Homestead

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I have often listened to Pete Seeger sing about the bloody strike at the Homestead, Pennsylvania Steel works in 1892 when the owners called in Pinkertons to put down the strikers, but I never knew all the details. Andrew Carnegie left everything up to  director Henry Clay Frick who ordered Pinkertons to come up the Monongahela river in barges and forcibly disburse the strikers. Nine workers and 7 Pinkertons were killed when both sides opened fire.

Henry Clay Frick

Henry Clay Frick

This history tells the story from the building of the town of Homestead to the dissolution of the Homestead steel works in 1986. Production was at a peak during WWII when U.S. Steel made armored plate for battleships and tanks, at which time the company employed over 15,000 people. Steel girders made there were used in the Empire State Building, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the Sears Tower in Chicago.

Workers at HOmestead around 1892

Workers at HOmestead around 1892

William Serrin, a journalist for New York TImes, visited Homestead during many turning points and met many of the people who still remember the steel works in its heyday. He has written a very engrossing history of the plant, the men who started it and the workers who are really the main players! errin gives the story a personal touch by delving into the home life of several workers and tells us how they coped when the works were shut down without notice. A great read!

I Made It!! (75 books in 2014!)

I read five books in two weeks to catch up and just barely made it to my goal for 2014…75 books read.

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To be honest, I chose some light reading towards the end,reading three mysteries that Santa brought! But I enjoyed it for a change!

The more serious books include The River of Doubt by Candice Millard, a fast-paced and exciting account of Theodore Roosevelt’s exploratory expedition to map the uncharted River of Doubt in the Amazon jungle. A great book! I felt like I was travelling along with them as they carried their boats through the thick jungle, encountering fierce natives, poisonous snakes and mutinous crew members. It was amazing to read how they took their boats over the steep falls.NOt everyone made it back. A thrilling adventure!

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It took a little more effort to get into the story of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914, setting off events that led to World War I. The Assassination of the  Archduke by Greg King and Sue Woolmans tells the story of Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophia who died along with him. I thought the authors might be distantly related to the family because they had only praise for the Archduke and  Sophia. They did not provide an objective view and were too lavish in their praise for Sophia. She comes off as a saint!

The book goes on to tell the story of the three surviving children and their lives in Nazi Germany. It was ironic that they were not considered Hapsburgs during their parent’s life but were persecuted as beings such during the Nazi rule.

All in all, I enjoyed finding out the circumstances of this incident that changed history. I would recommend it if you are a history buff.

These are the mysteries I read:

Murphy'sI enjoyed these stories too! Sandra Brown’s book Best Kept Secrets,  was disappointing as it turned out to be a rather graphic romance novel instead of a detective story!

BestKept

SayersSwindle

The Path Between the Seas

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by David McCullough

It was fascinating to read of all the false starts, disease, and natural disasters that turned this project into a debacle for the French, who after much effort and a great deal of corruption, sold their rights to the Americans. Did you know that it was almost the Nicaraguan Canal instead of the Panama Canal.

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As always, David McCullough pulls us into the narrative and writes about all the colorful characters involved in this historical event! The most colorful of all, Theodore Roosevelt, could be said to be the man who finally made it happen, but many others worked bravely and battled the intense heat and prevalent disease to build this great man-made waterway that did connect two oceans!

Teddy builds the canal?!

Teddy builds the canal?!

The French obtained the rights to dig the canal from the Colombian government and began excavation in 1881 under the direction of Ferdinand de Lesseps, the man who built the Suez Canal. However, they were plagued with seasonal floods and mudslides, which caused major setbacks. The biggest problem was tropical disease such as malaria and yellow fever, it the cause of which was not known at the time. Thousands of workers and engineers died before the connection between mosquitoes and these maladies was proven.

In the end, scandal and corruption led to the collapse of the French canal company, La Société internationale du Canal interocéanique. A second company also failed and the land and equipment sold to the U.S. government for 40 million dollars in 1904.

One man who stood out as an unsung hero was Army doctor WIlliam C. Gorgas who had worked in Havana to eradicate yellow fever after the Spanish AMerican War. In Panama, Gorgas got little cooperation and received much scorn before he was vindicated in his idea that yellow fever was carried by a certain strain of mosquito.

Dr. William C. Gorgas

Dr. William C. Gorgas

“As chief sanitary officer on the canal project, Gorgas implemented far-reaching sanitary programs including the draining of ponds and swamps, fumigation, mosquito netting, and public water systems. These measures were instrumental in permitting the construction of the Panama Canal, as they significantly prevented illness due to yellow fever and malaria (which had also been shown to be transmitted by mosquitoes in 1898) among the thousands of workers involved in the building project.”( “Contagion, Tropical Diseases and the Construction of the Panama Canal, 1904-1914”. Harvard University.)

The canal was opened in 1914, but not before a revolt was provoked and Panama was declared independent from Colombia, allowing  American control of the canal.

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If you are interested ind the technical side of the project, look to Wikipedia to read about the system of dams and locks that allowed the water level to be raised and lowered and for ships to pass through. The digging of the Culebra cut through the continental divide (110 meters high, solid rock!) was an amazing task in itself!

A comprehensive history and entertaining tale!

The Black Count

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by Tom Weiss

A well-written account of the life of Alexandre Dumas, the father of the author by the same name. Born on the sugar cane plantation of Saint-Domingue, then a French colony, Alexander was the son of a French Marquis and a black slave . His siblings were sold into slavery and Alex himself was sold to pay his father’s passage back to France, but later redeemed.

He stood 6’3″ and made an impressive figure when he joined the French army, eventually becoming a highly- decorated general. After he suffered much in the Sudan, he attempted to return to his wife in France, but was captured and spent two years in a dungeon-like prison in Italy. Finally released and in ill health, Dumas was reunited with his family. His wife gave birth to a son, the novelist Alexander Dumas who eventually used many of his father’s experiences in writing The Coount of Monte Cristo.

Documents and letters that remain show that he was a fair and even kind superior officer well-liked by those who served under him. Unfortunately, he made several enemies who stripped him of his military pension. Dumas died in poverty in his village of Villers-Cotterets in 1806.

During the French revolution, equality and opportunity were  extended to men of color like Dumas. Unfortunately, under Napoleon, new exclusive laws were put into effect. Perhaps this is one reason, Dumas died ignominiously and few people know of this great soldier and military leader.

The Voyage Out: The Life of Mary Kingsley

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by Katherine Frank

Can you imagine a very straight-laced lady in long skirts and mutton sleeves travelling up  the French COngo in the 1890s with wares to trade in exchange for rubber or ivory? Mary Kingsley had previously led a very limited life, forced to care for her invalid mother and later to keep house for her brother. Finally set free, she headed off for Africa to study the native peoples.

the very prim Victorian,  Mary Kingsley

the very prim Victorian, Mary Kingsley

Mary was particularly interested in African religion and fetishes. She also collected many specimens of rare fish or other small creatures which she donated to the museum of Natural Science. It is rather amazing that she was asked to address the National Geographic society at a time when women had never done so before, especially considering she had never been to school and was entirely self-educated. From an early age she was fascinated by the works of African explorers Richard Burton and Brazzi.

Travelling to Liberia, Cameroon and Gabon, Kingsley opted to trade with the natives as a way to get close to them. She ate what the villagers ate and slept in their huts. Later she published two books about her travels, particularly the best-selling Travels in West Africa.

Mary Slessor, missionary

Mary Slessor, missionary

Unusual for the time, Kingsley opposed direct colonial control in favor of trade with the African village chiefs left to govern as they were accustomed. She loved the African people and respected their native beliefs. Therefore she was quite put off by missionaries in general. She did become close friends with Mary Slessor however, and spent quite a bit of time with her in Calabar. Kingsley was won over by Mary Slessor’s  love of the African people, as well as by  her warmth and good humor. Of Slessor, we are told

(Kingsley)” was entranced by this unassuming , warm woman who, though 46 in 1895, looked far younger and almost boyish with her short, cropped hair…She lived in a mud and thatch house, subsisted entirely on local “chop”… and went for months or even years without returning to Calabar or seeing another white person.”

Slessor with her household at Calabar

Slessor with her household at Calabar

She reported that Mary Slessor took the time to learn the language and the mind of the African people. She was called Eka Kpukpro Owo or “Mother of All the Peoples.” Kingsley spent there in the village of Ekenge and the two women formed a deep friendship.

The most amazing thing about Mary Kingsley was how she utterly changed her life at an age when most of us would start becoming cautious about our future. She ventured into an area where women just did not go. Though denied formal education, she taught herself and was driven by great curiosity to investigate uncharted territory and catalog unknown species. Her books were read widely because she wrote so vividly and entertainingly in language that appeals to ordinary people.

Never having previously known about her, I was intrigued to find out about this fascinating and brave woman. A very well-written biography.

 

Mornings on Horseback

by David McCullough

Morning

Well-written account of Theodore Roosevelt’s childhood and early career. Suffering from debilitating asthma attacks, Theodore was often unable to keep up with his siblings. But when his father whom he adored challenged him to build a strong body to go with his strong mind, he set himself to creating a healthy physique.

Given a gun, he went out shooting. Then he studied taxidermy so he could stuff the creatures he bagged! He did many drawings of the animals he saw. When he was about 14, he traveled down the Nile on a houseboat with his family and hunted many  creatures,skinning and preserving them. Later we know he went on to create numerous national parks and wildlife preserves.

I read for the first time the specific account of his first marriage. I have read several other biographies of Roosevelt but found much new to me in this book. A good read!

 

Hospital Books

Had lots of time while recuperating from surgery and read  these books!

Homelands and Waterways   by  Adele Logan Alexander

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A family history that takes you back to the days of slavery and provides more than a chronicle of the Bond family’s move from the  South to Hyde Park. This book gives a comprehensive history or race relations, intermarriage and the changing nation from the antebellum South to the civil rights movement.

John Robert Bond (1846-1905)

John Robert Bond (1846-1905)

The Bond-Logan family had connections at various times with such figures as Booker T. Washington, W.E.B.Dubois and the Grimke family.  The story begins with John Robert Bond, born in Liverpool in  1846 to an Irish mother and a free black father. John Bond  immigrated to the U.S. , joined the Navy and fought in the Civil War until suffering severe injury.

One review has stated

a monumental history that traces the rise of an African-American family (the author’s own) from poverty to the middle class, exploding the stereotypes that have shaped and distorted our thinking about African Americans, both as slaves and in freedom.

http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/on-the-homefront/literature/homelands.html

The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City        by Jennifer Toth

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This was my second favorite of all the books I took into the hospital. It was amazing to realize so many people are living down there, creating controlled communities with leaders and a code of behavior. Not to say that there isn’t violence, filth and lawlessness.

Homeless people who fear abuse in shelters and prefer the underground, runaway kids surviving as a group where the older looks after the younger ones and finally those who dwell at the deepest level and never come out. The are said to have webbed feet and survive on rats and garbage.

Yet this is a anthropological study, carried out in a serious manner by a brave young woman. I can’t believe she kept going down to meet these people. Fascinating reading!

Gone      by Jonathan Kellerman

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I zipped through this mystery in a day. I enjoyed relaxing with it. Combi of psychiatrist Alex Delaware and L.A. homicide  detective Milo Sturgis are after a rather deranged killer!

forget you had a daughter        by Sandra  Gregory

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Spell-binding story of a young woman who makes just one mistake in judgment and pays for it in a big way. Incarcerated in a Thai prison for trying to smuggle a small amount of heroin out of the country,  Gregory is at times kept in solitary, beaten by other prisoners and nearly starved. I know this happens and yet it is shocking to read of her ordeal. Recommended reading!!

Peninsula of Lies: A True Story of Mysterious Birth and TABOO LOVE     by Edward Ball

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I am a big Edward Ball fan ever since I found his “Slaves in the Family” ( which I read twice. I also would recommend  “The Sweet Hell Inside.” The subject matter of this book was fascinating. Writer Gordon Hall was born in Britain and the midwife who delivered him had some difficulty in determining his sex! This leads him on a pursuit of his real self while living as a well-established citizen of conservative white Charleston in the 1960s.

Gordon Hall becomes Dawn Hall in an age when transgender operations were not heard of. “She” becomes the center of a media storm! IN his book, Edward Ball tries to determine if Gordon Hall was truly born with the sexual organs of both genders as he claimed.

I was disappointed in this book as it was kind of sketchy in the material and detail that always makes Ball’s biographies so great!

Last but maybe best of all..

The Inventor and the Tycoon     by Edward Ball

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Just great! If you are interested in the development of early photography, from daguerreotypes  and glass negatives to moving pictures, you’ll relish this story that took place in California 140 years ago. The “inventor” of the title, Eadweard Muybridge  (MY-BRIDGE) kept reinventing himself as often as he changed the spelling of his name. He took some of the earliest photos of Yosemite, lugging his huge camera up mountain trails!

Muybridge in Yosemite  (1868?)

Muybridge in Yosemite (1868?)

How did Muybridge come to shoot a man in cold blood and face a murder trial and yet survive to develop his projector which he named the “zoopraxiscope” and thrill audiences all over America and Europe with his moving picture shows? You’ll have to read this book to find out!

Muybridge's zoopraxiscope projector

Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope projector

 

Eadweard Muybridge

Eadweard Muybridge

 

At one point, Muybridge formed an association with Leland Stanford (founder of Stanford University) and was given funds to do a motion study on running horses. Stanford had racing horses which he kept in a huge stable in Palo Alto, He was intrigued to know whether all four feet of a horse actually leave the ground when running.

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Later in life, the artist Thomas Eakins helped Muybridge to get a position and funding at the University of Pennsylvania to do motion studies. He attracted some unwanted attention as he photographed not only animals but humans in motion in the nude.

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He published several books, but the most prized by collectors would be his 11 volume set of photographs published in limited edition. Among other subjects he photographed were early shots of San Francisco, the building of Stanford’s transcontinental railroad, and natives in Guatemala.

A fascinating man to read about and I highly recommend this book!

Or you might at least look at his motion photos and see his horse running at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eadweard_Muybridge

 

The Worst Hard Time

 

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by Timothy Egan

I had heard stories and seen film clips of this devastating period when parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico were turned into a dust bowl where no vegetation grew and all the topsoil was carried awaY by the wind. But I had no idea of the impact it had on people’s lives, on the nation and on the whole environment.

Dust storm in 1930s

Dust storm in 1930s

I read for the first time about “dust  pneumonia” killing toddlers and older people alike as the dust filtered deep into their lungs, destroying cells. Since the dust particles had a high silica content, it tore at the air sacs, eventually having the same effect that coal dust has on a miner.

Car buried in dust in Oklahoma

Car buried in dust in Oklahoma

Perhaps the most famous photo of dust bowl misery

Perhaps the most famous photo of dust bowl misery

The author makes history come alive by peopling the book with many rich and colorful characters. This book is truly readable history and I can’t recommend it enough!

Praying for Sheetrock

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by Melissa Fay Greene

Along the coastal waters of Georgia lies McIntosh County, a quiet country area that time had forgotten.Well into the 1970’s the town remained entirely segregated. Although black citizens were in the majority, no shops, no banks, no public offices employed any African Americans.  The town was controlled by a corrupt sheriff named Tom Poppell who continued to be elected year after year, handing out favors to his supporters.

Although the Civil Rights movement had spread across the country and brought great change, nothing had changed in this one pocket of the old South. Then one day, something happened that made the people stand up and face off with the sheriff. The chief of police had stuck his pistol in a man’s mouth and shot him, then locked him up without medical attention. Word spread and people began to gather. They chose Thurnell Alston. a decent family man who was deeply respected, for their spokesman.

What unfolds next is certainly not what I expected when I picked up this book. Yet, though somewhat disappointed in how things turn out, I found the author to be honest  in the telling, not trying to put a good face on things.

Although the title comes from one small unrelated incident in the book, it also reveals something about the corrupt ways of the white sheriff who distributes the bounty from trucking accidents to the needy residents. It was interesting to read about the particular events that finally make people  notice their situation and decide to change things.
It made me think back on my life and the series of events that brought me to finally free myself from oppression and abuse. It seems people stand things for many years and just one thing may happen to wake them up. Interesting reading.

This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer

by Kay Mills Fanniebook She was just an ordinary housewife living in Ruleville , Mississippi when she attended a meeting at Williams Chapel Church in 1962. After the sermon, a young man stepped up on the podium and urged the black parishioners to register to vote. This was a very dangerous thing to do, but Fannie was one of the few that raised her hand to do it. When she registered, the plantation owner kicked her out of her home. She had to leave her family behind.

Testifying before the Democratic convention

Testifying before the Democratic convention

Once set on the path to fight for freedom and equality, she never looked back. A devout Christian, she often kept everyone’s courage up by belting out  hymns like “Amazing Grace” or “His Eye is On the Sparrow” and her special favorite, “This Little Light of Mine”! Once she was severely beaten and left  in a cell without medical treatment, yet Fannie never wavered. She devoted herself to helping the poor blacks in the South to find housing and food as well as to register everyone to vote. Fannie2 Fannie Lou Hamer was black, poor, a woman and uneducated…but she impacted history and played a central role in the civil rights movement in America. She testified before the Democratic Convention in 1964n, protesting that the all white delegation did not truly represent the Mississippi constituency. Creating the Freedom Party, she ran for the State senate but was defeated. But just the fact that black candidates were put on the roster was an amazing feat in itself. Fannie4 I’m very glad that I read this book and got to know more about this very brave woman who inspires us to stand up for our  principles even if it means personal loss.