Tag Archive | history

“Covered Wagon Women: Diaries and Letters from the Western Trails, 1840-1849,” by Kenneth L. Holmes

a66f113add20f93c1d056d5bbcfa5a69

DSC01443

2e6dd00ecbaca1ce90de43d9e7888f9a

“Covered Wagon Women” is a fascinating non-fiction account of fourteen pioneer women traveling west in the 1840’s. The book was edited and compiled by historian Kenneth L. Holmes. It is a remarkable book in that it consists of primary source, unedited diary entries, letters and other correspondence. The editor left the women’s narratives unedited as the women actually wrote them, replete with original syntax, spelling, and punctuation, and the mistakes made therein.There are additional “Covered Wagon Women,” volumes in a series. I read volume two and found it equally compelling.These unedited first person narratives give the reader a genuine sense of who these women really were, what they were seeing, experiencing, and feeling. Of course the unbelievable hardship, birth, death and tragedy are heart wrenching, but these incredible women’s intelligence, courage and appreciation of the beauty of their experience is also made abundantly clear. The women’s observations are reminiscent of the biographies of the famous male explorers, at times scientifically dispassionate, as they keenly and in detail, describe the new flora and fauna, terrain, climate, and Native Americans they encounter. They were after all, explorers as well.

They are also most effective in relaying their feelings. Take for example this excerpt from Tabitha Brown about her experience traveling west in 1846, now left to her own devices as she struggles on with an old, feeble, near death companion who was unable to care for himself or offer her any assistance,

“Here the shades of night were gathering fast and I could see the wagon tracks no further. I alighted from my horse, flung off my saddle and saddle bags and tied him fast with a lasso rope to a tree…..his senses were gone…..I covered him as well as I could with blankets…and helped the old gentleman, expecting he would be a corpse by morning. Pause for a moment and consider my situation-worse than alone; in a strange wilderness; without food, without fire; cold and shivering; wolves fighting and howling all around me; darkness of night forbade the stars to shine upon me; solitary- all was solitary as death…. As soon as light had dawned, I pulled down my tent, saddled the horses, found the Captain so as to stand on his feet…”

And she continues on towards Oregon. Remarkable. And there are many more narratives like this in the book.

I read a lot of these non-fiction pioneer and Native American history books (more about these in a latter review) as I traveled recently through the west, crossing and re-crossing the Oregon and Santa Fe Trails. I read books about a woman homesteading alone on the prairie, the first homesteading couple in what is now Glacier National Park, another about a widow hiring a helper and traveling on the first trek over the Oregon trail where they broke the trail, a book about a woman and her family crossing the Mojave Desert and this incredible collection of women’s narratives and I realize we’ve all been robbed with the books, movies and folklore of “the old west,” that have focused on the cowboys and male explorers, and mostly ignored the incredible fortitude, bravery and contribution of these pioneer women.

Riveting reading. Highly recommend.

20070407_051921_op08pioneer1_300

DSC02464

“Endgame 1945: The Missing Final Chapter of World War II,” by David Stafford

2680653 (1)Endgame 1945 is an historical narrative told from the perspective of eyewitnesses, about the final three months after VE Day in Europe. It covers in fascinating detail events leading to the deaths of Hitler and Mussolini, the liberation of concentration camps and the challenges faced by allied occupying forces contending with the mass human trauma of war devastated Europe. It describes the Herculean task faced by relief agencies dealing with displaced persons and the traumas experienced by German women and children in Allied occupied Germany.
This book is a tour de force. Stafford is a brilliant writer and historian and his subject, these specific three months, has been mostly neglected by historians. This is a riveting, compelling read that is difficult to put down and stays with you long after you finish reading it. The extent of the trauma in Europe was mind boggling. The task of restoring order, Sisyphean. The heroism of the allies incredible and the suffering of so many hard to contemplate.
87408c1301d10a9bdc812743de94cd2f (Photo: Struthof Concentration Camp, C. Knoke).

HHhH by Laurent Binet

HHhH-Laurent-Binet-1024x873
I am addicted to reading about the history of WWII and I really wanted to like this book.
Binet’s book however frustrated me. The constant insertion of the author into the text and his continuous use of the word “I” was incredibly distracting. Who was this book about precisely, the author or Heydrich? The purported topic, Heydrich was interesting, the author’s pathos? Not so much.
His short chapter format consisting of 257 chapters, some of which were only a few sentences long, resulted in a choppy, stilted flow.
His constant debunking of historical novels, and their fictionalized aspects, gets a bit tired, but I found his statement that, “I am struck all the same by the fact that, in every case, fiction wins out over history,” provocative. But I also was then, confused by his many discussions of Hollywood movies about the era and his continuous insertion of fictionalized vignettes that he explained were to serve as examples of how he wasn’t fictionalizing. One senses he is really fascinated with historical fictionalized accounts but thinks he is doing something far superior. I think he may not have achieved this goal.
He is an interesting, intelligent man, and this should have been a better book.
If you want a recommendation for a riveting read on the era, try, “Endgame, 1945: The Missing Final Chapter of World War II,” by David Stafford.

Review of the best book I’ve read yet on the aftermath of WWII in Europe

Struthof Concentration Camp February 2010

Endgame 1945: The Missing Final Chapter of WWII     by David Stafford

Endgame 1945 is an historical narrative told from the perspective of eyewitnesses, about the final three months after VE Day in Europe.  It covers in detail events leading to the deaths of Hitler and Mussolini, the liberation of concentration camps and the challenges faced by allied occupying forces contending with the mass human trauma of war devastated Europe. It describes the Herculean task faced by relief agencies dealing with displaced persons and the traumas experienced by German women and children in Allied occupied Germany.
This book is a tour de force. Stafford is a brilliant writer and historian and his subject, these specific three months, has been mostly neglected by historians. This is a riveting, compelling read that is difficult to put down and stays with you long after you finish reading it. The extent of the trauma in Europe was mind boggling. The task of restoring order, sisyphean. The heroism of the allies incredible and the suffering of so many hard to contemplate.
Highly recommend.