Professional obligations are made pleasant by excellent reads such as these. I’ve already written about works by Adam Arenson, Leslie Brown, Megan Kate Nelson, and Alessandro Portelli, but here are a few more:
American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era, David W. Blight
Blight’s sterling work on the memory of the Civil War era continues with this 2011 look at the way four very different writers—Robert Penn Warren, Bruce Catton, Edmund Wilson, and James Baldwin—grappled with the war’s legacy one hundred years later while the country could no longer avoid the responsibilities to freedom the war had bestowed.
The Greatest Fight of Our Generation: Louis vs. Schmeling, Lewis Erenberg
I’ve also enjoyed Erenberg’s work on American musical culture of the early-to-mid-twentieth century, especially his work in big-band swing, Swingin’ the Dream. In this 2007 work he examines two enigmatic prizefighters who became political symbols in the midst of the turbulent 1930s.
The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America, by Louis Menand
To describe Menand’s 2002 book as about the thought of Oliver Wendell Holmes, William James, Charles Peirce, and John Dewey is to reduce a remarkably wide-ranging narrative on the birth of pragmatism to its key parts. For a sheer display of intellectual curiosity (learn about probability theory, academic freedom, and the perils of certitude!), it can hardly be matched.
The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story, by Tiya Miles
This 2010 work describes Miles’s intervention into the interpretation of a historic home in Georgia’s Cherokee country. Along the way she uncovers a remarkably complex history of people and place. Public history in action.
Orange Empire: California and the Fruits of Eden, Douglas Cazaux Sackman
A 2007 work that describes how California skipped right past the Jeffersonian dream and went straight into large-scale commercial agriculture, hooking the country on oranges and setting the stage for the labor conflicts of the 1930s.
And a few more:
The Color of America Has Changed: How Racial Diversity Shaped Civil Rights Reform in California, 1941-1978, Mark Brilliant
Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, John Lewis with Michael D’Orso
Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression, Studs Terkel
California on the Breadlines: Dorothea Lange, Paul Taylor, and the Making of a New Deal Narrative, Jan Goggans
Primary Works: Cooper’s narrative of his time in Italy eclipses his fiction. Two new Library of America volumes collecting first-person accounts of the Civil War make me anticipate the final two books in the series.
Gleanings in Europe: Italy, James Fenimore Cooper (1838)
The Civil War: The First Year Told by Those Who Lived It, ed. Brooks Simpson
The Civil War: The Second Year Told by Those Who Lived It, ed. Stephen Sears
Thanks for reading the Blue Notes blog in 2012. More to come, including more on photography, in 2013.