Posts tagged ‘American History’

February 27th, 2015

Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist

by Gwen



To compliment my earlier review, The Great New Orleans Kidnapping, let’s turn the clock forward a bit from 1870 to the turn of the century and Empire of Sin.

Have you ever heard of Storyville in New Orleans? I had only because of my interest in WWI and had read a bit about how the War Department played a big part in making Storyville a thing of the past. Well, Gary Krist has taken on how it was before vice was “contained” in New Orleans, what happened when it was, and how it ended up just another interesting way to deal with vice that was abandoned. The best part is he does it in a way that isn’t all in your face with salacious specifics. It is so tasteful that you could be reading a story about how Detroit became the motor city, a subject much less objectionable.

Prostitution is/was, at the end of the day, a business and in the Victorian era and for a period after it was more or less seen as a needed thing that will-not-be-named in gentile company. So what is an up and coming city supposed to do? New Orleans decided that no longer would the pleasure palaces be scattered around the city willy nilly and while they didn’t think they could lick it entirely, the fine city leaders (some of them brothel owners themselves or at least backed by the owners) came up with the idea to corral it in one specific area. Genius right? Okay, perhaps not in today’s way of thinking, but it worked for many years for them.

There were murders, bumbling cops, paid off city and state leaders, a brothel owner in the State house, and even the aging Carrie Nation came by, set aside her ax, and had tea with a lady brothel owner. It was what it was and Krist’s take on it allows you to learn without feeling like you have to hide the book in last week’s New Yorker.

I said it last time and I’ll say it again, New Orleans has an amazing history of acceptance and in the South at that period of time, that is saying a heck of a lot. Read it…now.

Sort of Like Gwen's Signature

April 20th, 2011

A Professor, A President, and A Meteor by Cathryn J. Prince

by Gwen

With a title like that, I expected a clash of titans. However, the subtitle, The Birth of American Science, is a lot closer to the meat of the book.

A meteor hit Weston, Connecticut in 1807 and a fledgling American scientific community ran to explain meteors, once and for all. Professor Benjamin Silliman led the charge and did what no man of science in America had yet been able to do. He put America on the map scientifically speaking.

The history of scientific respectability in the book is interesting and there are insights of Jefferson that I have never come across before. However, there was no clash of titans and more information about meteors than I ever wanted to learn. Now if you like meteors or at least curious about them, this would be a great read.

It was more of a gradual story of the the growing independence of the United States, how meteors were looked at through the years, the rise of the scientific community’s view of American science, a new view of Jefferson, a fairly brief history of the politics at the time, and a biography of Professor Silliman. That is a lot of information to pack into 254 pages. Somehow it works for Prince; it just didn’t work for me as a reader.

Maybe this dislike is my fault, I shouldn’t have led myself to expect a shootout of O.K. Corral proportions. Jefferson never came out publically to question Professor Silliman’s findings. There was no struggle between the two really. Jefferson simply sent another man that he personally trusted to check it out. He did what most of us would do when confronted with a whole new scientific theory; he sought the opinion of people that he knew.

I also should add that while I am a fan of science in my reads, I am not really a fan of anything space related like meteors. I have always felt that there is enough stuff going on down here, on the ground, to study, explain, and in the case of medical science, cure or at least ease suffering.

This book would have been a lot better for me if I hadn’t had such expectations from the title. The highlight for me was the glimpse of Jefferson as more human, less mythic man of science and American history. If you love meteors, I would highly recommend it. If not, you might want to take a pass.

A Professor, A President, and A Meteor by Cathryn J. Prince

  • Hardcover: 254 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (December 7, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 9781616142247
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616142247
  • I did find a couple of other reviews and commentaries of the book in case you are interested.

    August 23rd, 2010

    Review~ 97 Orchard by Jane Ziegelman

    by Gwen

    97 Orchard by Jane Ziegelman

    An edible history of five immigrant families in one New York tenement

    Special note: Do not read this on an empty stomach or when your cupboards are bare.

    Looking for a read that deals with food history, cooking, immigration in the 19th and early 20th century, New York tenements, the Potato Famine, and the expansion of unorthodox Judaism? Congratulations, you can find it all with 97 Orchard!

    Ziegelman starts with the Glockner family in 1863 and follows the tenents through the Baldizzi family in 1935. It is such a cool way to look at the history, from the viewpoint of one particular address. The building itself was also somewhat unique because it was built by immigrants for immigrants. Most tenements on the East Side were built by wealthy natives for use by people of the lower class. Lucas Glockner built the building and with his family, lived in it for over a decade, renting out the other apartments. Eventually, his son married the daughter of a tenant and moved back in with his family.

    I mentioned that the book will make you hungry. Right off the bat there is a recipe for hasenpfeffer, a ragout made from wild rabbit and one for veal stew. Later, while looking in on the Rogarshevsky family, there is a recipe for challah and I have already tried the Baldizzi family’s zucchini frittata and it was fabulous. The stories are mixed in with the evolution of food in the immigrant families.

    It is hard to imagine how people could live and thrive in tenement buildings. There was no running water, often no bathrooms, you had to use a privy outside, times were hard and children were many. However, these families did thrive and many left their story to be told through the foods they brought over with them from their homelands.

    97 Orchard was easier to read than your run of the mill nonfiction because the pace kept moving and it didn’t get mired in day to day details. There was a lot of information and that kept me interested….and hungry. I may just have to feature a recipe or three in an upcoming post.

    97 Orchard by Jane Ziegelman

    Hardcover: 272 pages

    Publisher: Smithsonian; 1 edition (June 1, 2010)

    ISBN-10: 0061288500

    ISBN-13: 978-0061288500


    July 15th, 2010

    Review ~ Triangle: The Fire that Changed America by David Von Drehle

    by Gwen


    On March 25, 1911, 146 people died at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City. 6 of them were never identified. Many of those dead died from jumping out of the windows fleeing the fire; jumping seemed better than being burned alive.

    A woeful lack of fire inspections, fire safety equipment, locked doors, rescue ladders too short to reach upper floors, and other flagrant miscalculations led to the deaths. Unions, still in their infancy, had been striving for better pay & shorter hours, but often, far down the line on their lists of demands was safety. Besides, they still weren’t that effective on getting manufacturers to listen to them. When they called a strike, employers had millions of other immigrant workers eager to fill in as scabs.

    Cheap manual laborers were a plenty in the early 1900’s. Every day ships were coming in from all over the world and they needed the work. Not to put too fine a point on it, but people were cattle. They were necessary to the manufacturers, but any worker would do. The real problem was society. The workers had no voice because they had no political pull and no money to get that political pull. They. Didn’t. Matter.

    After the Triangle fire, many people from other areas of society were finally made aware of the plight of the lowly worker. Politicians, especially Tammany Hall, took notice as well, because the workers could represent a rather large voting block if they came to their aid. Within 2 years Legislation had been passed addressing fire safety, including automatic sprinklers, fire drills, women and children were given new protections, and the amazing 54-hour-work-week –bill.

    While everyone was still out for blood, the owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory were tried for one of the deaths on the day of the fire. The trial work and evidence was fairly sloppy and they were acquitted. Still, the rest of the workers of New York really reaped the benefits of the changes that the fire started. Stronger unions and stronger laws protecting buildings, owners, & ultimately the workers won. Oh, but at what a price. 146 dead, 6 with no name to this day.

    This book was interesting because it wasn’t just a play-by-play of the fire. The first portion talks about the strikes in the garment industry just prior to the fire. It sets the stage, you might say, for what they were fighting for and what was to come.

    Personally, I tend to be anti-union, but this taught me that they did and do have their time and place. They aren’t all about money and better pay, they fight for decency, safety, and a level playing field. If only they had been able to fight a bit longer in the garment worker strikes of 1910 & 1911, 146 people might not have died. If only manufacturers had gotten their money grubbing heads out of the asses a bit faster and stopped treating their workers like cattle, 146 people might not have died.

    The fire brought on a whole new wave in government called the Progressive Movement. FDR became a progressive at this time and later, his New Deal was a completely Progressive plan.

    Interesting read, not just about the fire, but the beginning labor struggles in our country. I will warn you, the beginning was a bit slow for me. There was quite a bit of information about the strikes prior to getting into the actual fire. It was important though to see the bigger picture of just how much a catalyst those 146 lives were.

    Triangle: The Fire that Changed America by David Von Drehle

  • Paperback: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press (August 16, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080214151X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802141514
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    May 12th, 2010

    A Nation Rising by Kenneth C. Davis

    by Gwen

    A Nation Rising: Untold Tales of Flawed Founders, Fallen Heroes, and Forgotten Fighters from America's Hidden History
    Untold Tales of Flawed Founders, Fallen Heroes, and Forgotten Fighters from America’s Hidden History
    This is the second book of Davis’ that I have read and I have to say that I liked this one a lot better. (the other was America’s Hidden History)

    Davis is an artist at turning small seldom known events in American history into easy to digest, about 20-25 page, stories that hold your interest and leaving you questioning your own knowledge of the
    US. Those nuggets also lead me to want to know more and that is perhaps, what I enjoy so much about his work.

    A Nation Rising, focusing on 1800 through 1850, includes the tale of Aaron Burr’s trial for treason, Major Francis Dade’s massacre by Indians in the area that would later be named Dade County, Florida, a brave woman’s , Jessie Freemont, journey to the gold rush in California through the treacherous Isthmus of Panama, and more.

    The chapter that intrigued me the most was Morse’s Code. Did you know that Samuel F. B. Morse, the guy that came up with the Morse Code, was a fervent anti-Catholic? In just 35 pages, Kenneth C. Davis explained to me something that I had been struggling to understand for years, why our nation was so fervently opposed to Catholics or what many at the time called Romanism/papism.

    Any book that can explain something that I have been perplexed over for years in just a few pages, is golden in my life. The other thing that Davis does so well is showing us the men behind the myths in history. Our founding fathers and other bright lights in American history were human. They did great things, but the things that are often hidden over time are just as important in understanding these men. No real person is perfect and the myths that we build up around our fearless leaders often make them seem infallible and therefore, makes it really hard to see them in our own lives. Davis shows the men, warts and all and that makes what they achieved not only more grand, but makes it seem possible that we could achieve great things in our own imperfect lives.

    Bravo Kenneth C. Davis!

    A Nation Rising by Kenneth C. Davis

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Smithsonian (May 11, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 0061118206
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061118203