Posts Tagged With: books

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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It’s been a while…

….but here are some more nerdtastic things that I’ve gathered from around the World Wide Web: 


X EPIC Facebook Exchange


X Authors Most Comon Sentences


X Book Workout


X Library Heaven


X-Men meets Star Wars


X Pans Labrynth


X What If

Categories: Nerdgasm | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments


I haven’t been posting in a while – but I have been collecting some good stuff as I’ve come across it.  So, I just thought I’d share:


Book Store & Credit Card


Books equal perspective


Favorite Book = Child


Fight Evil - Read Books


Get Stuff Done or Read


Read Something Good


Writers are Lots of People


Blind Date with a book


Take me gandalf

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It’s Showtime!


The time that I’ve been dreading is upon me: I started my PhD qualifying exams this week.  I took my written exam for Modern European History on Tuesday, and I’ll write my exam for the History of Sexuality on Monday.  A week later, I’ll do my last written exam, in Modern German History.  And then I’ll have two days to recoup and take my oral exams in front of all three professors at once.

In order to prepare for these exams, I read 137 books and articles in the past 9 months and wrote a two-page summary of each one (that’s a picture of most of the books up there!).  I’ve had a couple of professors tell me that you’ll know the most stuff that you’ll ever know during your reading/exam year.  You’ll never read as broadly after that because you’ll just start specializing and defining your expertise in a random niche somewhere.  After this reading year, I’m not even sure if I’m all that much smarter; I think my brain is just a little more fried is all.

Below is my book list.  Some of them are hyperlinks to the book summary that I’ve posted in the past.  If you want my opinion (or want to share yours!) on any of the books, let me know:

Modern European History

Session I: Contextualizing Europe

Session II:  Nationalism & Nation Building

Session III: Science & Society in the 19th Century

Session IV:  the “Fin-de-Siécle:” Culture & Society around 1900 

Session V:  European Mass Culture in the Context of Global War

Session VI: Life Under Totalitarian Regimes

Session VII:  Writing Modern European History


Modern German History

I: Surveys & the Sonderweg 

II: The German Question 

III:  The Nature of the Kaiserreich 

IV: World War One 

V: Weimar 

VI: Nazi Germany

  • Robert Gellately, Backing Hitler:  Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany
  • Ian Kershaw, Hitler (both volumes)
  • Detlev Peukert, Inside Nazi Germany: Conformity, Opposition, and Racism in Everyday Life
  • Claudia Koonz, Mothers in the Fatherland:  Women, the Family and Nazi Politics
  • Karl Bracher, The German Dictatorship:  The Origins, Structure, and Effects of National Socialism
  • Martin Broszat, The Hitler State:  The Foundation and Development of the Internal Structure of the Third Reich

VII: After 1945

  • Herman Weber, Geschichte der DDR
  • Eckart Conze, Die Suche nach Sicherheit
  • Uta Poigert, Jazz, Rock, and Rebels:  Cold War Politics and American Culture in Divided Germany
  • Konrad Jarausch & Michael Geyer, Shattered Past:  Reconstructing German Histories
  • Jeffrey Herf, Divided Memory: the Nazi Past in the Two Germanys
  • Richard Evans, “The New Nationalism and the Old History: Perspectives on the West German Historikerstreit” in The Journal of Modern History.  Vol. 59, No. 4 (Dec. 1987): 761-797

VIII: History of Jews in Germany

  • Jacob Katz, Out of the Ghetto:  the Social Background of Jewish Emancipation, 1770-1870
  • Marion Kaplan, the Making of the Jewish Middle Class:  Women, Family, and Identity in Imperial Germany
  • Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men:  Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland
  • Raul Hilberg, the Destruction of the European Jews (3 Volumes)   
  • Henry Friedlander, the Origins of Nazi Genocide:  From Euthanasia to the Final Solution

The History of Sexuality

I: Theory

II: General Overviews

III: European Sexuality

IV: German Sexuality

  • Fenemore,  Mark.  “The Recent Historiography of Sexuality in Twentieth-Century Germany” in The Historical Journal, Vol. 52, Issue 03, (Sept. 2009):  763-779.
  • Spector, Scott, Helmut Puff, and Dagmar Herzog, eds. After the History of Sexuality (2012)
  • Jensen, Erik.  Body by Weimar:  Athletes, Gender, and German Modernity (2010)
  • Crouthamel, Jason. “Male Sexuality and Psychological Trauma: Soldiers and Sexual Disorder in World War I and Weimar Germany.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 17, no. 1 (January 2008): 60-84.
  • Fout, John C. “Sexual Politics in Wilhelmine Germany: The Male Gender Crisis, Moral Purity and Homophobia.” In Forbidden History: The State, Society, and the Regulation of Sexuality in Modern Europe, edited by John C. Fout, 259-92, (1992)
  • Giles, Geoffrey J. “The Institution of Homosexual Panic in the Third Reich.” In Social Outsiders in Nazi Germany, edited by Robert Gellately & Nathan Stoltzfus (2001)
  • Heineman, Elizabeth D. What Difference Does a Husband Make: Women and Marital Status in Nazi and Postwar Germany (1999).
  • Koonz, Claudia. Mothers in the Fatherland. Women, the Family, and Nazi Politics (1986)
  • Herzog, Dagmar. Sex after Fascism: Memory and Morality in Twentieth-Century Germany (2007).
  • Whisnant, Clayton J.  Male Homosexuality in West Germany:  Between Persecution and Freedom, 1945-69 (Palgrave MacMillan, 2012).

V: US American Sexuality

  • D’Emilio, John & Estelle Freedman, Intimate Matters:  A History of Sexuality in America. Third Edition (University of Chicago:  2012)
  • Berube, Allan. Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two (2000)
  • Duggan, Lisa. “The Trials of Alice Mitchell: Sensationalism, Sexology, and the Lesbian Subject in Turn-of-the-Century America,” Signs 18 (Summer 1993).
  • Faderman, Lillian. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-century America, (1991)
  • Johnson, David K. The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government (2006)
  • Meyerowitz, Joanne. How Sex Changed:  A History of Transsexuality in the United States (2004)
  • Rupp, Leila.  A Desired Past: A Short History of Same Sex Love in America, (2001)
  • Somerville, Siobhan B.  “Scientific Racism & the Emergence of the Homosexual Body” in the Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 5, No. 2. (Oct., 1994): 243-266
  • Stryker, Susan. Queer Pulp: Perverted Passions from the Golden Age of the Paperback, (2001)
  • Amrstrong, E., Forging Gay Identities:  Organizing Sexuality in San Francisco, 1950-1994, (University of Chicago: 2002).
  • Kevin Mumford, Interzones:  Black/White Sex Districts in Chicago and New York in the Early Twentieth Century (1997)
  • Chad Heap, Slumming:  Sexual and Racial Encounters in American Nightlife, 1885-1940 (2010)
  • Chauncey, George. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 (1995)
  • Kennedy, Elizabeth and Madeline Davis. Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community, (1993)
  • Johnson, Patrick.  Sweet Tea:  Black Gay Men of the South, (2008)

VI: Gay Rights Movements in the US

  • Stein, Marc.  Rethinking the Gay & Lesbian Movement, (Routledge, 2012).
  • Canaday, Margot.  The Straight State:  Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America, (Princeton Press, 2009)
  • D’Emilio, John. Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970, (1983)
  • Meeker, Martin.  “Behind the Mask of Respectability:  Reconsidering the Mattachine Society and the Male Homophile Practice, 1950s and 1960s.”  Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Jan. 2001):  78-116.
  • Brandt, Eric.  Dangerous Liaisons: Blacks & Gays and the Struggle for Equality, (New Press: 1999).
  • Armstrong, Elizabeth & S.M. Crage.  “Movements and Memory:  The Making of the Stonewall Myth,” in American Sociological Review Vol. 71, No. 5 (2006):  724-751.
  • Avila-Saavedra, G.  The Construction of Queer Memory:  Media Coverage of Stonewall 25.  Paper delivered at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, San Francisco.  Accessed at
  • Chasin, Alexandra.  Selling Out:  The Gay and Lesbian Movement Goes to Market (Palgrave, 2000).
  • Gallo, Marcia,  Different Daughters:  A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Rights Movement, (Carroll & Graf: 2006).
  • White, Todd.  Pre-Gay L.A.:  A Social History of the Movement for Homosexual Rights (University of Illinois, 2009).

Just for Fun

I did get a chance – usually on the bus and train on the way to work and back home – to read some novels just for fun:

  • The Stand by Stephen King
  • The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
  • Habibi by Craig Thompson (the first graphic novel I’ve read – it was fantastic)
  • The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling (one of the most depressing and upsetting things I’ve ever read)
  • Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley
  • 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (I started this one and trudged on until I was about halfway through, but then I did something that I’ve never done before: stopped reading it half-way through. Just that bad.)
  • Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley (this was his debut novel, and I really enjoyed it)
  • Eden at the Edge of Midnight by John Kerry
  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (I’m in the middle of this one now and am loving it!)
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Getting Schooled


Evil professors:

Evil Profs

Nothing is truer:

Pack ALL the things!

And this is probably true, too:

Real World?

The Student’s Motto:

Carpe Librum

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Talk Nerdy to Me!



Your Kids on Books


What is Normal?


Exercise Chart


If Reading were Exercise


Jersey Shire


What I do in History Class

Correction: What my STUDENTS do in history class



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“We read to know we are not alone.” – C.S. Lewis

Luckily my family instilled a love of reading in me at an early age.  Some of the oldest gifts I have from my grandparents are books.  And every time I move (which seems too often lately), it’s always the boxes and boxes of books that make people want to never help me move again.

From short stories, to Harry Potter, from Dr. Seuss to Dagmar Herzog, I just love to read.  And while I do enjoy seeing how authors craft the English language & how the literature itself is composed, let’s be honest – I’m in it for the stories.  For the feelings, for the entertainment, and maybe to learn something about the human condition, too.

Maybe that’s why I chose History as my life path (or History chose me?).  After all, that’s what History is:  passing on stories.  Of course, we mean to learn something (and teach something) through these stories, but narratives are nonetheless at the heart of our profession.

So, here are some pictures for all of my other book nerd friends out there!

memes making fun of Twilight: you can’t get enough of them

But now that I’m doing my reading year for my degree, this is more like how I feel:

Categories: Nerdgasm, Random Info | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

There’s Something about Harry

I recently finished reading the Harry Potter series again, and so I’ve had horcruxes, deathly hallows, Hogwarts, and magic on my mind for the past several days.  Even though I am a “grown, mature adult,” I still get as excited about the books as I did when I first started reading them (begrudgingly, I might add.  I thought they were “kiddy” books, and didn’t want anything to do with them).  And every time I read them, I catch something that I didn’t quite realize the previous times.  I think I only just this time fully understood what happened when Harry meets Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest at the end of the Deathly Hallows.

I am an unashamed Harry Potter nerd, and I can’t wait to read the books to my kids one day.  I just hope they inherit the ability to imagine wandering portraits, every-flavored beans, Crumple-Horned Snorkacks, and the protective power of love.

Here are some Harry Potter pictures that I’ve found lately:

I wonder how many of these Tom tried out before deciding that “I am Lord Voldermort” would inspire so much fear that people would simply refer to him as “He Who Must Not Be Named”


Because “NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!” was one of the best one-liners of the entire Harry Potter series.


I knew Professor McGonagall was a badass, but I didn’t see Umbridge as a BlackBerry user. Hmm. Who knew.


This is why the Harry Potter series is awesome.


Oh, so true!

Categories: Entertainment | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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