History & Politics

Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army and Other Diabolical Insects by Amy Stewart

Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army and Other Diabolical Insec
The amateur naturalist in me was piqued when this book came up in my Goodreads list. I was certainly not disappointed. Wicked Bugs is a fascinating presentation of the darker side of our relationship with bugs. Amy Stewart presents a small sampling the most dangerous, painful, destructive and horrible ones that humans have encountered. 
 
Bugs have indeed changed the course of history from the louse that wiped out Napoleon’s army during the French Invasion of Russia to the locust that wiped out crops in the Great Plains. You cannot read this book without developing a deeper respect for nature or learning something new. 

John Randolph of Roanoke by David Johnson

John Randolph of Roanoke by David Johnson

"One of the most eccentric and accomplished politicians in all of American history, John Randolph (1773--1833) led a life marked by controversy. The long-serving Virginia congressman and architect of Southern conservatism grabbed headlines with his prescient comments, public brawls, and clashes with every president from John Adams to Andrew Jackson. The first biography of Randolph in nearly a century, John Randolph of Roanoke provides a full account of the powerful Virginia planter's hard-charging life and his impact on the formation of conservative politics."

Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

book cover for pirate cinema by cory doctorow

Leave it to Cory Doctorow, author, blogger, and technology activist-extraordinaire, to weave a story that successfully blends coming-of-age woes, homelessness, national politics, copyright law, cooking, gadgetry, love, overcoming homophobia, civil disobedience, film-making, mashups, public speaking, the judicial system, beer and coffee brewing, cryptography, and oh so, so much more into a wonderfully geeky, heart-wrenching, page-turning bang-up novel that people of all ages should read.  This book is full of such big, exquisite ideas to learn about that you’ll be Googling your fingers off through the entire story and I mean that in the best way possible.  You will learn reading Pirate Cinema and you will love this as much as you love the characters. 

"A Rich Spot of Earth" Thomas Jefferson's Revolutionary Garden at Monticello by Peter J. Hatch

"A Rich Spot of Earth" Thomas Jefferson's Revolutionary Garden at Monticello by

“But tho’ an old man, I am but a young gardener.”

—Letter from retired President Thomas Jefferson to famed portrait painter Charles Willson Peale

Author Peter Hatch has been the Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello since 1977.  When Annie Leibovitz came to historic site, she chose to photograph his hands, which have spent decades re-envisioning and recreating Jefferson’s beloved garden.  “A Rich Spot of Earth” is a stunning visual and verbal tribute to both the historic gardens and their careful recovery.  Follow these links to learn more about Monticello’s historic gardens and its Center for Historic Plants.

Fredericksburg in Revolutionary Days: Part III

Source: The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Apr., 1919), pp. 248-257.  Parts I and II may also be read online. 

FREDERICKSBURG IN REVOLUTIONARY DAYS

(Concluded)

PART III.

We come now to the record of one of the most important of Virginia's institutions for the prosecution of the war: the manufactory of small arms established by ordinance of the Convention of July, 1775. The facts here presented are those discovered in files of correspondence at present in the Department of Archives of the Virginia State Library, Richmond. There are large gaps in the record of this manufactory: the books and papers of the director seem to have wholly disappeared, and we are forced to rely on the ordinance of Convention establishing this institution, a few subsequent laws and single documents for its history prior to September, 1780; but, from that time forward there remains the correspondence of Charles Dick, on whose shoulders rested the burden of keeping up this institution.

The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History by Jason Vuic

The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History by Jason Vuic

The Yugo was a small car made in the former nation of Yugoslavia that survives in the American consciousness as the ultimate automotive failure.  Poorly engineered, ugly, and cheap, it survived much longer as a punch line for comedians than it did as a vehicle on the roads.  The story of how this particular car became the most hated vehicle in the U.S. is a comedy of errors detailed in Jason Vuic’s book, The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History.  A bewildering array of capitalist hucksters and impoverished communists desperate for revenue collaborated to create the Yugo, and what could have been a great international relations victory of the Cold War was ruined the moment consumers and auto critics actually got to drive it. Vuic examines the many failures of the Yugo venture and the people involved with a keen journalistic eye and a razor-sharp wit, making this a great read for anyone interested in automotive history or 1980s nostalgia.

New Documentary, Death and the Civil War, on PBS

On Tuesday, September 18, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Antietam--the single bloodiest day of battle on American soil, PBS’ American Experience will premiere a new NEH-funded documentary, Death and the Civil War, by six-time Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Ric Burns.

Based on the book This Republic of Suffering by historian Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard University and the National Endowment for the Humanities’ 2011 Jefferson Lecturer, the documentary examines how the unprecedented death toll and carnage of the war challenged American cultural attitudes about death and fundamentally transformed federal government policies towards soldiers.

Pulitzer Prize-winning Author Lectures on His New John Brown Book, Midnight Rising

Midnight Rising by Tony Horwitz

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tony Horwitz will lecture on his new book, Midnight Rising, on Sunday, Sept. 23, at 2 p.m. at the Culpeper County Library.

The Eye of the Storm, written and illustrated by Private Robert Knox Sneden

Eye of the Storm

Private Sneden of the 40th New York of the Army of the Potomac served his country in several ways. He was assigned work as a quartermaster, but within days his talent and persistence at sketches and maps brought him to the attention of General Sedgwick who quickly put him to work.  The Eye of the Storm combines his unusually detailed journal and often full-color drawings with excellent commentary from Virginia historians. This volume captures his journey from battlefields to encampments to the horrors of Andersonville prison.

The Forgotten History of America: Little-Known Conflicts of Lasting Importance from the Earliest Colonists to the Eve of the Revolution by Cormac O’Brien

The Forgotten History of America by Cormac O'Brien

History, particularly popular history, need not be dull, something that Cormac O’Brien demonstrates readily in his book, The Forgotten History of America. Written in a conversational tone and broken into vignettes, old history is made new when written this way. Even so, it’s not the standard stuff taught in schools. It’s about wars and both sides in those wars, reaching back to the country’s colonial beginnings in the 16th century. With personalities writ large on both sides and a good understanding of the differences in modern and historical society, O’Brien leads his readers on journeys back in time:

It begins with the first permanent European settlement in North America:

1565

Pedro Menedez de Aviles anxiously paced the deck of his flagship, San Pelayo. Two days earlier, off the coast of Florida, he had gone ashore and met with Indians who offered valuable information about the prey he was desperately seeking.  Now, confident of success, he led his five vessels northward along the coastline, scanning the beaches for any sign of European settlement.  The day was September 4, 1565, and Menendez was hunting heretics.