A People’s History of the United States

Howard Zinn


It took me 20 years to get around to reading this book which has been printed in 75 editions by now! It is a great history of things not covered in our school books… unionizing the coal industry, women’ suffrage, anti-war protest and much more.

This updated version covered through the 2000 election, a much disputed one between Bush and Gore! Although the writer is biased toward socialism, it definitely gives us  a lot to think about.

Now I know the difference between the AFL ( a union for skilled workers) and the CIO, or Congress for Industrial Organization, a union of unskilled workers organized by industry. Sit-downs strikes in the 1930s achieved a minimum wage, a forty-hour week and child labor laws.

The red scare of the 1950s when school children were given air raid drills in fear of an atomic bomb attack from Russia is something I recall form my childhood. The McCarthy hearings, the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1950 and the Truman doctrine were all part of a widespread fear of Communism taking over hte world.

I’ll keep this on my bookshelf and will re-read parts of it I’m sure! 








Ghosts of Mississippi

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Maryanne  Vollers

Not as well known as Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers was a civil rights activist and head of the NAACP in Jackson , Mississippi in hte early 1960s. He was just 37 years old when he was gunned down in front of his own home in 1963.  His wife and children watched him die in his own front yard.

A WWII veteran who fought in France, Evers returned .to his hometown after the war. He was shocked that many soldiers risked their lives for America, but weren’t allowed to register to vote. If a brave soul attempted to go to the courthouse and register, they were told to recite the Constitution as a literacy test.

Vollers writing pulls  you into the narrative and keeps  you reading as she tells the story of Medgar Ever’s life and also the struggle for justice. It took over 30 years to convict the white supremist killer.

I highly recommend this very readable and engrossing book that brings an era to life.  As Evers’ son said at his father’s grave in Arlington, many people remember Malcolm and Martin, but “forget the other M.” Medgar Evers should not be forgotten. He stood up for his beliefs in an era when it wasn’t yet done.



Gellhorn: A Twentieth Century Life

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In the 1930s, the Spanish Civil War was a cause which inspired many idealistic young Americans to go and fight against Franco’s Nationalist regime. Martha was quite young but had published several pieces in well-known magazines. She was sent to Paris to work in the United Press bureau. After returning to America,she met Hemingway in 1936 and they agreed to go to Spain to cover the war for Collier’s Weekly.


Collier’s Weekly with an article by Gellhorn

What she saw there had a great impact on the young Bryn Mawr graduate. Gellhorn later married Hemingway and they lived together off and on for four years but more important , she always seemed to be in the right place at just the right moment in history.


She covered the rise of Hitler in Czechoslovakia in 1930 and was the only female journalist present at the Omaha Beach landing on D-Day.  Managing ot be among the first reporters at the liberation of the Dachau death camp in 1945, she saw things that affected her for the rest of her life.

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Gellhorn covered the Vietnam war for the Atlantic monthly in the 1960’s and 1970’s. She always focused on how ordinary people were affected by the war rather than on military advances or troop numbers. She visited orphanages and hospitals and talked to people on the street. This gave her articles a very personal and unique touch.


Gellhorn Older

Active into her 80’s, she covered war in Central America and kept writing and traveling. I was amazed that she traveled to Brazil to write about the murder of street children when she was 85 years old. I believe she was a strong and independent woman and I came away from this book with a deep admiration for her.




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!



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.


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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: