The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara by David I. Kertzer

A Jewish family sits together peacefully in their home. It is an ordinary night. After dinner. Mother, father, six children, the oldest still under ten years. Suddenly, agents of the Inquisition are at the door, there to take away Edgardo, age six, claiming he was secretly baptized by one of the family servants, therefore a Christian, therefore in need of Christian parents. The panicked family … Continue reading The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara by David I. Kertzer

Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition by Nisid Hajari

I bought this book by mistake. I thought it was a collection of essays about Salmon Rushdie’s terrific novel Midnight’s Children, one of my all-time favorites. Midnight’s Furies then sat on my TBR shelf for nearly five years. Five years is the maximum I allow. After that, it’s time to admit I’m just never going to read it and pass it along to a nearby … Continue reading Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition by Nisid Hajari

Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra

Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra is a lot of fun. I can’t say that it’s great literature, or that it has changed my life, but I had a terrific time reading it and I highly recommend it. The story concerns the behind-the-scenes workers at a poverty row film studio in 1940’s Hollywood. Before the war the studio survives on money made from making Italian … Continue reading Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

I come to this book by way of the recent television series. Both are very good. The television series, while based on a true crime, is largely fiction. The producers created entire characters and storylines to flesh out the historical plotline into multiple episodes. The book fleshes out its true crime story with a fascinating history of Mormonism focused on the religions violent past and … Continue reading Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

My New Favorite Book–Cuba: An American History by Ada Ferrer

Don’t be afraid of reading history; it’s not just a learning experience. At least not in the case of Cuba: An American History by Ada Ferrer. This is one of the most entertaining books I’ve read in a while. I couldn’t put it down, as they say, much of the time. At nearly 500 pages, some parts are more interesting at others, but reading it … Continue reading My New Favorite Book–Cuba: An American History by Ada Ferrer

The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny by Michael Wallis

I’m going to assume that you know the basic story of the Donner Party.  Just in case, here is the Wikipedia article; it’s fantastic. I also had a pretty good grasp of their story before reading Michael Wallis’s recent book about them, The Best Land Under Heaven. So, did I learn anything? Was the book worth reading? Yes, and mostly yes. The full extent of what … Continue reading The Best Land Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny by Michael Wallis

A Brief History of the Vikings by Jonathan Clements

Jonathan Clements book A Brief History of the Vikings is very old school history, very one event after another.  Lots of successions of rulers and records of who won and who lost various battles. It was just the thing to pass the time I spent last week riding the ferry boat back and forth between my home and San Francisco where I was taking a class … Continue reading A Brief History of the Vikings by Jonathan Clements

Cinderella’s Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding by Dorothy Ko

I often tell my students that reading is like swimming, the only way to get better at it is to do it.  Which is only partially true.  If you really want to get better at swimming, and at reading, you need to push yourself to perform at a higher rate than you typically do. Sometimes, you need a coach. Sometimes you need to challenge yourself. … Continue reading Cinderella’s Sisters: A Revisionist History of Footbinding by Dorothy Ko

Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest by Matthew Restall

None of this is true, what we were told in history class if you’re my age,  but the story goes like this… When Moctezuma, the Aztec Emperor met Conquistador Hernan Cortez in 1519, he thought the Spaniard was the god Quetzalcoatl returned to fulfill a prophecy ending the empire.  Though he had just  a few soldiers with him, Cortez was able to use superior armor and guns … Continue reading Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest by Matthew Restall

A Brief History of Paper Moons

At the end of nearly every school year, someone cleans out a classroom closet and leaves a box of books on the table in the faculty room. Take whatever you want. Typically, they are pretty slim picking. There’s really no use, beyond collage, for old textbooks anymore.  But this year I found a copy of Hal Morgan and Andreas Brown’s book on early real photo post … Continue reading A Brief History of Paper Moons

Two with Pictures: The Singing Bones and Yvain, the Knight of the Lion

I’ve been doing some reading for work. Since I teach 7th grade history and English reading for work takes me places it might not take other grown men. Not that I mind. Two strong contenders for actual classroom use this time around. The first is M.T. Anderson’s graphic novel (illustrations by Andrea Offermann) Yvain, The Night of the Lion based on the 12th century French epic … Continue reading Two with Pictures: The Singing Bones and Yvain, the Knight of the Lion