I’ve said it before: I love my job. Being the first person to encounter the adult books at the Ottawa Library is so much fun. And when I catalog them, I have to look them over carefully. Sometimes it takes a really long, long time.
I added four fascinating nonfiction books just today.
The first one that caught my eye is “Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and his slaves,” by Henry Wiencek. In school, we were taught about Thomas Jefferson, leader of the revolution, seeking freedom for all. Later, we got a glimpse into his private life, learning of the long-time affair he conducted with his slave, Sally Hemmings. Now Wiencek brings us another Jefferson: Virginia planter and pragmatic business man. This Jefferson is a man whose wealth and power depended on slavery, and while he might have equivocated about the situation publicly, he never made any attempts to change it, and he kept his own children as slaves. “Master of the Mountain” might well have Jefferson wobbling a little on top of the mountain of esteem where he has resided through most of his history.
Another book that reflects upon American slavery and its affects is “Gather at the Table,” by Thomas Norman DeWolf and Sharon Leslie Morgan. Morgan is descended from slaves on both sides of her family; DeWolf is a descendant from the largest slave trading dynasty in history. Together, armed with genealogy charts, maps, and a willingness to face their fears, they travel overseas and through 27 states over a three-year period. They explore their histories and speak openly about the racial divide that still shadows the country. Their honesty is revealing and sometimes startling. It will allow readers to open their own dialogues about the unspoken truth of our American history.
Everyone has heard of The Tower of London — some of my favorite queens were beheaded there. It has served as castle, prison, observatory, armory, zoo, home to the crown jewels, and favorite tourist destination in its centuries of existence. Now Nigel Jones has written “Tower: an Epic History of the Tower of London.” The Tower, a massive sprawling complex, has stood firmly and constantly in the center of the historical events of Great Britain since 1078. “Tower” is a fact-filled, fascinating history of the building (and of England itself), from its beginnings by William the Conqueror to the unfortunate menageries begun by Henry III and on through the unfortunate wives of Henry VIII (the ghost of his wife, Katherine Howard, is said be heard screaming in the hallways). This is a must-read book for history buffs and Anglophiles alike.
Edward Curtis — you might not know his name, but his iconic photos of American Indians are the images that shaped so much of our view of these people. Curtis was handsome, charismatic and had friends among the rich, famous and powerful. Then at age 32, he became aware of the plight of the American Indian. He abandoned his comfortable lifestyle to enact his “Great Idea” of capturing on film the original inhabitants of the continent. For the next three decades, he roamed the country from Arizona canyon to New Mexican mesa, from the Pacific Northwest to the Great Plains. He took more than 40,000 photographs, made 10,000 audio recordings, and developed what is credited as the first documentary. His journey from interested observer to angry advocate is covered in Timothy Egan’s book, “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis.” Egan also is the author of the much praised book, “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl.”
Read and enjoy!
Heidi van der Heuvel is a librarian at the Ottawa Library.