>Interested in Africa, I picked up Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller. This is her fourth book and a narrative of her mother’s love for Africa where her family lived during the 1950′s and 60′s. Alexandra was raised by an eccentric mother with a zest for life. Nicola was born in Scotland but raised in Kenya. Her love for Africa is expressed through this narrative as we learn the British colonial period’s history of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Alexandra presents her mother with such spirit as she describes her love for the land and creatures even though she experiences untold hardships and tragedy as she runs from war. The Tree of Forgetfulness in Zambia is where the mother presently thrives raising tilapia (as the premier producer of fingerlings in the country) and sharing her love for all things African.
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 500 Nations, Geronimo and the Apache Resistance, and Trail of tears: Cherokee Legacy. If you would like to find more information about library programs or about Native American history, please ask at the Information Desk or at Reference.
>For a lot of us, planes have held us endlessly fascinated. When we think of the history of flight certain planes jump out at us: The Wright Flyer, The Spirit of St. Louis, The MiG, P51 Mustang……the list goes on.
What I love about 50 Aircraft that changed the world is that it covers the historical significance of the aircraft when it was first introduced, and the inclusions are based on importance to history, not popularity in the mass culture. The book also goes on to explain how the 50 planes came into existence, and what sets these planes apart from all others.
This book is a must for the aero-phile and those of us that spent our youth putting together airplane models after school.
> Part history, part suspense, part adventure and travel, Ten Discoveries That Rewrote History by Patrick Hunt is a concise, well-written, and engrossing read. The archeological discoveries that it covers include the ruins of Pompeii and Troy, the Rosetta Stone, the Olduvai Gorge, Machu Picchu, the Tomb of 10,000 Warriors, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Thera, possible location of the lost city of Atlantis. The wonders found at these sites all changed the way we understand history, and most of the sites themselves are still being excavated and studied. But that’s only part of the story — the greatest suspense of these archeological treasures was the intrigue and adventure surrounding their re-discovery after being hidden for centuries. With tales worthy of Indiana Jones and James Bond, this book is great fun for armchair archeologists.