Jun 29, 2015

Possible Books for September 2015

Irish History (This is a reduced list after the discussion in June.)

Guerilla Days in Ireland: A Personal Account of the Anglo-Irish War by Tom Barry. 242 pages, 4.8 stars. This was written by one of the IRA flying squad members in the late 40's and was very influential in the liberation movements of the 1950's and 1960's. Plus it is a first person history of the conflict. Here are some reviews of the book from GoodReads.

The Irish War of Independence by Michael Hopkinson. 274 pages, 4.5 stars (but only 4 reviews) The Irish War of Independence was a sporadic guerrilla campaign taht lasted from January 1919 until July 1921. Michael Hopkinson makes full use of the recently opened files of the Bureau of Military Archives in Dublin, which contain valuable first-hand contemporary accounts of the war, meticulously piecing together the many disparate local actions to create a coherent narrative. The first half of this from History Ireland reviews the book.
We considered a historical novel for the first time, and postponed the decision to a later meeting.
A Star Called Henry (Last Roundup) by Roddy Doyle. 400 pages, 4.0 stars. Born at the beginning of the twentieth century, Henry Smart lives through the evolution of modern Ireland, and in this extraordinary novel he brilliantly tells his story. From his own birth and childhood on the streets of Dublin to his role as soldier (and lover) in the Irish Rebellion, Henry recounts his early years of reckless heroism and adventure. At once an epic, a love story, and a portrait of Irish history, A Star Called Henry is a grand picaresque novel brimming with both poignant moments and comic ones, and told in a voice that is both quintessentially Irish and inimitably Roddy Doyle's. Doyle is a winner of the Booker Prize and perhaps the best living Irish writer. Here is The New York Times Review of the Book.  Here is a video of  Roddy Doyle on the book from the Abbey Theater. Here is the trailer for Terry Gilliam's film from the book. This review from an Irish reader: "Certainly a page turner it is a fiction from the perspective of a 'foot soldier' in Dublin IRA. It clearly shows that behind the men of action are a group from whom the soldiers will always be excluded. This group will assume power when the New Day dawns, as such groups do worldwide."

As 2015 Comes to a Close, Anniversary Books

A Short History of Reconstruction, Updated Edition by Eric Foner. (Unrated 2015 edition, but previous versions highly rated) 352 pages. From the “preeminent historian of Reconstruction” (New York Times Book Review), a newly updated abridged edition of the prize-winning classic work on the post-Civil War period which shaped modern America. Here is a review of the bookHere is a video discussion of the earlier, longer book on the topic by Foner. Will be read by a member to evaluate and decision will be based on his recommendation.  On the second round, this was selected to be discussed in October.

The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner. 4.6 stars, 448 pages. A definitive account of Lincoln's lifelong engagement with the nation's critical issue: American slavery. A master historian, Eric Foner draws Lincoln and the broader history of the period into perfect balance. We see Lincoln, a pragmatic politician grounded in principle, deftly navigating the dynamic politics of antislavery, secession, and civil war. Lincoln's greatness emerges from his capacity for moral and political growth.Won the Pulitzer Prize for history, the Bancroft Prize and the Lincoln Prize.  Here is The New York Times review of the book. Here is a video discussion of the book by author Foner.

Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle That Made England by Juliet Barker.  4.5 stars, 464 pages. Waged in 1415, the Battle of Agincourt still captivates. It is the classic underdog story, and generations have wondered how the English--outmanned by the French six to one--could have succeeded so bravely and brilliantly. The book describes both the lead up to the battle and its aftermath. Here is a review of the book.

1215: The Year of Magna Carta by Danny Danziger and John Gillingham. 4.4 stars, 336 pages. The events leading up to King John’s setting his seal to the famous document at Runnymede in June 1215 form this rich and riveting narrative that vividly describes everyday life from castle to countryside, from school to church, and from hunting in the forest to trial by ordeal. Here is the History Net review of the book. Here is a brief video on the book.

And Now for Something Completely Different

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert  D Putnam (Only available in hardcover and ebook, but affordable.) 4.4 stars, 400 pages (278 pages of text.) A groundbreaking examination of the growing inequality gap from the bestselling author of Bowling Alone: why fewer Americans today have the opportunity for upward mobility. (Walter Isaacson called this the most important book of the year, perhaps the decade.) Here is a video of an interview with Putnam on the book. Selected for September.

Jun 13, 2015

The Life of Frederick Douglass: American Icon

Frederick Douglass circa 1774

Ten members showed up at the Kensington Row Bookshop on a lovely Wednesday evening to discuss Frederick Douglas and his times. (Check with Eli, who runs the Bookshop, if you want to purchase a previously owned copy of one of the books discussed by the book club.)

The discussion was based on Douglass' own writings. Frederick Douglass published three autobiographies which are all still in print:
Members present had read different ones of these books.

1845 Autobiography

Frederick's Biography (See this timeline of his life)
The following biographical sketch is provided for the reader. The members of the club had of course already read one of his books and checked other materials to gain a basic understanding of the events of his life. Thus we did not need to cover this material.
Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey (1818-1895) was born a slave on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He lived there as a slave until he escaped in 1838. He never knew his father but believed him to be white. His mother, black, a slave field hand, saw him nights after work until he was two years old, but thereafter he lived with his maternal grandmother; she was also a slave. He moved to the Wye House Plantation when he was seven, and lived there for several years.

Eventually, however, he was loaned to the Hugh Auld house in Baltimore where he was the older companion and servant to the white child of that household. Hugh's wife, Sophia, there began to teach Frederick the alphabet and continued to do so until her husband discovered the lessons and ended them. Frederick, however, had learned that symbols represented sounds, and that the sounds related to strings of symbols could be words. He obtained a speller and a book of speeches and continued to learn to read. Indeed, he read everything he could get his hands on. Later, observing the use of letters to mark portions of boats in the Baltimore boatyards, he taught himself to write, making use also of his young charge's cast off spelling books.

In 1833, his owner Thomas Ault, reclaimed Frederick and began to assign him duties as a field hand. Dissatisfied with Frederick's behavior, Ault rented him to Edward Covey, a man known as a "slave breaker" -- one who rented slaves to work his fields and treated them brutally in order to break their spirits. After months of brutal treatment, Frederick physically confronted Covey; apparently the resistance Frederick showed resulted in Covey ameliorating Frederick's treatment.

Frederick's life improved, but his slavery continued after leaving Covey's establishment. In 1836 he with several others began to plot an escape to the north. They were betrayed, and Frederick with four of his companions was jailed. Perhaps strangely, Frederick's companions were released, and Frederick himself was sent back to Baltimore to begin to learn the trade of caulking ships in Hugh Ault's shipyard. Having a trade was a considerable step up for a slave!

Anna Murray
In 1837, Frederick met and fell in love with Anna Murray, a free black woman in Baltimore about five years older than he. In 1838, with Anna's help and travel papers loaned from a black seaman (sailors were allowed to travel on land from port to port with such papers), he escaped from slavery. He traveled by railroad and ship to New York City where he successfully found shelter with abolitionists.

Anna joined him there and they were married. They would be married for 44 years (until Anna's death) and have five children, four of whom survived to adulthood. It was at this point that they assumed the name Douglass (to make his apprehension by slave catchers less likely).

Fearing recapture in New York, the couple soon moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts. Frederick there worked as a day laborer and Anna went into domestic service, but they were safe both by having taken a pseudonym (Johnson) and by the abolitionist sentiment common in New Bedford. However, in New Bedford Frederick was to face threats and violence from white workmen (who felt threatened that blacks might threaten their livelihood).

In the course of his earlier life, Frederick had become religious, and in New Bedford joined the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. He became a licensed preacher in 1839, and this helped him hone his oratorical skills. He held various positions in the church, including steward, Sunday School superintendent, and sexton. During his years as a slave he had also become an abolitionist, and in New Bedford he subscribed to an abolitionist newspaper and began to attend abolitionist meetings.

In 1841 Frederick was unexpected invited to speak at an abolitionist event, and spoke eloquently about his life as a slave. He was introduced to William Lloyd Garrison, perhaps the most influential abolitionist of the time. (Garrison already had been aware of Frederick's story.) Frederick then spent the next three years as a speaker for the abolitionist cause.

Frederick Douglass circa 1847-52
With the publication of his first autobiography in 1845, his safety from slave catchers and pro-slavery forces was further endangered. and he was sent to Europe for his safety; he had great success there, and described that trip as well as his life as a slave in his 1855 autobiography. His British supporters purchased him from his Maryland owner and gave him his manumission papers. They also provided him with 500 British pounds (nearly 2,500 U.S. dollars which in 1848 would buy a great deal). The latter gift enabled him to set up his own abolitionist newspaper, The North Star; he and his wife did so in Rochester, New York.

In the following years his already considerable fame grew. He also took positions that differed from those of many abolitionists. For example, he opposed sending freed slaves to a colony in Africa and he opposed secession (favored by some abolitionists since it would have left the northern states free and no longer required to return escaped slaves to their southern masters); Douglass recognized that the Union was a more sure path to the abolition of slavery in the south. He came to believe that the United States Constitution was created in the belief that slavery would eventually be abolished, and thus that the Constitution was sufficiently flexible to define government that would function after slavery's abolition. In this period he also became active in the women's rights movement. He quickly rose to prominence in that movement for the importance of his voice and paper, and as a man and former slave. He supported human rights generally.

In 1851, Frederick merged his paper with another, with the resulting titled  Frederick Douglass' Paper. That paper was published until 1860. In 1855 he published his second (updated) autobiography. In 1858 he met with John Brown several weeks before Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry; however, Douglass disapproved of Brown's plan to start an armed slave rebellion in the South. After the raid, Douglass fled for a time to Canada, fearing possible arrest as a co-conspirator.

According to Wikipedia:
By the time of the Civil War, Douglass was one of the most famous black men in the country, known for his orations on the condition of the black race and on other issues such as women's rights. His eloquence gathered crowds at every location. His reception by leaders in England and Ireland added to his stature.
His fame continued to grow. During the Civil War, he met with President Lincoln and recruited black troops for the Union army. In 1870, Douglass started his last newspaper, the New National Era. After his home in Rochester caught fire, Douglass moved to Washington.

In April 1876, Douglass delivered the keynote speech at the unveiling of the Emancipation Memorial in Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C. Mary Lincoln supposedly gave Lincoln's favorite walking-stick to Douglass in appreciation for the speech. In 1877, he met with Thomas Auld and the two were reconciled.

In 1877, Frederick Douglass also bought his final home -- Cedar Hill -- in Washington. He and Anna expanded the house from 14 to 21 rooms. One year after buying the house, Douglass purchased adjoining lots and expanded the property to 15 acres. The home is now preserved as the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.

Frederick Douglass National Historical Site in the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington D.C.
Douglass' final autobiography, published first in 1861 and in revised form in 1892 describes:
  • His Appointment by Gen. Grant to Accompany the Santo Domingo Commission;
  • Also to a Seat in the Council of the District of Columbia; 
  • His Appointment as United States Marshal by President R. B. Hayes; 
  • His Appointment to Be Recorder of Deeds in Washington by President J. A. Garfield
He served as president of the Reconstruction-era Freedman's Savings Bank which went bankrupt in 1874, mere months after Douglass became its president.

Hellen Pitts Douglass
In 1888, he was appointed Consul General to Haiti, and in 1889 he was appointed Charge d'Affaires for Santo Domingo as well as Minister Resident to Haiti.

After Anna died in 1882, in 1884 Douglass married again, to Helen Pitts, a white woman. She is a direct descendant of John and Priscilla Alden and a cousin to Presidents John and John Q. Adams. (Faced by controversy over this marriage, Douglass said his first wife was of the same race as his mother and his second wife of the same race as his father -- a perfect retort.)

Thus Frederick Douglass', born a slave, son to a black, woman field hand, died in 1895 a world famous advocate for human rights, who owned a mansion, and who had held a number of important private and public offices.

1855 Biography

How Did Frederick Douglass Rise to Such Prominence?

This was the topic of some discussion at the club meeting. Several members commented on the luck involved. In his 20 years a slave he might well have died of disease, been killed, or been sold into slavery in the deep south from which escape would have been less possible. He was lucky to have had lived in a house where the wife was willing to teach him to read, and where materials were present that enabled him to learn more. He was lucky to have become religious and to have had the opportunity to hear preaching, which no doubt included some minsters who could deliver a great sermon, Having been implicated in an escape attempt, he was lucky not to have had steps taken by his owner to make further attempts much more difficult. He was lucky to have come to Garrison's attention, and to be added to the cadre of traveling speakers for abolition. In his second book he himself describes the good luck that made him famous in Britain on his arrival, and he was lucky that his success in Britain was publicized in the United States. (That luck apparently held through his later life as he progressed from success to success.)

We also commented that he was very talented. By any standard, the prose in his books demonstrates that he was intelligent, articulate, and well able to manage his own life and that of his family. Speeches included as appendices in later volumes show that Douglass clearly understood the difference in writing to be read and writing to be delivered orally. He speeches not only are clear, but the language flow lends itself to oratory and is almost poetic; the speeches build to high points apparently by the author's plan.

It was noted that this visible brilliance must have contributed to Douglass' early success. One of the early claims of the proponents of slavery was that the Africans were incapable of civilization, and that their lives were better under the ownership of whites. The argument went: "After all, the natives in Africa were spear toting tribal people. As slaves here, they were noted for their singing and dancing" There were other escaped slaves who could speak about the life of slaves from personal experience. However, few if any could in the very nature of their writing or oratory demonstrate that they, the former slaves, were in no way inferior to their readers, their audiences, or to the slave owners themselves. Douglass clearly made that demonstration in his books, in his speeches (and probably in his newspapers).

It was pointed out in our meeting that other black men had demonstrated the same thing, albeit in other countries.
  • Alexander Dumas, the great French writer, was the son of an enslaved African woman. 
  • Abram Petrovich Gannibal appears to have been born in Central Africa, but was stolen by the Ottomans, ransomed by the Russians and brought to the court of Peter the Great. Raised in the Emperor's household, he eventually rose to become a prominent member of the imperial court in the reign of Peter's daughter Elizabeth. After Peter's daughter Elizabeth became the new monarch in 1741, Gannibal rose to the rank of major-general, and became superintendent of Reval (now Tallinn, Estonia), a position he held from 1742 to 1752. 
  • Gannibal was the great grandfather of the Russian author and poet, Alexander Pushkin.

The 1881/1892 Autobiography

What Was the United States Like that Douglass' Rise was Possible?

This topic was not well covered in the discussion, but it seems important. Abraham Lincoln would be elected president in 1860, states began to secede from the Union late that year, the Civil War began in 1861, the emancipation proclamation was issued in 1863 freeing slaves in the Confederate states, and slavery was abolished and all remaining slaves were emancipated in 1865 -- the institution of slavery was central to the war between the states. Abolition and secession were dominant issues in Frederick Douglass' life from birth in 1818 until the end of the Civil War; the status and treatment of the freed slaves remained of great public importance and personal importance to Douglass for the rest of his life.

1841 was a propitious time for a young man to begin his career as an abolitionist, and especially propitious for a young black man who could write well, speak well, knew the issues, and was an escaped slave. Douglass took full advantage of the opportunities that were provided, establishing a reputation as a speaker, publishing a best selling book in 1845, making a splash in Britain in the following two years, establishing an abolitionist paper on his return, and publishing another widely circulated book in 1855. As the Whig party was breaking apart and the Republican Party was soon to elect a president, Douglass' paper not only was prominent in the abolitionist camp, but he was right on a number of issues where other abolitionists turned out to be wrong. Moreover, he had broadened his appeal by supporting the relatively nascent movement for women's suffrage. Thus he was well positioned to have influence on Lincoln during the Civil War, and on Johnson and Grant during Reconstruction and in the war's aftermath.

Again, as the Republicans retained office after the Civil War and sought to appoint appropriate people to public office, Douglass was a smart, articulate black man. He perhaps seemed a natural representative for the USA as President Grant sought to establish a U.S. presence in the Caribbean (Spain still had colonies there, and other European empires were scrambling for territorial expansion; France had tried to absorb Mexico during the Civil War).

Economic issues kept the topics of abolition and secession before the public. 
  • In 19th century America, cotton was king. Southern plantation owners were making a fortune growing cotton (and rice in South Carolina) but believed that they needed the institution of slavery to do so. Mill owners in England and New England were making a fortune by manufacturing cotton cloth from the cotton grown and harvested in the South. In border states of Virginia and Maryland, where the profits from tobacco were failing as the crop was depleting the soils in large areas, the internal slave trade to supply the mortally dangerous plantations of the South became a profit point. 
  • In the North, family farms were where much of the economic action was to be found; immigrant working in the urban businesses of the northern cities didn't want competition from blacks, much less from slaves. Northerners tended to favor free labor, believing it to be necessary for the long term growth of the nation; they also tended to believe that the future of the nation was to be in manufacturing rather than agriculture. 
Many in the north saw slavery as an ethical and religious issue, and the enslavement of men and women and their brutal treatment as profoundly immoral. Apologists for slavery in the South claimed southern slaves to be happier and living better lives than northern "wage slaves", asking which system was more immoral. Southern ministers pointed to biblical references to slavery, indicating that it was a deeply established custom in Christianity.

The Autobiographies

As autobiographies, these seem somewhat lacking in details of Douglass' life. Thus, one member of the club asked for clarification as to who Douglass married and whether he had children. Of course, the early books were hiding identities to protect slaves and people who had helped Douglass from retaliation. Thus names, dates and places one would expect to find in a normal autobiography were not present. Only the guilty slave owners and their instruments were so identified. On the other hand, as they were written the early books were very effective abolitionist tracts -- making points again and again against the institution of slavery!

As time passed, Douglass was able to safely reveal more and more details about his past. In 1892, long after emancipation and reconstruction, he could have feared little from revealing details from half a century or more in the past. Still the books often seem more tracts against slavery than memoirs of the very interesting life of an American icon.

Other Points

One member suggested that the books about Frederick Douglass might be regarded as cultural history, rather than the political history or economic history that the club usually reads and discusses. Douglass was after all, famous for his speeches and books, a publisher is significant news papers. The abolition movement might be seen as a cultural movement.

Another member offered the contrasting suggestion that the books were actually political history. Frederick Douglass was engaged in a political movement (and later in his life received a number of political appointments; in fact, Douglass was nominated for Vice President of the United States by a small political party and was in 1872 the presidential elector at large for the State of New York, and took that state's votes to Washington, D.C.)

We noted that the books raised the issue of the effect of the institution of slavery on the white population. In order to keep slaves as slaves it became necessary to institutionalize such things as keeping slaves uneducated, using corporal punishment on slaves who disobeyed their owners of drivers, and employing mercenaries to catch escaping slaves. The necessity for these aspects of institutionalized slavery fed back on the beliefs and behavior of the whites, and the feedback was not something of which we club members approved.

Although the club had previously read about slavery, were again shocked by the descriptions of the treatment of slaves. Douglass' descriptions, told by someone who had been on the receiving end of that treatment, were exceptionally heartrending.

We noted that the people of the slave holding states held various positions on slavery. Ministers had to deal with the morality of the institution and tended to find justifications for slavery in scripture. Douglass differentiated between one of his masters who he thought to be gentlemanly, who treated his slaves well, versus others of his masterswho were of lower social status and did not treat slaves equally well. Slave drivers were seen as much less concerned with the morality of their behavior, and very likely to use physical force on the slaves, sometimes to excess. The merchants in the slave trade and the people who drove manacled slaves from the north where they had been bought to their new southern masters are portrayed by Douglass as without any moral compass.

Racial prejudice seems always to have been closely related to the issue of slavery, and we were diverted into some discussion of prejudice. As the members present tended to share views that racial prejudice is reprehensible, there was little disagreement. A member brought our attention to the increasing portion of multiracial people in America; the current ethnic classification system used for schools and statistics does not seem to function very well for kids trying to describe a multiracial heritage. Indeed, as people self declare race, some seem to do so to "game the system" seeking to put down whatever race they think will be most favored in the specific circumstances.

A member told a story from  one of his friends: the friend after living in Africa for a number of years was asked whether a third party was black or white; the friend simply didn't know. The member telling the story believed his friend; another member found the story simply incredible. We noted that President Obama's father was Kenyan and his mother American -- a clearly black father and a clearly white mother; Obama has chosen to define himself as black. Someone commented that almost all people in the United States defining themselves as black have some European ancestry.

One member suggested that it was time to get rid of the outdated concept of "race". Scientists are moving now toward individualized medicine. Based on an individual's genetic endowment and other factors, doctors will increasingly better understand illness; they will better be able to prescribe treatment that will benefit the individual patient and avoid treatments that have excessive risk to the individual patient. For this to come to pass, we will need to test treatments on very specific groups of people -- not large, heterogeneous groups like whites, blacks, Hispanics, etc. The current government classifications, which call for people to self identify race and are never checked for accuracy anyway, are counterproductive to these medical purposes. Indeed, members pointed out that people now frequently declare themselves of a specific race to gain advantage in selection processes, rather than in an effort to be factual.

It was not clear if the low attendance was due to the topic itself, to the club's failure recently to recruit new members to replace those who stop attending meetings (a natural attrition), or to a normal drop off in summer. It was noted that the number of downloads of the summaries of discussions is trending much higher, reaching 185 for last months discussion. Still, Frederick Douglass seemed of considerable interest to those present. At least one member expressed support for occasionally reading books by people who had lived the history rather than always reading recently published books.

One of our members posted these on his blog prior to the meeting:

Jun 1, 2015

Potential Books for August, 2015

Books on the History of Texas (thanks to Allen W.)

There are two I'd recommend.  They are equally good, although I think Brands is a better writer & story teller, but Davis' book is considerably shorter.  Both give background on the Spanish colonial period and Mexican independence, then cover the Texas revolution of 1835-36 and its aftermath through the Civil War.

Lone Star Nation: The Epic Story of the Battle for Texas Independence by H.W. Brands. 4.4 stars, 608 pages (526 of text).

Lone Star Rising: The Revolutionary Birth of the Texas Republic by William C. Davis. 4.7 stars (3 reviews)m 376 pages. SELECTED

Lone Star: A History Of Texas And The Texans by T. R. Fehrenbach does cover the history of the state into the 20th century and is well written.  But, I thought Fehrenbach was at times too much of a flag-waver and the book is quite long at nearly 800 pages.  4.5 stars, 792 pages (726 of text).

Another possibility is a military history of the Texas Revolution written by Stephen Hardin.  This is a very well written, lively account, but it focuses on the military actions, rather than the loony politics of the Revolution.  It's not that much of an oversimplification to say that no one was in charge, or too many were.  Very chaotic.  This book is a good read and short; Hardin is a good writer and story teller.  However, this does not cover anything beyond the revolution.

Texian Iliad: A Military History of the Texas Revolution, 1835-1836 by Stephen L. Hardin. 4.6 stars. 344 pages.

There is a good, scholarly book on the political side of the revolution and its aftermath, including sections on how Hispanics were marginalized by the fledgling Texas government, which also ratified a constitution that made it illegal to abolish slavery.  However, the book is very dry and not for the casual reader.  I brought a real interest in the subject to this book and had to struggle through it:

Texas Revolutionary Experience: A Political and Social History, 1835-1836 by Paul D. Lack 3.8 stars (4 reviews), 360 pages.

I think the best choice is probably Brands or Davis, as they cover a broader history of Texas, albeit only through the Civil War.  However, a lot of what characterizes Texas and it's people is its history as an independent republic (even though I think that was a bit of a sham).  It seems to affect how Texans relate to their status as part of the United States and the occasional rumblings of another possible secession from the United States (which is an even bigger sham to me).  Interestingly enough, Sam Houston (a mercurial figure; hard to get a real handle on him sometimes), who is (sort of) the George Washington of Texas, argued strenuously against Texas' secession in 1861.

Books on the Irish Revolution and Civil War (thanks to Chris H.)

This list was previously posted, but never acted upon.

Books on Women in U.S. History

Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation by Cokie Roberts. 4.0 stars, 384 pages (274 of text). There are some reader reviews of the hook on Goodreads. Here is a video interview with author Roberts on the bookWhile much has been written about the men who signed the Declaration of Independence, battled the British, and framed the Constitution, the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters they left behind have been little noticed by history. #1 New York Times bestselling author Cokie Roberts brings us women who fought the Revolution as valiantly as the men, often defending their very doorsteps. Drawing upon personal correspondence, private journals, and even favoured recipes, Roberts reveals the often surprising stories of these fascinating women, bringing to life the everyday trials and extraordinary triumphs of individuals like Abigail Adams, Mercy Otis Warren, Deborah Read Franklin, Eliza Pinckney, Catherine Littlefield Green, Esther DeBerdt Reed and Martha Washington–proving that without our exemplary women, the new country might have never survived.

Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation by Cokie Roberts. 4.3 stars, 512 pages (394 of text). There are some reader reviews of the book on Goodreads. Here is a video interview with Cokie Roberts on the bookIn this eye-opening companion volume to the previous book Times bestselling author Cokie Roberts brings to life the extraordinary accomplishments of women who laid the groundwork for a better society. Recounted with insight and humor, and drawing on personal correspondence, private journals, and other primary sources, many of them previously unpublished, here are the fascinating and inspiring true stories of first ladies and freethinkers, educators and explorers. Featuring an exceptional group of women—including Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, Rebecca Gratz, Louise Livingston, Sacagawea, and others—Ladies of Liberty sheds new light on the generation of heroines, reformers, and visionaries who helped shape our nation, finally giving these extraordinary ladies the recognition they so greatly deserve.

Capital Dames LP: The Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868 by Cokie Roberts. 4.4 stars, 512 pages (412 pagess of text). Here is a C-SPAN video of the author discussing the book. Here is a brief review of the book from the New York Times. The latest in what seems a long effort of this reporter, daughter of two members of Congress, to document the role of women in politics in U.S. history. Cokie Roberts marks the sesquicentennial of the Civil War by offering a riveting look at Washington, D.C. and the experiences, influence, and contributions of its women during this momentous period of American history. With the outbreak of the Civil War, the small, social Southern town of Washington, D.C. found itself caught between warring sides in a four-year battle that would determine the future of the United States.