"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
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Sunday, August 21, 2016


Published in 1993 by Chronicle Books

Designed to be a "coffee table book" rather than a thorough re-telling of the war, this history of the American Civil War is quite enjoyable. The strength of the book is immediately obvious - the gorgeous, large photographs of soldiers, sailors, spies and other participants in the events of the Civil War.

I find that as I get older I catch myself looking at the faces of these people and wondering what life was like for them. Some of them look stiff and fake, but some, including a lot in this collection, imbue a sense of vitality, a sense that these were living, breathing people. Sometimes it is a smirk, or perhaps a look of unease.

I simply love a picture that is used in this book of the 4th U.S. Colored Troops on p. 121. This is a close-up of the picture from the book. These men all have a look of confidence, determination and even distrust that speaks to us even more than 150 years later and exemplifies what a well-chosen picture can tell the reader that even a well-written text cannot.

4th U.S. Colored Troops stationed at Fort Lincoln in
Washington, D.C.
The history part of the book is told simply and sometimes in an abrupt manner, such as on page 49 in the one page description of the Battle of Antietam. It concludes with this paragraph:

"McClellan had won a costly, if strategically vital victory, but he now seemed reluctant even to give chase to Lee. A much-frustrated Abraham Lincoln sacked his general and freed the slaves."

While all of that is true, it completely skips over the slavery debate within Lincoln's cabinet and the strategy involved - especially the need to pacify foreign governments that were contemplating intervening on behalf of the Confederacy.

Clearly, if this were the reader's only exposure to Civil War history, this book would come up short. But, if you are a student of the Civil War, this book offers something different with these portraits and photographs of camp life. Many books include pictures, including many of the pictures in this book, but few offer them in such a large format which can make all of the difference.

Despite its flaws, I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: My Brother's Face.

Monday, August 8, 2016

THE EAGLE CATCHER (Wind River Reservation Mystery #1) by Margaret Coel

Originally published in 1995.

Set on the Wind River Arapaho reservation in Central Wyoming, this murder mystery features a likable cast of characters and great descriptions of cultural aspects of the Arapaho. Comparisons will inevitably be made to Tony Hillerman's series set amongst the Navajo and this book fares quite well in the comparison.

The mystery involves the murder of Harvey Castle, the tribal chairman in the middle of the Ethete powwow. The custom is that everyone camps out in tipis for the event and Harvey Castle is found stabbed to death in his tipi - murdered in his sleep.

The local police and the FBI quickly find a suspect but Father John O'Malley of the reservation's Jesuit mission doesn't buy it. He starts his own investigation and soon ruffles a lot of feathers as he starts to figure out who really killed Harvey Castle...

I really like the John O'Malley character. He was a once proud priest who was humbled by alcoholism and sent out in the middle of nowhere to get his life together. He has made a real connection with his parishioners and O'Malley's past grand failure makes him a very approachable character (and a much better priest).

The mystery was not particularly hard to solve (I nailed it early on) but it was an enjoyable read nonetheless.

I rate this book 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Eagle Catcher.