiful objects.


Hakim (page 44): This is something you should remember: the House of Burgesses, formed in 1619 [in Jamestown], gave America its first representative government. It was the beginning of self-government in America. Whoops! Hold on, that isn't quite true. Some Indian tribes had representative government. The House of Burgesses was the first representative assembly in the European colonies.


Wilson (page 36): And the land to which they [the Jamestown settlers] came was as lonely as the sea, except for the savages who lurked within its forests.

Notwithstanding these viewpoints, though, Hakim presents the theory that the "Starving Time" - the winter of 1609-1610 when 460 of the 500 settlers died - was the result of the Indians laying siege to Jamestown. Wilson makes no mention of Indians in his account of the Starving Time, laying the blame on too numerous and mostly useless newcomers to the colony. Hakim also describes instances of cannibalism among the settlers; Wilson doesn't.

Mike's House
by Julia L. Sauer; pictures by Don Freeman; 1954.

I tracked down a copy of this "easy fiction" and reread it recently (April 1999). I got a big kick out of it as a kid. The main character Robert always checked "Mike Mulligan And His Steam Shovel" out of the public library - nothing else. What a coincidence - I had read that book! Maybe twice, even, but nothing so imbalanced as Robert.

Also, the fact that the book in "Mike's House" was a real one seemed so weird. Could they do that??? I had never read a fiction story that incorporated something from the real world. I don't know if it was the author's intent, but it caused a little turmoil in at least one young reader's mind.

(I remember a few years later experiencing a similar confusion, but for the inverse situation - something fantastic popping up in a normal, real-life sort of story. In the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night" movie, the Beatles are riding on a train, pestering a grumpy man. Then, all of a sudden, they are running along outside of it, taunting him with, "Hey mister, can we have our ball back?" How could that be? Did I miss something or what? I mean, things like that would never happen on "Bonanza". At least until that episode near the very end, when only I was still watching, and the guy walked off the barn roof and didn't fall until he looked down and noticed he was standing on thin air, like they do in the cartoons. All right; enough free associating.)

"Mike's House" also represents a small feather in the web's cap. I didn't remember the title of the book, or the author. I just remembered a children's book about a boy who always checked out "Mike Mulligan And His Steam Shovel". That was enough for a web search.

Oh yeah, a few words about the story: Mike's house, as in the title, is what Robert calls the public library, since, as far as he is concerned, that's where Mike Mulligan lives. One day he gets lost going to the library, and can only tell the friendly policeman that he is trying to find Mike's house. Good story.

by Peggy Burns; 1995.

This is from a series for children called "Stepping Through History". I figured the history of money would be pretty interesting, but this presentation is little more than a collection of bits and pieces and "firsts" more or less related to money. Some of it is a dictionary in disguise, defining terms kids will learn easily enough as they learn to talk. "Trading money for goods is known as buying."

The section on "Plastic Money" tells us, "People using credit cards are promising to pay later for what they purchase today." Why people go to so much trouble and expense to keep their payments out of step with their actual purchases isn't addressed. This isn't surprising, actually, since I'm the only surviving human who knows the reason. It is complete, total, pure, abject lunacy.

I did learn something of what I was after, though. Goldsmiths acted as bankers, in a sense, as early as the 16th century in Europe. They would store a person's gold, and give that person a receipt. Then that person could buy things from someone else with that receipt. This activity became more formalized and goldsmiths began to issue "notes" worth certain amounts of gold or silver. In 1661, the Swedish Stockholm Bank was the first bank in Europe to print money. China had had paper money by the 7th century.

I learned that the mixture of gold and silver used to make the first standardized coins in Lydia around 600 B.C. is called "electrum".

I liked the picture of a 1776 New York ten dollar bill with the printed warning, "'Tis Death to counterfeit."

Maybe a connected history of money from the days of bartering goods to modern times would be too overwhelming (if, in fact, it could even be written.) After all, money was independently invented in many places. But I look forward to coming across a history of money in what is now the U.S. starting with the first settlers. I learned from Woodrow Wilson's history that they used tobacco as money in Jamestown.

Stranded At Plimoth Plantation, 1626
by Gary Bowen; 1994.

Some jacket notes say this is a "masterful reconstruction of the everyday life of the... settlers of Plimoth Plantation." I'll go along with that. (Excuse me while I type "Plymouth Colony" and "Plymouth Rock" once each for the sake of web searches.)

It is written in the form of the diary of 13-year-old Christopher Sears. I believe that he and the boat he came over on, the Sparrowhawk, are fictional. The book's intro and jacket should have been more explicit about this. Real-life figures, such as Governor Bradford, Myles Standish and Squanto, appear throughout the story.

I have no reason to doubt that the book was very well researched. A diary entry like: "Mistress Brewster prepared Lombardy tarts - made with beets and melted cheese - for our evening meal" becomes quite fascinating when you know that it came from an account of the time. Here's more of the interesting things I learned.

Six years after the arrival of the Mayflower, Plimoth had about 30 households. The houses had thatched roofs. Surrounding the village were 200 acres of fields which had been parceled out to the families in 1623. The Mayflower, by the way, had been a "rundown old wine vessel."

Only half the population was Puritan, but everyone was required by law to attend the worship service. [I have since read in Joy Hakim's "Making Thirteen Colonies" that the Pilgrims were "Separatists", not Puritans. Puritans wanted to purify the Church of England; Separatists believed people didn't need priests or bishops to talk to God.]

Much effort went into keeping the militia prepared. Plimoth had never been attacked, but they were worried about privateers and Narragansett Indians.

Three or four ships per year had landed at Plimoth. The most valuable commodity traded back to England was beaver pelts - which the Pilgrims got from the Indians. There were no spinning wheels or looms since that would take too many people away from the fields.

Court was held on the first day of every month. There wasn't a jail. You could get placed in the stocks for smoking tobacco in public.

There was more merriment than what I had envisioned, mainly in the form of street dancing. Even though times were changing in England, Governor Bradford insisted that men still dance with men, and women with women. They had a funny superstition that, if you found a pea pod with 9 peas in it and put it over your doorway, you would marry the first person who walked through.

Note that there is a nice, and useful, map of Plimoth on the inside back cover. I didn't discover it until I had finished the book.

Migrant Worker, a boy from the Rio Grande Valley
by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith; 1996.

This is the true story of an 11-year-old boy named Ricky - the migrant worker in the title. It is presented in a very refreshing, matter-of-fact way. If you're expecting a sob story, you'd be very mistaken.

Migrant work is hard, for sure. Ricky says, "Often we are in the fields for 10, 11, or 12 hours a day... On some farms, people are not even paid a minimum wage." But the family members work together, everyone helping out. The working conditions aren't portrayed as unbearable, with the exception of having to work in crops sprayed with chemical poisons.

If you've wondered, like me, how it is that children are even allowed to do this work, the book explains. Laws against child labor do not apply to agriculture. Minimum wage rules are circumvented by farms that pay by how much is picked or packed, rather than by hour.

An interesting map shows migrant patterns in the U.S. There are 3 roots - the southernmost parts of California, Texas and Florida. The branches reach up to most of our northernmost states. I didn't know that. Ricky's schoolmate Laura goes to Minnesota to weed cotton(!)

For Ricky, the best part about this work is that his whole family is together for the summer. Some of his schoolmates who are also migrant workers mention that they like seeing the friends they've made at the labor camps. Of course, they all want to do something else for a living when they grow up.

A guest hero in this story is Ricky's elementary school principal, Chon Garza, who gives even extra special attention to the migrant students.

The vibrant and colorful photography makes this a very beautiful book - something that rarely has an impact on me.

Fun With Puzzles
by Joseph Leeming; 1946.

See my separate web page on this one.

Henry Aaron, quiet superstar
by Al Hirshberg; 1969.

Why this one caught my attention was the fact that it was completed about 5 or 6 years before Aaron broke Babe Ruth's all-time home run record. I was curious about whether anybody even considered that a possibility when the book was written.

Talking about Aaron getting his 400th home run near the beginning of the 1966 season, Hirshberg writes (page 157): "With this milestone behind him, he could look ahead to the 500 mark and perhaps beyond it. He had hit his last 100 homers in three years. If he could keep up the pace, he could conceivably hit 600, although Babe Ruth's record of 714 was beyond reach."

Writing of Aaron's accomplishments in the 1967 season, Hirshberg writes (page 177): "His 37 homers gave him a career total of 481, putting him within range of everybody ahead of him except Babe Ruth. If, in fact, he could continue to hit home runs through his thirties at a comparable pace to Ruth's, he might even have a chance for the Babe's mark of 714. It had taken Ruth twenty-two years to hit that many. Aaron had hit his 481 in fourteen years...

"Through 1967 Aaron had been hitting home runs at the rate of 100 every 3 years. He was facing his 34th birthday, which gave him possibly 6 more years, barring illness or injury. If he could maintain his pace for 3 years, he would probably pass everyone but Ruth."

Hank's comment at that time about the possibility of catching Ruth was (page 178): "I'll never make it. I haven't even got 500 yet."

Take a closer look at how bleak the prospect really was. Assuming he could play throughout his thirties (a big assumption), he would have to hit 234 home runs in the next 6 seasons to pass Ruth. That would require 39 home runs per season. He would actually have to crank up his home run production - in the waning years of his career!

But we know he went on to pass Ruth. In light of the above, I'm more impressed than ever.

Another reason I wanted to read the book was to refresh my memory about a tragic incident early in Aaron's career where one of his throws injured an opposing team's runner badly. This book did not mention it. I forget whether that occurred in the semi-pros, in the Negro American League with the Indianapolis Clowns, or in the Braves' minor league system.

I was also curious if the book would paint the same picture of the man as a film documentary I saw once did. Although produced decades apart, they agreed to a tee. He was a man of very few words, and when he did speak, you were often left wondering whether his comment was brilliant, or spaced out, or if he was pulling your leg.

I was fascinated to read that he batted cross-handed up until he turned professional. That means he was a right-handed batter who placed his left hand above his right on the bat. "Yet he hit the ball hard enough to pile up astronomical batting averages. One year he was over .700 ." I can't imagine how someone could change something that fundamental and that ingrained - and still remain tops in his field.

A large part of the book is devoted to detailing Aaron's performance throughout his many extraordinary hot streaks.

There is a close look (page 106) at of "one of the most amazing big league games ever played... Harvey Haddix, of the Pirates pitched 12 perfect innings innings against [the Braves], yet lost in the 13th." On the last play of the game, there was some base-running that would have made the Keystone Cops proud.

The book describes Milwaukee's love affair with its Braves in the mid-50s, and how it had faded by 1963. When the Braves moved to Atlanta, it was the first time a team moving to another city left a city with no team at all.

One last interesting little tidbit that comes to mind is how Aaron and team-mate Eddie Mathews combined to break the all-time record of most home runs by 2 team-mates. The record, held by Ruth and Gehrig of the Yankees, was 793. It wasn't until Aaron and Mathews reached 800 in 1964 that somebody poked around the record books and discovered they had already passed Ruth and Gehrig.

The Watsons Go To Birmingham - 1963
by Christopher Paul Curtis; 1995.

This is a fictional story, but incorporates the church bombing of September 15, 1963 in Birmingham that killed 4 girls. The main character is a bright 4th grader named Kenny. His slightly older brother, Byron, is a bad egg.

I couldn't enjoy this one at all. For one thing, there's too much vulgarity. Why did the writer find that necessary? Shouldn't mature adults be trying to get kids beyond that, rather than fostering it? Moreover, the speech and gestures depicted here were hardly a part of elementary school kid's lives in 1963.

My bigger objection is the rampant meanness that pours off of almost every page. The mother tries to burn Byron as a punishment for playing with fire. The father shaves Byron's head for some other infraction. The children are merciless in teasing a poor student for his hillbilly speech and his small wardrobe. I assure you that in elementary schools in 1963 nobody was counting how many days it was before you wore the same pants again.

When one school kid tortures another (a daily activity), all the other students crowd around and laugh and cheer. In this author's world, the Littleton, Colorado tragedy would have had us dancing in the streets.

The cover shows 2 awards the book collected - the Coretta Scott King Award (touting "Peace; Non-violent Social Change; Brotherhood") and the Newberry Honor award. I wish they would reconsider.

Stephen Hawking - Understanding The Universe
by Gail Sakurai; 1996.

This 30 page bio from the Children's Press did nothing to change my opinion of this charlatan.

The Papermakers
written and illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher; 1965.

Excellent, excellent, excellent. Fisher gives a brief but fascinating history of papermaking in colonial times, and then a crystal clear description of the step-by-step process. I found out, among many other things, that the rags for making paper were soaked for 6 to 8 weeks before they had rotted enough. And then they underwent a major beating to fully separate the fibers (cotton or linen.)

Listen to this detail (page 26): "As soon as the mixture in the vat suited the vatman, he gripped the mold firmly, with a hand on either side. Holding it almost straight up and down, he dipped it the length of his arms into the vat. While the mold was underwater, he turned it... face up and pulled it toward him, scooping up a thin layer of wet fibers. As he lifted the mold out in a horizontal position, the [frame] kept the fibers from spilling over the sides.

"Now, with the mold still in a face-up position, the vatman gave it 4 quick, smooth shakes, from side to side and forward and backward. These shakes, called strokes, made the wet fibers crisscross each other, forming a strong and even sheet. The thickness of the sheet depended on the consistency of the stock and how much of it had been scooped up in the mold. The very moment that the dripping fibers were stroked and crisscrossed, they became paper."

How come I can't write like that? Of course, there are many more steps before and after that one.

We are told that the vatman might "lose his stroke" through paralysis. I had always wondered whether only people in modern society were prone to debilitation due to repetitive motion. If we can be so injured by the piddling little movements we make typing and playing musical instruments, I always wondered how people didn't mess themselves up back in the days when they made real motions, using real muscles, for real work days. Well, I guess some of them did.

The wood-cut illustrations by the author are so right for the book. There are 2 pages showing some colonial paper watermarks - again, just fascinating.

The Glassmakers
written and illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher; 1964.

Another great job by the same author. The history is again fascinating. America's very first factory, at Jamestown in 1608, was a glasshouse. That didn't last, but another was started in 1621. Italian glassmen were smuggled in because they knew how to make colored glass beads, which were traded to the Indians. (Must've been the wrong colors - the Indians launched a massacre in 1622.)

In forming glass objects, the glass may have to be reheated many times before the final desired shape is achieved. And even then, it has to be sent slowly through another oven, called a lehr, that is hot at one end and cooler at the other. This final step is necessary because, if glass cools too quickly, it becomes brittle.

Some blown glass objects were made with molds. But what's interesting is that the molds were small. The bubble of glass was blown in the mold and the mold was opened quickly. The gaffer (master glassblower) would continue blowing - and the bubble would grow while maintaining its original molded shape. I wouldn't have guessed that molten glass - or molten anything - would be so well-behaved.

Can you guess how they made windowpanes? I'd've thought they would just pour out some molten glass on a flat surface. Nope. Windowpanes also started out as a glass bubble. The bubble was opened up and spun until it formed a disk. Colonial windowpanes were not very uniform. There was a bump in the middle which was nearly opaque. Not that you could see much through the edges...

The Printers
written and illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher; 1965.

This one, in the same series as the above "Papermakers" and "Glassmakers", is another excellent job. I sure hope Mr. Fisher made a lot of money on these books. The short history section, again, is fascinating. What makes the book not quite as good is that it describes a much more complicated process in about the same amount of space, and the clarity suffers slightly.

Most interesting for me was the compositor's job of grabbing the type from the case and sliding them on the composing stick - without taking his eyes off the "copy". Very impressive, but imagine what a laborious, slow process that would be - for even the fastest compositor. (And after the printing, all those tiny pieces of type had to go back into their appropriate compartments in the case - whew!) By the way, capital letters were kept in the upper part of the case, which is where we got the term "upper-case letters".

After a line of type was in place on the composing stick, little slivers of brass were inserted to give an even right-hand margin.

I didn't know that the paper was dampened before printing to make sure that it would lie flat against every inked piece of type. This meant, of course, that every printed page had to have a place to hang out to dry. Man, nothing was easy back then.

In addition to the fine woodcut illustrations, there are 7 reproductions of printed pages dating from 1640 to 1735. In "The Boston News-Letter" of May 15 1704, you can read reports of attacks by Indians (a.k.a. "the Sculking Adversary").

A Pictorial Album Of Jamestown; Birthplace Of America
paintings by Sidney E. King, text by J. Paul Hudson; 1963.

Sorry if you're tired of hearing about Jamestown. I didn't search this one out - I found it on top of a trash can one day while I was walking a friend's doggie. In the same trash can was "Lost Treasure Trails - documented stories of hidden millions" by Thomas Penfield, 1954. But don't think I'm gonna tell you where all the loot is buried.

This one may have been sold mainly by the National Park Service. The illustrations form the backbone of the book. They are sepia reproductions of paintings by S. E. King and were originally prepared for the 350th anniversary of Jamestown in 1957. The paintings are based as much as possible on eyewitness descriptions.

The 2nd paragraph of the foreword will make any history buff want to cry. "Many unsolved mysteries still remain and shall until the end of time, mainly because of the many outstanding fires recorded in history, including the Great London Fire of 1666, the burning of Richmond in 1865 (where many Colonial Period records were destroyed), and three major Jamestown conflagrations - 1608, 1676 and 1698." (Sidney E. King)

All of the Jamestown accounts I have read recently, including this one, seem to be in very close agreement. Hudson tells of the "Starving Time" during the severe winter of 1609-1610 without mentioning the Indians. Remember that Woodrow Wilson didn't either, but Joy Hakim held the Indians at least partly responsible.

The second half of the book describes 16 Jamestown industries - soap making, silk production, tobacco growing, etc. Mr. King does a good job working most of the steps involved in each industry into one painting. For example, the brickmaking painting shows bricks being molded, cured, fired, and stacked. "On the extreme right is the blunge pit where the clay is being worked with the bare feet."

Attempts to raise silkworms and make silk for England continued for over a century, without much success. Tobacco farmers had to do battle with a large green worm that appeared at the end of each growing season.

After reading "The Glassmakers" book (see above) it was interesting to find this passage: "Archeological excavations did not disclose what kinds of glass were made at Jamestown during the two ventures. When the glasshouse site was excavated in 1948, only small fragments and drippings, dark green in color, were found... No glass beads were found at, or near, the furnace site."

The colonists found wild grapes growing in the trees in 1607. "Quality wine was made, but when shipped to England it often arrived in spoiled condition. As the wealthy planters preferred foreign wines to the Virginia beverage, local made vintages seldom made a profit for vineyard owners."

America had lots of trees, of course. Barrel staves and other timber products were exported to England a few weeks after the colony was established. Any one of the jobs depicted in King's painting "Making Timber" would wipe me out in half an hour.

The Colony Of Maryland
by Gene and Clare Gurney; 1972.

After reading the several history books reviewed above, I thought I'd take a closer look at Maryland, my home state. The difficulty with early American history is not only how complicated the story of any one colony may be, but that those stories were so intertwined with each other.

As a jumping off point, it's useful comparing Maryland with Virginia. Jamestown was founded in 1607; St. Marys in 1634. Virginia was established by an English company; Maryland was owned by one man, Cecilius Calvert. Virginians took an oath acknowledging that the king was leader of the church; Maryland was established as a place for Catholics to settle (with tolerance for non-Catholics.) Early Virginians had much trouble with Indians; Marylanders established a good relationship with the Indians from the beginning. They bought an Indian village, with crops, and moved right in. Two thirds of the Jamestown colonists died the first year, and almost all of them during the 1609-1610 Starving Time. The first harvest at St. Marys produced plenty of corn for the colonists, with some left over for trading.

The religious tolerance mentioned above was the first to be found in the colonies. It extended only to Christians, however. Woodrow Wilson's "A History Of The American People" reproduces a copy of "A Law of Maryland Concerning Religion" (1649). It states that "whatsoever person... shall from henceforth blaspheme GOD, that is curse him; or shall deny our Saviour JESUS CHRIST to be the Son of God... shall be punished with death, and confiscation or forfeiture of all his or her Lands ["his or her"??? In 1649??? Gag me. - ed.] and Goods to the Lord Proprietary and his Heirs.

"And be it also enacted... That whatsoever person from henceforth use or utter any reproachful words or speeches concerning the blessed Virgin MARY... shall in such case for the first Offence forfeit... the sum of Five pounds Sterling... but in case such offender or offenders shall not then have goods and chattels sufficient for the satisfying of such forfeiture... that then such offender or offenders shall be publickly whipt...; And that every such offender or offenders for every second offence shall forfeit Ten Pounds Sterling... or in case such offender... shall not then have goods and chattels... sufficient for that purpose, then to be publickly and severely whipt [severely, this time. Ouch. - ed.]...; and that every person or persons before mentioned, offending herein the third time, shall for such third offence, forfeit all his lands and goods, and be forever banished and expelled out of this Province." [In other words, if you're a poor person, you'd do better to bad-mouth Mary 3 times. - ed.]

Like Virginia, tobacco soon became Maryland's source of wealth. Regarding money: "The colonial planter handled little money. His tobacco was sold in England to pay for the things he ordered" from a London merchant.

A primitive postal system was established in 1695. A postrider traveled between the Potomac River and Philadelphia twice a year.

With the passage of a few centuries, I suppose this one, ca. 1675, is good for a laugh: "It was also claimed that colonial [Maryland] customs officials were interfering with the king's customs collectors... This charge... was more difficult to disprove, especially after [Lord Baltimore's] nephew murdered one of the customs collectors."

The King took over Maryland in 1692. All taxpayers had to give 40 pounds of tobacco each year. This went to the Anglican Church, Maryland's new official church. But the law said nothing about quality, and everybody sent the lousiest stuff they had.

As late as 1752, Baltimore had only 200 people, 25 houses, 2 taverns and 1 church. Ten years later it had 150 houses.

In 1765 the citizens of Annapolis wouldn't let the English stamp-tax agent land. His effigy was whipped, hanged and burned. "Admitting that he was, 'very uneasy and much terrified,' he fled to New York, where he resigned as a stamp-tax agent."

Likewise, in 1774, when an English ship with a load of tea arrived at Annapolis ignoring the boycott on English goods, angry citizens boarded it and ran it aground while crowds cheered. Then they forced the ship's owner to set fire to his ship and its cargo.

Maryland finally settled its border dispute with Virginia in 1877.

How Books Are Made
by David C. Cooke; 1963.

Whew, there's a lot of steps involved! Not surprising when you look at a book and think about it...

I found this book interesting and clearly written. The information was dense enough in spots so that you had to slow down and study the paragraph. The illustrations were good and had good captions, but I might rather have seen a simple line drawing illustrating every step described in the text. In some photos, the book itself is shown. Things like that always gave me a thrill as a kid (like a postage stamp that pictured itself.)

I knew that multiple pages were printed at once, but I didn't know that typically 64 pages are printed on the front of a sheet and 64 on the back in such a way that, after that sheet is folded just 4 times and 3 of the edges lopped off, the little booklet ("signature") has 128 pages in the right order. Neat! And to think that a 512 page book comes from only 4 printed sheets!

The thing that amazes me the most about printing is how well-behaved the liquids are. For example, there's a photo-sensitive chemical that must coat the offset plates uniformly. After exposure, a greasy developing ink is smeared over the exposed plate. When the plate is rinsed, that ink remains only where the image will be black. I'll let the author take over: "Photo-offset printing is based on the fact that water and grease will not mix. The printing plate on its cylinder first revolves against a roller dampened with water which wet the areas of the plate that were not etched by the greasy developing ink [i.e., the areas that will appear white]. In the next revolution of the cylinder, ink is applied to the printing areas of the plate. The third revolution transfers the inked image to a rubber blanket wrapped around another roller... The cylinder with the rubber blanket next rolls against the paper and transfers or 'offsets' the ink to the paper."

And those teeny-weeny little dots that make up printed pictures can survive all those steps perfectly intact??? Unbelievable.

Sorry, Chief...
by William Johnston; 1966.

You probably recognize the well-known apology in the title. The cover blurb gives it away: "The further adventures of Maxwell Smart, as he tracks down the diabolical Doctor X and his six invisible guinea pigs... would you believe five?"

I read this one in the hopes of being washed over by waves of pleasant nostalgia. I remember busting a gut laughing at an early episode of "Get Smart", stumbled on randomly. I think I watched the series almost to the end. At that stage of my life I had already stopped watching new tv series. When "Hogan's Heroes" ended, or I gave up on it, that was it for me and tv, with the exception of several game shows and nightly news. In case you find that weird, I had a friend in high school with the same experience: I found out that he, too, gave up tv after "Hogan's Heroes".

This book was ok - mostly dopey, but mildly pleasant. I cracked a smile on pages 107, 116 and 144. Smart improvised a crackerjack lecture on "space" for an audience of space scientists on page 103. Jokes about the hula hoop craze are always goodies, of course. It helps that hula hoops are still going strong today. (I come from a long line of hula hoopers.)

The big social commentary I can wring out of this one derives from Max's shoe phone. That was humorous, see, because it was so unimaginable back in the mid-'60s. Nowadays, everybody has phones hanging out of their shoes, their pants, their shirts, their ears...

Oops, I almost left you in suspense. The punchlines for the above pages were:

Page 107: "Well, that doesn't mean that the screwdriver isn't a success. I still say, someday, somewhere, sometime, it will come in handy for something."

Page 116: "Ha! Dainty veins, eh! He had a vein big enough to drive a truck through."

Page 144: "Doctor, I'm beginning to suspect that you do not have a little good guy inside of you who is trying to get out."

One last thing on the subject of tv, does anybody remember the short-lived (I'm sure) series "Many Happy Returns"? I stumbled on the premiere in 5th grade (I think) and laughed my head off. The next day at school, another classmate (Steve Auerbach) had seen it, and it had busted his gut, too.


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