Book Recommendations

It seems like all I do is read…Sometimes I think my eyes are going to fall out of their sockets as I just go insane.  But, then again, I guess all that reading makes sense since I’m a historian (or maybe being insane make sense since I’m a historian?)  Either way – sane or not – I am fortunate that I do get to read so much.  Reading is a way to travel (even time travel!) to different epochs or far away worlds without ever leaving your doorstep.  Sometimes the places you go to aren’t so pretty (my dissertation explores different Holocaust memories), but other times, the words of others are just inspiring.

Most of my day is spent frantically reading through old newspaper articles, diary entries, other snippets from the archives, and stacks of history books.  But I try to keep a good balance of things I read:  In the morning, I read non-fiction.  During the day, it’s history research.  And at night, I read from a novel before going to sleep.  So, on any given day, I’m reading three different books, but as odd as it sounds, it’s a good way to keep myself sane!  I’ve shared many of my reviews of academic books, but this morning I wanted to share a few titles of the books I’ve recently read that have nothing to do with my research.


Every morning, after I catch up on the daily news and water our garden and flowers, I enjoy my last cup of coffee with a good, non-fiction book.  It’s my way of preparing myself for the day and trying to learn something new that doesn’t have anything to do with my research.

For the past year, I slowly made my way through Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything.  It’s a mammoth of a book that begins literally at the beginning of the time by exploring theories about the beginning of the universe and ends with the emergence of Homo sapiens.  In between, Bryson deftly leads readers through some (most? all?) of the major scientific developments in human history.

Bill BrysonThe amount of research required to write such a book is simply staggering, but Bryson’s major achievement, in my opinion, is the way that he weaves it all together into a narrative that is simultaneously educational and incredibly entertaining.  More than once I found myself laughing out loud as he let you in on some of the more obscure – and often absurd – secrets about the quirky personalities of the explorers, scientists, and curious amateurs who made significant (or not so significant) achievements in various fields.  But, of course, beyond entertaining you, Bryson teaches you something, as well.  After completing the book, I certainly feel more prepared on trivia nights!

Reading the book felt more like sitting next to Bryson and having a friendly chat; his writing style is simply that engaging.  Each chapter is only 10-15 pages, and they’re self-encompassing topics.  So, you can read one chapter at a time, and not pick the book back up for a week and not have to worry about remembering where you left off. (Between our wedding, our move, and working on my dissertation, it took me over 12 months to finally finish the book – but I think a partial reason it took so long is because I didn’t want it to end!)

The long, overarching narrative that Bryson weaves is fantastic.  You certainly are amazed by some of humanity’s achievements (even if they were accidents), but you also are left with a feeling that our present-day situation isn’t preordained.  There were so many instances when evolution, politics – human history in general – could have gone any number of different ways.   In other words, you’re left with a feeling of humility and appreciation for our world today.

After finishing Bryson’s book, I quickly devoured a short work called The Lena Baker Story, by Lela Bond Phillips.  It is an incredibly depressing account about the first and only woman to be executed by the electric chair in the state of Georgia.  The book was put out by a local researcher and published by a small company, so it’s not the fanciest history book out there.  And perhaps it’s just the historian in me being nit-picky, but I found some of the style choices of the book to be perplexing.  For example, when giving direct quotes (from courtroom testimony, for example), Phillips puts them in italics instead of just using quotation marks.Lena Baker

But, such technicalities aside, this is a commendable work of local history that documents the life of Lena Baker, who grew up in a small, rural town in southwest Georgia.  Lena had a hard life, from beginning to its early end.  She and her family were destitute, she suffered from alcohol addiction, and on top of all that, she was black in the Jim Crow South.  When she shoots and kills a white man in self defense, there is no hope for her in the justice system.  The jury assigned to her case is made up of white males who were friends of the man killed; Lena’s defense attorney gave a half-hearted attempt to put up a defense, and Phillips suggests that there was even some tampering with the evidence.  And readers know from page one that there is no happy ending.  Lena Baker was killed by electrocution in Georgia State Prison in the spring of 1945.

I read this book because I grew up in the same town as Lena, so for me, the book was almost personal.  I knew the buildings that Phillips described; I can picture the landscapes not from imagination, but from my memories.  That’s why the book was so upsetting to me.  This wasn’t a general story of systematic racism in a far away Southern town; these were people who walked the same streets as I did.  By the story’s end, I’m not sure if I was more angered or saddened.  I commend Phillips for attempting to be objective and for not passing judgment.  But, I know that if I had written this story, I would have lambasted those involved, from those who were supposed to be enforcing the law to those who masqueraded as defenders of justice: the lawyers and judge who couldn’t even be bothered to put up a good mock trial.

Just as I sat down to begin this post, I Googled “the Lena Baker Story” and found that the book was actually turned into a movie in 2008!  After watching a trailer for it, it looks like some of the names of people and places may have been changed, but it seems like it stays pretty true to the book.  Now I can’t wait to find it on Netflix or rent it from Amazon. Here’s the preview for the movie…But I also recommend purchasing the short book.


I’ve now started President Jimmy Carter’s memoir about his boyhood:  An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood.  I picked it to read after The Lena Baker Story because I needed something a little less depressing to read in the morning.  I really love “Mista Jimmuh,” and not necessarily because of his politics or his presidency.  In all honesty, I haven’t really studied his time in the White House that much, but it seems like he may be a better ex-Hour Before Daylightpresident than he did a sitting president.  Either way, I love what President Carter stands for: peace, compassion, understanding, and education.  And while he’s a devout Christian, he’s not one of the judgmental Bible thumpers that I grew up around.  He’s intelligent and can grapple with “big picture” issues, but he grew up a poor farmer, so he certainly can understand the everyday man, too.  He’s usually calm and level-headed, but not afraid to speak his mind, even when his opinions aren’t popular.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Pres. Carter when he was back home in Plains, Georgia for a weekend.  His home is only about 20 minutes away from our farm, and my family and I even went to church with him.  We listened as he taught Sunday School, and his whole message was about compassion. I loved it.  So, now I’m excited to read this book and see what helped shape Jimmy Carter into the man he is today.


As I said before, I crack open a novel as I lay in bed at night and let the fantastical worlds take my mind away from the research on the Holocaust.  These books, I just read for fun.  To be entertained.

I recently read Stephen King’s The Shining.  I had never even seen the movie, but I loved the only other King novel I’d read (The Stand), so I thought I’d give The Shining a try. My god, it was truly horrifying!  It was probably not a good idea to read that right before trying to go to sleep each night.  Nope.

The Shining

I’m an unabashed fan of the fantasy genre: the more magic, dragons, and imagined worlds there are in the book, the better.  Before I read The Shining, I read the first book in Patrick Rothfuss’Kingkiller Chronicle” series, The Name of the Wind.  It was pretty good, and I especially liked that it’s in the first person.  But, honestly, the book didn’t yank my chain, and I don’t think I’ll be finishing the series.  It’s no fault of Rothfuss,’ because he’s an excellent writer.  I just wasn’t in to the story.

The Name of the Wind

I’m currently reading Of Bone and Thunder by Chris Evans.  It is, of course, a fantasy novel, but it’s slightly different than others I’ve read, because Evans was an editor of military historian for decades.  So, this story line follows soldiers in an army that is attempting to put down rebellions by some of the subjects in a far away, hot, jungle.  Of course, at first the enemy is understood as something sub-human (well, actually, they’re NOT human), but as time goes on, the soldiers enlisted to fight the war realize that they share an awful lot in common with the native “slyts.”   Even though they are “the enemy,” they have families, farms, joys.  So, it’s an interesting foray into the mindset that warfare cultivates – – – and it’s also awesome that there are fire-breathing dragons and academy-trained wizards.

Of Thunder and Bone

And, of course I have to give another shout out to my favorite book series of all time (besides Harry Potter, obviously):  The Crossroads Trilogy by Kate Elliot.  My god, these are three fantastic books.  The amount of detail she gives in describing the world that she has created is impressive.  You can read my review of the series here.


Okay, that’s all, folks.  If any of the brief reviews and recommendations sound interesting, give the books a try!  Also, if you’ve got any excellent books that you think I’d enjoy reading, let me know in the comment section below :)

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Happy Thanksgiving, Y’all!

The sun has finally decided to shine here in Berlin, and for that, I am very Thankful!  I was thinking about composing another list of everything I’m thankful for, but then I came across the one I wrote last year, and it pretty much says everything I wanted to again this year!

So, instead, I thought I’d share this picture with all of my fellow PhD students out there.  It’s from the guys and gals over at PhD comics, and – as always – they have captured the essence of grad life perfectly.  So, I hope you’re all enjoying the holiday and are with some loved ones.

I was going to go have some schnitzel and sauerkraut for dinner, but then I found out that Hard Rock Cafe Berlin is offering a Thanksgiving Dinner all day!  So, after another evening in the archives, I’m going to go enjoy some turkey, dressing, veggies, cranberry sauce, and most importantly of all: pumpkin pie!


X Thankful PhD Students

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Grad Life: A Story Etched in Stone

During my research year in Germany, I came across a number of epic statues around the city, and they spoke to me.  Below is the story of graduate school as depicted by the sculptors of old Europe.

In the Beginning


This depicts your undergraduate advisor, guiding the young, naive, and still idealistic version of yourself to the hallowed grad school applications.

The First Semester


You enter the arena that first, exciting fall semester, and are armed with the basic history-grad student essentials: historiography, the latest edition of the Chicago/Turabian manual, cheap alcohol, and a diminishing sense of self-worth.  If you’re lucky, a more advanced warrior (otherwise known as “ABD student”) will take you under his or her wing and help shield you from some of the pressure of the academic battlefield: conference deadlines, seminar presentations, nagging undergrad students, and absentee advisors. 

In the Valley


Woe unto you: You enter your readings/qualifying exams year with determination, only to emerge as a shell of your former self 9-12 months later, barely clinging to an ABD status and letting all other accomplishments and pride fall to the ground.  Exhausted and with your soul crushed, you begin to wonder why flipping burgers or sleeping under a bridge is such a bad thing. Luckily, the angel known as Jack Daniels is there to lift your spirits and give you the motivation (delusion?) to carry on.



Supported by research grants, significant others, friends, family, and more whiskey, and armed with the spear of bitter determination, you finally slay the dissertation beast that has ruled every waking moment of your life for the past decade.  Having been safely sheltered inside the confines of the Ivory Tower during the entire duration of your epic quest, your doctoral committee signs off on your dissertation and you pass your defense.  At long last, you receive validation of your life’s purpose! 




You can finally sheathe your sword, for you are done.  Now that you are [far too] old and wise – symbolized by an awesome, manly beard – Academia places the honor of three little letters behind your name. (The actual ceremony involving hoods, cloaks and funny hats sounds just as fantastical as this statue is epic).  Now you are free to face the world as a revered Doctor of Philosophy, free to lead some other innocent soul to grad school applications. 

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Grad Life

If you’re a grad student and you haven’t checked out the folks over at Ph.D. Comics, you definitely should.  They have some great comics that pretty much capture the life of a grad student.

Here are some of my favorite ones that I’ve come across lately:

Work Output

Your Graduation

Ask a Question during a Seminar?And lastly, while Ph.D. supposedly stands for Doctor of Philosophy, here are some alternate meanings:

PhD ?

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Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

I don’t have a car, so I don’t listen to the radio, and my computer is so out of date that YouTube doesn’t even work, so I can’t listen to music on there.  The point is, songs are way out-of-date by the time I somehow get to hear them.  I stumbled across Macklemore and Ryan Lewis a couple of months ago and I’ve been somewhat obsessed ever since.

I guess the biggest hit song by Macklemore (real name Ben Haggerty) and Ryan Lewis (who does most of the producing, I think) was Thrift Shop, which is a satire about the recent trend in rap music to simply boast about how much money you have and how much you paid for things (one of my favorite parts of the song is when Macklemore says that paying $50 for a t-shirt, just because it’s Gucci, is getting swindled and pimped).  The song just won Best Rap Song of the Year at the 2013 Billboard Music Awards.

Macklemore Meme

The team is independent (as Macklemore makes quite clear in his song “Can’t Hold Us”) so they don’t have a record label.  As they explained to Stephen Colbert (video here), they did “rent out” (instead of “selling out”) by paying the Warner Group to get them radio air time.  The duo knew that their music would do the rest for itself.

Anywho, enough of me blabbing on about them.  I just wanted to share three of their videos – because while the lyrics and messages of the songs are great (against selling out and materialism in Thrift Shop, for acceptance of gay and lesbian folks in Same Love, and for being independent in Can’t Hold Us), the videos are even more awesome.  Especially Thrift Shop – I love it!

Thrift Shop

Thrift Shop lyrics: 

Hey Macklemore, can we go thrift shopping?

What, what, what, what… (x7)

I’m gonna pop some tags
Only got twenty dollars in my pocket
I-I-I’m huntin’
Lookin for a come up
This is fucking awesome

Now, walk into the club like, “what up I got a big cock”
Nah, I’m so pumped I bought some shit from a thrift shop
Ice in the fringe is so damn frosty
The people like “Damn, that’s a cold ass honkey!”
Rollin’ in hella deep, headed to the mezzanine
Dressed in all pink, ‘cept my gator shoes those are green
Draped in a leopard mink, girls standin’ next to me
Probably shoulda washed this, smells like R. Kelly’s sheets
But shit it was ninety-nine cents! (bag it)
Copin’ it washin’ it
Bout to go and get some compliments; passin’ off on those moccasins
Someone else has been walkin’ in but me and grungie fuck ’em in
I am stuntin’ and flossin’ and
Savin my money and I’m hella happy that’s a bargain, bitch
I’mma take your grandpa’s style, I’mma take your grandpa’s style,
No for real ask your grandpa can I have his hand-me-downs (Thank you)
Velour jump suit and some house slippers
Dookie brown leather jacket that I found diggin’
They had a broken keyboard; I bought a broken keyboard
I bought a skeet blanket, then I bought a kneeboard
Hello, hello, my ace man my mello
John Wayne ain’t got nothin’ on my fringe game (Hell no!)
I can take some pro wings, make ’em cool, sell those
The sneaker heads will be like
“Ahhh he got the velcro”

I’m gonna pop some tags
Only got twenty dollars in my pocket
I-I-I’m huntin’
Lookin’ for a come up
This is fucking awesome

I’m gonna pop some tags
Only got twenty dollars in my pocket
I-I-I’m huntin’
Lookin’ for a come up
This is fucking awesome

Whatcha know bout rockin’ a wolf on your noggin
Whatcha knowin about wearin’ a fur fox skin
I’m diggin’, I’m diggin’, I’m searching right through that luggage
One man’s trash that’s another man’s come up
Thank your grand dad for donating that plaid button
Up shirt cause right now I’m up in her skirt
I’m at the Goodwill you can find me in the (Uptons)
I’m not, I’m not stuck on searching in that section (Uptons)
Your Grammy, your auntie, your momma, you mammy
I’ll take those flannel zebra jammies secondhand and rock that mothafucka
The built in onesie with the socks on the mothafucka
I hit the party and they stopped in that mothafucka
They be like “oh that’s gucci that’s hella tight”
I’m like “Yo! That’s fifty dollars for a t-shirt”
Limited edition, let’s do some simple addition
Fifty dollars for a t-shirt that’s just some ignorant bitch (sheeeeit)
I call that getting swindled and pimped (sheeeeit)
I call that getting tricked by a business
That shirt’s hella dough
And havin the same one as six other people in this club is a hella don’t
Peep game come take a look through my telescope
Tryin’a get girls with my brand man you hella won’t
Man you hella won’t
(Goodwill… Poppin’ Tags… Yeah! )

I’m gonna pop some tags
Only got twenty dollars in my pocket
I-I-I’m huntin’
Lookin’ for a come up
This is fucking awesome

I’ll wear your granddads clothes,
I look incredible
I’m in this big ass coat
From the thrift shop down the road

I wear your granddads clothes,
I look incredible
I’m in this big ass coat
From the thrift shop down the road

I’m gonna pop some tags
Only got twenty dollars in my pocket
I-I-I’m huntin’
Lookin’ for a come up
This is fucking awesome

Is that your grandma’s coat?

My favorite shot of the whole video:

Macklemore Boss

Same Love

Same Love lyrics:

When I was in the 3rd grade
I thought that I was gay
Cause I could draw, my uncle was
And I kept my room straight
I told my mom, tears rushing down my face
She’s like, “Ben you’ve loved girls since before pre-K”
Trippin’, yeah, I guess she had a point, didn’t she
A bunch of stereotypes all in my head
I remember doing the math like
“Yeah, I’m good at little league”
A pre-conceived idea of what it all meant
For those who like the same sex, had the characteristics
The right-wing conservatives think it’s a decision
And you can be cured with some treatment and religion
Man-made, rewiring of a pre-disposition
Playing God
Ahh nah, here we go
America the brave
Still fears, what, we don’t know
And God loves all His children
Is somehow forgotten
But we paraphrase a book written
35 hundred years ago
I don’t know

[Hook: Mary Lambert]
And I can’t change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
And I can’t change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
My love, my love, my love
She keeps me warm [x4]

[Verse 2: Macklemore]
If I was gay
I would think hip-hop hates me
Have you read the YouTube comments lately
“Man that’s gay”
Gets dropped on the daily
We’ve become so numb to what we’re sayin’
Our culture founded from oppression
Yeah, we don’t have acceptance for ’em
Call each other faggots
Behind the keys of a message board
A word routed in hate
Yet our genre still ignores it
Gay is synonymous with the lesser
It’s the same hate that’s caused wars from religion
Gender and skin color
Complexion of your pigment
The same fight that lead people to walk-outs and sit-ins
It’s human rights for everybody
There is no difference
Live on! And be yourself!
When I was in church
They taught me something else
If you preach hate at the service
Those words aren’t anointed
And that Holy Water
That you soak in
Is then poisoned
When everyone else
Is more comfortable
Remaining voiceless
Rather than fighting for humans
That have had their rights stolen
I might not be the same
But that’s not important
No freedom ’til we’re equal
Damn right I support it
I don’t know

[Hook: Mary Lambert]
And I can’t change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
And I can’t change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
My love, my love, my love
She keeps me warm [x4]

[Verse 3: Macklemore]
We press play
Don’t press pause
Progress, march on!
With a veil over our eyes
We turn our back on the cause
‘Till the day
That my uncles can be united by law
Kids are walkin’ around the hallway
Plagued by pain in their heart
A world so hateful
Someone would rather die
Than be who they are
And a certificate on paper
Isn’t gonna solve it all
But it’s a damn good place to start
No law’s gonna change us
We have to change us
Whatever god you believe in
We come from the same one
Strip away the fear
Underneath it’s all the same love
About time that we raised up

[Hook: Mary Lambert]
And I can’t change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
And I can’t change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
My love, my love, my love
She keeps me warm [x4]

[Outro: Mary Lambert]
Love is patient, love is kind
Love is patient (not cryin’ on Sundays)
Love is kind (not crying on Sundays) [x5]


And this video and song are just fun: 

Can’t Hold Us

Can’t Hold Us lyrics:

Return of the Mack, get up! what it is, what it does, what it is, what it isn’t
Looking for a better way to get up out of bed
Instead of getting on the Internet and checking a new hit me
Get up! fresh out pimp strut walking, little bit of humble, little bit of cautious
Somewhere between like rocky and Cosby sweatergang nope nope y’all can’t copy
Yup. Bad, moonwalking, this here, is our party, my posse’s been on Broadway,
And we did it, our way.
Grown music, I she’d my skin and put my bones into everything I record to it
And yet I’m on~
Let that stage light go and shine on down, got that Bob Barker suit game and plinko in my style.
Money, stay on my craft and stick around for those pounds,
But I do that to pass the torch and put on for my town
Trust me. On my I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T shit hustler,
Chasing dreams since I was 14 with the four track bussing halfway cross that city with the backpack, fat cat, crushingLabels out here,
Nah they can’t tell me nothing
We give that to the people,
Spread it across the country
Labels out here,
Nah they can’t tell me nothing
We give it to the people,
Spread it across the country

Here we go back, this is the moment
Tonight is the night, we’ll fight till it’s over
So we put our hands up like the ceiling can’t hold us
Like the ceiling can’t hold us
Here we go back, this is the moment
Tonight is the night, we’ll fight till it’s over
So we put our hands up like the ceiling can’t hold us
Like the ceiling can’t hold us

Nah, can I kick it? thank you. yeah I’m so damn grateful.
I grew up, really wanted gold fronts
But that’s what you get when Wu tang raised you
Y’all can’t stop me, go hard like I got an 808 in my heart beat
And I’m eating at the beat like you gave a little speed to a great white shark on shark week
Raw. Tell me go up. Gone!
Deuces goodbye. I got a world to see, and my girl she wanna see Rome,
Caesar make you a believer. nah I never ever did it for a throne.
That validation comes from giving it back to the people. nah sing a song and it goes like
Raise those hands, this is our party
We came here to live life like nobody was watching
I got my city right behind me
If I fall, they got me. Learn from that failure gain humility and then we keep marching ourselves

Here we go back, this is the moment
Tonight is the night, we’ll fight till it’s over
So we put our hands up like the ceiling can’t hold us
Like the ceiling can’t hold us
Here we go back, this is the moment
Tonight is the night, we’ll fight till it’s over
So we put our hands up like the ceiling can’t hold us
Like the ceiling can’t hold us

Na na na na na na na na
And all my people say


Here we go back, this is the moment
Tonight is the night, we’ll fight till it’s over
So we put our hands up like the ceiling can’t hold us
Like the ceiling can’t hold us
Here we go back, this is the moment
Tonight is the night, we’ll fight till it’s over
So we put our hands up like the ceiling can’t hold us
Like the ceiling can’t hold us


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Zombie Fruit

Not sure whether to laugh or cry…

Zombie Fruit

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Turtle! Turtle!



Just taking a break to provide you this turtle-themed entertainment.

turtle mothership

Your “aawwe” moment for the day:



That is all.  Carry on.

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A Guy to Make you Smile

A Guy to Make Me Smile

Shaved Bear

Extra Pocket


Like you just dont care

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It’s Science


Our solar system in perspective :



7 Facts about Time that will blow your mind:

7 Facts About Time

The same could be said for Communism, socialism, & fascism


THIS is scientific fact:

You're a dumbass

Sober vs. Drunk:

Drunk vs. Sober

Girls vs. Guys:

Guys vs Girls

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Kangaroos, Hippies, and Clouds, oh my!

What your teacher took

Hippy Girl

Only in Australia…

Kangaroo Golf

Awesome Clouds

Awesome Clouds

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