Dec 5, 2015

Possible Books: North African History From Carthage to the Norrmans

Interest has been shown in reading about the history of North Africa. Here are some possible selections:

General History of the Region

North Africa, Revised Edition: A History from Antiquity to the Present by Phillip C. Naylor (Revised Edition). 2015, 3.8 stars on Amazon (5 reviews)/no Goodread reviews, 412 pages. This document includes a review of the book from H-Africa.
North Africa has been a vital crossroads throughout history, serving as a connection between Africa, Asia, and Europe. Paradoxically, however, the region's historical significance has been chronically underestimated. In a book that may lead scholars to reimagine the concept of Western civilization, incorporating the role North African peoples played in shaping "the West," Phillip Naylor describes a locale whose transcultural heritage serves as a crucial hinge, politically, economically, and socially. 
Ideal for novices and specialists alike, North Africa begins with an acknowledgment that defining this area has presented challenges throughout history. Naylor's survey encompasses the Paleolithic period and early Egyptian cultures, leading readers through the pharonic dynasties, the conflicts with Rome and Carthage, the rise of Islam, the growth of the Ottoman Empire, European incursions, and the postcolonial prospects for Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Western Sahara...... 
Now with a new afterword that surveys the "North African Spring" uprisings that roiled the region from 2011 to 2013, this is the most comprehensive history of North Africa to date, with accessible, in-depth chapters covering the pre-Islamic period through colonization and independence.
Classical Period

Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Civilization by Richard Miles. 2012, 4.3 stars on Amazon (101 reviews)/3.84 stars on GoodReads (1563 ratings), 554 pages (373 of text). Here is a review of the book in The Guardian. Here is a video summary of the book,
The first full-scale history of Hannibal's Carthage in decades and "a convincing and enthralling narrative." (The Economist ) 
Drawing on a wealth of new research, archaeologist, historian, and master storyteller Richard Miles resurrects the civilization that ancient Rome struggled so mightily to expunge. This monumental work charts the entirety of Carthage's history, from its origins among the Phoenician settlements of Lebanon to its apotheosis as a Mediterranean empire whose epic land-and-sea clash with Rome made a legend of Hannibal and shaped the course of Western history. Carthage Must Be Destroyed reintroduces readers to the ancient glory of a lost people and their generations-long struggle against an implacable enemy.
The Vandals by Andrew Merrills and Richard Miles. 2014. 3.8 stars (4 Amazon reviews)/3.78 stars (9 Goodreads ratings), 368 pages. Here is a short history of the Vandals in North Africa and their sack of Rome, mentioning this book.
The Vandals is the first book available in the English Language dedicated to exploring the sudden rise and dramatic fall of this complex North African Kingdom. This complete history provides a full account of the Vandals and re-evaluates key aspects of the society including: * Political and economic structures such as the complex foreign policy which combined diplomatic alliances and marriages with brutal raiding * The extraordinary cultural development of secular learning, and the religious struggles that threatened to tear the state apart * The nature of Vandal identity from a social and gender perspective.
A History of the Vandals by Torsten Cumberland Jacobsen. Not available in paperback, hardback listed at $22.76 on Amazon. 2012, 3.6 stars (7 Amazon reviews)/3,94 stars (16 Goodreads ratings), 360 pages. Here is a review of the book.
(T)he Vandals.....over a period of six hundred years had migrated from the woodland regions of Scandinavia across Europe and ended in the deserts of North Africa. In A History of the Vandals, the first general account in English covering the entire story of the Vandals from their emergence to the end of their kingdom, historian Torsten Cumberland Jacobsen pieces together what we know about the Vandals, sifting fact from fiction. In the middle of the fifth century the Vandals, who professed Arianism, a form of Christianity considered heretical by the Roman emperor, created the first permanent Germanic successor state in the West and were one of the deciding factors in the downfall of the Western Roman Empire. Later Christian historians described their sack of Rome in 455 and their vehement persecution of Catholics in their kingdom, accounts that were sensationalized and gave birth to the term “vandalism.” 
In the mid-sixth century, the Vandals and their North African kingdom were the first target of Byzantine Emperor Justinian’s ambitious plan to reconquer the lost territories of the fallen Western Empire. In less than four months, what had been considered one of the strongest Germanic kingdoms had been defeated by a small Roman army led by the general Belisarius. Despite later rebellions, this was the end of the Germanic presence in North Africa, and in many ways the end of the Arian heresy of Christianity. For the Romans it was the incredibly successful start of the reconquest of the lost lands of the Western Empire.
Terry Jones' Barbarians: An Alternative Roman History by Terry Jones. 2007, 4 stars (35 Amazon reviews)/3.93 stars (464 Goodreads ratings), 320 pages. Here is a video with materials from Jones TV on the Goths.
A completely fresh approach to Roman history, this book not only offer readers the chance to see the Romans from a non-Roman perspective, it also reveals that most of those written off by the Romans as uncivilized, savage, and barbaric were in fact organized, motivated, and intelligent groups of people with no intentions of overthrowing Rome and plundering its Empire. This fascinating study does away with the propaganda and opens our eyes to who really established the civilized world. Delving deep into history, Terry Jones and Alan Ereira uncover the impressive cultural and technological achievements of the Celts, Goths, Persians, and Vandals. In this new paperback edition, Terry and Alan travel through 700 years of history on three continents, bringing wit, irreverence, passion, and the very latest scholarship to transform our view of the legacy of the Roman Empire and the creation of the modern world.
Augustine's World (354 - 430)

The Confessions (Everyman's Library) by St. Augustine, Robin Lane Fox and Philip Burton. 2001. Not available in paperback, hardback listed at $11.70 on Amazon. This edition 2001, 4.3 stars (Amazon, 398 reviews)/3.85 stars (Goodreads, 26,354 ratings).
Augustine's fourth-century spiritual autobiography not only is a major document in the history of Christianity, a classic of Roman Africa, and the unchallenged model through the ages for the autobiographical record of the journey to self-knowledge, it also marks a vital moment in the history of Western culture. 
As Augustine explains how, when, and why he became the man he is, he probes the great themes that others were to explore after himCfaith, time, truth, identity, and self-understanding--with a richness of detail unmatched in ancient literature. Dense with vivid portrayals of friends, family, colleagues, and enemies, The Confessions chronicles the passage from a life of sensuality and superstition to a genuine spiritual awakening--in a powerful narrative of one man's inner education that continues to shape the way we think and act today.
Augustine: Conversions to Confessions by Robin Lane Fox. 2015, Unrated; 688 pages total (564 pages of text); Only available in hardback and Kindle, $23.37. Reviewed in The Economist, November 28th, 2015.
Saint Augustine is one of the most influential figures in all of Christianity, yet his path to sainthood was by no means assured. Born in AD 354 to a pagan father and a Christian mother, Augustine spent the first thirty years of his life struggling to understand the nature of God and his world. He learned about Christianity as a child but was never baptized, choosing instead to immerse himself in the study of rhetoric, Manicheanism, and then Neoplatonism—all the while indulging in a life of lust and greed. 
In Augustine, the acclaimed historian Robin Lane Fox re-creates Augustine’s early life with unparalleled insight, showing how Augustine’s quest for knowledge and faith finally brought him to Christianity and a life of celibacy. Augustine’s Confessions, a vivid description of his journey toward conversion and baptism, still serves as a model of spirituality for Christians around the world. 
Magisterial and beautifully written, Augustine will be the definitive biography of this colossal figure for decades to come.
The Byzantines

Belisarius: The Last Roman General by Ian Hughes. 2014. 288 pages, 3.8 stars.
A military history of the campaigns of Belisarius, the greatest general of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Justinian. He twice defeated the Persians and reconquered North Africa from the Vandals in a single year at the age of 29, before going on to regain Spain and Italy, including Rome (briefly), from the barbarians. It discusses the evolution from classical Roman to Byzantine armies and systems of warfare, as well as those of their chief enemies, the Persians, Goths and Vandals. It reassesses Belisarius’ generalship and compares him with the likes of Caesar, Alexander and Hannibal. It will be illustrated with line drawings and battle plans as well as photographs.
The Secret History by Procopius (c. 500-565). This Penguin Classics edition 2007. 176 pages, 4.3 stars from 35 Amazon reviews.
A trusted member of the Byzantine establishment, Procopius was the Empire's official chronicler, and his History of the Wars of Justinian proclaimed the strength and wisdom of the Emperor's reign. Yet all the while the dutiful scribe was working on a very different—and dangerous—history to be published only once its author was safely in his grave. The Secret History portrays the 'great lawgiver' Justinian as a rampant king of corruption and tyranny, the Empress Theodora as a sorceress and whore, and the brilliant general Belisarius as the pliable dupe of his scheming wife Antonina. Magnificently hyperbolic and highly opinionated, The Secret History is a work of explosive energy, depicting holy Byzantium as a hell of murder and misrule. 
For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
The Muslim Conquest

The Arab Conquest of Egypt - And the Last Thirty Years of the Roman Dominion by Alfred J. Butler. This is an classic book (the author died in 1936) in a 2013 edition. 614 pages, 4.15 stars (Goodreads, 66 ratings)
Unlike some other reproductions of classic texts (1) We have not used OCR(Optical Character Recognition), as this leads to bad quality books with introduced typos. (2) In books where there are images such as portraits, maps, sketches etc We have endeavoured to keep the quality of these images, so they represent accurately the original artefact. Although occasionally there may be certain imperfections with these old texts, we feel they deserve to be made available for future generations to enjoy.
Muslim Expansion and Byzantine Collapse in North Africa by Walter E. Kaegi. 2015, 366 pages, unrated, $31.99 paperback.
Who 'lost' Christian North Africa? Who won it and how? Walter Kaegi takes a fresh look at these perennial questions, with maps and on-site observations, in this exciting new book. Persisting clouds of suspicion and blame overshadowed many Byzantine attempts to defend North Africa, as Byzantines failed to meet the multiple challenges from different directions which ultimately overwhelmed them. While the Muslims forcefully and permanently turned Byzantine internal dynastic and religious problems and military unrest to their advantage, they brought their own strengths to a dynamic process that would take a long time to complete - the transformation of North Africa. An impartial comparative framework helps to sort through identity politics, 'Orientalism' charges and counter-charges, and institutional controversies; this book also includes a new study of the decisive battle of Sbeitla in 647, helping readers to understand what befell Byzantium, and indeed empires from Rome to the present.
Sicily (These two books were published in a two volume set, with 4.31 stars (Goodreads, 190 ratings).

The Normans in the South, 1016–1130 (The Normans in Sicily) by John Julius Norwich. 2011. 388 pages, $29.75 paperback.
This book is about the 'other' Norman Conquest. It is the story of Robert Guiscard, perhaps the most extraordinary European adventurer between Caesar and Napoleon. In one year, 1084, he had both the Eastern and Western Emperors retreating before him and one of the most formidable of medieval Popes in his power. It is also the story of his brother Roger, thanks to whom he conquered Sicily from the Saracens; and of Roger's descendants, notably his son Roger II, who converted his father's achievement into a cosmopolitan and cultivated kingdom whose surviving monuments still dazzle us today. The Normans in the South is the first of two volumes that recount the dazzling story of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily. "Diligence, narrative skill, and a scholarship fired by enthusiasm". (Lord Kinross, Sunday Telegraph). "I found the book very enjoyable indeed. It is beautifully written". (Nancy Mitford).
The Kingdom in the Sun, 1130–1194 (The Normans in Sicily) by John Julius Norwich. 2011. 474 pages, $29.75 paperback.
There were two Norman Conquests. John Julius Norwich is the consummate historian of the 'other' one: the conquest of Sicily. When on Christmas Day 1130 Roger de Hauteville was crowned first King of Sicily, the island entered a golden age. Norman and Italian, Greek and Arab, Lombard, Englishman and Jew all contributed to a culture that was as brilliant as it was cosmopolitan; and to an atmosphere of racial and religious toleration unparalleled in Europe. But sixty-four years later, to the day, the sun set on the Sicilian Kingdom. In this second volume of his history ( The Normans in the South 1016-1130 is also in Faber Finds) Norwich describes the reigns of the grotesquely misnamed William the Bad and the Good and the bastard Tancred. We read, too, of St Bernard, magnetic but insufferable; of Adrian IV, the only English Pope; of Richard the Lionheart (behaving abominably in Messina); and other notables. This scintillating narrative history is also a superb traveller's guide, listing every Norman building extant on Sicily.

Nov 17, 2015

Black Elk Speaks (Through John Niehardt)

On Veterans Day (11/11) seven members of our History Book Club met at the Kensington Row Bookshop.

The book under discussion for the month was Black Elk Speaks: The Complete Edition; The book was written by John G. Neihardt based on sessions with Nicholas Black Elk, an Oglala Sioux (or Lakota).

Choosing a book for February

Hoping a few more folk would show up for the discussion, we began the meeting choosing a book to discuss in February (the lead time allows the Kensington Row Bookship to acquire copies for our members).

We had thought to discuss a book on Catalonia for the session, recognizing that the Kensington Row Bookstore also hosts the Catalan library and reading room of the Fundacio Pauli Bellet, a collection of books in Catalan. Coincidentally, the issue of Catalonian independence is heating up, with a pro-independence government in Barcelona; the Government in Seville is apparently much opposed to that independence. We discovered that Eli (Elesonde Sola-Sole the store owner) and her mother will be in Barcelona on our meeting day, and we therefore postponed the choice of a book on the history of Catalonia until December. Check out these posts on our blog:
We chose a book from a short list (continuing not to focus on books about U.S. history for the next few months):
The first is a short book, published on the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. It has been well reviewed, and Goodreads shows significant numbers of readers with positive ratings given the short time the book has been on the market.

Angus Deaton won the 2015 Nobel Prize for economics, and this book is a relatively short essay on how the world rapidly moved from all but universal poverty and short life expectancy to today's world divided between the long lived, affluent and the rest. It too is doing well on Goodreads. Moreover, Deaton hit the news again recently as the second author of a paper on which his wife, Anne Case, is lead author; that paper was titled "Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century".

Member Stew has been reading From the Ruins of Empire and recommended it highly. It had been recommended to her by the staff of a bookshop she visited on a recent Mediterranean cruise (we commented how useful is access to the curatorial services of the staff of a good bookstore focusing on newly released books). 
The Victorian period, viewed in the West as a time of self-confident progress, was experienced by Asians as a catastrophe. As the British gunned down the last heirs to the Mughal Empire, burned down the Summer Palace in Beijing, or humiliated the bankrupt rulers of the Ottoman Empire, it was clear that for Asia to recover a vast intellectual effort would be required.
Released in 2013, this book has already gathered a significant audience and has been highly rated by nearly 800 readers on Goodreads. We chose From the Ruins of Empire for our February book.

Joe strongly recommended Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West by Hampton Sides. Allen, who has read the book added his strong endorsement for the book and its author.
In the summer of 1846, the Army of the West marched through Santa Fe, en route to invade and occupy the Western territories claimed by Mexico. Fueled by the new ideology of “Manifest Destiny,” this land grab would lead to a decades-long battle between the United States and the Navajos, the fiercely resistant rulers of a huge swath of mountainous desert wilderness.In Blood and Thunder, Hampton Sides gives us a magnificent history of the American conquest of the West. At the center of this sweeping tale is Kit Carson, the trapper, scout, and soldier whose adventures made him a legend. Sides shows us how this illiterate mountain man understood and respected the Western tribes better than any other American, yet willingly followed orders that would ultimately devastate the Navajo nation. Rich in detail and spanning more than three decades, this is an essential addition to our understanding of how the West was really won.
The book published in 2007 has been widely read and rated by many readers with consistently good ratings. The text runs to nearly 500 pages (of a total of 624) so it is longer that the club's usual limit. We should come back to this book in the future.

Joe also mentioned his conversations with Algonquin tribe members in southern Maryland. There is the Cedarville Band Of Piscataway Indians who speak an Algonquin language and operate a small museum in southern Maryland.

Black Elk Speaks appears to be a simple book, but it presents the modern reader with complex issues of interpretation and credibility. Black Elk, an Oglala Lakota Indian born during the Civil War meets with John Neihardt on the Pine River Indian Reservation in 1930. He tells the story of his life through an interpreter. Neihardt's daughter takes the story down in shorthand, and Neihardt published a short book telling the story. In spite of the fact that Neihardt was already famous, the book gets only a small audience and all but disappears from American consciousness. Then in the tumultuous 1960s it is published in a new edition and gains a new audience. It becomes controversial. That is the book that the History Book Club met to discuss.

The members of the club came to the book with their own backgrounds. The club has read a number of books about Indians at least tangentially: Junipero Serra: California's Founding Father1493, Uncovering the New World Columbus Created; Wounded Knee: Party Politics and the Road to an American Massacre; Mayflower: a Story of Courage, Community and War; The Pueblo Revolt: the Secret Rebellion that Drove the Spanish out of the Southwest; 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus. They had seen cowboy and Indians movies and cavalry and Indians movies in which the Indians were always the "bad guys", and later films like Dances with Wolves and Little Big Man that were more pro-Indian.

One member mentioned that he had also seen some of the great works of the Indians: Manchu Picchu, Tiwanaku, Teotihuacan, Monte Alba, Chaco Canyon and Kahokia. Mexico City and Cuzco were among the great cities of the world when they were conquered by the Conquistadores and their Indian allies. He specifically mentioned Cahokia, the main pyramid of which was larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. The cultural achievements of American Indians are very poorly understood by most Americans.

Modern conception of Cahokia with its Great Mound (larger than the Great Pyramid of Egypt and
the thousands of small dwellings of Indian families. Source: Cahokia Mounds State Historical Site
One member mentioned that she had always wanted to be an Indian when she and her friends played cowboys and Indians; others reported just the opposite. It was mentioned that the scouting movement had tended to favor the Indians, and many scout units were named after the Apaches, the Comanches, and other tribes. These attitudes formed in childhood and the experiences with Indians over lifetimes tended to make our members more (or less) positive toward the Lakota.

Background on Black Elk Speaks by John G. Neihardt

The book
was first published as a thin volume in 1932. It was republished in 1961, 1979, 1988, 2000, 2008; the edition we chose to discuss was published in 2014. This 2014 volume includes as appendices Prefaces to the 1932, 1961, and 1972 edition, as is an introduction by Philip J. Deloria; it also includes appendices by Raymond J. Demalle, Alex N. Petri, and Lauri Utect. Thus this 2014 edition includes a great deal of introductory material and scholarly review material that was not included in the first edition. The first edition, while read by some influential readers, was not sold widely. However, after the 1961 edition was published, the book became quite popular. perhaps due to a rising interest in new age religion as well as an increasing interest by American Indians if their own history (as told by Indians). While controversial, the book has now become an acknowledged classic.

John G. Neihardt is seen here in his library in Branson, Missouri in 1924 or 1925.
I quote from the biography of John G. Neihardt provided by Wikipedia:
John Gneisenau Neihardt (January 8, 1881 – November 24, 1973) was an American writer and poet, an amateur historian and ethnographer. Born at the end of the American settlement of the Plains, he became interested in the experiences of those who had been a part of the European-American migration, as well as Indigenous peoples whom they had displaced. He traveled down the Missouri River by open boat, visited with old trappers, became familiar with leaders in a number of Indigenous communities and did extensive research throughout the Plains and Rocky Mountains. 
Neihardt wrote to preserve and express elements of the pioneer past in books that range across a broad variety of genres, from travelogues to epic poetry. In 1921 the Nebraska Legislature elected Neihardt as the state's poet laureate, a title he held for fifty-two years until his death. 
His most well-known work is Black Elk Speaks (1932), which Neihardt presents as an extended narration of the visions of the Lakota medicine man Black Elk. It was translated into German as Ich Rufe mein Volk (I Call My People) (1953).
Neihardt served as a professor of poetry at the University of Nebraska, and a literary editor in St. Louis, Missouri. He was a poet-in-residence and lecturer at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri from 1948 on. He was widely honored for his writings.

Black Elk and Elk of the Oglala Lakota as grass dancers touring with the
Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, London, England, 1887 (source: The Sixth
Grandfather: Black Elk's Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt,
edited by
Raymond J. DeMallie, page 259. The men are wearing "sheep and sleigh
bells; otter fur waist and neck pieces; pheasant feather bustles at the waist;
 dentalium shell necklaces; and bone hairpipes with colored glass beads....
Photograph collected on Pine Ridge Reservation in 1891 by James Mooney.
Courtesy National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution")
via Wikipedia
Black Elk  (December 1863 – August 19, 1950) "was a famous wičháša wakȟáŋ (medicine man and holy man) of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux). He was Heyoka and a second cousin of Crazy Horse."

Black Elk was present at the massacre at  the Little Big Horn (Custer's Last Stand) in 1876, although he would have been only 13 years old. He was also a witness to the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890 when he was about 17 years old. Both of these battles have achieved monumental status in western lore. Indeed, he was a boy at the time of many of the battles between Sioux and the U.S. Army.

I quote from Wikipedia:
In his early 40s in 1904, Black Elk was christened with the first name of Nicholas after becoming Catholic. When other medicine men would speak of him, such as his nephew Fools Crow, they would refer to him both as Black Elk and Nicholas Black Elk. 
When Black Elk was nine years old, he was suddenly taken ill and left prone and unresponsive for several days. During this time he had a great vision in which he was visited by the Thunder Beings (Wakinyan), and taken to the Grandfathers — spiritual representatives of the six sacred directions: west, east, north, south, above, and below. These "... spirits were represented as kind and loving, full of years and wisdom, like revered human grandfathers.". When he was seventeen, Black Elk told a medicine man, Black Road, about the vision in detail. Black Road and the other medicine men of the village were "astonished by the greatness of the vision."......... 
In 1887, he traveled to England with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, an experience he described in chapter twenty of Black Elk Speaks . On May 11, 1887, the troop put on a command performance for Queen Victoria, whom they called "Grandmother England." He also described being in the crowd at her Golden Jubilee. 
In spring 1888, the Wild West Show set sail for the United States. Black Elk became separated from the group and the ship left without him, stranding him with three other Lakota. They subsequently joined another wild west show and he spent the next year in Germany, France, and Italy. When Buffalo Bill arrived in Paris in May 1889, Black Elk obtained a ticket to return home to Pine Ridge, arriving in autumn of 1889. During his sojourn in Europe, Black Elk was given an "abundant opportunity to study the white man's way of life," and he learned to speak rudimentary English. 
For at least a decade, beginning in 1934, Black Elk returned to the work that he had done earlier in life with Buffalo Bill – organizing an Indian show in the Black Hills. Unlike the Wild West shows which were used to glorify Indian warfare, Black Elk's show was used primarily to teach tourists about Lakota culture and traditional sacred rituals – including the Sun Dance....... 
Black Elk married his first wife, Katie War Bonnet, in 1892. She became a Catholic, and all three of their children were baptized as Catholic. After her death in 1903, he became a Catholic in 1904, when he was christened with the name of Nicholas and later served as a catechist. He remarried in 1905 to Anna Brings White, a widow with two daughters. Together they had three more children and remained together until her death in 1941. 
Nicholas Black Elk and John G. Neihardt.
The Sessions in Which Black Elk told his Story

I quote from Wikipedia:
In the summer of 1930, as part of his research into the Native American perspective on the Ghost Dance movement, the poet and writer John G. Neihardt, already the Nebraska poet laureate, received the necessary permission from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to go to the Pine Ridge Reservation. Accompanied by his two daughters, he went to meet an Oglala holy man named Black Elk. His intention was to talk to someone who had participated in the Ghost Dance. For the most part, the reservations were not then open to visitors........
Neihardt recounts that Black Elk invited him back for interviews. Flying Hawk served as their translator. (According to Hilda Neihardt and Todd R. Wise in The Black Elk Reader (2000); others say the translation was done by Ben Black Elk, Nicholas Black Elk's son.) Neihardt writes that Black Elk told him of his visions, including one in which he saw himself as a "sixth grandfather", the spiritual representative of the earth and of mankind. Neihardt also states that Black Elk shared some of the Oglala rituals which he had performed as a healer, and that two men developed a close friendship. His daughter Hilda Neihardt says Black Elk adopted her, her sister and their father as relatives, giving each of them Lakota names.
John G. Neihardt meets with Black Elk in 1931.
Black Elk then told his story to Neihardt through the interpreter. Older friends of Black Elk who may have had better memories of battles and other events that took place when Black Elk was very young, also spoke from time to time. While the interpreter spoke better English than did Black Elk, apparently his English was not perfect. Hilda Neihardt, then 15, took stenographic notes of what was said, later transcribing them. (These materials are available to researchers in a university library, where John Neihardt deposited them.) Thus Neihardt wrote his version of the monologue from his own memory, from the transcripts produced by his young daughter, from his general knowledge, and from whatever additional materials he may have found through supplementary research. During Black Elk's monologues there were opportunities for questions and answers (again, through the interpreter).

The History Book Club Discussion of Black Elk Speaks

Peter, the club member who originally recommended the book to the club has himself published a number of books on the Indian wars and related subjects. He was not able to attend the meeting, but assured our other members that the information on the battles presented in Black Elk Speaks is quite accurate.

 A member posted this on the club listserve prior to the meeting:
There are several problems with the book.  The first is that Neihardt is the author of the book, I realize that the version selected for the club lists Black Elk also, but that was only been done well after both Black Elk and Neihardt were long dead.  That Black Elk was not listed as the, or even an, author has to be taken as a lack of respect for the culture the book describes.  Another problem is the claim that Neihardt translated. Black Elk spoke English, though not well, and describing the spiritual aspects of a culture is difficult in its own language,  Black Elks son translated.  Neihardt worked on improving the translation, which sounds ridiculous to me.

You also fail to mention that Black Elk was a Roman Catholic and an actor in the Wild West Show that toured Europe.  Both of those are well documented.  Whether Black Elk is a good source of information on Lakota traditions is dubious.  I think most of the sources for Black Elk's prominence in the Lakota community are from those promoting their connection to him.  The book is used by Indians for guidance because it is the most detailed description available.  There were few left to document anything and the culture was effectively destroyed. The Nazis tried to exterminate the Romani, Americans attempted  the same with the Indians, neither succeeded but Americans did a better job (or worse depending on your point of view)..
Allen, another member who had recommended the book to the club members, began the discussion mentioning that he had first read Black Elk Speaks, a slim volume at the time, many years ago. He told us that the book had became very relevant to current events in the 1970s with what has been termed the Wounded Knee Incident.
The Wounded Knee Incident began on February 27, 1973, when approximately 200 Oglala Lakota and followers of the American Indian Movement (AIM) seized and occupied the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The protest followed the failure of an effort of the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO) to impeach tribal president Richard Wilson, whom they accused of corruption and abuse of opponents. Additionally, protesters attacked the United States government's failure to fulfill treaties with Indian people and demanded the reopening of treaty negotiations. 
Oglala and AIM activists controlled the town for 71 days while the United States Marshals Service, FBI agents, and other law enforcement agencies cordoned off the area. The activists chose the site of the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre for its symbolic value. Both sides were armed and shooting was frequent. A Cherokee and an Oglala Lakota were killed by shootings in April 1973. Ray Robinson, a civil rights activist who joined the protesters, disappeared during the events and is believed to have been murdered. Due to damage to the houses, the small community was not reoccupied until the 1990s. 
The occupation attracted wide media coverage, especially after the press accompanied the two U.S. Senators from South Dakota to Wounded Knee. The events electrified American Indians, who were inspired by the sight of their people standing in defiance of the government which had so often failed them. Many Indian supporters traveled to Wounded Knee to join the protest. At the time there was widespread public sympathy for the goals of the occupation, as Americans were becoming more aware of longstanding issues of injustice related to American Indians. Afterward AIM leaders Dennis Banks and Russell Means were indicted on charges related to the events, but their 1974 case was dismissed by the federal court for prosecutorial misconduct, a decision upheld on appeal. 
Wilson stayed in office and in 1974 was re-elected amid charges of intimidation, voter fraud, and other abuses. The rate of violence climbed on the reservation as conflict opened between political factions in the following three years; residents accused Wilson's private militia, Guardians of the Oglala Nation (GOONs), for much of it. More than 60 opponents of the tribal government died violently during those years, including Pedro Bissonette, director of the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization (OSCRO).
(Indeed, many people were indicted and tried for crimes in conjunction with the Wounded Knee Incident.)  Allen specifically mentioned Leonard Peltier who was convicted of murder, and is still in jail; that conviction and his long service in jail was described as especially contentious.

Another member described taking an anthropology course in the mid 1960s, that included not only interviews with Americans, but later interviews with Latin American students at Michigan State University, and ultimately a month living with Tarascan Indians in Mexico (conducting trans-cultural interviews in Spanish).

Editor's Note

The purposes of the participants in the interviews is very important in terms of the credibility of the information reported. Professional anthropologists have been mislead by "informants" who did not want to reveal (sacred) information for religious regions, who hid illegal activity, who did not understand the anthropologists (cross cultural, or poorly expressed) questions, or who simply enjoyed misleading the foreigner. Neihardt was an amateur anthropologist, working from notes his teen age daughter took from a translator.

Neihardt was a writer, more than that a poet. He conducted the sessions with Black Elk in order to obtain material for a book he wished to write. He was writing for a popular audience, and in the 1930s such an audience would have known little about the Lakota people and culture; thus a book would have to tell an (apparently) straight forward tale to get a publisher and audience. Neihardt also reportedly wanted to describe the visions of a noted Sioux visionary and healer to support the belief that a vision he believed he, Neihardt, had received during illness as a child was credible as coming from another level of being. Neihardt apparently credited his own childhood vision as the basis for his choice of career as a poet and writer. The book's text does not question Black Elk's apparent belief in the reality of his own childhood and later visions.

Note that Neihardt could have raised questions about how well a man in his late 60s could actually recall a vision experienced when he was nine years old, or whether recounting that vision subsequently part by part in dance ceremonies might have changed his memory of what he actually experienced. Nor it there mention made that people suffering from high fever often have "fever dreams" that they do not accept as visions from another level of being. Nor does he raise the issue that a man who had been for years a Catholic catechist might have is account of his childhood vision affected by that experience.

The book's text reads is beautifully. Perhaps a high point was the way Neihardt chose to handle the speech of Black Elk and his Sioux colleagues who actually spoke in the Sioux language. How was he to convey the otherness, yet make the text intelligible to his American readers? Neihardt chose to write a prose that was clearly not that which he would choose to represent his own thinking or speech, but which would lend "a flavor of the American Indian". Throughout the original book, Black Elk is clearly the principal narrator (although Neihardt is the credited "author").

The book tells us little about Black Elk's reasons for talking to outsiders, other than Neihardt's acceptance that Black Elk had seen Neihardt's spirit guide (who apparently served as a guarantor of Neihardt's serious purpose and reliability), and that Black Elk wanted to leave a record of his entire vision for posterity -- something he had not previously done. Recalling that Black Elk had served for years in Buffalo Bill's Wild West shows, one might have expected a suggestion that Black Elk liked fame. Perhaps he saw money coming from his tales -- and apparently he was living in real poverty. Indeed, he did start his own Buffalo Bill style show on the reservation focusing on the 19th century lives of the Lakota. Perhaps he was simply a lonely old man, and enjoyed having people to talk to; perhaps he enjoyed the local events related to the story telling (such as the feast and dance that accompanied the sessions and the adoption of the Neihardt's). Indeed, I don't recall even a suggestion that Black Elk may have shaded the story he told to make himself look good.

Black Elk's Vision (Homage to Black Elk) by Barbara Wright
The account of the Great Vision (Chapter 3) is certainly a high point of the book. The vision is certainly grand, and beautifully told. So too are the later accounts of the ceremonies with entrance processions, dances, songs and scenes acted out by which Sioux people were informed about Black Elk's great vision. For a migrant people leading a simple existence these must have been awesome indeed. We learn that one aspect of the Great Vision was that it taught Black Elk some things that he could use as a healer, and that his activity as a healer came following his sharing of that aspect of the Great Vision in a dance ceremony.

The Ghost Dance by the Oglala Lakota at Pine Ridge. Illustration by Frederic Remington, 1890.
I quote from Wikipedia:
The Ghost Dance (Caddo: Nanissáanah, also called the Ghost Dance of 1890) was a new religious movement incorporated into numerous Native American belief systems. According to the teachings of the Northern Paiute spiritual leader Wovoka (renamed Jack Wilson), proper practice of the dance would reunite the living with spirits of the dead, bring the spirits of the dead to fight on their behalf, make the white colonists leave, and bring peace, prosperity, and unity to native peoples throughout the region. 
The basis for the Ghost Dance, the circle dance, is a traditional form that has been used by many Native Americans since prehistoric times, but this new ceremony was first practiced among the Nevada Paiute in 1889. The practice swept throughout much of the Western United States, quickly reaching areas of California and Oklahoma. As the Ghost Dance spread from its original source, Native American tribes synthesized selective aspects of the ritual with their own beliefs.
The Ghost Dance was associated with Wilson's (Wovoka's) prophecy of an end to white expansion while preaching goals of clean living, an honest life, and cross-cultural cooperation by Native Americans. 
Practice of the Ghost Dance movement was believed to have contributed to Lakota resistance to assimilation under the Dawes Act. In the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, U.S. Army forces killed at least 153 Miniconjou and Hunkpapa from the Lakota people. The Sioux variation on the Ghost Dance tended towards millenarianism, an innovation that distinguished the Sioux interpretation from Jack Wilson's original teachings. The Caddo Nation still practices the Ghost Dance today.
It was widely believed among Indian adherents of the Ghost Dance movement that Ghost Shirts, decorated in keeping with the movement's instructions, would protect their wearers from bullets.

The circle dance was apparently a very effective way to move a new cultural practice from tribe to tribe. It may not have been an equally good means to evaluate the credibility of the claims made for that practice. Unfortunately for those wearing the ghost shirts, those shirts did not in fact stop the soldier's bullets.

Black Elk, through Neihardt, provides a clear description of the Sioux experience with the Ghost Shirt movement, a movement that provoked the U.S. troops, and appears to have played an important role in fomenting the massacre at Wounded Knee.

Returning to the Meeting Narrative

View of Chimney Rock, Ogalillalh Sioux Village in Foreground by Albert Bierstadt
John described something he himself experienced as a 15 year old half a century ago. He and a friend had gone fishing for salmon for several days on the mouth of the Klamath River. The Klamath Indians hold the fishing rights to the Klamath River, and this was the first time in his life that John met people who identified themselves as Indians. John and his friend camped in a public campgrounds near an elk reserve and near the river. The weather was beautiful, and they simply spread ground sheets, put sleeping bags on top, and slept under the open skies.

One morning, perhaps 3:30 or 4:00 am, John was awakened by his friend who was literally shaking, and who told the following story. The friend had been dozing when he became aware of a large animal entering their camp. He could see the black shadow of the animal against the night sky, and recognized that it must be a full grown elk (which can grow to 800 lbs.) with a full set of antlers. The elk paused on entering the campground, then (according to John's friend) walked to the other side of the camp walking directly over John's sleeping body; it stopped again on the other side of the camp, looked around, and went off into the forest.

John then asked how many of the members present believe that this event was the attachment of a spirit guide to him, a guide that would stay with him for decades eventually leading him to read Black Elk Speaks and this discussion. Since this question was met by complete silence, he asked why the group seemed to accepting of the story in the book that Black Elk had seen John Neihardt's spirit guide when they first met, and it was that that decided Black Elk to entrust Neidhardt with the task of sharing things with the world that Black Elk himself had kept secret for decades.

Photo of an elk at night. Picture source
A History Book Club member described Black Elk Speaks as a profoundly sad book.

Black Elk as a young boy lived a life that must have seemed very good. The Oglala lived in small bands in the Black Hills of South Dakota, dominating their lands. Theirs was a horse culture that traveled light. They were few (only a few thousand) and lived in Tepees. They possessed rifles that made their hunting relatively easy and productive.

They knew their territory well. When they began to have trouble hunting and gathering at one spot, they would move their village to another which they could be confident would feed them all. While they lived in small groups much of the year, they could gather in larger numbers, such as the hunt when the buffalo arrived in the Black Hills.

When young, Black Elk believed he had a mission in life, to lead his people to a still better life. As it turned out, that was not to be.

Badlands in the northern portion of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

For years, in an effort to abolish their culture. children of the Lakota had been taken to schools where they were isolated from their families and forbidden to speak the Lakota language.  In the 1930s, Black Elk lived in a small "white-man's" house on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The Lakota reservation had (contrary to the terms of treaties) been reduced in size time and again as whites came to the Black Hills, first to mine gold, and then for other reasons. The buffalo were gone, all but extinct. The Lakota culture of Black Elk's boyhood too was all but extinct. Their traditional way of life gone, they tried to survive on skills newly taught to them, but their land was poor and the weather uncertain.

Things are no better now. According to Wikipedia:
In 2005 in an interview, Cecilia Fire Thunder, the first woman president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, noted the following: "68 percent of the college graduates on the reservation are women. Seventy percent of the jobs are held by women. Over 90 percent of the jobs in our schools are held by women." 
As of 2011, population estimates of the reservation range from 28,000 to 40,000. Numerous enrolled members of the tribe live off the reservation. 
80% of residents are unemployed (versus 10% of the rest of the country); 
49% of the residents live below the Federal poverty level (61% under the age of 18); 
Per capita income in Oglala Lakota County is $6,286; 
The infant mortality rate is 5 times higher than the national average; 
Native American amputation rates due to diabetes is 3 to 4 times higher than the national average; 
Death rate due to diabetes is 3 times higher than the national average; and 
Life expectancy in 2007 was estimated to be 48 for males and 52 for females
 The Lakota history from Black Elk's birth to now has been truly sad.

A Further Comment

Cathy asked "are there any tribes that are successful in today's world?" A quick answer was that some of the small tribes that have gambling casinos located near large cities are doing well economically.  Still, it is clear that people living in tribes in the Americas, Africa and Asia as a rule are not doing well. (We failed to note the people in the Arab Emirates have managed to gain control of oil resources while retaining some aspects of tribalism. So too, some business communities highly dependent on trust among members -- such as has been said to exist in the diamond business -- may have aspects of "tribal behavior".)

(We are perhaps drawn back to Angus Deaton's book mentioned above. That book discusses the emergence of a technical and economic system a few centuries ago which have allowed a portion of the world to become much richer, much healthier and much more schooled that the rest of mankind. That felicitous system was based on improved manufacturing technology and the harnessing of new forms of energy which together allowed for efficiency in mass production. This advance was matched by improvements in transportation and the transmission of information. These in turn allowed the cheaper manufactured goods to reach world markets still at low prices -- not just local markets. Raw materials were sourced worldwide, where ever their exploitation was most economical. The new manufacturing and trading elites successfully fought for political power, replacing the old aristocracy that was based on ownership of agricultural land in Europe, America and a few other places that succeeded in jumping on the progress bandwagon. New institutions were created to support manufacturing and globalization of markets, and tribal institutions were left often inadequate to mobilize gains for tribe members. This is a scenario that may apply to the Oglala as well as many other tribal peoples who continued to live as such.) Editorial comment.

Final Comment
“History is written by the victors.” 
― Walter Benjamin

Black Elk Speaks is a rare history written from the point of view of the losers. This book appears to describe Oglala Lakota culture in the late 19th century; that culture was very different that that of mainstream America in the early 21st century. Yet as described by Black Elk though John Niehardt, it is a culture with aspects of beauty now lost. Before we blythely seek to develop other countries, destroying tribal and other cultures in the process, we might stop to wonder what is being lost? Are there better ways to achieve better health and more security for the people of those countries? At least, how ought we to involve the people whose culture is being disrupted in the choices as to about that disruption. Historically, the changes were imposed upon the Oglala Lakota brutally by a people (our American ancestors) sure in their own minds of the superiority of their own culture (which we now see as fatally flawed by racism and prejudice).

The 1932 edition is very controversial, and the 2014 edition with its additional materials helps explain that controversy to the reader. It is important to understand the controversy that surrounds the book -- does it accurately portray Oglala Lakota culture as it purports to do? Is it good history? Is it good Anthropology? Those judgments should vitally affect the conclusions we draw from the book, and how strongly we espouse those conclusions.

The simple book that came from John Niehardt's pen is also quite beautiful and moving. Had it not been so, the book would not have lived so long. It is rewarding to read as a work of literature.

Nov 3, 2015

Should We Read About North Africa Early in 2016?

Comprising Algeria,Egypt,Libya,Morocco,Tunisia,Mauritania and Sudan,north Africa,as at 2012 had a total population of 220 million people.This is projected to reach 329million come 2050,inclusive of South Sudan. (Source)
We have been reading a lot of U.S. history lately, but not much on the history of the rest of the world. To balance it out, we will try to read more about other regions for a while. Stew recommended that we read something on Africa, but let me suggest that we focus at least initially on a part of Africa -- North Africa. That is a more limited geographic region, but one of considerable importance today and in world history.

Given the recent Arab Spring and the subsequent events in the region, such as the downing of a Russian passenger jet in Egyptian territory, I suggest we need to know quite a bit about North African history. What for example, are the traditional rivalries between the different peoples who live there.

Egypt has a history thousands of years long, but we have on read one book from that history,  The Rise and Fall of Alexandria: Birthplace of the Modern World by Justin Pollard and Howard Reid. Egypt, once the grainery for Rome, has been a center of Arab culture for centuries. Its modern history in which the Muslim Brotherhood battles with secular and military authorities is of regional significance, as was its peace treaty with Israel, yet we have read nothing more about Egypt. (Indeed, we have read only a couple of other books that even touched on the North Africa and the Southern Mediterranean – The Middle Sea by John Julius Norwich and The Great Caliphs by Amira K. Bennison).

The Punic Wars were a crucial event in Mediterranean history; we have read about Rome, but not about the history of Carthage (the term “Punic wars” refer to Carthage’s Phoenician origins – another important people about whom we have not read).

We have not read about the Vandals and their invasion of North Africa in the 5th century, leading to their sack of Rome in 455. While we have read several books about Spain, we have not read about the spread of Islam across North Africa, nor the North African civilizations that were capable of conquering most of the Iberian peninsula and threatening the Franks.

The completion of the Reconquista led to Spanish conquests in North Africa. Later there were to be French, British, and even Italian colonies in North Africa, and we have read about neither the conquests nor the colonial times that followed.

Nor have we read about the post 1950 history of Egypt and the Maghreb.

What do you think about trying to find books to read on this region?
What period would interest you most: ancient, middle ages, modern, etc.
Do you have specific books to recommend?

Oct 21, 2015

Books About the History of Catalonia

Picasso self-portrait during his Blue Period in Barcelona. 

At the last meeting I was asked to identify alternative books on the history of Catalonia. I found a useful article from the Harvard Political Review that may serve as a background for the choice. It was decided to postpone discussion of a book on Catalonian history for the selection of a book to discuss in April 2016.

Here are some books to consider:

The Revolt of the Catalans. a Study in the Decline of Spain 1598-1640  by J. H. Elliott. issued in 1963 (reissued in 1984, out of print), Hardcover $25.70; 44 used & new from $15.79, Unrated,  552 pages of text. Here is a review of the book. We are reading a book by J. H. Elliot for December.
The revolution of Catalonia in 1640 was a signal event in seventeenth-century Europe. Its causes and antecedents - essential for an understanding of the revolution itelf - form the basis of Professor Elliott's study of the Spanish monarchy at this time. They throw remarkable light on the whole question of the decline of Spain in the seventeenth century from its position of pre-eminence in Europe. From the fierce suppression of Catalan bandits by their Castilian overlords during the second decade of the century, Professor Elliott traces the gradual deterioration of relations between the principality of Catalonia and the government in Madrid. He shows how Olivares, the favourite and chief minister of Philip IV, attempted to use Catalan resources to fight Spain's foreign wars, and how the growing tension led ultimately to a revolution, which he suggests played a crucial part in Spain's decline. Professor Elliott's story is almost entirely based on previously unknown documents found in the Spanish national and local archives. These sources enabled him to write the first full-scale treatment of Olivares and his policies. While exciting as a story in its own right, it also stands as a case-history of the perennial struggle between regional liberties and the claims of central governments.
Barcelona by Robert Hughes. 1992, 4.1 stars (Amazon, 34 reviews)/3.9 stars (Goodreads 486 ratings), 592 pages (542 of text) We read his book, The Fatal Shore, some years ago. Here is a brief review of the book. (Identified by The Guardian as one of 10 of the best books on Barcelona.)
Barcelona is Robert Hughes's monumentally informed and irresistibly opinionated guide to the most un-Spanish city in Spain. Hughes scrolls through Barcelona's often violent history; tells the stories of its kings, poets, magnates, and revolutionaries; and ushers readers through municipal landmarks that range from Antoni Gaudi's sublimely surreal cathedral to a postmodern restaurant with a glass-walled urinal. The result is a work filled with the attributes of Barcelona itself: proportion, humor, and seny -- the Catalan word for triumphant common sense.
Homage to Barcelona by Colm Toibin. 2002, 4.7 stars Amazon (7 reviews)/ 3.74 stars Goodreads (242 ratings), 240 pages. (Identified by The Guardian as one of 10 of the best books on Barcelona.) Toibin was nominated some years ago for the Man Booker Prize.
This book celebrates one of Europe's greatest cities -- a cosmopolitan hub of vibrant architecture, art, culture and nightlife. It moves from the story of the city's founding and its huge expansion in the nineteenth century to the lives of Gaudi, Miro, Picasso, Casals and Dali. It also explores the history of Catalan nationalism, the tragedy of the Civil War, the Franco years and the transition from dictatorship to democracy which Colm Toibin witnessed in the 1970s. Written with deep knowledge and affection, Homage to Barcelona is a sensuous and beguiling portrait of a unique Mediterranean port and an adopted home. 'Toibin has the narrative poise of Brian Moore and the patient eye for domestic detail of John McGahern, but he is very much his own man' Observer 'Having lived in Barcelona off and on since the 70s, Toibin knows all the fascinations of its sensuous Mediterranean history and lifestyle and "the most precious jewels in the city's treasury of bars" 
Catalonia Since the Spanish Civil War: Reconstructing the Nation by Andrew Dowling. 2014. unrated, 272 pages. Here is a review of the book.
Catalonia Since the Spanish Civil War examines the transformation of the Catalan nation in socioeconomic, political, and historical terms, and offers an innovative interpretation of the determinants of its nationalist mobilization. With Franco’s and Spanish nationalism’s victory in 1939, and the consolidation of a long-lasting dictatorship, it appeared certain that the Catalan national movement would be crushed. Yet, this did not happen and Catalan nationalism and identity reemerged at the end of Franco’s dictatorship in 1975 more firmly rooted than before. The 21st century has been marked by an ever-growing independence movement, culminating in the vast demonstration in the city of Barcelona in July 2010. Andrew Dowling provides multifaceted viewpoints in historic perspective and reflects on possible steps and outcomes for this new pro-independence turn in Catalan nationalism. The themes treated in the book—Franco’s Spain, nationalism, anarchism, Catholicism, communism, and the Catalan role in Spain’s transition to democracy—make this work an essential point of reference for students and researchers in Hispanic studies, modern European history, and political science. Andrew Dowling is a lecturer in Catalan and Spanish history at Cardiff University.
Goodbye, Spain?': The Question of Independence for Catalonia by Kathryn Crameri. 2015, unrated, 224 pages. Here is a review of the book.
Goodbye, Spain? discusses the question of Catalan independence and is fully up-to-date with respect to the most recent elections. Support for independence in the autonomous community of Catalonia has risen significantly since 2005. Opinion polls confirm that the idea of holding a legally binding referendum on independence is now supported by 80 percent of Catalans. Many commentators on nationalism in Western Europe had come to the conclusion that there was no serious threat to the established nation-states from secessionism within their borders. Causes for these striking changes in public sentiment include changes in the Catalan political landscape since 2003, problems of infrastructure, public apathy with the political process, disillusionment with the Spanish government, a rise in anti-Catalan feeling from other Spaniards (and a rise in anti-Spanish feeling among Catalans), the effects of the global financial crisis, and the bumpy ride experienced by Catalonia’s new Statute of Autonomy. One notable change has been a shift in the dominant discourse of Catalan nationalism from concerns regarding language, culture, and identity toward the political and economic welfare of Catalans.
What's up with Catalonia?: The causes which impel them to the separation edited by Liz Castro. 2013, 4.2 stars (Amazon 17 reviews)/3.73 stars (Goodreads 49 ratings), 224 pages. Here is a review of the book.
On September 11, 2012, on Catalonia’s National Day, one and a half million people from all over Catalonia marched peacefully and joyfully through the streets of Barcelona, behind a single placard: Catalonia: New State in Europe. Fifteen days later, President Artur Mas called snap elections for the Parliament of Catalonia, in order to hold a referendum that would let the people of Catalonia decide their own future. The rest of the world and even Spain were caught by surprise, but the events unfolding in Barcelona have been a long time coming. In this new book, 35 experts explore Catalonia’s history, economics, politics, language, and culture, in order to explain to the rest of the world the fascinating story behind the march, the new legislature, and the upcoming vote on whether Catalonia will become the next new state in Europe.
And I add the book that was considered in the last meeting, resulting in a request for more choices on the history of Catalonia.

Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective by Simon Harris. 2014, 4.9 stars (Amazon 8 customer reviews))/4.55 stars (Goodreads 11 ratings), 300 pages.
How much does the world know about Catalonia and its role as a great medieval empire and one of Europe's first nation states? In Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective author Simon Harris takes the reader through 1,000 years of Catalan history focusing on the Principality's often difficult relationship with Castile-dominated Spain. This insightful and balanced history gives an insider's background to the current political situation and why Catalonia is currently deciding whether or not it wants to be independent from Spain. 
Simon Harris has lived in Barcelona, capital of Catalonia, since 1988, where he is a university-level teacher of English and translator. His main writing topics are Catalan history, language and culture. His first book, Going Native in Catalonia. was published by Native Spain in 2008. He self-published Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective in late 2014. He is currently working on a biography of Catalan president Artur Mas centered on the Catalan independence movement, which he plans to self-publish in spring 2015.
A friend of our member John recommended a few more books on the History of Catalonia

Catalonia: Nation Building Without a State (apparently published in the USA as Catalonia) by Kenneth McRoberts. 2001, 3 stars (Amazon one review)/3.5 stars (Goodreads 4 ratings) 224 pages. The paperback edition, the only one available at the U.S. Amazon is $45.)
Catalonia provides a thorough survey of Catalonia's politics, society, culture, and economy. It traces Catalonia's political and economic insertion within Spain, paying particular attention to the terms of Catalonia's political autonomy.
John's friend wrote:  "I noticed a number of copies are available online for as little as $10."
The History of Catalonia By F. Xavier Hernandez Cardona. I can't find this on Amazon, except in the Catalan language on the French Amazon site.)
John's friend wrote: "published in 2007, which I bought in Barcelona. Online copies were $20+.
Catalan Nationalism: Past and Present by Albert Balcells. 1995, unrated, 248 pages. Amazon prices the paperback edition at $39.96.
Outlines the history of Catalonia, showing how the national and cultural identity of the region peristed despite persecution. This provides the necessary background for the analysis of the contemporary political and cultural situation in Catalonia in the wider context of the European Union. 
John's friend wrote that this is "a more specialized book."
The Basques, the Catalans and Spain: Alternate Routes to Nationalist Mobilization by Daniele Conversi. 2000, 3.33 stars (Goodreads  6 ratings), 338 pages.
This work provides an introduction to Basque and Catalan nationalism. The two movements have much in common, but have differed in the strategies adopted to further their cause. Basque nationalism, in the shape of the military wing of ETA, took the path of violence, spawning an efficient terrorist campaign, while Catalan nationalism is more accommodating and peaceful. Conversi examines and compares the history, motives and methods of these two movements, considering the influence of such aspects of nationalist mobilization as: the choice of language, race and descent; the consequences of large-scale immigration; and the causes and effects of social violence.
John's friend wrote:   A fourth more political science-oriented book covering Catalans and Basques.

One Other Thing

2015 is the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. I wanted to get this new book on the great British charter into consideration before the year is up.

Magna Carta: The Making and Legacy of the Great Charter by Dan Jones. 2015, 5 stars but only 5 Amazon rating/4.07 stars by Goodreads on 59 ratings, 144 pages. (only available in Hardback, Amazon quotes at $16.64) Here is Dan Jones discussing the book on NPR's Diane Rehm Show. SELECTED for March 2016
From the New York Times–bestselling author of The Plantagenets comes a beautifully produced account of the signing, impact, and legacy of a document that became one of the most influential statements in the history of democracy 
On a summer's day in 1215 a beleaguered English monarch met a group of disgruntled barons in a meadow by the river Thames named Runnymede. Beset by foreign crisis and domestic rebellion, King John was fast running out of options. On June 15 he reluctantly agreed to fix his regal seal to a document that would change the world. A milestone in the development of constitutional politics and the rule of law, the "Great Charter" established an Englishman's right to Habeas Corpus and set limits to the exercise of royal power. For the first time a group of subjects had forced an English king to agree to a document that limited his powers by law and protected their rights. Dan Jones's elegant and authoritative narrative of the making and legacy of the Magna Carta is amplified by profiles of the barons who secured it and a full text of the charter in both Latin and English.
Catalan Flag

Oct 17, 2015

Discussion of Foner's Short History of Reconstruction

Nine members of the History Book Club met on Wednesday evening, October 14th, at the Kensington Row Bookshop. It was a lovely evening, with a touch of coolness in the air.

Future Books

We began by choosing a book to be discussed in the future. That discussion was based on a blog post suggesting alternative books on international organizations, Scandinavian history, Iberian history, and a late entry of a book of economic history by Angus Deaton, the new Nobel Laureate in Economics. We chose The Sea Wolves: A History of the Vikings by Maryland author Lars Brownworth,

Eli the owner-manager of the Bookshop, who has been so helpful to us for the past several years, had put out copies of ten of the books under discussion, which greatly facilitated our decision. I note that quite of few of them were purchased from the Bookshop before we left. Contact Eli ( if you want Sea Wolves or any others on the list.

We noted that the Kensington Row Bookshop is the distribution point in the USA for books in the Catalan language and has a reading room with books in the Catalan language. Given their hospitality and their expertise club members felt we should know more about Catalonia. Moreover, Catalan independence from Spain is likely to become an important issue in the coming year given the recent election of a pro-independence local government recently, Catalonia is the economic driving force of Spain today, and has a history which in many ways is different that that of the rest of Spain, Thus we agreed we would like to read a book on Catalan history, but neither of those suggested seemed to fit the bill. Therefore recommendations of good, readable Catalan histories are sought. Add them as comments to this post, or send them to John.Daly@gmail,com.

The Post Civil War Reconstruction

The book chosen for this discussion was A Short History of Reconstruction, Updated Edition by Eric Foner. It is a newly updated abridged edition of the 1988 classic work, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution. That book when it was first published won the Bancroft, Parkman, and Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. Foner's The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (2010) won the Pulitzer Prize for History, Lincoln Prize, and the Bancroft Prize. For many years a professor of history at Colombia University, Foner has served as president of the Organization of American Historians, the American Historical Association, and the Society of American Historians.

Allen, one of our members, in early August had provided a review of the book in which he followed common practice and divided the Reconstruction into three phases:
  1. Presidential Reconstruction under President Andrew Johnson,
  2. Radical Reconstruction when as a result of the elections of 1868, radical republicans took control of the Congress (and Grant replaced Johnson as President), and
  3. The end of Reconstruction, when Republicans lost enthusiasm for many of the elements of the radical program and the panic of 1873 led to a depression. (We noted that the corruption that had occurred in Reconstruction programs also had political fallout in the Congress and in Republican support for the institutions of Radical Reconstruction.)
A member, starting out the discussion, said that the Civil War had established two things:
  1. That the United States of America is one nation, indivisible (the original Articles of Confederation stressed that the Union was to be perpetual); and
  2. Slavery was no longer to be tolerated in the USA.
While there were physical damages resulting from the war to be repaired, he stressed that the Reconstruction was going to be mainly about institution building.
  1. Political institutions would have to be adjusted. Freedmen would have to be given rights in the new political and legal institutions, while those who had committed treason in their leadership of the Confederacy would have to have their rights as U.S. citizens adjudicated. Temporary government institutions in the former Confederate states would have to be created and then replaced.
  2. Labor related institution had to undergo a major change; slavery was no longer to be legal, and some new alternative to link workers to enterprises had to be created in the formerly slave states. After false starts, eventually tenant farming emerged in the plantation system, in which plantation owners supplied tools and seed, and tenant farmers supplied labor, with the crop divided between the owners and the workers.
  3. Former slaves created a number of important cultural institutions for themselves, such as nuclear families, churches, schools, clubs, and other associations. The tenant farmers had rights to the land that they worked; they housed their families on that land, and grew subsistence crops as well as the market crops which were contractually shared with the plantation owner.
He mentioned that Eric Foner had chosen to set the dates of the Reconstruction as beginning in 1863 (when the Civil War was still far from ended) to 1877 (when Rutherford B. Hays won a hotly contested election by making a deal with the Democrats to not oppose contested electors in return for his withdrawing all troops from the Southern states; the 1876 election was marked by suppression of the black vote in much of the south by the KKK and other white militias, as well as by appointment of electors by State governors who did not vote as the state's citizens had instructed in the election.).

The Impeachment of President Johnson

A member asked for help understanding the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. Another, one quite knowledgeable about the U.S. history of the period, responded that he was quite disappointed in the books' sketchy treatment of the impeachment.

Andrew Johnson was from Tennessee, a former slave owner and a Democrat. He was added to the ticket by President Lincoln in the 1864 election to provide balance (and draw votes that would not have gone to Lincoln with a radical Republican running mate). However, the two had quite different views. Here is what one source says on Johnson's views.
Johnson believed the Southern states should decide the course that was best for them. He also felt that African-Americans were unable to manage their own lives. He certainly did not think that African-Americans deserved to vote. At one point in 1866 he told a group of blacks visiting the White House that they should emigrate to another country. 
He also gave amnesty and pardon. He returned all property, except, of course, their slaves, to former Confederates who pledged loyalty to the Union and agreed to support the 13th Amendment. Confederate officials and owners of large taxable estates were required to apply individually for a Presidential pardon. Many former Confederate leaders were soon returned to power. And some even sought to regain their Congressional seniority. 
Johnson's vision of Reconstruction had proved remarkably lenient. Very few Confederate leaders were persecuted. By 1866, 7,000 Presidential pardons had been granted. Brutal beatings of African-Americans were frequent. Still-powerful whites sought to subjugate freed slaves via harsh laws that came to be known as the BLACK CODES. Some states required written evidence of employment for the coming year or else the freed slaves would be required to work on plantations.
Johnson quickly ran into grave legislative difficulties with the Republican Congress, difficulties that were only exacerbated when the election of 1867 returned a still more radical group of Republicans to control the House of Representatives/

(The Military Reconstruction Act, vetoed by Johnson and overridden by the Congress in 1867, divided the South into five military districts under federal control and imposed strict requirements on southern states in order for them to be re-admitted to the Union. Johnson also vetoed the Tenure of Office Act and that veto too was overridden in 1867.) When Johnson sought to remove Generals Sheridan, Sickles and Pope from their commands of southern military districts, radical Republicans charged that he was seeking to repeal Reconstruction. Johnson then sought to fire Secretary of War Stanton. (Johnson continued his defiance of Congress and named General Lorenzo Thomas as the new Secretary of War. Three days later the House of Representatives voted impeachment on a party-line vote of 126–47 on the vague grounds of "high crimes and misdemeanors," with the specific charges to be drafted by a special committee. The Senate failed to convict Johnson by one vote.)

Some of the key players in the Senate trial of Johnson were mentioned.

A member recommended Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy by David O. Stewart as an excellent book on the impeachment.

40 Acres and A Mule

General Sherman on his famous march began distributing land to "contraband" -- slaves who had escaped to the Union forces. Early in Reconstruction this process was emulated by distributing abandoned land and land confiscated from Confederate leaders to former slaves.

We noted that while many slaves had experience growing subsistence crops on land put aside for that purpose on the plantations, those slaves were supplementing rations of corn meal distributed by the plantation owners. That is a much less demanding task than running a working farm. It would perhaps have been asking too much of recent slaves to run working farms unless the Freedman's Bureau had been able to supply a great deal of financial assistance and training to the new farmers.

A member asked who were the people who successfully homesteaded land under the Republican led program opening the west. Another answered that he believed they had been farmers who were moving to new homesteads; they in fact knew how to run a farm.

Early in the Reconstruction, the land that had been distributed to former slaves was taken back by the government and given back to plantation owners.

Restoring the Southern Plantation and Export Agriculture to Productivity

The members spent considerable time discussing this topic.

Source: "U. S. Slavery"
The United States had assumed huge debts during the Civil War, and reducing the debt had to be a major preoccupation for national leaders. That meant restoring production and restoring exports.

Here are data on U.S. cotton exports in the latter half of the 19th century:
  • in 1860 cotton goods were the #1 export of the USA with a value of 58 million 1914 US$
  • in 1880 they were the #3 export with a value of 97 million 1914 US$
  • in 1900 they were the #7 export with a value of 196 million 1914 US$
  • in 1929 they were the #4 export with a value of 364 million 1914 US$
Cotton in the early 20th century was a great business for the United States. The cotton growing are was very productive and the cotton bales could relatively easily be gotten to ports. When the cotton gin was invented and when it became common in the cotton plantations at the end of the 18th century, the most labor intensive part of production of cotton fiber was mechanized: the cost of cotton fiber went way down. This event was simultaneous with the mechanization of cotton cloth production in the industrial revolution, and factories in England and the north of the USA began to produce large quantities of high quality cotton cloth at low costs. They quickly came to dominate global markets, and English cotton cloth was even exported to India -- up till then one the world's greatest producer of cotton cloth.

Members noted that a lot of southern cotton bales were shipped north even during the Civil War. There was a brisk smuggling trade, notably up the Mississippi River. Thus the factories in the northern states were able to continue operating, We thought the Union blockade of Confederate shipping had been more successful in blocking cotton exports to Europe, and to feed its factories the British had begun to grow cotton in Egypt and the Sudan, and had increased cotton production again in India. Thus, after the war, Southern cotton was exported into a global market for cotton fiber and faced competition. Prices tended to go down.

A member noted that there was a lot of cotton produced in the Confederacy during the Civil War that was not smuggled out. In the burning of Charleston, for example, bales of cotton exceeded the capacity of the warehouses, and were stored in the streets of the city. When the fires started in confiscated cotton, they spread to the bales piled in the streets, and from the huge conflagration in those bales, spread to houses, stores and government buildings, essentially destroying the city. Those dangerous bales of cotton would have been exported before the Civil War.

Of course, the plantation owners in the cotton growing region wanted to return their plantations to profitably growing and exporting cotton. They were joined by influential people in the north who saw business profits from cotton. Thus, there was a natural confluence of interests between those who wanted to retire government debt using export duties on cotton, those who wished to obtain profits growing cotton on their plantations, and those who wish to make profits buying and selling cotton and producing cotton cloth. This did not bode well for early Reconstruction efforts to redistribute plantation land and give it to former slaves to run as small farms.

The ultimate solution to institutionalizing labor-plantation relations in the cotton region was share cropping. Increasingly share cropping benefited owners more than share croppers (who were white as well as black). But the government, the intermediaries and the cloth producers also benefited, Even the share cropping families had some security on the land, roofs over their heads, and places to grow some food for the table and even some produce for the market -- something of which many had dreamed as slaves.

Source: "37 maps that explain the American Civil War"
The map source also provided this information:
The Civil War freed the slaves, and Reconstruction temporarily granted them basic political rights. But the settlement of the war made no provision for land reform or economic redistribution. The federally owned land of the West was secured for free (largely white) owner-operated farms, but the basic underpinnings of the Southern plantation economy were left intact. Newly freed slaves owned no land or farm equipment, and had little in the way of formal education. With Southern governments from the 1870s onward uninterested in providing any of those things, most of the rural black population was forced into a particularly unremunerative form of tenant farming known as sharecropping. In exchange for land to till, seeds to plant, and basic equipment, the sharecropper would do all the work and hand a large share of the proceeds over to the landowner. Discriminatory enforcement of laws against "vagrancy," barriers to education and the professions, and discrimination on railroads and other public accommodations made it exceptionally difficult for sharecroppers to move from job to job or bargain for better conditions.
There was another means for whites to obtain black labor. Blacks were arrested for vagrancy or other minor crimes and quickly brought before a justice of the peace who convicted and fined them. The person convicted would then be required to pay the fine and court costs, and if he did not have the funds to do so would be placed in jail; few could pay. The sheriff would then rent out the labor of the jailed (almost entirely black) men in the form of chain gangs. Thus mine, factory and plantation owners could rent chain gangs to do the labor needed at very low costs -- an armed sheriff's deputy guard would be included in the deal. (The club discussed a book on this topic some time ago -- Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon.)

(We did not talk much about the other plantation crops -- rice, sugar cane and tobacco -- but it is not unreasonable to assume that similar processes occurred in the regions in which they were produced for the international market.)

The Piedmont and Highlands of the South

These highlands were less suited to the export crops discussed above. In consequence, they were held in small farms rather than large plantations, and the white farmers living on them had few if any slaves. Before the Civil War, these white farmers often differed from the plantation owning class on many issues, but it was the latter that obtained political power. 

The position of these white, small-farm owners during the Civil was conflicted. They were the ones that seceded from Virginia to create West Virginia and who brought the new state of West Virginia into the Union, providing troops for the Union forces. But many also supported and fought for the Confederacy.

Those remaining in the southern states after the Civil War again sought political power on the state level, but eventually were again to loose influence in favor of the richer plantation owning class.


Racism was and remains the original sin of the United States of America. Northerners were racist as well as whites in the south, and relatively few in the north were comfortable giving voting rights to the freed slaves. While women by the hundreds moved to the south to teach in the new schools opened for black children, there were limits to how much whites in the north were willing to be taxed to help blacks in the south to recover from slavery.

The Ku Klux Klan and similar white militias were institutionalized in the south as a southern white response to the Union's efforts to improve the status of southern blacks, and especially to the increased political and economic clout that the black population was gaining in the south. The KKK was willing to use large scale violence to enforce the racism of southern whites. When Rutherford B. Hayes withdrew the Union troops from the south there was no force there capable of protecting the black population from the southern militias.

A member asked if, since there were many black Union soldiers, there had not been black armed resistance in the south to the KKK and similar white groups, The response was that indeed there had been battles between armed blacks and armed whites in some places in the south after the Civil War, but the KKK and its allies established dominance.

Short Attention Span in the North, Long Term Aid Requirements in the South and Southern White Resistance

Reconstruction ended 12 years after the end of the Civil War. That is not much time to remake a social order, to rebuild political and economic institutions, and to undo the damage done to a people by centuries in slavery. Yet a member suggested that the American public seems often to tire of difficult tasks of this kind. Think of the decision not to join the League of Nations after World War I, the election of President Eisenhower to end the war in Korea, the antiwar movement which resulted in a chaotic departure of U.S. diplomats and military from Vietnam, and the election of Barack Obama who promised to bring the troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq.

It was justly pointed out that there were important reasons that Reconstruction ended. The Union military force of volunteers ended, to be replaced by professional military services. The professional army was cut in size again and again in the post Civil War period until it numbered some 35,000; they were barely enough to garrison the south or fight the Indian wars in the west, but not sufficient to do both. Then the panic of 1873 led to a five year depression, and adding to a huge debt from the Civil War that had still to be paid, increased tax payer unwillingness to finance Reconstruction programs.

A member asked if there were attractive investment opportunities for private investors during this period that also competed with funding of government Reconstruction programs. Obviously, a lot of money was being invested in new railroads and in the development of lands newly opened by those railroads.

Unfortunately, it can take a lot longer than 12 years to change key political, economic or social institutions. Ask a Russian or a Ukranian how long it is taking to build successful new political and economic institutions in those countries after the fall of Communism. Similarly, institution building efforts in the foreign assistance program have often proven to have taken much longer than originally estimated, or to have failed entirely. (Americans may have underestimated the long term investments that are required as the Reconstruction began, as many still do today.)

Southern whites were not ignorant of their own interests, and wanted to keep political power, to maximize their income and wealth, and to maintain the antebellum social stratification and their privileged place within it. Many were skilled politicians and could use those skills to protect their interests. Others had long experience and good contacts for making money; some of whom still were relatively affluent after the war, and money talks. Moreover, the southern whites were not adverse to using violence to achieve their goals.

The combination of Union unwillingness to stay the course, the intrinsic difficulty of achieving the changes that the radical Republicans hoped for, and the effective resistance of many southern whites to the Reconstruction, eventually gravely limited its success.


One of the pleasures of these meetings is that we enjoy getting off track and talking occassionally (as Monty Pyshon might say) about something completely different. A couple of members had seen the new movie Rosenwald. IMDB describes the movie as
a documentary about how Chicago philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, the son of an immigrant peddler who rose to head Sears, partnered with Booker T. Washington to build 5,400 Southern schools in African American communities in the early 1900s during the Jim Crow era. Rosenwald also built YMCAs and housing for African Americans to address the pressing needs of the Great Migration. The Rosenwald Fund supported great artists like Marian Anderson, Woody Guthrie, Langston Hughes, Gordon Parks, and Jacob Lawrence. Among those interviewed are civil rights leaders Julian Bond, Ben Jealous and Congressman John Lewis, columnists Eugene Robinson and Clarence Page, Cokie Roberts, Rabbi David Saperstein, Rosenwald school alumni writer Maya Angelou and director George C. Wolfe and Rosenwald relatives.
Of course, the movie is relevant to the Reconstruction, or at least to the work that still needed to be done to help the victims of slavery as late as the early 20th century. It is noted that the  Ridgeley Rosenwald School in Prince Georges County (next door to our club's county) is one of the best restored Rosenwald schools in the country, and likely to be worth a visit.

Pat Conroy

Pat Conroy today is one of America's foremost authors, whose books include The Prince of Tides, The Lords of Discipline, and The Great SantiniTwo of his novels, The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini, were made into Oscar-nominated filmsOur member, Joe. is going to a party in South Carolina to celebrate Conroy's 70th birthday. Joe told us a little about meeting Conroy when Joe was a 24 year old, just starting his teaching career and Conroy was a 15 year old student who had been assigned to Joe's writing class.

Joe ran a hard class. Students had to make a book report every two weeks, and had to complete a class project. They also had to write a letter to the editor, and correct and improve it until it was publishable. (One week, late in the semester, the letters to the editor sections of the Washington Post and the Washington Star were completely devoted to the letters from students in the class.)

Conroy selected an analysis of William Falkner's novels for his semester project. Evry other week he gave a book report on a Falkner novel. The final project report was so good it not only rated a top grade, but Joe told Conroy that he should become a professional writer. Joe also alerted the school principal that Conroy was exceptional -- worth keeping an eye on during the future.

(How many of us who have taught have the privilege of teaching such a student, or indeed were capable of teaching him so well.)

Final Comment

Some members read Foner's Short History of the Reconstruction while others read the longer Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. The opinions of members of the shorter book were all over the map -- A couple of members loved it (and went out to buy the longer book to read in the future), while others found the book hard to follow and too condensed. Note the comment above by one member who found the lack of coverage of Andrew Johnson's impeachment a major failure of the book.

The club has read a number of books relating to the Civil war in the four years of observance of the 150th anniversary of that war. It seemed appropriate in 2015, 150 years after General Lee's surrender at Appomattox to General Grant, to shift attention to the Reconstruction. Historian Foner is probably the best regarded writer on the Reconstruction.

Note that the rules for book selection are that the book should be relatively short to be easily read in a month, that it should if possible be available in paperback, and of course that it should be selected by members attending. Thus the longer Foner books on the Reconstruction seemed not to fit our guidelines. Moreover, two members who had read the short history recommended it strongly to the other members of the club. While the book's value was not agreed upon in the meeting, compromises sometimes fall short of excellence in historical works as in other spheres.

Other Materials of Possible Interest Related to the Reconstruction

A member posted three times on his blog on the book:
Open Yale offers a course titled THE CIVIL WAR AND RECONSTRUCTION ERA, 1845-1877. It is taught by Professor David W. Blight and is free online. The online material includes a syllabus, and 17 sessions each with some printed material and a streaming video of Prof. Blight's lecture.

The Wikipedia entry on the Reconstruction Era.

Note on the Book Club

The History Book Club has been meeting monthly in Montgomery County, Maryland since July 2002, While typically 10 to 20 members show up to discuss books in person, the mailing list includes about 100 people who are informed of the club's selections and who receive notification of books selected by the club members for reading.g

The club blog has just passed 10,000 page views, and recent summaries of book discussions are viewed 100 to 200 times; some reach 400 page views or more. We are delighted that others find our posts interesting. All are welcome.