Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Supreme Court in United States History - Winner, Non-Fiction, 1923

The Supreme Court in United States History
By: Charles Warren
Little, Brown, & Company, 1923

Wow. This book was every bit as exciting as one would imagine it to be. (Because I know sarcasm doesn't work so well in the written, or typed, word - that last sentence was entirely sarcastic.) The Supreme Court in United States History starts with the very beginning of the Supreme Court in 1781 and moves forward through every minor event in the history of that high court. While Warren did what he could to make this book readable for the layman, he didn't have much of a chance to make it fascinating.

Warren's book does provide a vast amount of factual information and would, therefore, be a great research tool. It gives so many details about the formation of the Supreme Court and how, over the years, they have toiled to work out the kinks so that justice is fully administered. This book was the first one where I noticed a reference back to one of the other Pulitzer books I've read (specifically Albert Beveridge's The Life of John Marshall). I must admit that I dreaded reading this book and while I did pick up a few facts that I will hopefully remember, I am quite relieved to be done and move on!

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Life & Letters of Walter H. Page - Winner, Biography, 1923

The Life & Letters of Walter H. Page
By: Burton J. Hendrick
Doubleday, Page, & Company, 1922

In The Life & Letters of Walter H. Page, Burton Hendrick has put together an extensive collection of personal correspondence written by American ambassador to Great Britain, Walter Page, and tied it together with his own commentary. Page was ambassador to Great Britain from 1913 to 1918. The book contains examples of not only his letters to Woodrow Wilson and others during his time in England, but also some replies written by the president and other government officials.

While this book was not the most fascinating to read, it did cause me to think about several things. First, and most importantly for me, is the importance of primary sources. In doing any type of research I would much rather read the original sources of things than the commentaries of others, contemporary or otherwise. It just seems right to make your own judgements about things. This book did contain the commentary of the author but it also contained so many letters and memos written by Page and by Woodrow Wilson.

Another thing that this book caused me to consider that I hadn't spent much time thinking about is the period of transition during the years before and after World War I that America went through as it became a world power. Page believed firmly that the United States would soon pass Great Britain as THE world power and took to his job as ambassador from that standpoint. He was not arrogant, he just saw where things were going.

This book would be great for someone looking for primary resources concerning American and British relations in the pre-WWI years.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

One Of Ours - Winner, Novel/Fiction, 1923

One of Ours
By: Willa Cather
Knopf, 1922

Willa Cather's One of Ours takes us again to the Midwest. It is the story of Claude Wheeler, the son of a wealthy farmer in Nebraska who seeks desperately to find his place in the world. He attempts to go off to school, an undertaking that his family sees as a temporary distraction while Claude is waiting to take over the family farm but what he sees as an opportunity to escape to a more meaningful life. He does come back to the farm when he is needed and attempts to settle down, builds a house, and marries a girl because that is what he is expected to do. All the while, his soul longs to be free to find new things. When Claude's wife goes to China to take care of her invalid missionary sister, he sees his opportunity to break free by joining the army and heading into World War I.

Warning: spoilers in this paragraph. Highlight to read it. Claude truly finds the freedom and happiness he was seeking in his new experiences - ironic because he had entered a violently bloody war and saw things that would torment others for years to come. In the end, Claude dies, rather suddenly, in a battle.

I found this book a very interesting read - not only for the content, but for the style of writing. Instead of giving the story from the perspective of one character or no character, Cather seamlessly shifts from one character's point of view to another - sometimes from one paragraph to the next. One feels as though they are floating from character to character instead of remaining fixed behind the eyes of one person or remaining permanently outside of all character. The shift doesn't happen frequently, but just enough to give a complete picture of the story.

Spoiler again - highlight below:

Something that struck me in the book that I had never considered was the fact that after Claude died and his family had received the news his mother still received letters from him for several weeks because of the time it took for soldiers' letters to reach home from the front. I can't even imagine being a family member and experiencing that..

I know this is a long post, but this book really made me think about all kinds of different things. That doesn't always happen, so I thought I should write it out when I could.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Founding of New England - Winner, Non-Fiction, 1922

The Founding of New England
By: James Truslow Adams
The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1921

I wouldn't exactly call The Founding of New England a great read, but I did learn more about the founding of the New England colonies specifically than I ever did as a history major in college. For example, did you know that revisionist history is NOT a new thing? Adams' point in this book was that, contrary to popular belief, the New England colonies were not founded solely for religious freedom. He makes a very convincing argument for the fact that, for many of the colonists, economic gains motivated them more than the search for a place to worship freely.

A second major focus of Adams' in The Founding of New England was the belligerency of the Massachusetts colony. Adams compares the narrow view of the Massachusetts colony, who only sought their own gain and power, to the much broader view of the British empire, who had interests in colonies all over the world and had to keep each colony in check for the benefit of the entire empire. These are aspects of the early colonizing of New England that I either never learned or have no recollection of learning about.

This book can be a pretty dull read at times, but those who are interested in colonial history might learn something new and those who are interested in the thought processes of historians in the 1920s will definitely get some insight.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Daughter of the Middle Border - Winner, Biography, 1922

A Daughter of the Middle Border
By: Hamlin Garland
Macmillan, 1921

Hamlin Garland was a prolific writer in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In 1917 he published his autobiography, A Son of the Middle Border. It was widely acclaimed and led him to publish A Daughter of the Middle Border as its sequel. Both followed the lives of his parents and him as they lived and worked in the Midwest. Garland had a great urge to share with the "intellectuals" of the east what the Midwest was like.

A Daughter of the Middle Border follows Garland as he marries and his family grows. He describes how often he was torn between the family farm in the Midwest and "civilization" in the great metropolitan areas of the east. He and his wife often spent summers at the family farm and the rest of the year travelling between Chicago and New York, but as his family grew it became harder and harder to leave the simplicity of farm life and the love of grandparents. We see his family grow, but we also see the older generation, the generation of A Son of the Middle Border pass on.

It is interesting to see the early descriptions of the blooming Midwest and also Garland's descriptions of the west through his extensive travels. He writes of the wonder at seeing places that have never been touched by man. He has tremendous respect for the Native American and his ways. How amazing it must have been to travel through untouched and unspoiled nature. I fear there are few places left on earth that are quite like that.

This book wasn't the best book I have read so far, but it definitely wasn't the worst, either. It is only 200 pages long, so that helps. I couldn't figure out through the entire book if A Daughter of the Middle Border referred to his wife or daughter. In the end, it seems like it was supposed to be his wife, but she really only plays a background role in the whole thing. It is like he didn't want to name the book A Son of the Middle Border, Part 2, so he changed Son to Daughter.

A side note, I was looking on for a little information on Garland and found this: "Garland died at age seventy-nine, after moving to Hollywood, California, where he devoted his remaining years to investigating psychic phenomena..." That made me laugh.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Alice Adams - Winner, Novel/Fiction, 1922

Alice Adams
By: Booth Tarkington
Doubleday, 1921

Alice Adams is Booth Tarkington's second Pulitzer Prize novel. (See previous Post here) I thoroughly enjoyed Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons, and so I looked forward to this read. While Alice Adams was interesting and another good commentary of the pretentiousness of society during the Victorian era, the story was too similar to The Magnificent Ambersons.

Where The Magnificent Ambersons focused on a wealthy family who slowly began to loose their wealth and status and did everything they could to keep up appearances of wealth, Alice Adams is about a family who could not quite keep up with all of the wealthy families in town and did everything to appear that they could.

It seems to me that there were many books written on this subject matter in the early 20th century. Feelings of disillusionment following World War I drove many authors to be highly critical of society prior to The Great War. What interests me is that this is something we are dealing with today. The skyrocketing numbers of foreclosures on homes is the result of people taking out loans that they can't afford so they can live somewhere that will make them look like they have more money than they do. People choose to spend their money on things like expensive cars or clothing instead of paying off ever-increasing credit card bills. Why? So they people who they probably don't like anyway will accept them. Aren't we humans interesting creatures?

Read this book or any of the others, but don't judge their society too harshly unless you are willing to look at our own society in the same way.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Age of Innocence - Winner, Novel/Fiction, 1921

The Age of Innocence
By: Edith Wharton
Appleton, 1920

The Age of Innocence is probably one of my favorite books of all time. I read it in college and, because of that and for the sake of time, I have chosen not to re-read the Pulitzer winners that I have already read. But, I couldn't resist writing a short note on this one.

Wharton wrote The Age of Innocence after World War I. She reflected back to a time when things really did seem innocent - especially in high society. But, things are not always as they appear and Wharton seeks to make that point. High society in the Victoria era was full of rules and regulations about how one was to act regardless of how one really felt.

This is a book that I believe is required reading for all. It is very important to be able to step back, examine society, and see it for what it really is. It is easy to condemn those in the past for their social quirks. It is much harder, if not impossible, to step back from our own society and look at it objectively - to see it for what it really is.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Victory at Sea - Winner, Non-Fiction, 1921

The Victory at Sea
By: Admiral William Sowden Sims
Doubleday, 1920

Being rather averse to the history of war, I must admit that I quite dreaded reading a book solely about submarine warfare in World War I written by an admiral. I expected a long military diatribe full of technical terms that I didn't know and didn't care to know. But, with The Victory at Sea I was pleasantly surprised. Admiral Sims was assisted in his writing by Burton J. Hendrick for the specific purpose of keeping the language in layman's terms.

It was fascinating to read about a part of World War I that I don't remember learning too much about in my history classes. Sims writes that in the latter part of 1917 Germany was coming very close to defeating the Allies because they were making such effective use of the submarine to block British supply lines on the seas. Because Great Britain is an island it depends very heavily on imports for survival. When Admiral Sims was sent to England in 1917 to head up the American naval program in the war he brought multiple ideas for battling the German submarines to open British supply lines and, consequently, promote the Allied cause on the Western Front. These ideas, when implemented, proved very effective in destroying and deterring the German subs. In the end, shortly after the German submarines were stopped almost completely the Armistice was signed.

The most interesting thing to me about reading this book was the fact that is was written right after the Armistice was signed, before World War II. World War I was still "The War to End All Wars." It is often referred to in the book as THE World War. Sims had no idea what was in store in the coming years as terms of the Armistice brought Germany so low that they desperately searched for someone to bring them back up - and that someone was Adolf Hitler.

Of course, the claims in the book must be taken with a grain of salt because they were made almost immediately after the war was over. But, I do still think it is worth the read.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Americanization of Edward Bok - Winner, Biography, 1921

The Americanization of Edward Bok
By: Edward Bok
Scribner, 1920

If you have ever had to skip to the back of a magazine to finish reading an article...If you have ever enjoyed the floor plans for homes printed in Southern Living and other magazines...If you have ever looked at pictures of the interiors of homes in magazines in hopes of keeping your home up to date and fashionable...If you have ever read The Ladies Home Journal, you have experienced the creations of Edward Bok.

The Americanization of Edward Bok is a fascinating autobiography of a man who truly lived the "American Dream." His family moved from the Netherlands to the United States when he was a young child and he tells us his story of taking every available opportunity to become as "Americanized" as possible. I enjoyed this book so much that I am very tempted to give every detail of Edward Bok's life right here, but I will refrain. I do, though, recommend this book. It is well written and a very interesting read.

In my opinion, Edward Bok is one of the most important Americans that no one has heard of (at least I hadn't). He revolutionized the publishing business, especially regarding magazines. The Ladies Home Journal existed before Edward Bok, but it had a minute following. When he retired, the magazine reached circulation numbers of close to 2 million per year.

The thing that most fascinated me about Edward Bok was that he truly changed America in some very interesting ways. For example, he saw that many of the homes that the average person lived in were an eyesore - inside and out. He began by making a deal with an architect for the architect to draw up basic, functional house plans that Bok would in turn print in his magazine. This idea was such a hit that neighborhoods began popping up all over the country, and they were appropriately referred to as Ladies Home Journal neighborhoods. Next, Bok began printing landscaping plans in the magazine. Again, the idea took off. He single-handedly changed the face of America neighborhoods. Once the outside of the homes were dealt with, Bok moved to the inside, printing pictures of the interiors of stylish women's homes and even putting together mass produced portfolios of artwork that could be purchased and framed. As I was reading I felt chills as I realized that this was the beginning of the kinds of magazines I read today. I even (thanks to my mother-in-law) have my own subscription to Ladies Home Journal.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The War with Mexico - Winner, Non-Fiction, 1920

The War with Mexico, 2 Vols.
By: Justin H. Smith
Macmillan, 1919

Wow. What can I say about this book... I hate to be harsh, but I hated it. It was pure torture to me. Now, this probably says nothing about the quality of the book (it did win a Pulitzer) but probably more about my own immaturity. The history of wars is my least favorite part of history. Tell me about society during the war and I am all ears. This book, in 2 volumes, gives every single detail you could ever imagine about the 2 year Mexican-American War. I did read all of volume 1 and part of volume 2, and after that it was due at the library with no renewals (it was actually from interlibrary loan, so there was definitely no renewal option). So, I gave up.

I you happen to be writing a research paper on the Mexican-American War, this book would provide you with a ton of information. It is also interesting to read books written about war before the tendency to revisionist history. Smith does gift credit to the Mexicans for some of the good things they did, but he never misses a chance to point out how generally lazy and corrupt they all were. These were to times when there were no politically correct ways to say things, and one has to remember that when reading anything from this period. There is no modern filter. They say some highly offensive things that were normal then, so keep that in mind.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Life of John Marshall - Winner, Biography, 1920

The Life of John Marshall
by: Albert J. Beveridge
Houghton, 1920

I had the distinct pleasure of reading this biography, about the life of our greatest Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, in a first edition. Now, this won't be such a great feat as I get into the more recent books, but to be reading out of the actually edition printed in 1920 was pretty exciting to me.

I found this biography to be quite interesting. It starts from the very beginning of Marshall's life and examine how each event that he experienced affected his interpretation of the law and Constitution. It is fascinating to see how Marshall grew up in close contact with many of our founding fathers. He was a cousin of Thomas Jefferson's (although there great disagreements later in life are well known...). He was at Valley Forge with George Washington. He studied law at the College of William & Mary under George Wythe (whose home we have visited at Colonial Williamsburg).

What a fascinating and intelligent man! I would recommend this book for someone who is doing research, especially trying to connect how Marshall's decisions in court were affected by his life experiences. (Being 4 volumes, I'm not sure it would make the best pleasure reading...)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Magnificent Ambersons - Winner, Novel/Fiction, 1919

The Magnificent Ambersons
by: Booth Tarkington
Doubleday, 1918

The Magnificent Ambersons Takes place at the turn of the century in your typical, growing Midwestern town. It follows the rise and fall of a wealthy family and shows the fascinating struggle between old money & new money and the struggle faced by many who grow up with old money, feel a sense of entitlement, think they will never have to work a day in their lives, & find out that they are wrong.
I loved this book. Social commentary, especially in this time of American history, is my absolute favorite thing to read. I did find it hard to ever have any positive feelings toward the main character, George Amberson Minafer, who was a spoiled brat whom everyone in town hoped would one day "get his come-upance." And, while he eventually does get his "come-upance" by pridefully refusing to work and continuing to spend the family money, by the time he does the town has long ago moved on and no one even remembers him.
I would definitely recommend this book. It is a fascinating study in the way that America shifted from truly valuing "Old Money" as the only authentic form of wealth to valuing money only, regardless of whether it is new or old.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Education of Henry Adams - Winner, Biography, 1919

The Education of Henry Adams
by: Henry Adams
Houghton & Mifflin Company, 1918

The Education of Henry Adams was, unfortunately, another one of the painful ones. It is an autobiography written by a pompous aristocrat who thinks much more highly of himself than those who knew him probably did. The book is a philosophical take on his life as he explores how different events, circumstances, and people led to his education in life. Being a person who is much more interested in things and events than philosophical ideas I did not enjoy it. Apparently Henry Adams lost the love of his life and was so traumatized by it that he decided to leave that part of his life completely out of the book without even a word of explanation as to why some of the most important years of a persons life were left out. The book basically covers his childhood and his years as an older man. I would say that the only redeeming thing about this book is that it is an excellent study in the attitude of the elite concerning themselves during the mid-to late-1800s.

A History of the Civil War - Winner, Nonfiction, 1918

A History of the Civil War
by: James Ford Rhodes
Macmillan, 1918

I must begin this post by apologizing to Ryan and all my other avid fans for falling down on my postings. I have continued to read but as my husband and I have recently made a cross country move and I have gotten settled, I have decided that it is time to pick this back up.

I have to admit that I didn't finish A History of the Civil War. It was the first of many, I'm sure, that was so painfully dull that I had to let it go. The book is very detailed about each and every remotely important event in the Civil War. It really reads like a basic history textbook. It would be good for someone who was doing research on specific events, but, as you can imagine, I would not recommend it for pleasure reading.