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Uncertain Glory by Lea Wait

Uncertain Glory is middle grade historical fiction set in Maine as the Civil War is about to begin. Joe Wood is a sixteen year old newspaper publisher, with his own printing equipment, a newspaper that is has built up a small but faithful readership, a few printing jobs on the side, and a large debt that is due in just a few days. Joe borrowed the money to buy his printing press and other materials, and now he’s working hard to pay back the lender.

Until now the news in Joe’s sleepy town of Wiscasset, Maine has been just that–slow and sleepy. But now, in April 1861, things are stirring. Nell, a young spiritualist, has come to town to give readings to people trying to contact their loved ones “on the other side.” And there’s talk of war as the country heads for a violent confrontation in South Carolina.

The story moved a bit slowly for me. Perhaps it was the story, or maybe just my mood. At any rate, I wasn’t drawn into the time period and the characters and their stories as I often am in the best historical fiction. Joe, his best friend Charlie, Owen the colored boy who helps out at the newspaper office, and Nell the medium were all a little insipid and dull. I would say that rather than being character-driven or plot-dirven, the story was “history-driven”, and although I like history, I didn’t find much new or exciting in the book. Others not as familiar with Civil War history or those who want a book that focuses on the role of Maine soldiers and civilians in the war might find it fascinating.

I did like the details of the work it took to publish a newspaper back in the days before computer typesetting or even linotype. It takes the boys hours and hours to set the type to print even a small newspaper:

“Even with Owen’s and Charlie’s help, it took all of Monday afternoon and evening to write up the news, set it in type, and print it on both sides of a two-page Herald.”

Then they have to go out and sell the paper door to door themselves. The amount of work it took to do anything 150 years ago must have bred patience. And now I can type up a blog post in half an hour, and I think that’s a long time.

I’d recommend Uncertain Glory to those who have an interest in the Civil War time period and to those who might enjoy the story of an enterprising young man. The story of Joe’s industry and of what it took to run a business is worthwhile and might be inspirational for some young entrepreneur of today.

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This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson.

Speaking of hurricanes, as I was a few dye ago, Mr. Larson also wrote Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, about the infamous Galveston hurricane of 1900. The Devil in the White City, set in about the same time period, The Gilded Age 1893, is about a very different kind of man-made disaster, a “perfect storm” of assassination, serial killing, and inflated ambition.

“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized.” ~architect and world’s fair designer Daniel Burnham.

The plan for the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s landing in the Americas, was no little plan. Daniel Burnham and his partner John Wellborn Root were the lead architects for the fair, which was seen as Chicago’s and indeed the United States’ opportunity to outshine and outdo the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889-90. The pièce de résistance of the Paris Exposition was French engineer Gustave Eiffel’s La Tour Eiffel, at the time billed as “the tallest edifice ever erected by man” and still to this day the tallest structure in the city of Paris.

“The most marvelous exhibit of modern times or ancient times has now just closed successfully at Paris. Whatever you do is to be compared with that. If you equal it you have made a success. If you surpass it you have made a triumph. If you fall below it you will be held responsible by the whole American people for having assumed what you are not equal to. Beware! Take care!” ~Chauncey Depew, New York railroad tycoon upon the awarding of the world’s fair to Chicago.

So a fantastic, superlative, financially successful, and hugely admired show and exposition was the goal. And Burnham and Root had less than two years from the awarding of the fair to Chicago to put this grand spectacle into place. This half of the book was fascinating and informative.

Intertwined with the story of the building and opening of the world’s fair was the much darker story of a serial killer who operated a house of horrors in Chicago only a few miles from the fair itself. The house of horrors was ostensibly a boarding house/hotel, but it had a number of rather macabre features, such as gas jets in some of the rooms, controlled by the proprietor, and a walk-in furnace in the basement. This part of the story depressed me. Such evil in the shadow of such an ambitious endeavor!

At any rate, the book gives a vivid picture of turn of the century Chicago and the height of the Gilded Age. Mr. Larson is an excellent writer, and if the descriptions of murder and mayhem were a bit too vivid at times, it could be blamed on the actual historical material. Herman Webster Mudgett, aka H.H. Holmes, was an evil man, a sociopath and a man who delighted in deception and murder. How could a book that is partly about his crimes be anything but lurid and depressing?

Does anyone in or from Illinois have a suggestion for my Nonfiction of the States list that would be more representative of the state, not as depressing, but still just as interesting and informative?

Other nonfiction books set in about the same time period (1890-1910), with overlapping characters and events:
American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the Birth of the “It” Girl, and the Crime of the Century by Paula Uruburu.
Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America by Linda Lawrence Hunt.
Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson.

Related fiction, 1890-1910:
Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. This book is the fictional version of The Devil in the White City, except I don’t remember the World’s Fair figuring into the story, and Carrie doesn’t get murdered. She just gets seduced and ruined. Reading these two books together, The Devil in the White City and Sister Carrie, would produce an excellent book club discussion.
Unleavened Bread by Robert Grant.
Beautiful Dreamer by Joan Naper. Reviewed at Reading the Past.
The Great Wheel by Robert Lawson. Newbery honor fiction about an Irish worker who helped build the great Ferris wheel in Chicago in 1893.
The Pit by Frank Norris. Wheat speculation and the commodities market in Chicago.

Ocean of Fire by T. Neill Anderson

Ocean of Fire: The Burning of Columbia, 1865 by T. Neill Anderson.

If you’re a Civil War buff, even a little inclined in that direction, you must read this somewhat fictionalized story of General Sherman’s capture of the city of Columbia, South Carolina during his “March to the Sea” and the subsequent conflagration that burned the city to the ground. I say “fictionalized” because the author has filled in dialogue and even thoughts that he could not be privy to but could reasonably assume from the available sources. However, the events and characters in the book are real, and their actions are as verified as possible.

Mr. Anderson says that he “relied heavily on the moving, haunting, and tragic first-person accounts of Emma LeConte, Joseph Le Conte, and the Reverend Anthony Toomer Porter.” Indeed, the book basically focuses on the stories of Emma, her father Joseph, and the Rev. Porter. And their stories were moving, haunting, and tragic. I kept picturing the burning of Atlanta in Gone with the Wind as I read about how Columbia burned in much the same way as her Georgia counterpart.

General Sherman, who famously said “war is hell” and who determined to make sure it truly was for the areas of the South that he conquered, has a lot to answer for in the hereafter. He and General Ulysses S. Grant “believed that the Civil War would end only if the Confederacy’s strategic, economic, and psychological capacity for warfare were decisively broken.” (Wikipedia, Sherman’s March to the Sea) Perhaps they were right. The girl, Emma, is pictured in this book as harboring a “white-hot hatred” for the Yankees,and none of the Southerners whose stories are featured are ready to surrender, either before or after the burning of their city which they, of course, blame on the drunken Yankee army. There is some possibility that the Confederates themselves were responsible for starting the fire. No one really knows, and the book doesn’t settle the question.

Another mystery is left unsettled, and I would really like to know the answer: who was the mysterious soldier named Charles Davis? Was he possibly a Confederate spy or did he work for the Yankees? After the city’s collapse he seems to have mysteriously disappeared. Where did he go?

Ocean of Fire is T. Neill Anderson’s second book of his Horrors of History series. The first book in the series, which I have not read but should, is City of the Dead: Galveston Hurricane, 1900.

The 4th Gift of Christmas at Wounded Knee Creek, 1891

Despite heart-warming stories such as the Christmas Truce of 1914 and the redemption of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Christmas and its message of “peace on earth, goodwill to men”, does not always bring about compassion nor does it everywhere restrain evil.

“In late 1891, Tibbles and Susette [La Flesche] traveled to Pine Ridge, on of the Sioux reservations in southwestern South Dakota. Many had fled the reservation, fearful of the soldiers who’d come to quell any disturbances aroused by the Ghost Dance. Starving Indians danced to bring the savior, to se departed loved ones living again, and to see the whites driven away and a new earth returned, once again home to free Indians, the buffalo, the elk, and the antelope.

On Christmas Eve, soldiers slaughtered a band of Indians camped near Wounded Knee Creek; they were under Chief Big Foot and included men, women, and children. In one of the darkest moments of her life, Susette helped care for the survivors that escaped to Pine Ridge.”
~Women of the Frontier by Brandon Marie Miller

And this episode and other like it illustrate why we need more than a message from angels, more than the moral law that we know to be true: we need a Savior.

Today’s Gifts from Semicolon
A song: “I understand Christmas as I understand Bach’s Sleepers Awake or Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. . . When I am able to pray with the mind in the heart, I am joyfully able to affirm the irrationality of Christmas.” ~Madeleine L’Engle

A booklist: A Madeleine L’Engle Annotated Bibliography

A birthday: Nick Vujicic, Serbian Australian evangelist and motivational speaker, b. 1982.

A verse: God Knows by Minnie Louise Haskins.

“The President Has Been Shot!” by James L. Swanson

51Km7NeeU2L._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_On the evening of November 22, 2013, I was reading, not an unusual activity for me. But instead of reading C.S. Lewis or any of the many novels that I want to finish, I was reading one of the Cybils YA nonfiction books that was nominated this year. “The President Has Been Shot!” The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James L. Swanson was the sad story of what happened in Dallas fifty years ago, and I was reminded of the fragility of human life and the sinfulness of mankind.

Yes, I remember where I was when I heard the news of Kennedy’s death. Unfortunately for my reputation for perfect recall, I remember incorrectly. I was in first grade in 1963, but for some reason I have a vivid memory of being in my second grade classroom with my second grade teacher, Mrs. Bouska, announcing to us that the president had been shot. I’m not sure why my first grade memory has transposed itself in time into second grade, but there it is. Memory is unreliable.

So we have books—to record the memories and the events and keep us honest. A lot of the information in this book I either never knew or I didn’t remember. I had no idea that Kennedy was shot through the back of the head and his head either fell or was pulled into Jackie Kennedy’s lap where she held pieces of his brain in her hands all the way to Parkland Hospital. Gruesome. Then, it was also rather grisly and horrific to read that Jackie refused to change her blood-stained clothes all that day, saying repeatedly, “I want them to see what they’ve done.” People certainly do grieve and react in different ways to shocking, appalling events.

“History is more than a narrative of what happened at a particular moment in time—it is also the story of how events were reported to, and experienced by, the people who lived through them.” (For Further Reading, p.240) Mr. Swanson does a particularly good job of giving readers a feel for the time period and the way newspapers, magazines, radio, and television reported on the death of the president. Black and white photographs interspersed throughout the book add to the verisimilitude of the story, transporting readers into the early 1960’s when color television was still not in widespread use and newspapers and many magazines were filled with black and white photographs.

Swanson’s 2009 nonfiction tale of an assassination, Chasing Lincoln’s Killer, was adapted from his adult book, Manhunt. “The President Has Been Shot!” was written specifically for the YA market, and it shines as an example of a nonfiction history narrative that doesn’t talk down to teen readers and yet keeps the detail to a level that suits young people who may be new to the subject of the Kennedy assassination. I highly recommend the book for students of history and politics who want a simple but thorough summary of the background of Kennedy’s presidency and the events surrounding and leading up to his assassination.

Women of the Frontier by Brandon Marie Miller

51aDnzTnIKL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Women of the Frontier: 16 Tales of Trailblazing Homesteaders, Entrepreneurs, and Rabble-Rousers by Brandon Marie Miller.

This collective biography/history was a fascinating book, although I found myself skimming the explanatory material at the beginning of each chapter to go directly to the stories of the women themselves. Some of the women I knew something about: Margret Reed, a survivor of the ill-fated Donner Party; Narcissa Whitman, missionary to Oregon; Carry Nation, prohibition campaigner; and Cynthia Ann Parker, captive of the Comanches and mother to Quanah Parker, famous Comanche chief.

Even about these women I learned new things:
According to the author, Narcissa Whitman grew to nearly despise the Native Americans she traveled to Oregon to minister to and convert.

After years of “smashing” saloons to protest the evils of alcohol, Carry Nation settled in Eureka Springs, Arkansas and opened a home for the (abused) wives of alcoholics. The home was called Hatchet Hall.

Indian captive Cynthia Ann Parker was taken back from the Comanches when her son Quanah was only twelve years old, and she thought he was dead. She did not know that he became a great warrior chief of the Comanche.

Then, there were the many seemingly ordinary, actually extraordinary, women who managed to survive a life of hardship and vicissitudes that would have put me into an early grave. Amelia Stewart Knight traversed the Oregon Trail, “out of one mud hole into another all day.” And she was four months pregnant when she and her husband and their seven children left Iowa to head for Oregon. Luzena Wilson learned that she could make more money by cooking and cleaning for the 49ers in the California gold fields than she or her husband could by mining. Then, she learned by experience with both that a fire or flood could destroy everything she had built and earned, and she learned to start all over again.

Mary Lease fought for government regulation of the railroads, the graduated income tax, the direct election of senators, and suffrage for women. She lived to see all of these things enshrined in law. Sarah Winnemucca and Susette La Flesche, on the other hand, both championed the rights of Native Americans, but lived to see most of the promises of the U.S. government to the Native peoples broken and the Native people themselves mistreated and disrespected.

I was inspired and a bit humbled by the stories of these ladies. Again, I’m not sure how I would have done, given their circumstances and faced with their choices. I’d like to say that I would have persevered and made a life despite the difficulties and adversities they faced, but I don’t really know.

Said one Kansas woman:

“It might seem a cheerless life, but there were many compensations: the thrill of conquering a new country; the wonderful atmosphere; the attraction of the prairie, which simply gets into your bloom and makes you dissatisfied away from it; the low-lying hills and the unobstructed view of the horizon; and the fleecy clouds driven by the never failing winds.”

Maybe those things, and more, were enough.

Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin

Well, this episode in history was news to me. At the same time, actually on election night, that Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was in a neck-in-neck election race with Democrat Samuel Tilden, a group of counterfeiters became would-be grave robbers. Their plan was to steal the body of America’s favorite and perhaps most revered president, Abraham Lincoln, and hold it for ransom.

Although the grave robbers come across in the book as incompetent at best, criminally idiotic at worst, the plot was real, as were the guns the criminals carried to Lincoln’s tomb on that election night in 1876. They were serious, and the Secret Service agents who were determined to catch them red-handed were just as deadly serious. Not only does the reader get to read about a little known historical crime, but also we get a vocabulary lesson in criminal and counterfeiting jargon of the late nineteenth century. How many of the following words can you define? (There’s a glossary in the back of the book to help those of us who are unfamiliar with criminal underworld vocabulary.)

Boodle game or boodle carrier
Coney or coney man
Shover
Cracksman
Hanging bee
Resurrectionist
Roper
Ghouls
To pipe (someone)
Bone orchard

And what would you think of reading the following sentence in your local newspaper about a group of escaped criminals?

“If human ingenuity can track them it will be done. It is earnestly hoped that the double-distilled perpetrators of this attempted robbery of the remains of America’s most loved President will soon be brought to justice.” ~reporter John English in The Chicago Tribune

Double-distilled perpetrators? My, how writing styles have changed!

I enjoyed Lincoln’s Grave Robbers mostly as look into history and the almost comical antics of both criminals and police in the post-Civil War time period. The politicians and journalists were somewhat hapless and disorganized as well. On the other hand, I hope that counterfeiters nowadays are not as successful as they back in the late 1800’s. Sheinkin notes that “by 1864 an astounding 50 percent of the paper money in circulation was fake.” And “the one and only task of the Secret Service was to stop the counterfeiters.”

What does all this fake money have to do with stealing poor Mr. Lincoln’s bones? Well, there’s a connection, and it’s rather surprising–and ridiculous. I don’t know how the grave robbers thought they were going to get away with such a plot. But try they did, and you can read all about it in Lincoln’s Grave Robbers.

Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin has been nominated for the Cybils Award in the category of Young Adult Nonfiction. The thoughts in this review are my own and do not reflect the thoughts or evaluations of the Cybils panel or of any other Cybils judge.

Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the Dawn of Liberty by Tonya Boldenn

Award-winning children’s and young adult author Tonya Bolden “offers readers a unique look at an often misunderstood American document.” It is unique. Part 1 of this nonfiction book about the proclamation that “freed the slaves” begins with a quotation from Frederick Douglass, recounting the the atmosphere on Thursday, January 1, 1863 as about three thousand people waited at Tremont Temple in Boston for word from Washington, D.C. that the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed:

“We were waiting and listening as for a bolt from the sky . . . we were watching,as it were, by the dim light of the stars, for the dawn of a new day; we were longing for the answer to the agonizing prayers of centuries.”

Part 1 continues on in third person plural as if both author and reader were there, waiting, too. “We waited for all America to repent.” “We abhorred the compromise of 1850’s Fugitive Slave Law.” “Many of us put great faith in the fledgling Republican party.” Since I wasn’t there and since I’m not a “person of color”, I found the continued use of “we” and “us” to be off-putting, at best, confusing, at worst.

Then comes Part II which is written as straight third person history. The author tries to get behind the history and unravel the enigma of Lincoln’s thoughts and motivations, but like most other authors who’ve tired, she meets with limited success. Lincoln was “moody, prone to brooding,”; he “truly loathed slavery.” Yet, Lincoln told abolitionist Charles Edward Lester in regard to freeing the slaves, “We must wait until every other means has been exhausted. This thunderbolt will keep.” And so, throughout Part II of this narrative history, Lincoln is is pushed and pulled back and forth by the events of the Civil War and the politics of maintaining what there was left of the Union, and he proposes or considers first one solution and then another for the slaves: partial emancipation of some slaves, compensation to slaveholders, banning slavery in the territories, gradual emancipation, allowing escaped slavs (contraband) to enter the Union Army, confiscation of Confederate property including slaves, deportation of freed slaves and free black persons to Africa or South America.

Part III returns to the disconcerting “we” for a couple of pages (p. 75-76) and then, inexplicably, back to third person narrative voice. I compared the entire book to the old classic children’s history of the same vent that I have on my shelves, The Great Proclamation by Henry Steele Commager, published in 1960. Other than the fact, dissonant to modern ears, that Mr. Commager calls African Americans “Negroes”, the book differs from Ms. Bolden’s account of the same events in other ways. Commager paints Lincoln as an unadorned hero, bravely attempting in every way possible to free the slaves as quickly as practicable. Commager does not quote Lincoln’s famous statement in a letter to Horace Greeley in 1862:

“If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”

That statement of intent should be a part of any discussion of Lincoln and his attitude about emancipation, and Ms. Bolden includes it prominently in her book. Ms.Bolden’s book also has the great advantage of 21st century illustration techniques, layout and design. Mr. Commager’s text in a layout similar to that of Ms. Bolden’s book would be a great improvement. However, what Mr. Commager does well is tell the story of the “great proclamation” straight, without the confusing changes in point of view. So, in the end I think I would either go with Commager’s book or find something else that would be less poetic and and more attuned to current historical perspectives than either of these books. There seem to be several to choose from.

Other books for children on the Emancipation Proclamation (found on Amazon):
Lincoln, Slavery, and the Emancipation Proclamation by Carin T. Ford.
The Emancipation Proclamation by Karen Price Hossell.
The Emancipation Proclamation (Cornerstones of Freedom) by Brendan January and R. Conrad Stein.
The Emancipation Proclamation: Ending Slavery in America by Adam Woog.

Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the Dawn of Liberty by Tonya Bolden has been nominated for the Cybils Award in the category of Young Adult Nonfiction. The thoughts in this review are my own and do not reflect the thoughts or evaluations of the Cybils panel or of any other Cybils judge.

The Big Burn by Timothy Egan

The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan.

I remember the story from history class of how FDR tried to pack the Supreme Court by creating new justices behind Congress’s back and of how John Adams tried to fill a bunch of vacant judgeships with his own appointees just before leaving office so that Jefferson wouldn’t fill them with his people. Teddy Roosevelt tried something similar, but with forests, and he got away with it—to the everlasting benefit of all Americans.

“In 1907, an amendment was tacked onto a spending bill, a bit of dynamite in a small package. The add-on took away the president’s authority to create new national forests in a huge part of the West without congressional approval. . . .

Roosevelt felt cornered. Not so with Pinchot. To the forester, the Senate amendment was no defeat; it was an opportunity–but only if they acted quickly. The president had a week to sign the bill, and it had to be signed because it kept the government in operation. Pinchot had an idea. Why not use the seven-day window to put as much land into the national forest system as possible? Just go full bore and do in a week’s time what they might normally do over the course of four years.

Roosevelt loved it. He asked the Forest Service to bring him maps–and hurry!–a carpet of cartography, every square mile in the area Heyburn was trying to take away. . .

At the end of the week, Roosevelt issued executive proclamations covering sixteen million acres of land in half a dozen states, bringing them into the fold of the national forest system. And then he signed the bill that prevented him or any other president from doing such a thing again.”

That was 1907, and although the National Forest Service had the land, it didn’t have the personnel and equipment and funding to take care of the land, to build ranger stations, and to watch for and fight fires, because Congress still wasn’t on board with Teddy’s little conservation mania. Speaker of the House Joe Cannon declared, “Not one cent for scenery!” And a lot of senators and representatives were in agreement with Cannon. Then, Teddy Roosevelt’s two terms as president were over, and he went off to Africa on safari and left President Taft, his hand-picked successor, in charge. But Taft wasn’t Teddy, although he promised to carry out TR’s conservation policies, and then came the Big Burn.

On August 20, 1910:

“‘All h–l broke loose,’ Bill Greeley reported. For the minister’s son this was as emphatic as he got. His rangers–those still in contact–were sending dispatches that made it sound as though virtually all of the forested domain of the United States government was under attack. They wrote of giant blowtorches flaming from treetop to treetop, of house-size fireballs rolling through canyons, pushed by winds of seventy miles an hour. They told of trees swelling, sweating hot sap, and then exploding; of horses dying in seconds; of small creeks boiling, full of dead trout, their white belies up; of bear cubs clinging to flaming trees, wailing like children.”

It was the worst forest fire anyone had ever seen, and the end result was over 100 people dead, about three million acres of forest burned to a crisp, and the National Forest Service with a mandate for the future: Prevent Forest Fires.

Aside from the availability of helicopters, better communications, and some more advanced firefighting methods, this nonfiction book about the worst wildfire in U.S. history sounds a lot like the newspaper articles and stories from the Colorado wildfires that are still raging and the fires that we read about every year in California. We still don’t know exactly how to manage forests and fires in forests.

Colorado State Trooper: “Forests didn’t used to grow to the point where you have these catastrophic fires. We would have a lot of little fires all the time. We’ve got to stop trying to preserve forests. I think we should work the forest. If we’ve got a 40,000-acre area burning because we have had a lot of beetle-killed trees over a decade, maybe should have done something during those years?”

Colorado State Senator: “We need to thin this dead stuff out. A timber industry can help keep the forest healthy.”

Americanforests.org: “For quite some time, the United States’ federal fire policy focused on suppressing all fires in national forests to protect timber resources and rural communities. However, decades of fire exclusion have resulted in unusually dense forests in many areas, actually increasing the risk of intense wildfires. As suppression proved to often be more damaging than beneficial, federal policy turned to more practical measures, such as prescribed burns and forest thinning. Even these, however, must be practiced carefully to avoid damage to the ecosystem by artificially providing a process that would occur naturally.”

They were saying some of the same sorts of things over a hundred years ago: We can’t let the forests burn because we need the timber. If we just let logging companies harvest the timber, there won’t be any fuel for big forest fires. If we allow forest fires, rural communities will be endangered. We have to save the forests. We have to use the forests.

The added element nowadays is the concern that both controlled and uncontrolled fires can add to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and contribute to “climate change.” Or maybe climate change is contributing to insect infestation and dryer conditions which in turn cause more forest fires.

Yeah, it’s complicated, like everything else these days. Nevertheless, The Big Burn is a good book, and it features my favorite president, Teddy Roosevelt. If I didn’t learn how to manage forests and wildfires, I at least learned that wildfires in the forests of the United States are nothing new. And I learned the history of the National Forest Service, a bumpy start and a fine heritage.

Timothy Egan also wrote The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl, the book I passed out for World Book Night in April.

Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard.

One of my children used to be particularly interested in naming and researching the four U.S. presidents who were assassinated: Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy. This book about the life, presidency, and assassination of President James Garfield would have been above her reading level since she was only 10 or 11 years old when she had the fascination with assassinated presidents, but it definitely is full of information about Garfield and would be absorbing for anyone with a similar interest.

Like Lincoln, Garfield grew up in poverty. He became an educated man by dint of hard work and his widowed mother’s sacrifice. He married a woman with whom he shared at best friendship, and only many years later, after Garfield had an affair and then re-committed to his marriage, did the two of them become partners in love in the truest sense. This part of the story alone is fascinating, a good example for our age of love’em and leave’em. (This breach of trust and reconciliation is documented in letters that Lucretia, his wife, kept and later left to his presidential library.)

But there are several other fascinating stories in this book:
the story of Vice President Chester Arthur and his conversion from party hack to presidential promoter of honesty and civil service reform.

the saga of Alexander Graham Bell’s desperate attempt to invent a medical device that would locate the bullet lodged inside President Garfield’s body before Garfield died.

the history of medical sterilization techniques that had not yet been accepted as standard practice in the U.S., contributing to the infection that eventually killed the president.

the sad (and currently relevant in light of the attention that is being focused on random shootings after Sandy Hook) story of the assassin, Charles Guiteau, who was obviously as mad as March hare but nevertheless cunning enough to plan a successful presidential assassination all by himself.

Candice Millard also wrote the book I read a couple of years ago about Theodore Roosevelt’s trip into the Amazon rainforest, River of Doubt, and my plan is to read anything she writes in the future. Ms. Millard, by the way, got her master’s degree in literature from Baylor University. Destiny of the Republic won the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime.