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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A Train in Winter by Carolyn Moorehead

A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France by Carolyn Moorehead.

This book tells the harrowing story of 230 French resistance fighters, women, who were sent first to Auschwitz in 1943 and then to to Ravensbruck in 1944. By April 1945 after twenty-nine months of torture, imprisonment, and starvation, when Ravensbruck was liberated, only 49 of the 230 French women who had left Paris for Auschwitz survived.

Unfortunately, I had trouble keeping up with the various women’s names and backgrounds and feel it would have been better for the author to have concentrated her narrative on just a few of the women, those she was able to interview and get more information about. Nevertheless, the story of what these women endured at the hands of their Nazi captors was painful and appalling even to read about, and I was reminded again of just how cruel and sadistic we humans can be.

At the same time I was reading this book about these mostly Communist and atheist female resistance workers in France (only a few of the women professed to be practicing Catholics), I was also reading aloud The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom to my two youngest daughters. Corrie and her sister Betsie lived in the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands, and there their family ran an underground resistance network that mostly hid Jewish people and smuggled them to safe houses in the country or out of the country. In February 1944 Corrie and Betsie were arrested and sent to Ravensbruck, the same camp where the French women had already been transferred.

In The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom describes much the same horrific conditions that the author of A Train in Winter tells about as she relates the experiences of the French prisoners. They all experienced the same fleas, lice, nakedness, cold, hunger, violence, and brutality. Betsie Ten Boom died after spending about six months in Ravensbruck. Corrie Ten Boom was freed about a week after her sister’s death and sent home to Holland, her release due to a “clerical error.”

The contrast between the Ten Boom sisters and the French resistors was not so much in their circumstances, except that the French women spent much longer in prison, but rather in how they responded to and saw those circumstances. Nor were the French women any more or less courageous or perseverant than Corrie and her sister Betsie. Upon their return, however, the surviving French women “shared the same sense of alienation, loss, and loneliness. . . . There was no innocence left in any of them, and they would not find it again.” These women with their faith in country and in the Communist ideal “returned to families that had been broken up, houses that had been bombed or ransacked, children who no longer knew them. Many had husbands and lovers who had been shot by the Germans. Few, very few, found the life of happiness they had dreamt about.”

Corrie Ten Boom also returned from Ravensbruck traumatized and bereft. She had lost not only Betsie, but also her elderly father, Casper Ten Boom, who died in prison not long after the family was arrested. Other members of her family had been arrested and were believed dead. Her country, Holland, was in ruins. And yet, God turned Corrie Ten Boom’s life into a life of joy and forgiveness and ministry. Corrie wrote that it was those who were able, by God’s grace and mercy, to forgive, who were able to heal from the trauma and the suffering of the war. She went to live for another almost 40 years after her release from Ravensbruck, traveling all over the world and preaching the mercy and forgiveness of God for sinners.

The contrast between The Hiding Place and A Train in Winter shows the inadequacy of a philosophy based on the communist brotherhood of men. What happens when that philosophy is shown to be a farce in the face of true evil? Where does a survivor of such atrocious evil get the power and the trust to forgive, move past bitterness, and go on to live in community with other human beings?

Christmas in London, 1661

Christmas Day, 1661. In the morning to church; where at the door of our pew I was fain to stay, because that the sexton had not opened the door. A good sermon of Mr. Mills. Dined at home all alone, And taking occasion, from some fault in the meat, to complain of my maid’s Sluttery, my wife and I fell out, and I up to my Chamber in a discontent. After dinner my wife comes up to me and all friends again; and she and I to walk upon the Leads; there Sir W. Pen called us and we went to his house and supped with him.
~Samuel Pepys

Sir William Penn (23 April 1621 – 16 September 1670) was an English admiral, and the father of William Penn, founder of the colony of Pennsylvania.

This bust is of Pepys, showing him as a young man as he was when he wrote his famous diary. I can’t figure out from the above quotation whether it was Pepys himself or his wife who spoiled their Christmas festivities with complaints about the maid’s “sluttery.” Either way, it’s good that they made up in time to sup with Sir Penn.

A Note from the Author of Balboa, Swordsman and Conquistador

I just added this book from the old Landmark series to the Meriadoc Homeschool Library database at library thing. It’s a book I recently purchased from a lady who is selling her library, and when I opened the book, I found a lovely surprise: a typewritten letter to readers from the author, Felix Riesenberg, Jr. The letter is loose, written on notepaper with a letterhead at the top giving the author’s name and address in Sarasota, Florida. The typewritten letter is signed by the author. It reads in part:

“This book is the story of Balboa from his teens until after he and his men hacked, climbed and fought over rugged country from the Caribbean Sea to the then unknown Pacific. The discovery, made despite many obstacles, remains one of the most exciting and important events in all man’s history.”

Mr. Reisenberg died in 1962, so I feel as if I have a piece of history in my hands when I read his letter encouraging “young readers” to read about and emulate Balboa, an explorer whom Riesenberg characterizes as bold, brave, and steadfast, as well as kind and beloved by his companions.

I’ve placed the letter in an envelope inside the front cover of my book. What a treasure!

October 25th

1154: Henry II becomes King of England. Henry was married to the much older (nine to eleven years older) Eleanor of Aquitaine, who had been previously married to the King of France, Louis VII, until she managed to get her marriage annulled. Henry himself was nineteen years when he married Eleanor and only twenty-one when he became King of England. Henry and Eleanor had eight children, thereby creating much opportunity for future confusion and conflict regarding the throne of England. (I also have eight children, but no throne for them to fight over; therefore, I hope to see no internecine conflict among my progeny.)

Movies/drama featuring Henry II: Becket, The Lion in Winter, Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot.

Historical fiction:
When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman
Time and Chance by Sharon Kay Penman
Devil’s Brood by Sharon Kay Penman
A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver by E.L. Konigsburg

1400: Geoffrey Chaucer (birthday unknown) died on October 25, 1400. His Canterbury Tales begins with the words:

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tender croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(So Priketh hem Nature in hir corages),
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages …

1415: The Battle of Agincourt on St. Crispin’s Day.

1764: John Adams (28) weds Abigail Smith (19) in Weymouth, Massachusetts. Their marriage lasted 54 years.

You bid me burn your letters. But I must forget you first. John Adams in a letter to Abigail Adams, April 28, 1776.

John Adams’ Advice to His Children.
On the Character of John Adams.

1854: The Battle of Balaklava during the Crimean War and the Charge of the Light Brigade. Tennyson wrote his famous poem about the charge after reading a newspaper report.

1881: Pablo Picasso was born in Malaga, Spain.

1952: Engineer Husband was born in Buda, Texas. Happy Birthday, my love.

D-Day: Books for Children and Young Adults

D-Day: The Invasion of Normandy, 1944 by Rick Atkinson.
The Story of D-Day: June 6, 1944 by Bruce Bliven, Jr. (Landmark Book #62)

Mr. Atkinson’s story of the events of D-Day was “adapted for young readers from the #1 New York Times–bestselling The Guns at Last Light, D-Day.” Guns at Last Light is the third in a trilogy of books by Mr. Atkinson called the Liberation Trilogy. The three books in the trilogy chronicle the history of the liberation of North Africa, Italy, and Western Europe, respectively. This children’s version of a portion of the third book was published in 2014 by Henry Holt and Company. Rick Atkinson won Pulitzer prizes in both journalism and history, so he would seem to be well-qualified to write on the subject.

I found the book somewhat appealing, especially the photographs, but it was heavy on the details and statistics. I got lost in some sections of the book because of my lack of military expertise in general and my lack of knowledge about World War II and D-Day in particular. The book felt like what it was: a compilation/abridgement of details from a narrative that probably flowed much better and was more understandable in the original, adult version. Young readers (and I along with them) would need both more explanation and less detail in a narrative written just for them.

Mr. Bliven’s Story of D-Day is a part of the classic Landmark series of books on U.S. and World History. Bliven tells the story of D-Day as a story. He fills in background about the war, the troops, and their weapons as the narrative progresses, and the tension and force of the story are preserved in a way that includes plenty of statistics and details, but doesn’t become entangled in them.

Mr. Bliven’s narrative flow is just better than that of the newer book by Mr. Atkinson, probably because Mr. Bliven wrote his book as a whole book for young adults while Mr. Atkinson’s book is an abridgment of a longer work for adults. Also, Mr. Blivens had the advantage over Mr. Atkinson; Bliven was a part of the Allied force that landed in Normandy on D-Day.

“Mr. Bliven wrote briefly for a newspaper in Stroudsburg, Pa., and for The Manchester Guardian, the British paper, before graduating from Harvard in 1937. He then wrote editorials for The New York Post, leaving to serve in World War II.
‘I was a lieutenant in the field artillery and took part in the D-Day landings in Normandy and wrote a children’s book about it a dozen years later to find out what happened,’ he said. That book was ‘The Story of D-Day, June 6, 1944’ (Random House, 1956). ~From a NY Times obituary article about Bruce Bliven, January 14, 2002.

Even though, as Blivens makes clear in his book, most of the men who were in the first wave of soldiers on the Normandy coast on D-Day had no idea about what was going on in the overall invasion, or even what the plan was for the entire operation, Bliven was able to reconstruct the story of D-Day and make it clear for young readers and for adults like me who need lots of “hand-holding’ background and explanation embedded in an absorbing narrative story.

I highly recommend the 1956 The Story of D-Day, or possibly (I haven’t read it) the updated version of Bliven’s classic account, Invasion: the Story of D-Day, which was published by Sterling Publishers in 2007.

50+ Nonfiction Books for 50 States

I’m going to move this post to the top of the page for a while, until I get at least a suggestion for each state.

I found this list of 51 adult nonfiction selections, one for each state in the union and D.C.,, interesting but rather slanted toward the liberal (Obama’s book for Hawaii and Biden’s memoir for Delaware?) and the trendy and lurid (lots of drug memoirs and true crime). Maybe “Flavorwire has dug up some of the best nonfiction about specific American locations — in this case, our 50 states — and found 50 books that will shed light on every corner of the country,” but maybe there are better nonfiction books for at least some of the states.

So I thought, why not come up with our own list? I wrote in the ones that I liked or agreed with from the Flavorwire list and added in a few of my own suggestions.

Alabama: Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake-Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia by Dennis Covington. This exploration of Alabama/Appalachia sounds fascinating. Suggested by Nancy Pearl in Book Lust To Go.
Ava’s Man by Rick Bragg. Reviewed at Hope Is the Word.
Alaska: Tisha: The Wonderful True Love Story of a Young Teacher in the Alaska Wilderness by Robert Specht and Anne Purdy. I’ve seen this one recommended by more than one person. Anyone here read it?
Or maybe A Land Gone Lonesome by Dan O’Neill, recommended in this article at Salon.
Flavorwire suggests Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, a book I have not yet read.
Arizona: Going Back to Bisbee by Richard Shelton. Memoir.
Arkansas: Cash by Johnny Cash with Patrick Carr. From Flavorwire. I haven’t actually read this one, but it sounds good. Any other suggestions from Arkansans?
California: Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water by Marc Reisner. I’m adding this book because it looks interesting and informative. Has anyone else read it?
Colorado: A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird.
Connecticut: A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle. Or The Summer of the Great-Grandmother by the same author. Both are reflections on family life in a Connecticut farmhouse.
Florida: Dream State: Eight Generations of Swamp Lawyers, Conquistadors, Confederate Daughters, Banana Republicans, and Other Florida Wildlife by Diane Roberts.
Georgia: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. From Flavorwire. I haven’t read this one either, but I’ve intended to read it. Comments anyone?
Idaho: The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan.
Illinois: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson. Another book I’ve been intending to read, recommended by my sister. READ.
Kentucky: The Thread That Runs So True by Jesse Stuart.
Louisiana: Huey Long by T. Harry Williams. I read this doorstop of a biography about thirty years ago, and I still remember it. For better or for worse, my conception of Louisiana politics is highly formed and colored by this book.
The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life by Rod Dreher. I can’t resist providing an antidote to Mr. Long’s out-sized loudmouth life with this tribute to a small life well-lived, also in Louisiana. If you only read one of the two, read Dreher.
Maryland: Charm City: A Walk Through Baltimore by Madison Smartt Bell.
Massachusetts: Paul Revere and the World He Lived In by Esther Forbes.
Michigan: The Other Side of the River: A Story of Two Towns, a Death, and America’s Dilemma by Alex Kotlowitz. Crime and racial division in southern Michigan.
Missouri: Truman by David McCullough. Truman was probably about the best thing that ever came out of Missouri. However, my cousin commented on Facebook that he tried to read this bio, and that it was as dry as the man himself. Other suggestions for the Show-Me state?
Nebraska: My Nebraska: The Good, the Bad, and the Husker by Roger Welsch.
Nevada: Men to Match My Mountains: The Opening of the Far West, 1840-1900 by Irving Stone. I could make this one the definitive book for California, Utah, Nevada, and Colorado, but I put it here, arbitrarily. No matter which state you focus on, this book is fantastic, readable, well researched, educational, and entertaining.
New Hampshire:
New Jersey:
New Mexico: The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. From Flavorwire. Engineer Husband recommends this Pulitzer prize winning classic.
New York: The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson. An unromantic contrast to West Side Story, this book tells how God was still working among gang members in New York City in the 1950’s and 60’s.
North Carolina:
North Dakota:
Oklahoma: The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan. This book could be classified under “North Texas” or even Kansas, but Oklahoma seems like the center of the Dust Bowl.
Oregon: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed.
Rhode Island:
South Carolina: Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard. Adam Shepard went to Charleston, South Carolina with $25, a sleeping bag, and the clothes on his back. His goal was, by the end of a year, to have a car, a furnished apartment, and $2500 in the bank.
South Dakota:
Tennessee: Maybe The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan?
Texas: Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger. Texas is a big state, practically five states, but this book at least illuminates one aspect of Texas culture.
Utah: Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston.
Virginia: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. From Flavorwire. OK, I’ll go along with this recommendation, even though I’ve tried it and not been able to get in the mood for this nature observation journal of a modern-day pilgrim. I’m still willing to grant that it’s probably very good, and I’ll probably enjoy it very much someday.
Or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.
Washington: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown.
Washington D.C.:
West Virginia:

What do you think? Do any of my readers live in one of the states for which I do not yet have a book listed? I’m even willing to reconsider one I’ve already listed if you have a better choice. Help me fill out this list with books to give us a sense of each state in the union.