Monthly Archives: March 2013

On every side, and at every hour of the day, we came up against the relentless limitations of pioneer life… Anna Howard Shaw

Study for "Westward Ho!" showing figures with wagon train from "Westward the course of empire takes its way"

Study for “Westward Ho!” showing figures with wagon train from “Westward the course of empire takes its way”

Desperate passage: the Donner Party’s perilous journey West Oxford; New York : Oxford University Press, 2008 Ethan Rarick Overland journeys to the Pacific, Donner Party Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. 288 p., [8] p. of plates: ill., map; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [273]-279) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Wagon train of women, men, and children, moving through the mountains.

Wagon train of women, men, and children, moving through the mountains.

In late October 1846, the last wagon train of that year’s westward migration stopped overnight before resuming its arduous climb over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, unaware that a fearsome storm was gathering force. After months of grueling travel, the 81 men, women and children would be trapped for a brutal winter with little food and only primitive shelter. The conclusion is known: by spring of the next year, the Donner Party was synonymous with the most harrowing extremes of human survival. But until now, the full story of what happened, what it tells us about human nature and about America’s westward expansion, remained shrouded in myth.

Teams on the Summit, Dutch Flat and Donner Lake Wagon Road, Placer County

Teams on the Summit, Dutch Flat and Donner Lake Wagon Road, Placer County

Drawing on fresh archaeological evidence, recent research on topics ranging from survival rates to snowfall totals, and heartbreaking letters and diaries made public by descendants a century-and-a-half after the tragedy, Ethan Rarick offers an intimate portrait of the Donner party and their unimaginable ordeal: a mother who must divide her family, a little girl who shines with courage, a devoted wife who refuses to abandon her husband, a man who risks his life merely to keep his word. But Rarick resists both the gruesomely sensationalist accounts of the Donner party as well as later attempts to turn the survivors into archetypal pioneer heroes. “The Donner Party,” Rarick writes, “is a story of hard decisions that were neither heroic nor villainous. Often, the emigrants displayed a more realistic and typically human mixture of generosity and selfishness, an alloy born of necessity.”

 A Chief [standing on horseback] forbidding the passage of a [wagon] train through his country

A Chief [standing on horseback] forbidding the passage of a [wagon] train through his country – an object lesson in what happens when you don’t control your borders!

A fast-paced, heart-wrenching, clear-eyed narrative history, A Desperate Hope casts new light on one of America’s most horrific encounters between the dream of a better life and the harsh realities such dreams so often must confront.

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A static hero is a public liability. Progress grows out of motion… Richard E. Byrd

In an age when any exploration was a still uncertain task Richard Evelyn Byrd managed to command expeditions that flew over both the North and South Poles. This book covers his first expedition to Antarctica and while it is a thorough reassessment of the boy’s best tales version that was promoted by Byrd and his supporters it in no way diminishes the accomplishments. With cold weather gear that the average person wouldn’t wear skiing and flying largely by dead reckoning – in an atmosphere that has been likened to flying through a bowl of milk – and having nearly succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning trying to stay warm they succeeded. They did it with Ford airplanes and without GPS. They did it in spite of some members of the party getting lost on flights and in spite of having to rescue one member of the expedition nearly drowned when the ice he was standing on collapsed into the sea. Byrd thought he was going to discover a continent at the North Pole – which he didn’t – but he went south and did and came back to tell the tale and promote polar exploration for another quarter of a century. No wonder he was honored by every president from Hoover to Eisenhower and respected by the nation.

Commander Richard E. Byrd, USN Arrives on the dock at San Pedro, California, accompanied by his dog "Igloo". He would soon board a ship that will take him to the scene of the beginning of his first Antarctic Expedition, 11 October 1928.   U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Commander Richard E. Byrd, USN Arrives on the dock at San Pedro, California, accompanied by his dog “Igloo”. He would soon board a ship that will take him to the scene of the beginning of his first Antarctic Expedition, 11 October 1928. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Beyond the barrier: the story of Byrd’s first expedition to Antarctica Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, c1990 Eugene Rodgers Byrd Antarctic Expedition (1st: 1928-1930) Hardcover. xiv, 354 p., [16] p. of plates: ill.; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 333-338) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Commander Richard E. Byrd, USN Dressed in furs, with his dog "Igloo", outside a hut during his first Antarctic Expedition, 12 April 1930. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives collection

Commander Richard E. Byrd, USN Dressed in furs, with his dog “Igloo”, outside a hut during his first Antarctic Expedition, 12 April 1930. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives collection

When this book originally appeared in 1990, it was hailed as an important new work because of the author’s access to Adm. Richard E. Byrd’s just-released private papers. Previous books on the legendary polar explorer had to rely on sources subject to the admiral’s vigilant censorship or the control of his heirs and friends. With this study Eugene Rodgers provides a scrupulously honest and objective account of Byrd’s 1929 expedition to Antarctica.

Elbert J. Thawley, engineer of the "Eleanor Bolling," standing beside the fuselage of the huge tri-motored Ford plane "Floyd Bennett," before the ship was transported to Little America, the permanent base of the party

Elbert J. Thawley, engineer of the “Eleanor Bolling,” standing beside the fuselage of the huge tri-motored Ford plane “Floyd Bennett,” before the ship was transported to Little America, the permanent base of the party

Without discrediting the expedition’s success or Byrd’s leadership, Rodgers shows that the admiral was not the saintly hero he and the press depicted. Nor was the expedition without its problems. Interviews with surviving members of the expedition together with a wealth of other new material indicate that Byrd, contrary to his claims, was not a good navigator – his pilots usually had to find their way by dead reckoning – and that he was not on the actual flight that discovered Marie Byrd Land. The book further reveals a crisis among the men, the admiral’s fear of mutiny, and his rewriting of news stories from the pole to embellish his own image.

Richard E. Byrd, USN Eating in his shack at Little America, Antarctica, circa late October 1934. He was rescued earlier that month from his advance base, where he had been in isolation for a little bit longer than two months. This picture was taken before he had his hair cut...   U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Richard E. Byrd, USN Eating in his shack at Little America, Antarctica, circa late October 1934. He was rescued earlier that month from his advance base, where he had been in isolation for a little bit longer than two months. This picture was taken before he had his hair cut… U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Byrd should be remembered as the start of that long line of naval aviators who not only defended this country but expanded its horizons from his flying over the Poles through Neil Armstrong‘s setting foot on the moon. It is a proud and noble lineage.

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Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checked by failure…than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat… Theodore Roosevelt

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There is a new school of revisionists history that is determined to compare Theodore Roosevelt with George W. Bush ans damn them both in the process and this book is one of the more flawed contributions to a flawed genre. First of all we have to accept the facts about the Maine that the author presents as hard and fast evidence when the best evidence suggest that nobody knew then – or can conclusively state now – exactly what happened. Second we have to accept McKinley as a sort of pompous buffoon when, in reality, he was an immensely popular president who managed a level of prosperity unknown before in the nation’s history. Finally we have Theodore Roosevelt as the enfant terrible of the age of imperialism who did not play well with others.

Roosevelt is certainly the most complex and interesting character in the bunch and his meteoric rise has done as much to obscure as to define the man but the underlying point is he was not only a very intelligent – and when need be shrewd – man but he was also a master politician who had a long and fruitful relationship with both Henry Cabot Lodge and Thomas Reed. William James was the Thoreau of his day – a pious gas-bag devoid of any real accomplishment – and William Randolph Hearst may have been the ringmaster of the popular media circus of his time and in spite of carrying the traditions of yellow journalism on to the History Channel [one of Hearst’s current ventures] there was nothing reliable in his publications then or now.

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What we are left with is a poorly constructed philippic that is squarely in the tradition of James and Hearst and unworthy of the other actors. Roosevelt certainly had his critics, Henry F. Pringle wrote the standard condemnation of the man in 1931 that misinformed at least two generations about him and Morton Keller gathered a selection of his critics into a profile published in 1967 but Thomas could not fill the shoes of any of these any more than W could fill TR’s. For a balanced view the three volumes of Edmund Morris show him, warts and all, as one of the two occupants of Rushmore who actually deserve to be there.

The war lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the rush to empire, 1898 New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2010 Evan Thomas United States Politics and government 1897-1901 Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. viii, 471 p.: ill.; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 447-453) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

William Randolph Hearst took charge of his father's paper, the San Francisco Examiner in 1886 when he was 23. In 1895, he acquired the New York Morning Journal. Hearst was instrumental in the development of what became known as "yellow journalism," and these two papers were the beginnings of what became a media empire. Homer Davenport cartooned for the Examiner and then joined Hearst in New York, where he helped popularize the Journal through a series of cartoons viciously attacking the city leaders and members of the Republican Party.

William Randolph Hearst took charge of his father’s paper, the San Francisco Examiner in 1886 when he was 23. In 1895, he acquired the New York Morning Journal. Hearst was instrumental in the development of what became known as “yellow journalism,” and these two papers were the beginnings of what became a media empire. Homer Davenport cartooned for the Examiner and then joined Hearst in New York, where he helped popularize the Journal through a series of cartoons viciously attacking the city leaders and members of the Republican Party.

On February 15th, 1898, the USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbor. That the explosion was almost certainly a self-inflicted accident, mattered not to warmongers such as Teddy Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge. Along with newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst, they fabricated evidence of a Spanish attack and, as they had long hoped, President McKinley soon declared war.

That war would turn out to a bloody quagmire that would come at tremendous cost. It would transform Roosevelt into an American hero, but would shatter friendships among Roosevelt, Lodge and their close friends and former allies philosopher William James and the powerful Speaker of the House Thomas Reed.

A book with uncanny resonance with the recent invasion of Iraq, The War Lovers is a thrilling war story, as well as a powerful chronicle of friendships torn asunder by an invented enemy and a rush to battle.

No Mission Accomplished banner here. Just the man who raised the regiment and led the charge with the man who followed him up the Hill

No Mission Accomplished banner here. Just the man who raised the regiment and led the charge with the men who followed him up the Hill

Comments Off on Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checked by failure…than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat… Theodore Roosevelt

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There is no reason why a criminal should be tried in the first place…Once his identity is established, he should be killed right away… Khomeini

I am not among those who believes that the truth can only be conveyed in fiction – there are too many examples to the contrary. However fiction from writers like Koestler and Solzhenitsyn can inform a wider audience in ways that nonfiction does not – in the latter case far more have read A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich than the four volumes of the Gulag Archipelago. Both are important works of the literary giant of the twentieth century and the facts presented in Gulag give an authority to the story told in A Day. We do not now, and may never, have a Gulag for Iran but there is no doubt it would be as long and as horrifying a testament as the original was. We have been gifted with the equivalent of A Day by this author and will have to make do until a free Persia may again visit her literary gifts upon a larger world.

The bathhouse  Seattle, Wash.: Black Heron  Press, c 2001 Farnoosh  Moshiri Iran, Prisoners Hardcover.  Inscribed by author. 182 p.; 23 cm. Clean, tight and strong  binding with clean dust jacket. No  highlighting, underlining or  marginalia in text. VG/VG

Like the young male protagonist of Moshiri’s big first novel, At the Wall of the Almighty, the 17-year-old high-school graduate who tells of her time in an old bathhouse used as a prison remains nameless throughout this tersely reportorial short novel.

She is arrested and her home ransacked one hot August night on account of her brother’s involvement with revolutionary leftists in Iran in the early 1980s, when Khomeini’s Shiite revolution became more resolutely authoritarian. Taken to the bathhouse, she suffers her first humiliation. She is put in a cell with several others — the pregnant wife of a leftist, a professor and her aged mother, the mother of a young rebel, a surgeon, a young teenager, and a madwoman — and let out only to be interrogated and tortured, to go to the toilet, or to shower once a week.

One by one, her companions are taken away for good. At last, she gets new cellmates, female leftist guerrillas, with whom she suffers further torture and is nearly executed. Released at last, she collapses on a street bench.   Written with the simple authority of an oral deposition, packing the punch of All Quiet on the Western Front, this is both a resolutely nonpartisan anti-revolutionary brief and a gripping, harrowing story of personal courage and endurance.

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Love is never defeated, and I could add, the history of Ireland proves it… Pope John Paul II

There were two revolutions in the twentieth century where the native peoples threw out a foreign occupying power and restored their freedom. In the first decades of the century the Irish managed to rescue 26 of 32 counties from British colonial rule. In the last decades of the century the Poles managed to drive the Soviet occupation forces from their borders for the first time since the end of the second world war. There were many other revolutions during the century – some to end feudal monarchies and many to impose the totalitarianism of the proletariat – but these were the only two with the avowed purpose of establishing democratic republics that succeeded in both establishing and sustaining them. If you study the similarities of the two uprisings you will find that both countries had strong cultural ties to the Roman Catholic Church and its fundamental teaching about the rights of man. Maybe when we look at the violence that has spread through Latin America replacing dictators with maximum leaders who in turn are replaced with rational managers we can see that the liberation theology is no where near as liberating as first suspected and that a critical reappraisal is in order.

The rising: Ireland Easter 1916 Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2010 Fearghal McGarry Ireland History Easter Rising, 1916 Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xiii, 365 p.: ill., maps; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [294]-299) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

At ten minutes past midday on Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, thirty members of James Connolly‘s Irish Citizen Army launched a raid on Dublin Castle – the citadel of British rule in Ireland. Although what happened next has become an integral touchstone of Irish independence, as well as the subject of many political, military, diplomatic, and local studies, no source has described the events of the Easter Rising as seen through the eyes of those who lived through it – until now.

Based on a recently unarchived trove of over 1,700 eye-witness statements, The Rising tells the story of this seminal event from within and below. In crisp, unflinching detail, it draws upon the personal experiences of the men and women who emerge from the margins of history to convey what the nascent Irish revolution actually felt like.

As it chronicles the activities of members of Sinn Féin, the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Volunteers, this compelling volume addresses a range of key questions that continue to divide the historians of modern Ireland: What led people from ordinary backgrounds to fight for Irish freedom? What did they think they could achieve given the superior forces arrayed against them? What kind of republic were they willing to die for?

For the first time, author Fearghal McGarry deftly interweaves the oral history of the rank-and-file revolutionaries of the Rising into a comprehensive, yet powerfully affecting narrative – one that uncovers the rebels’ motives and aspirations while highlighting the importance of the Great War as a catalyst for the uprising. McGarry concludes with a thought-provoking exploration of the Rising’s revolutionary aftermath, which saw the creation of an Irish parliament, Dáil Éireann, and the Irish Republican Army’s armed campaign to win independence.

Comments Off on Love is never defeated, and I could add, the history of Ireland proves it… Pope John Paul II

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