As a child, Berta tastes the pleasures of money while staying with wealthy relatives in Moscow. She is sent back to life in the Ukraine, Little Russia, as a grocer’s daughter in a small hamlet when she is no longer needed as a companion to her cousin. A wealthy grain buyer falls for Berta and life is easy once more until her husband’s secret life as an arms smuggler is revealed. Berta makes the fateful decision to stay in the Ukraine with her children when her husband flees to America. The tumultous war time and lost love reminds me of the epic Dr. Zhivago. Berta’s courage and determination to find her husband are tested in her fight for survival and protection of her children. This first novel for Susan Sherman is an impressive beginning.
As I’ve traveled throughout the country, I’ve heard way too many jokes about living in Kansas. I take them in stride, but always defend my state. One of the things I love about Kansas is the rich history: the Native Americans, abolitionists, farmers, teetotalers, and educators who made Kansas into the place we know today. Historic Photos of Kansas gives us a chance to browse through the past. This beautiful book allowed me to see what my grandmother’s soddy may have looked like or my mother as a little girl on the farm. There are even a few pictures of Manhattan back in the day. This glimpse into the past is thoroughly enjoyable.
She was the pride of the White Star Line. Built over the course of two years in the shipyards of Belfast, the RMS Titanic was not only the largest ship afloat at the time, but she was also labeled “unsinkable,” due partly to her watertight compartments. On her maiden voyage she carried a wide mix of passengers: steerage quarters were filled with new immigrants, and upper levels hosted the wealthy and famous. She sailed on April 10, 1912 and ran into disaster in the North Atlantic in the late hours of April 15, 1912. While her initial collision with an iceberg was not considered lethal, the fact that some five of her 16 airtight compartments were compromised proved fatal. In a little over two hours, the ship foundered and sank, leaving some 1500 people of over 2200 passengers to perish in the icy sea.
This month marks the 100th anniversary of that terrible tragedy. For those who curious to learn more, there are countless resources available designed to inform about the ship’s specifications, the passenger lists, and the even the resulting courtroom investigations. We can read of survivor testimonials and burial sites for the unfortunate, as well as efforts to salvage the wreckage.
Of course, Walter Lord’s 1955 fascinating book, entitled A Night to Remember, remains a classic. Lord’s account follows the passengers and the crew as each faced the disaster in his or her own fashion. Destined to become a film of the same name, this story remains among the more famous of the retellings.
Dr. Robert Ballard is considered a scientific authority on the event, given his expertise in locating and exploring the wreckage. With the aid of a small robotic submarine, Ballard was able to locate the debris field that others had been unable to pinpoint for so long. Titanic Revealed, a haunting dvd documentary, recalls Ballard’s original discovery. Ballard also assembled an excellent picture book of photographs taken during his exploration. Called Titanic: The Last Great Images, the book offers us eerie glimpses of the crusted bow and the battered remains of children’s shoes found on the ocean floor. The book also offers period photos taken both during the ship’s construction and as she departed.
Another beautifully arranged book of photographs, Titanic: An Illustrated History, involves the work of author Don Lynch. Among other highlights, Lynch presents a foldout of the ship’s layout and interior shots of the first class staircase, the second-class public rooms and the third-class dining room. The book also supplies a valuable overview of the tragedy as it unfolded. Readers can even see the position of various lifeboats over the course of the sinking.
For those who seek a more personal look at the tragedy, Titanic Voices: Memories from the Fateful Voyage seems the perfect book. Donald Hyslop, Alastair Forsyth and Shelia Jemima assembled this fine collection of letters, photos and testimonials. Of particular interest are the personal recollections supplied by the many survivors and the heartbreaking photographs of various memorials, such as the White Star Company’s church service in Southampton.
For those who wish to do more reading on the event, Stephanie Barczewski’s Titanic: A Night Remembered includes detailed biographies of some of the dead. Among them are the ship’s captain, Edward Smith, and band member Wallace Hartley, who played music to the end.
And Brad Matsen, author of Titanic’s Last Secrets, adds more to what we know by retelling the explorations of John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, who not only investigated the wreckage of the Titanic, but also the remains of the Britannic.
Interested in one of this year’s titles? Shadow of the Titanic by Andrew Wilson is one of the finer offerings. Wilson’s take is unique, however, in that he conveys the dismal lives of the survivors after the collision. So many suffered from what we now recognize as survivors’ guilt. For example, Madeleine Astor, widow of John Jacob Astor, went on to marry several more times and eventually lost her portion of the Astor fortune. Duff Gordon, one of the many wealthy, never overcame rumors that he had paid lifeboat rowers to ignore those struggling in the icy waters.
Reflection on the fate of the Titanic leads to thoughts on the nature of heroism, vulnerability, and randomness of chance. The library has an excellent collection of titles that can offer you more about that fateful trip aboard the pride of the White Star Line.
The well researched material gives a fascinating historical background for life as a servant just before and during the First World War in England, but also has an interesting perspective on life’s tremendous expectations of the upper class, such as always dressing for dinner. Jessica Fellowes, the niece of Julian Fellowes the writer and creator of Downton Abbey, gives us fresh insights into this fascinating world.
By John Pecoraro, Assistant Director
George Armstrong Custer is one of the most iconic figures in the history of the American West. Colorful and controversial, he was brevetted a general at age 23, a Civil War hero, and dead on the plains of Montana at age 36. Most people know the story of his and the 7th Cavalry’s defeat at the Little Big Horn, but perhaps fewer people realize that Custer spent several years in Kansas.
From November 1866 until 1871, while posted to Fort Riley, Kansas, Custer found some of his greatest success and failure as a commander. Custer’s years in the state are the focus of author Jeff Barnes’ program, “Custer in Kansas: Breaking in the Boy General,” which he will present at the Manhattan Public Library on Wednesday, March 7, at 7 p.m.
Barnes is the author of the newly published “The Great Plains Guide to Custer.” In this historical travel guide, Barnes pinpointed 85 forts, battles and other sites west of the Mississippi associated with the legendary general. A former newspaper reporter and editor, Barnes writes and lives in Omaha. He is a Nebraska native, a journalism graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a frequently requested speaker with the Nebraska Humanities Council.
There is a wide range of titles and resources available to Custer history buffs. Websites of interest include
Manhattan Public Library has dozens of titles about Custer’s life and the Little Bighorn battle, and hundreds of titles about the history of the American West. In The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn, author Nathaniel Philbrick sketched the two larger-than-life antagonists: Sitting Bull, whose charisma and political savvy earned him the position of leader of the Plains Indians, and George Armstrong Custer, a man with a reputation for fearless and often reckless courage. Philbrick reminded readers that the Battle of the Little Bighorn was also, even in victory, the last stand for the Sioux and Cheyenne Indian nations.
A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn by Jim Donovan explored the disastrous battle and the finger-pointing that was its aftermath. Custer, conveniently dead, took the brunt of the blame. The truth, however, was far more complex, and this book related the entire story, bringing to light details of the U.S. Army cover-up.
In The Day the World Ended at Little Bighorn, Joseph Marshall revealed a picture of the battle previously available only in the Lakota oral tradition. He explored the significance of the battle to the Lakota, and considered the consequences it had for all Native Americans.
Louise Barnett investigated the life, death, and mythic afterlife of Custer in her book Touched by Fire. Barnett traced the complexities of Custer’s personality and attempted to understand how this famed military tactician waged an impossible attack at the Little Bighorn.
Evan S. Connell’s Son of the Morning Star is part study of Plains Indian life, part military history, and part character study. This author used meticulous research and a novelist’s eye to tell a story of heroism, foolishness, and savagery.
Elizabeth Bacon Custer remained a devoted widow for fifty-seven years after her husband’s death. She was an outspoken advocate for her husband’s legacy. The myth of Custer, his place as an iconic figure in American history, is largely due to her efforts. Elizabeth Custer, or Libbie as she was known, wrote two books about the experiences and hardships she shared with the General. Tenting on the Plains concerns the Custers’ experiences immediately after the Civil War in Texas and Kanas. In Boots and Saddles, Libbie wrote about their final years on the plains at Fort Abraham Lincoln in Dakota Territory.
Finally George Armstrong Custer also wrote a book about his experiences, My Life on the Plains: or, Personal Experiences with Indians. In this collection of his magazine articles, Custer recounted his life in the years immediately following the Civil War and revealed his often ambiguous attitudes towards the Indians.
If you’re interested in George Armstrong Custer and Kansas, you won’t want to miss “Custer in Kansas: Breaking in the Boy General,” presented by Jeff Barnes at the Manhattan Public Library on Wednesday, March 7, at 7 p.m.
By Marcia Allen
Technical Services & Collections Manager
· City fathers decided the city of London required a new county hall in 1910. When construction crews began excavating the site, they stumbled upon the immense ruins of a Roman galley.
· The bombings of London during World War II obviously caused massive destruction. From the ruins, however, were exposed the foundations of an ancient Roman fort. Further reconstruction revealed a complete Roman bath-house located beneath Thames Street.
· Treasure-seekers frequently stumble upon dusty mugs and other half-hidden artifacts near the Fleet River. The site once housed the Gaol of London, an 800-year-old prison that was leveled in 1845.
Those fond of reading history, archaeology, or travel literature will find a rare treasure in Peter Ackroyd’s new book entitled London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets. This thin book is an astounding guide to the unexpected ruins left behind by the passing of the years. As Ackroyd says in his opening paragraph:
“Tread carefully over the pavements of London for you are treading on skin, a skein of stone that covers rivers and labyrinths, tunnels and chambers, streams and caverns, pipes and cables, springs and passages, crypts sand sewers, creeping things that will never see the light of day.”
Given that caution, who could resist the promise of Ackroyd’s expertise? What follows immediately captures readers’ attention. There is, for example, an entire section on London sewers. The oldest known treatment of sewage is said to have occurred during the thirteenth century, when pipes were installed in some areas to carry waste underground. As early as 1531, London had a formal board of officials who supervised the sewers and authorized the installation of new ones. That was certainly an improvement over the open fetid pits previously used, but still there were some serious problems. Methane gas explosions and “the great stink” of 1858 were major setbacks for human hygiene. And the horrifying tales of cholera outbreaks and the reports of gargantuan rats roaming the dark tunnels go on and on.
Yet another section describes the burial grounds, some of them quite old, located throughout the city. The grave of Celsus, a policeman from long ago, was located in Camomile Street. Ackroyd assures the reader that there were as many as 200 separate burial sites located within the city, many of which are no longer marked. He reminds us that the cemetery of Christ Church, Spitalfields, was open for 130 years beginning in 1729, and that during that time, an unbelievable 68,000 people were interred within its walls.
Obviously, London has undergone great cosmetic change. The first established community, for example, began to sink almost before it was completed. This was due to the mixture of sand clay, chalk and gravel upon which the city was built. As a result, above-ground housing soon became basement-level dwellings. How did the citizens deal with the sinking? They continued to build atop ground level, so that now the original dwellings lie some 30 feet below the surface. Of course, old roadways, houses and personal belongings became part of the well-packed detritus of history.
Ackroyd’s accounts of found treasure are perhaps the most fascinating tales of the book. He reminds us that a huge stone head, crafted to resemble the emperor Hadrian, was discovered in the bed of the Thames in 1832. Further, an intact crypt of a long-forgotten monastery was exposed when workers were digging on Bouverie Street in 1867. A long-hidden trap door was uncovered in 1865 when workers were repairing Oxford Street. Curious investigators pried open the door to reveal a large room, in which a formal pool or bath was still being fed by a bubbling spring.
Ackroyd’s London underground is surely a place of evil, of trepidation. Prisons, he reminds us, were originally built underground. And the tunnels beneath the city were used extensively by criminals for hundreds of years. A natural fear of the unknown adds to uneasiness toward what lies beneath the surface.
But Ackroyd’s underground is also a place of grand adventure. The forgotten booty of another age frequently astonishes those who find such treasures. And the old reminders of past lives tell their own wonderful stories. This lovely little book is a brief glimpse of the world as it once was.
There are numerous books recounting Lincoln’s assassination at the hands of John Wilkes Booth, but My Thoughts Be Bloody by Nora Titone puts a whole new spin on it. Instead of focusing on the conspiracy itself or the manhunt after the tragic deed, Titone takes an in-depth look at John Wilkes Booth’s background and what could have possibly motivated him to assassinate a president. Titone’s premise is that Booth’s dysfunctional family heavily contributed to his motivation to murder Lincoln. John Wilkes and his siblings grew up as illegitimate children of Junius and Mary Ann Booth. Junius Brutus Booth was something of a genius and a famous actor, but also an alcoholic. John’s brother Edward, older by four years, became the most famous American actor of his generation. John Wilkes constantly lived in the shadow of his famous older brother and father as he attempted to become an actor himself. While inheriting the striking good looks of his father, John failed to inherit his talent for acting. He bumbles along from one stage performance to the next, seemingly in denial of his lack of talent. He becomes increasingly caught up in the South’s fate in the Civil War while tensions with his older brother also escalate. Titone presents a fascinating look into the psyche and family dynamics of Booth and uses the Booth family’s own words whenever possible to tell the story. Equally interesting are all the facts Titone presents about the life of actors during the 19th century.
A few years ago, I was amazed to read Candice Millard’s first book, The River of Doubt, a harrowing tale of adventure that involved Teddy and Kermit Roosevelt’s ill-fated 1912 trip down the Amazon. Despite what seemed to be a well-planned journey, the excursion was a disaster replete with unanticipated predators and sudden deaths for some of the travelers. Millard’s account was vividly written, and it earned the label of a “Best Book of the Year” by the New York Times Book Review.
I looked forward to Millard’s latest book, Destiny of the Republic, with great anticipation, and I was not disappointed. This new account of the assassination of President James A. Garfield is just as captivating as that earlier Roosevelt book. But as I read, I was struck by the ironies that made the 1881 tragedy play out the way it did.
Would-be assassin Charles Guiteau lacked any substantial reason for the shooting. He didn’t have any particular desire to kill Garfield; rather he was disappointed with the way his own life was playing out. He approached Garfield with the request that he be appointed ambassador to France, despite any experience or talent for such a position. When his request was denied, Guiteau concluded that killing the president was the answer. When the deed was completed, Guiteau was convinced that newly invested President Chester Arthur would free him from prison because he would certainly appreciate Guiteau’s noble gesture. Guiteau even spoke of being rescued by General William T. Sherman who would come storming the prison and bestow honors on the assassin. Guiteau’s delusions created this confusing scenario that baffled all those who dealt with him.
Yet another irony is found in the wounding of Garfield. Medical experts of that time felt confident that the president would survive the shooting; the Civil War had repeatedly demonstrated that shooting victims could survive much worse than what Garfield suffered. But: these were the early days of the discovery of septicemia. In fact, most physicians doubted that such a threat really existed. Doctors Smith Townsend and D. Willard Bliss, who took over the care of the president, put no faith in the new notion of blood poisoning. When they examined Garfield, both probed the two wounds with unwashed hands, thus making infection a certainty. When Garfield died, after suffering greatly for some two months, his body was riddled with infection, and the subsequent autopsy revealed tragic miscalculations that doomed the president. Just a few years later, the combination of X-ray and antiseptic treatment would have spared the man.
Alexander Graham Bell’s involvement in the tale is equally ironic. In addition to recently inventing the telephone, Bell was working on what he called an “induction balance.” This machine, he determined, would act as a metal detector. When he learned that the president had been shot and the location of a missing bullet was a mystery, he rushed to help with his invention. Once again, fate interfered. Dr. Bliss, the physician now in charge, directed Bell to use his machine on the wrong side of Garfield’s body. Bell believed that his invention malfunctioned, and he was crushed to learn that the apparatus would have worked if used near the right area of the body.
Maybe, too, there’s irony in Garfield’s presidency. Today most readers know little about the man and his vision for the country. This is certainly due to the fact that he was in office for only four short months. Millard’s information about the president’s background is quite revealing. A self-educated man who was a voracious reader, Garfield was born in abject poverty. He proved to be an outstanding orator, and when the 1880 election approached, his nomination surprised him more than it did the others who backed him. What he might have accomplished in office remains a great mystery.
Enough about irony. This is an outstanding book which I recommend to anyone interested in history, biography or just a well-told story. I learned much about a historical period that was vague to me, and I learned more about the spread of infection than I ever cared to discover. This is top-notch writing from an excellent writer. I look forward to her next efforts.
In addition, the library has added new resources about Native American history, including the DVD’s