We Were There at the Opening of the Atomic Era by James Munves

I don’t know Mr. Munves, but the historical consultant for this book in the historical fiction series We Were There is also a character in the book, Dr. John R. Dunning. Dr. Dunning really was there. In fact, in his introduction to the story, Dr. Dunning explains:

“When Mr. Munves asked me to serve as his historical consultant in the writing of this book, I agreed at once because to me there is nothing more important than recapturing for our you men and women the wonderful creative excitement those days in which the atomic age began. When I went over Mr. Munves’ manuscript with him and discovered that I was a character in his story, I asked him if he would let me write a preface so as to make it clear to you that this Dr. Dunning is a real person. Most of the characters in the story, except for the young hero and his father, are real people.”

This book was published by Grossett and Dunlap in 1960, and it begins in 1942 with fifteen year old school boy, Tony Brenner, whose father works with Enrico Fermi, Professor John Dunning, and other scientists at Pupin Laboratories in New York City. When Tony makes a presentation to his high school science club about the possibilities of nuclear fission, his father is both proud and alarmed. “If a Nazi spy heard about your speech, he might think I was doing research in atomic energy,” says Papa Brenner, who is German immigrant and a physicist. Of course, that’s exactly what Dunning, Fermi, the fictional Brenner are doing, but the project is Top Secret. SO Tony gets taken into the top secret Manhattan Project so that he will learn what he needs to keep secret and why.

Tony’s family moves first to Chicago and then to New Mexico, all in pursuit of an atomic weapon that will defeat the Germans (and the Japanese) and win the war. The story presents most of the common arguments both for and against the bomb, and it gives a lot of scientific and technical information about the bomb and how it was developed. The ending sentences will give you a feel for the moral consensus of the book’s authors and consultants:

“It is not a nice thing to think about—that you helped make something that killed or hurt at least 230,000 people. But it doesn’t really matter whether this was done by bullet, sword, fire or atomic energy.
What does matter is that people wish to kill or hurt other people. . . .
The atom promises unlimited power. It also threatens the destruction of civilization. It is up to all of us to decide how it will be used.
The atom is neither good nor evil. Only people are.”

If you are interested in the events and people surrounding the Manhattan Project and the making, testing, and use of the atomic bomb, I would suggest you find a copy of this novel for a 1960-ish perspective on the project, its genesis and aftermath. For other children’s and young adult books on the subject, take a look at:

Fiction:
The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages.
The Secret Project Notebook by Carolyn Reeder.
The Bomb by Theodore Taylor. Nuclear testing on Bikini Atoll.
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr.

Nonfiction:
Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin.
Sabotage: The Mission to Destroy Hitler’s Atomic Bomb by Neal Bascomb.

On July 16, 1945 at 5:29:45 a.m., the scientists of the Manhattan Project successfully tested the first atomic bomb in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Less than a month later, in August, the bomb was used to force the Japanese to surrender to Allied forces and end World War II.

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If you like Little House on the Prairie . . .

For the month of July, I’m planning a series of posts about readalikes: what to read (or what to suggest to your favorite child reader) when you’ve read all of your favorite author’s books or all of the books of a certain genre that you know of, and you don’t know what to read next. Here are a few suggestions for Little House on the Prairie fans.

First up, author Melissa Wiley has written a series of books about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s grandmother and great-grandmother:
Books about Martha Morse, Laura’s great-grandmother by Melissa Wiley:
Little House in the Highlands
The Far Side of the Loch
Down to the Bonny Glen
Beyond the Heather Hills

Books about Charlotte Tucker, Laura’s grandmother, also by Melissa Wiley:
Little House by Boston Bay
On Tide Mill Lane
The Road from Roxbury
Across the Puddingstone Dam

Another duo, Maria Wilkes and Celia Wilkins, has written about Laura’s mother’s childhood.
Books about Caroline Quiner Ingalls, Laura’s mother, by Maria Wilkes & Celia Wilkins:
Little House in Brookfield
Little Town at the Crossroads
Little Clearing in the Woods
On Top of Concord Hill
Across the Rolling River
Little City by the Lake
A Little House of Their Own

Books about Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, by her heir, Roger Lea MacBride:
Little House on Rocky Ridge
Little Farm in the Ozarks
In the Land of the Big Red Apple
The Other Side of the Hill
Little Town in the Ozarks
New Dawn on Rocky Ridge
On the Banks of the Bayou
Bachelor Girl

Then, there’s this set published by Harper Collins and written by various well-known authors who are also Little House fans:
Old Town in the Green Groves (Little House) by Cynthia Rylant.
Nellie Oleson Meets Laura Ingalls (Little House) by Heather Williams.
Mary Ingalls on Her Own (Little House Sequel) by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel.

Carol Ryrie Brink published Caddie Woodlawn in 1935, and it received the Newbery Medal in 1936. It’s about a girl growing up on the frontier in Wisconsin, before and during the Civil War (1860’s). Caddie is set during much the same time period as the Little House books by Ms. Wilder. A second book with more stories about Caddie and her family is called Magical Melons.

Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House is about Omakayas, a seven-year-old Native American girl of the Ojibwa tribe. It’s a good counter-balance to the portrayal of Native American people in the Little House books, which tends to be somewhat negative and stereotypical. The books in the series so far are:
The Birchbark House
The Game of Silence
The Porcupine Year
Chickadee
Makoons

Latsch Family Farm series by Anne Pellowski. These are a series of five novels about life in the Polish Catholic farm communities in Trempealeau County, Wisconsin. Each book tells about one year in the life of the author’s great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and the author herself in the last book, Stairstep Farm. The books, which do not need to be read in chronological order, are:
First Farm in the Valley: Anna’s Story
Willow Wind Farm: Betsy’s Story
Betsy’s Up-and-Down Year
Winding Valley Farm: Annie’s Story
Stairstep Farm: Anna Rose’s Story

The Orphan Train Adventures series are also worthy and exciting reads for lovers of frontier-setting fiction. The books tell about the adventures of a family of orphans from New York City who are split up and sent west on the Orphan Train to live with frontier families.
A Family Apart (Orphan Train Adventures, #1)
Caught in the Act (Orphan Train Adventures, #2)
In The Face of Danger (Orphan Train Adventures, #3)
A Dangerous Promise (Orphan Train Adventures, #4)
Keeping Secrets (Orphan Train Adventures, #5)
A Place to Belong (Orphan Train Adventures, #6)
Circle of Love (Orphan Train Adventures, #7)

If you finish all of these and still want more you can always enjoy a few nonfiction spin-offs:
The Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Walker. Illustrated by Garth Williams.
My Little House Sewing Book by Margaret Irwin.
My Little House Craft Book by Carolyn Strom Collins.
The World of Little House by Carolyn Strom Collins.
Laura Ingalls Wilder by Gwenda Blair.

All of the above books are for approximately the same maturity and reading level as the original Little House books. Tomorrow I’ll post about what to read when you’ve sort of outgrown Little House but still want to read prairie and frontier adventures: Little House for young adults.

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

I read The Zookeeper’s Wife back in 2008 and wrote about it on Semicolon. Since the book is set to become a movie at the end of March, here are my thoughts on the book at the time I read it.

***********

Jan Zabinski was the Polish director of the Warsaw Zoo in 1939 when the Nazis invaded and subjugated Poland. His wife, Antonina, was his helpmate in runing the zoo and the mother of a young son. During the German occupation, she gave birth to a daughter as well.

This nonfiction book tells the story of how Jan and Antonina worked with the Polish Underground to hide Jews, stockpile arms and ammunition, eventually participate in the doomed Uprising of August 1944 when the Russians halted outside Warsaw and allowed the Germans to destroy the Polish Underground that had come out of hiding to support the Allies in re-taking Poland and driving the Nazis out. A lot of the story tells about the animals in the zoo and what happened to them and how Antonina survived pregnancy-related illnesses, inadequate rations, and providing secret hospitality for fifty to seventy people at any given time throughout the course of the war and the German occupation.

Something about the way the story was told made me admire these people, but not like them very much. I’m not sure what I didn’t like, but I felt uncomfortable in their company. Jan seemed very controlling, and Antonina like a wife making excuses for an authoritarian husband. Maybe that’s not the way it was at all since Ms. Ackerman derives her story from written accounts, Antonina’s diary mostly, and from interviews with people who knew the Zabinskis during the war. Both Jan and Antonina Zabinski died before this book was conceived. Their son, Rys, did contribute his memories of a childhood filled with animals and with war.

I don’t know. I’m ambivalent. If you like nonfiction about animals and and about World War II, you should try it out.

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Timeline of Middle Grade Fiction 2016

1242: The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz. travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children: Jeanne, a peasant girl who has visions, William, an oblate who is half-Saracen and half French, and Jacob, a Jewish boy with a gift for healing. These children may be saints, or they may be using evil magic to do wonders that will deceive the faithful. And the dog, Gwenforte, who once saved a child from a deadly serpent, may be resurrected, but can a dog really be a saint?

1606: Caravaggio: Signed in Blood by Mark Smith. For fifteen-year-old Beppo Ghirlandi, an indentured servant accused of murder, there is no one to turn to. The only person who will help him is the painter from across the piazza, the madman genius known as Caravaggio—-who, unfortunately, has serious troubles of his own.

1781: Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson. The third book in the Seeds of America Trilogy chronicles the adventures of Isabel and Curzon after the winter at Valley Forge.

*1812: The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford. Lucy Bluecrowne and Maxwell Ault must find the three pieces of a strange and arcane engine they believe can stop the endless war raging between their home country of England and Napoleon Bonaparte’s France. But they are in America, where the Americans have just declared war on the British, and the engine is a prize that all three countries will fight to own.

1816: Secrets of the Dragon Tomb by Patrick Samphire. In this steampunk alternate history sci-fi novel, the evil Sir Titus takes Edward’s parents hostage to help him find a lost dragon tomb—on Mars. The political situation in the background of the story involves the British Empire on Earth as they fight the Napoleonic Wars.

1825: A Buss From Lafayette by Dorothea Jensen. Clara’s town is excited because the famous Revolutionary War hero, General Lafayette, is about to visit their state during his farewell tour of America.

1840-1877: In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall. Jimmy McClean learns about his Lakota heritage from his grandfather and from stories about the hero Tasunke Witko, better known as Crazy Horse.

*1847: The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs by Cylin Busby. Jacob Tibbs, ship’s cat, chronicles the sometimes sad, sometimes exciting, adventures of the sailors aboard the Melissa Rae.

1866: Makoons by Louise Erdrich. Makoons, an Ojibwe boy, and his twin, Chickadee, travel with their family to the Great Plains of Dakota Territory. There they must learn to become buffalo hunters and once again help their people make a home in a new land.

c.1870: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. . Faith Sunderly is a proper Victorian young lady who has always been told, and who believes, that she is inferior in every way to men. Her father, the Reverend Sunderly is not only a cleric but also a world famous paleontologist. Faith, too is interested in science and in anything that will impress her father and get him to pay attention to her, but when she begins to learn more about her father’s research, she also finds herself enmeshed in a web of lies and deceit that won’t let go.

1871: Cinnamon Moon by Tess Hilmo. Three children displaced by fires (The Great Chicago Fire and another in Wisconsin on the same day) must find a way to survive and thrive.

*1887: A Bandit’s Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket by Deborah Hopkinson. Eleven year old Rocco must survive on the streets of New York City after his Italian parents sell him to a padrone who uses him to make money as a street musician.

1892: The Crimson Skew by S.E. Grove. Third book in the Mapmakers trilogy. Sophia Tims is coming home from a foreign Age, having risked her life in search of her missing parents. Now she is aboard ship, with a hard-earned, cryptic map that may help her find them at long last.

*1909: The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow and The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth by Katharine Woodfine. Mysteries abound in an early twentieth century London department store.

1910: Race to the South Pole by Kate Messner. Ranger of Time series. A time-traveling dog, Ranger, helps out during Captain Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition to Antarctica.

1920’s: Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter by Beth Fantaskey. 10 year old Isabel is obsessed with becoming a news reporter in 1920’s Chicago, where gangsters rule and the Tribune is the paper of record.

1929: The Eye of Midnight by Andrew Brumbach. On a stormy May day William and Maxine, cousins who hardly know each other, meet at the home of their mutual grandfather, Colonel Battersea. Soon after their arrival, Grandpa receives a secret telegram which takes the three of them to New York City. From there, the story rapidly becomes more and more frenzied, dangerous, and desperate as the children try to rescue Grandpa, find a lost package, decide whether or not to trust the courier, a girl named Nura, and work out their own new-found friendship.

1929: The Gallery by Laura Marx Fitzgerald. Twelve-year-old Martha works as a maid in the New York City mansion of the wealthy Sewell family. The other servants say Rose Sewell is crazy, but Martha believes that the paintings in the Sewell’s gallery contain a hidden message about Rose and about the other secrets in the Sewell mansion.

1934: Sweet Home Alaska by Carole Estby Dagg. Terpsichore’s father signs up for President Roosevelt’s Palmer Colony project, uprooting the family from Wisconsin to become pioneers in Alaska.

1939: You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen by Carol Boston Weatherford. Verse novel about the struggles and achievements of the Tuskegee Airmen, an all-black air training program during World War II.

1940: Once Was a Time by Leila Sales. Time travel isn’t possible, is it? Or can time travel be the secret weapon that will allow the Allies to win World War II? And can friendship last over time when one friend gets displaced and can’t return to her own time?

1940’s: Projekt 1065: A Novel of World War II by Alan Gratz. 13-year-old Irish boy, Michael O’Shaunessey, becomes a spy in Nazi Germany.

1940’s: The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepard. Winged horses live in the mirrors of Briar Hill hospital. But only Emmaline can see them.

1940’s: The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox. During the Blitz, Katherine, Robbie and Amelie Bateson are sent north to a private school in Rookskill Castle in Scotland, a brooding place, haunted by dark magic from the past. But when some of their classmates disappear, Katherine has to find out what has happened to them.

1941: Bjorn’s Gift by Sandy Brehl. Sequel to Odin’s Promise by the same author. Mari, a young Norwegian girl, faces growing hardships and dangers in her small village in a western fjord during World War II.

1941: Aim by Joyce Moyer Hostetter. Fourteen-year-old Junior Bledsoe struggles with school and with anger—-at his father, his insufferable granddaddy, his neighbors, and himself—-as he desperately tries to understand himself and find his own aim in life.

*1942: Skating With the Statue of Liberty by Susan Lynn Meyer. Gustave, a twelve-year-old French Jewish boy, has made it to America at last. After escaping with his family from Nazi-occupied France, he no longer has to worry about being captured by the Germans. But life is not easy in America, either.

1942: Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk. Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Then, new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks.

1942: Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban. Ten year old Manami, a Japanese American girl sent to an internment camp with her family, clings to the hope that somehow grandfather’s dog, Yujiin, will find his way to the camp and make her family whole again.

1942: The Bicycle Spy by Yona Zeldis McDonough. Marcel, a French boy, dreams of someday competing in the Tour de France, the greatest bicycle race. But ever since Germany’s occupation of France began the race has been canceled. Now there are soldiers everywhere, and Marcel bicycle may be useful for more important things than winning a race.

1942: Brave Like My Brother by Marc Nobleman. An American soldier in WWII England shares his war experiences with his 10-year-old brother via letters.

1952: Making Friends With Billy Wong by Augusta Scattergood. Azalea Ann Morgan leaves her home in Tyler Texas to stay with her injured Grandma and help out for the summer. Although Azalea has difficulty making new friends, she and Billy Wong have adventures together in the small town in Arkansas where Azalea’s grandma lives.

1969: Ruby Lee and Me by Shannon Hitchcock. A North Carolina town hires its first African-American teacher in 1969, and two girls–one black, one white–confront the prejudice that challenges their friendship.

1973: Waiting for Augusta by Jessica Lawson. Ben Hogan Putter just lost his dad to cancer. Now Ben has a permanent lump in his throat that he believes is an actual golf ball, and his barbecue-loving, golf-loving daddy is speaking to him from beyond the grave, asking Ben to take his ashes to Augusta, Georgia, home of the most famous golf course in the world.

1975: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo. If Raymie Clarke can just win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home.

*1978: It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas. Zomorod Yusefzadeh is living in California with her Iranian family during the Iran hostage crisis. No wonder she wants to change her name to Cindy!

*1984: Time Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford. On his twelfth birthday, Al receives two gifts: a hamster and a letter from his deceased dad. The letter informs Al that it might be possible for him to use his dad’s time machine to go back in time and prevent his father’s death. Unfortunately, it’s not easy for Al to even get to the place where his dad’s time machine is waiting, not to mention the difficulty of manipulating past events to change the future.

1989: Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet. Noah Keller has a pretty normal life, until one wild afternoon when his parents pick him up from school and head straight for the airport, telling him on the ride that his name isn’t really Noah and he didn’t really just turn eleven in March. Now, the family is headed for East Berlin, and Noah/Jonah mustn’t ask any questions.

2001: Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin. Four children living in different parts of the country are affected by the events of September 11, 2001.

2001: Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Actually set in 2016, this story is about three schoolchildren who are studying the events of 9/11 and who come to see its impact on their own lives.

2011: The Turn of the Tide by Roseanne Parry. Two cousins on opposite sides of the Pacific experience the 2011 tsunami.

A few notes about this list:

Some of the blurbs are taken from Amazon or from Goodreads and edited to fit my list.

My favorites of the ones I’ve read are *starred. No, I haven’t read all of these. Links are to Semicolon reviews of the books that I have read and reviewed.

Some of these are straight historical fiction, and others are time travel or other fantasy books set mostly in the time period indicated.

Finally, we need more (excellent!) books for middle grade readers set in ancient times and in the middle ages or at least before 1800. I know of lots of older books set in these time periods, but not many are being published now. Too much research required? Or just a lack of interest?

What’s New in the Library? November 1, 2016

These are just a few of the books that I’ve recently added to my private subscription library for homeschoolers and others in southeast Houston, Meriadoc Homeschool Library:

Finding Providence: The Story of Roger Williams by Avi. With lovely illustrations by James Watling, this I Can Read Chapter Book tells the story of the hero of religious liberty, Roger Williams, from the point of view of his daughter, Mary. The book has five very short chapters, and the text by Avi is thorough, but simple and straightforward. I have another book about Roger Williams for more advanced readers, Lone Journey: The Life of Roger Williams by Jeanette Eaton.

Ten Brave Men: Makers Of The American Way by Sonia Daugherty. With illustrations by Sonia’s husband, Newbery award winning author, James Daugherty. The stories include the following men: William Bradford, Roger Williams, Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Paul Jones, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln.

Tales From Far and Near and Tales of Long Ago (History Stories of Other Lands) by Arthur Guy Terry. World history in story form, perfect for reading aloud.

Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant. The one is a brand-new picture book biography written by the very talented author of The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus. Six Dots concentrates on the few years in his life when Louis Braille was busily inventing braille writing, in his early teens! At age fifteen, Braille had essentially perfected braille writing, a magnificent invention that “has had a lasting and profound impact on so many people.” Helen Keller compared Louis Braille to Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press.

We Were There at the Battle of the Alamo by Margaret Cousins, historical consultant, Walter Prescott Webb. There were about 35 or 40 books of historical fiction published by Grosset and Dunlap in the We Were There series. Each volume has both an author and a historical consultant. Mr. Webb, who was a renowned Texas historian during the first half of the twentieth century, was president of the Texas State Historical Association for many years. He also launched the project that produced the Handbook of Texas. So, if his name is on the book, it’s historically accurate. And Mrs. Cousins, who wrote a couple of the Landmark series books, Ben Franklin of Old Philadelphia and The Story of Thomas Alva Edison, was also an accomplished writer for children and a respected biographer. She also wrote The Boy in the Alamo, another Alamo story. Other We Were There historical fiction in Meriadoc Homeschool Library:
We Were There with Cortes and Montezuma by Benjamin Appelt.
We Were There on the Oregon Trail by William O. Steele.
We Were There on the Santa Fe Trail by Ross McLaury Taylor.
We Were There With the California Rancheros by Stephen Holt.
We Were There at the First Airplane Flight by Felix Sutton.
We Were There With Caesar’s Legions by Robert N. Webb.
A few of the books in this exciting and educational series are available from the public library as e-books. Most of them are not available in any form at Houston or Harris County Public Library.

I also acquired several volumes in the Makers of History series by brothers, Jacob and John Abbott. Jan Bloom says of the thirty-two volumes in the series that they are “interesting, well-written, and full of insights into the people the brothers thought were important.” These books are for older students, junior high and high school, even college age. Of the thirty-two, I have the books profiling the following “makers of history”: Alexander the Great, Queen Elizabeth I, Empress Josephine, William the Conqueror, Henri IV of France, Marie Antionette, Darius the Great Xerxes the Great, Alfred the Great, Cyrus the Great, Pyrrhus, Mary Queen of Scots, Peter the Great, Genghis Khan, Joseph Bonaparte, and Romulus.

So many treasures to read, so little time.

How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman

How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It by Arthur Herman.

What a fascinating piece of narrative nonfiction history! I learned so many things that I didn’t know before:

The Treaty of Union between England and Scotland (1706-1707), according to Mr. Herman, was actually a huge boost to Scottish commerce, progress, and culture. As he writes the story, the Scots may have given up their independence, but they received innumerable benefits from the deal, including a paradoxical and practical independence from English interference in their affairs that enabled the Scots to “invade” London and indeed England and become leaders in government, education, and business for over a century.

Philosophers Adam Smith and David Hume, historians and biographers James Boswell and Thomas Babbington Macaulay, poets Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, inventors John Macadam (macadam roads), Thomas Telford (canals and bridges galore), James Watt (steam engine), and many other men, both famous and under-appreciated, were all Scots or of Scottish extraction.

Scotswomen, other than the Jacobite heroine Flora MacDonald, seem to have been quite unheard of and unremarkable in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, at least. The dearth of women in the pages of this book reminded me of the scarcity/non-mention of dwarf women in The Lord of the Rings. You know there must be women, and every once in a while a “mother” is mentioned, but the women were not part of literary, educational, or polite society. (Scotsmen remind me of dwarves, or vice-versa, anyway.)

The whole Bonnie Prince Charlie thing and Highland kilts and bagpipes made the Highlands of Scotland a tourist attraction in the early 1800’s, mostly because of Sir Walter Scott’s novels.

Scotland’s literacy rate (boys and girls) was higher than any other country in the world by the end of the eighteenth century, and printing and book-selling were major industries in Edinburgh during that same century.

And lots more. I found this book fascinating, even if it was a somewhat one-sided view of the power, influence and sheer overwhelming greatness of Scotland and its culture. If everything good, especially in the eighteenth century, came out of Scotland, what happened in England, Ireland, France, America, even China? Another fault in the book, the author begins his story with the true tale of Edinburgh theology student Thomas Aikenhead who was hanged in 1697 for the crime of “obstinate blasphemy”. Herman calls Scotland “a nation governed by a harshly repressive Kirk; a nation of an unforgiving and sometimes cruel Calvinist religious faith.” However, the rest of the book makes little of the influence of the “Kirk” or of Calvinism or indeed of Christianity in general, even though most of the Enlightenment figures in Scotland who dominate the culture for the next two centuries were professing Christians, many of them ordained ministers. With the notable exception of atheist philosopher David Hume, it’s as if their religious beliefs were baggage to be hidden away or overcome and not an influence on their thinking at all.

I would have liked to read more about how the faith of men such as educator, theologian, and philosopher Francis Hutcheson shaped their theology —or perhaps how Mr. Hutcheson was able to reconcile his Presbyterianism with his belief in the innate goodness of man. In fact, the author, Mr. Herman, does highlight the Christian faith of Hutcheson, although with less of a explanation of how that faith was worked out in his life than I would have liked. But the faith of other men who are featured in the book would have been valuable to explore and interesting to read about.

Nevertheless, even if the book is biased in favor of Scotland’s influence and standing in the world, and even if Scots Calvinism is given short shrift in the building of that Scottish moral philosophy, How the Scots Invented the Modern World certainly was a good read. It made me want to look up and find the names and histories of some of my own Scottish ancestors so that I could claim a part in the Scottish heritage that Mr, Herman so ably extols.

Historical Fiction and Nonfiction: Seventeenth Century Europe

Last week I reviewed several books set during World War War II. This week my book travels have taken me to seventeenth century Europe. I haven’t read every single one of the following books, but I can generally recommend either the book or the author.

What have you read that is set in seventeenth century Europe, either England or the continent? About Puritans, Cavaliers, Cromwell, the two Charleses and two Jameses, Louis XIII and Louis XIV, the Sun King, metaphysical poets, English civil war, philosophy, pirates, astronomy, physics, fables(La Fontaine) and fairy tales(Perrault), slavery, and religious upheaval?

Children’s and Young Adult Fiction:
The Dark Frigate by Charles Boardman Hawes. c.1630. England. Newbery Award book.
I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino. Early 1600’s. Spain. Newbery Award book about the painter Diego Velasquez and his slave and friend, Juan de Pareja.
Down Ryton Water by E.R. Gaggin. 1620. Half in Europe, and half in the New World. The book gives a good picture of life for the Pilgrims in England and in Holland before their removal to the New World. Newbery Honor book.
The Walls of Cartagena by Julia Durango. 1639. Cartagena, Colombia. Reviewed at Book Nut.
Campion Towers by John and Patricia Beatty. 1640’s. England. A Puritan girl, Penitence, is transplanted from New England to the England of Cromwell and Charles II.
The Children of the New Forest by Frederick Marryat. 1647. England. The four Royalist Beverley children are orphaned during the English civil war, and they hide from the Roundheads in the New Forest where they learn to live off the land.
Lark by Sally Watson. 1651. England. Lark is a pert, lively, likable girl who, rather than marry her unpleasant Puritan cousin, runs away from home.
Cast Off by Eve Yohalem. 1663. Amsterdam to the East Indies.
The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands. 1665. London, England. Apothecaries being targeted in London.
A Parcel of Patterns by Jill Paton Walsh. 1665. Village of Eyam, Derbyshire, England. The plague quarantines an entire village.
Master Cornhill by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. 1665-1666. London, England. An orphan boy lives through the Great Fire of London.
Pirate Royal by John and Patricia Beatty. 167?. London, Bristol, Cuba, Jamaica, Venezuela. Young Anthony Grey is kidnapped from a Boston tavern and impressed into service with the notorious pirate Henry Morgan.
Huguenot Garden by Douglas M. Jones III. 1685. La Rochelle, France.

Adult Fiction:
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. 1625. Mostly France and sometimes England.
The Child from the Sea by Elizabeth Goudge. 16??. The love story of Lucy Walter and Charles II.
The King’s General by Daphne duMaurier. 1642-1656. Devon/Cornwall, England during the English Civil War.
The Rider of the White Horse by Rosemary Sutcliffe. 1642-1656. England during the English Civil War.
Twenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas. 1645-1650. France.
The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later by Alexandre Dumas. 1660-1667. France. (includes Louise de la Vallière, and The Man in the Iron Mask.)
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. 1665-1666. England.
Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne duMaurier. c.1670. Cornwall, England.
Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini. 1685-1688. England and Barbados.
The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. by William Makepeace Thackeray. 1691-1718. England.

Children’s and Young Adult Nonfiction:
Along Came Galileo by Jeanne Bendick. 1564-1642. Italy.
A Piece of the Mountain: The Story of Blaise Pascal by Joyce McPherson. 1623-1662. France.
The Flight and Adventures of Charles II by Charles Norman. 1642-1688. England.
The Ocean of Truth: The Story of Sir Isaac Newton by Joyce McPherson. 1643-1727. England.

Adult Nonfiction:
A Coffin for King Charles: The Trial and Execution of Charles I by C.V. Wedgwood. 1648-1649. England.
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. 1691. Paris, France.
Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensees by Peter Kreeft. Blaise Pascal, philosopher and mathematician, lived from 1623 to 1662.
The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton.
Religio Medici by Thomas Browne. 1652.

Seventeenth Century Poets:
George Herbert
John Donne
Richard Lovelace
John Milton
Henry Vaughan
Isaac Watts
Jean de la Fontaine.

Puritan Adventure by Lois Lenski

Lois Lenski was a prolific children’s writer who wrote “a collection of regional novels about children across the United States” and a number of historical novels about children of different periods of American history. In Puritan Adventure, Aunt Charity comes to a fictional colony in New England to live with her sister’s family, and she brings joy and kindness into the oppressive atmosphere of the Puritan colony, and especially to the colony’s children. Aunt Charity, to the dismay of the authorities in the colony, teaches the children to celebrate Christmas and Shrove Tuesday and May Day—with a maypole! Horrors!

Puritan Adventure gives the Puritans of seventeenth century New England a bad rap. The Puritans did outlaw the celebration of certain feasts, particularly Christmas because it was associated with drunkenness, and they did by necessity work hard and expect everyone in the household to work together for the sake of survival. However, the Puritans and other religious pilgrims who came to America in the seventeenth century were not quite the dour, frightened, suppressed people that Lenski’s book makes them out to be. They celebrated their own holidays and family times. They enjoyed their Sabbath rest and worship each Sunday. Puritan Richard Baxter wrote:

“All Christ’s ways of mercy tend to, and end in the saints’ joys. He wept, suffered, sorrowed that they might rejoice; He sendeth the Spirit to be their comforter; He multiplieth promises, he discovers their future happiness, that their joy may be full; He aboundeth to them in mercies of all sorts; He maketh them lie down in green pastures, He leadeth them by the still waters, yea, He openeth to them the fountain of living waters, that their joy may be full.”

Thomas Watson, another Puritan writer, said simply: “The more we enjoy of God, the more we are ravished with delight.”

So, Aunt Charity, with her idealization of Old England and its celebrations would likely have been looked upon as an anomaly in a Puritan colony, but not necessarily hounded and bought before the magistrate as she was in the book. And drunken celebrations would have been discouraged, but Aunt Charity’s child-centered Christmas and Shrove Tuesday celebrations would most likely have been looked upon as odd, but harmless. Neither Old England nor New England had a very child-centered culture. Children were little adults, given as much responsibility as they could possibly handle and sometimes more.

I don’t know what to recommend about Puritan Adventure. I will keep it in my library. Ms. Lenski was a great writer of children’s books, and she tells a good story in her novel of Puritan New England. However, that good story is based on a skewed idea of the Puritans’ joylessness. Maybe it would be a good book to read with children and to discuss. One could discuss the dangers of legalism and also the dangers of lawlessness, as exemplified by Patty, the servant girl. Readers could also talk about the misunderstanding that is prevalent today in regard to the difference between temporal pleasures and eternal joy. We should teach the children (and the adults) to choose joy every time—and to not be afraid of a little innocent pleasure.

1776 by David McCullough

I feel as if I learned a lot about the first year of the American War for Independence while reading this book, and I did enjoy it. However, all I can really remember right now is a few broad impressions.

The war went really, really badly for the Americans right up until the crossing of the Delaware and the Battle of Trenton at the very end of the year. This defeat of the Hessian troops left there to “guard” Washington’s army was such a great victory because the year up until the day after Christmas was such a disaster.

Washington’s greatest attribute was perseverance.

“Above all, Washington never forgot what was at stake, and he never gave up. Again and agin, in letters to Congress and to his officers, and in his general orders, he had called for perseverance—for ‘perseverance and spirit,’ for ‘patience and perseverance,’ for ‘unremitting courage and perseverance.'”

And he needed that character attribute. He also needed it in his soldiers and officers, who would have been praiseworthy in the eyes of many, including their own friends and families at times, to have given up and gone home. I wonder if the United States of America produces men, and women, nowadays like those who persevered and fought in the grandly named, but not so grandly supplied, Continental Army of 1776.

The war in 1776, for enlisted men, was 95% slogging through forced marches and living in destitute conditions while not getting paid and worrying about your family back home. Communications were poor; disease was endemic; and if you made it through the actual shooting part of the war, you were only marginally likely to survive the other part in which sickness, starvation, and privation were daily dangers.

Several times during the battles and retreats of 1776, God seems to have saved the Continental Army, by His mercy providing a concealing fog or other helpful weather conditions or human intelligence that just came in the nick of time to preserve the army from certain destruction. At the end of 1776, when a great part of Washington’s army had their enlistment time ending and when a goodly number of them were sick and tired and ready to go home, Washington offered a bounty of ten dollars to those who would stay for six more months and managed to talk many of them into reenlisting. General Nathaniel Greene said, “God Almighty inclined their hearts to listen to the proposal and they engaged anew.” (p.286)

I do think that God had a hand in creating and preserving this nation, and I do wonder if He has finished with us —as a nation. I pray not, but we heartily need Washington’s perseverance and God’s mercy and provision now more than ever. And how many of us are praying and looking for His hand in our history?

The Collapse by Mary Elise Sarotte

The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall by Mary Elise Sarotte.

World Magazine just published its annual issue on books, and one of the books chosen as a runner-up for book of the year in the history/biography category was The Collapse. Coincidentally, I had already heard of the book and requested it from the library and had it in my stack of TBR books in the cradle next to my bed. (Since I have passed the years of child-bearing and baby-rocking, my handmade wooden cradle now serves as a books-to-be-read repository as it awaits the advent of grandchildren.)

I can see why The Collapse made World‘s shortlist of best books. It is a stunning account of a moment in history, a moment that changed history. And, as the author points out over and over, it could easily have not happened or have happened very differently. Inexorable violence, intimidation, and renewed repression could have been the operative words to describe the events of October and early November 1989 in Berlin and in greater Germany; instead, Ms. Sarotte uses the adjectives “coincidental” and “unexpected” and “improbable” and even, blessedly, “peaceful”.

In her book, Ms. Sarotte tries to explain how these many, many serendipitous events combined to allow or even produce the opening of the Berlin Wall and eventually the reunification of East and West Germany. The “why” is beyond the scope of the narrative and perhaps beyond the understanding of mere authors and readers. Sarotte does reiterate many times that the collapse of the Wall was not inevitable.

“The Wall’s opening was not a gift from political elites, East German or otherwise, and was in no way predetermined. It resulted from a remarkable constellation of actors and contingent events—and not a little courage on the part of some of the individuals directly involved—that came together in a precise but entirely unplanned sequence. And the larger, successful peaceful revolution surrounding the opening was a truly rare event, one to be considered carefully, not discounted. The history of 1989 shows just how many things have to go right for such a revolution to succeed.”

I am left with some questions of my own, questions that will never be answered this side of eternity, but that are nevertheless interesting to me from a Christian perspective:

The dissident movement in East Germany was birthed and nurtured in the churches of Leipzig and Berlin. Many of the dissidents were not believers, but were nevertheless willing and thankful to use the churches and their “peace prayer” meetings as a shelter and a staging area for demonstrations and peaceful protests against the East German government. Could the peaceful success of the revolution and the reordering of Germany’s culture and government be credited in part (or even in whole) to its genesis as a prayer movement? Perhaps God answered those repeated prayers for peace and justice?

What do historians and politicians mean when they talk about being “on the right side of history”? In the book Soviet leader Chernyaev says of Gorbachev: “He sensed the path of history and helped it to follow its natural path.” Impersonal History nevertheless has a will and a flow? How can this be? (It’s the same way that evolutionists talk about Nature doing this or that. How did Nature become a Force with a will and purpose? And do we humans discern that purpose?)

In a bigger way, could all of those fortuitous events of people being in the right place at the right time or absent from the right place at the right time or able to communicate or unable to communicate, all of those things that had to go right, could they have been orchestrated, not by politicians or revolutionaries, but rather by God himself? Maybe the lesson here is that the “remarkable constellation” was not “entirely unplanned”—just unplanned by man? Man proposes; God disposes.

The Collapse is not a book about God, just as the book of Esther in the Bible hardly mentions God—unless you have eyes to see the hand of God in all of history. I think it much more likely and believable that God is working His purposes out in the course of history than that History itself has an undefined will and an inscrutable purpose.

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