Thursday, February 28, 2013

Worse Than Slavery by David M. Oshinsky~★★★★★

Author: David. M. Oshinsky
Title: Worse Than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice
Release Date: April 4, 1996
Publisher: Free Press
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Jacket: "'Worse Than Slavery' is an epic history of race and punishment in the deepest South from emancipation to the civil rights era---and beyond. Southern prisons have been immortalized in convict work songs, in the blues, and in movies such as Cool Hand Luke and The Defiant Ones. Mississippi's Parchman Penitentiary was the grandfather of them all, an immense, isolated plantation with shotguns, whips, and bloodhounds, where inmates worked the cotton fields in striped clothing from dawn to dusk. William Faulkner described Parchman as "destination doom." Its convicts included bluesmen like "Son" House and "Bukka" White, who featured the prison in the legendary 'Midnight Special' and 'Parchman Farm Blues.'
Noted historian David M. Oshinsky draws on prison records, pardon files, folklore, oral history, and the blues to offer an unforgettable portrait of Parchman and Jim Crow justice---from the horrors of convict leasing in the late nineteenth century to the struggle for black equality in the 1960s, when Parchman was used to break the spirit of civil rights workers who journeyed south on the Freedom Rides. In Mississippi, the criminal justice system often proved that there could be something worse than slavery.
The "old" Parchman is gone, a casualty of federal court orders in the 1970s. What it tells us about our past is well worth remembering in a nation deeply divided by race."

Taryn's Review: My youngest sister is in college and is taking a history course. She asked me what I knew about convict leasing in the South after the Civil War. My answer to that was that I knew absolutely nothing about it. Zilch. Zip. Nada. My area of study ends around 1840, but her question had me interested. I wanted to know more.

David M. Oshinsky not only has thorough and engaging research material in his book, but his writing style had me hooked immediately. It is a history book, but it is not one that is unreadable to the general public. In fact, the book was incredibly reader-friendly. Oshinsky's book was phenomenal because he began with the years after emancipation, building up the background with the years that eventually led to the creation of Parchman Farm (1904). He easily could have discussed Parchman Farm as an isolated topic, but the context Oshinsky set up made the book so much more riveting than a simple focus on Parchman Farm would have been.

The situations and outcomes that Oshinsky discussed will nauseate your stomach, bring tears to your eyes, and have you shaking your head at the unimaginable horrors blacks endured during these years. The legal system of the South after Reconstruction, especially in Mississippi, was designed to subject blacks to perpetual states of legal bondage that also upheld white supremacy. In many ways, blacks were more vulnerable to severe punishment than they had been in slavery because it wasn't a master they were susceptible to anymore, but state punishment and white mobs. As slaves, there was a monetary value attached to each person, so the master had a motive to keep the slave alive. Punishment for slaves was brutal, but ultimately the master didn't want his slave to die because it was money lost. Convicts did not have that protection (for lack of better word); a dead convict could be replaced with a new convict. And Oshinsky provided an abundance of atrocious and grisly sources that discussed exactly what these men suffered through as leased convicts and at Parchman Farm. Many of the convicts had participated in petty crimes that resulted in obnoxious sentencing because they were black. The youngest convict I read about in the book was a black boy; he was sentenced to a two-year term for stealing from a dry-goods store. He was four feet, five inches tall, weighed 70 pounds, and was just eight-years old. Frighteningly, these disgusting acts against human beings didn't happen all that long ago.

I wish this book  or a portion of it was part of American history curriculums because it was so profound and highlighted a huge aspect as to why the Civil Rights Movement was so, so important. I strongly encourage anyone with any interest in American history to read this book. So many Americans know that the enslaved population of the United States was freed during the Civil War, but many know nothing of the ghastly aftermath that emancipation carried for many blacks.

While this book received a glowing review, I will admonish Free Press, however. The book jacket opened by both italicizing and using quotation marks around the title, Worse Than Slavery. No quotation marks were necessary! Come on Free Press! That's a grade school mistake!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli~★★★

Author: Tatjana Soli
Title: The Forgetting Tree
Release Date: September 4, 2012
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket: "When Claire Nagy marries Forster Baumsarg, the only son of prominent California citrus ranchers, she knows she's consenting to a life of hard work, long days, and worry-fraught nights. But her love for Forster is so strong, she turns away from her literary education and embraces the life of the ranch, succumbing to its intoxicating rhythms and bounty until her love of the land becomes a part of her. Not even the tragic, senseless death of her son Joshua at kidnappers' hands, her alienation from her two daughters, or the dissolution of her once-devoted marriage can pull her from the ranch she's devoted her life to preserving. 
But despite having survived the most terrible of tragedies, Claire is about to face her greatest struggle: an illness that threatens not only to rip her from her land but take her very life. And she's chosen a caregiver, the inscrutable, Caribbean-born Minna, who may just be the darkest force of all. 
Haunting, tough, triumphant, and profound, The Forgetting Tree explores the intimate ties we have to one another, the deepest fears we keep to ourselves, and the calling of the land that ties every one of us together." 

Taryn's Review: This book was a hard book to rate because I wasn't sure what I was supposed to feel when I closed the book. Minna's betrayal was hurtful, but would Claire have recovered and felt rejuvenated the way she did if it wasn't for Minna?

While the book began with the tragedy of Joshua, the story mainly focused on Claire's later years in life. Claire's reflection on the land, her children, and her marriage were slow to me as the reader, but the book gained momentum when Minna entered Claire's life. Minna was as magical to the reader as she was to Claire. I best related to the book when it was seen from Claire's perspective; I questioned Minna's answers along with Claire, but I was also enchanted along with Claire regarding Minna's attitude, Minna's thoughts, and Minna's voodoo. Like Claire, I'm not sure I wanted to know the truth about Minna.

I was surprised when Soli revealed Minna's past to the reader, going back to Minna's childhood in the Caribbean and rehashing it to the point when Minna found herself in Southern California. This knowledge made me sympathetic toward Minna, but it also made me hate her treatment of Claire. Yet, it felt like Claire needed Minna. Was it better that Claire never know the truth?

The ending was a complete shock to me. I honestly don't know what I think about the way the story ended or if I found it plausible. I'm still wondering what I was supposed to take away from it. The book had so many layers to it and I'm not sure how I was supposed to interpret the stories in regard to the bigger story of the book. I feel flabbergasted when think about the storyline and the way it ended. So again I go back to the point that I don't know what to feel. I wouldn't read this book again, but I wouldn't necessarily try to stop someone else from reading it. Perhaps confusing is the best way for me to sum up the book. Soli's writing didn't jump out to me as some other writers have, but I wouldn't mind giving her first novel a chance, either. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Putting Meat On the American Table by Roger Horowitz~★★★★★

Author: Roger Horowitz
Title: Putting Meat On the American Table: Taste, Technology, Transformation
Release Date: November 16, 2005
Publisher: The John Hopkins University Press
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Cover: "Engagingly written and richly illustrated, Putting Meat On the American Table explains how America became a meat-eating nation---from the colonial period to the present. It examines the relationship between consumer preference and meat processing---looking closely at the production of beef, pork, chicken, and hot dogs. 
Roger Horowitz argues that a series of new technologies have transformed American meat. He draws on detailed consumption surveys that shed new light on America's eating preferences---especially differences associated with income, rural versus urban areas, and race and ethnicity. 
Putting Meat On the American Table will captivate general readers and interest all students of the history of food, technology, business, and American culture."

Taryn's Review: In the past I have worked summers at an 1820s living history farm. The farm provides visitors with the opportunity to witness life as it was in the 1820s (minus the gross parts, ha!). Food is a popular subject the visitors bring up and they often ask what sorts of meats people on the 1820s frontier ate. According to historical documents, wild game and fish were prevalent as well as pork products, but beef and chicken seem to have been rare eats saved for special occasions. While the reasonings behind this are too numerous to list here, a question I wasn't very good at answering was, "What changed? Why do we eat so much beef and chicken now?"

Enter Roger Horowitz and his book. This book went beyond my expectations in its explanation of the transition to a nation that can eat beef, pork, and chicken at every meal if we so desire. The vast technological advances changed the way animals could be slaughtered and preserved and transportation technologies could move frozen foods quickly and easily. An eating revolution took shape and is still seen on our tables today. Horowitz wanted readers to really ponder over the idea if producers truly dominated nature with the new technologies since producers celebrated their conquest over natural processes. Another book that discusses this in great depth is Nature's Metropolis by William Cronon

This book is useful not just because it provided the history of why the changes occurred and how they were accepted, but also because it touched on concerns from the turn of the century about the artificial additives added to foods, which mirror the concern over processed foodstuff today. The book also contained some awesome pictures (some of which could be a bit gory for the weak-stomached person) and Horowitz's discussion of advertising was very enlightening, too. Did you know there used to be bacon girls who cooked and served bacon to the public as to ensure the public conjured up a positive image of the food...but only white women could be bacon girls? This book has so many interesting and thought-provoking facts!

As a history student I enjoyed this book so much and there are so many groups of people who would enjoy this book and benefit from reading it. As a foodie the book helped me to understand why I have the selection of meats in front of me at the supermarket and it also made me realize how products like ham and bacon most likely do not taste the same way as they did 150+ years ago. People who are interested in local food movements could use this book to explain why modern tablescapes appear as they do today and how the nation moved from eating locally to nationally. Horowitz did an amazing job researching this book and it's one I highly recommend to all.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Perfection Salad by Laura Shapiro~★★★★1/2

Author: Laura Shapiro
Title: Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century
Release Date: First released in 1986; this edition released October 2, 2008
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Cover: "Perfection Salad presents an entertaining and erudite social history of women and cooking at the turn of the twentieth century. With sly humor and lucid insight, Laura Shapiro uncovers our ancestors' widespread obsession with food, and in doing so, tells us why we think as we do about food today. This edition includes a new introduction by Michael Stern, who, with Jane Stern, is the author of Gourmet magazine's popular column 'Roadfood' and the book Eat Your Way Across the U.S.A.."

Taryn's Review: Food and history are two of my biggest interests. Luckily for me, one of the sections I'm studying for is about Food and Culture in modern America and this book fit the bill. It takes place mainly between the late 1870s up to the Great Depression (1930s).

This book answered so many questions I've had about women's role in the kitchen and how that identity evolved. There were a lot of changes going on in the U.S. during this time period with the predominant changes coming as offshoots from the Industrial Revolution. Thanks to a group of women who deemed themselves domestic scientists, the kitchen, cooking, and women's domestic sphere changed dramatically. Cooking became a science and kitchens were often referred to as cooking laboratories, measuring cups emerged to ensure precise accuracy, and recipes aided women in perfecting food to the teaspoon.

The idea that eating was to help one live and people were not supposed to "live to eat" was the stance the domestic scientists advocated. They focused on recipes that would aid in digestion versus taste and white bland food because very popular, especially when covered in the infamous white sauce. Cooking schools sprang up and at different times had various goals, but one famous face you may have heard about today was Fannie Farmer. Shapiro dedicated a section to Farmer and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Discussions in the book regarding women's moral role to protect the family's home and how that tied into religion were particularly fascinating. Shapiro wrote about why the hearth became the symbol of the home in modern life and how the domestic scientist carved out a role for themselves in the changing world around them. And the salads! Who hasn't heard of jello salads, or pink salad, or carrot salad? Shapiro let us know why all these exist.

The book is full of so many interesting ideas and thoughts that you really should read it. Fun fact: it was edited by Ruth Reichl, author of Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise. The book is great and it filled in the gap of history between the hearth and stove. It explained so much about the ideology behind the movement and how those ideas still reflect and impact women's role in the kitchen today. My complaints were the distraction by the overuse of the word "however" and the abundance of commas to the point they interrupted the flow of the text, but Shapiro's great research produced a superb book. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker~★★★★

Author: Karen Thompson Walker
Title: The Age of Miracles
Release Date: June 26, 2012
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket: "Luminous, haunting, The Age of Miracles is a stunning fiction debut by a superb new writer, an unforgettable story about coming of age during extraordinary times, about people going on with their lives in an era of profound uncertainty.
On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life---the fissures in her family, the loss of friends, the hopeful anguish of love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather, who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.
With spare, graceful prose and the emotional wisdom of a born storyteller, Karen Thompson Walker has created a singular narrator in Julia, and a moving portrait of family life set against the backdrop of an utterly altered world." 

Taryn's Review: I was in a hurry during this past trip to the library, so it was one of those "grab-as-you-go" trips. I went over to the New Releases shelf and hastily threw two books into my bag; I am so glad this random book turned out to be such a delight to read.

Julia was the protagonist in the story and the second storyline in the book was that the Earth's rotation kept slowing down. The story about the slowing rotation was honestly a fantastic story in itself; what a great and unique twist to this tale.  Even with the catastrophic slowing, people still fell in love. People still dreamed of what they wanted to be when they grew up. People still laughed and cried and hoped for miracles. Julia was coming-of-age; of course it was scary as the days crept longer and longer, but that didn't mean Julia should stop living. My heart ached for Julia as she struggled with many of the experiences we all know are painful from our own first-hand accounts, but Julia's predicament was compounded by her friendship conflicts, the secret she had to keep, and the constant adjustment to a new normal.

The one thing that threw me off about the book was how young Julia was. I sincerely thought she must be around 12- or 13-years-old and figured her friends were roughly the same age. I was shocked to discover one of Julia's more sexually-provocative friends was just 11-years-old! Both of the girls turned 12 in the course of the book.

I don't think I'd call this work a happy or uplifting book, but it is thought-provoking. This was the author's debut novel and it was a stunning debut. The idea that Thompson Walker came up with was refreshing and her research on the subject was evident in the book. She's also a great writer; she has an elegance to her writing style that I don't come across too often. The only reason I gave it four stars was because the age thing really threw me for a loop. Julia talked and acted like someone a little older and I'm hard-pressed to accept her as an 11-year-old. Still, a great book and I definitely look forward to Thompson Walker's next book!

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Coal Tattoo by Silas House~★★★

Author: Silas House
Title: The Coal Tattoo
Release Date: September 24, 2004
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket: "Two sisters can't stand to live together, but can't bear to be apart. One worships of the flashy world of Nashville, the other is a devout Pentecostal. One falls into the lap of any man, the other is afraid to even date. One gets pregnant in a flash, the other desperately wants to have a child.
This is what's at the heart of Silas House's third, masterful novel, which tells the story of Easter and Anneth, tragically left parentless as children, who must raise themselves and each other in their small coal-mining town. Easter is deeply religious, keeps a good home, believes in tradition, and is intent on rearing her wild younger sister properly. Anneth is untamable, full of passion, determined to live hard and fast. It's only a matter of time before their predictions split their paths and nearly undo their bond. How these two women learn to overcome their past, sacrifice deeply for each other, and live together again in the only place that matters is the story of The Coal Tattoo.
Silas House's work has been described as compelling, seamless, breathtaking, heartbreaking, eloquent, stunningly beautiful, and exquisite. In The Coal Tattoo, he raises the bar once more."

Taryn's Review: The book jacket spoiled the pregnancy storyline in the book for me. It wasn't until I was reading some other reviews that I realized this book was a prequel to House's book Clay's Quilt. I don't know if the person who wrote the blurb for the book jacket assumed people would have already read Clay's Quilt, but I hadn't and this affected my reading of the book. I'd also argue that the blurb embellished the sisters' qualities, because the one afraid to date marries rather quickly and the one who supposedly worships Nashville isn't there too long because she missed home so much. None of these irritations were the authors fault, but the publisher's fault and it impacted the story for me.

Silas House is a great writer, but this story wasn't captivating for me. The beginning of the book was but once the sisters split ways, it was harder for me to stay interested. The story of the wild sister versus the tame sister is a time-old story, so the contrasts between the two wasn't anything new. House added the discussion of the girls' grandmothers and mother, as well as the constant feature of the coal mines tearing up the land despite the residents' protests. While these layers to the story did add some dimension, they weren't strong enough to really enrich the storyline for me. Again, maybe if I'd read Clay's Quilt first I'd feel differently, but it is what it is.

If you are interested, I'm going to go ahead and say to read Clay's Quilt first even though I hadn't. Had I known this book was a sequel I would have, but it 's too late to go back now. I really like Silas House's writing style and I have a soft spot for books set in Kentucky (the author sets the story here and he also lives in Eastern Kentucky). I'll most likely give another one of his books a try since House is a strong writer, especially given the fact that he wrote the book from the perspective of women and it was believable. While this book wasn't a favorite, I do look forward to reading another book by the author.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

In the Devil's Snare by Mary Beth Norton~★★★★

Author: Mary Beth Norton
Title: In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692
Release Date: October 13, 2003
Publisher: Vintage
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Cover: "Award-winning historian Mary Beth Norton reexamines the Salem witch trials in this startlingly original, meticulously researched, and utterly riveting study.
In 1692 the people of Massachusetts were living in fear, and not solely of satanic afflictions. Horrifyingly violent Indian attacks had all but emptied the northern frontier of settlers, and many traumatized refugees---including the main accusers of witches---had fled to communities like Salem. Meanwhile the colony's leaders, defensive about their own failure to protect the frontier, pondered how God's people could be suffering at the hands of savages. Struck by the similarities between what the refugees had witnessed and what the witchcraft "victims" described, many were quick to see a vast conspiracy of the Devil (in league with the French and the Indians) threatening New England on all sides. By providing this essential context to the famous events, and by casting her net well beyond the borders of Salem itself, Norton sheds new light on one of the most perplexing and fascinating periods in our history." 

Taryn's Review: This book is not written for your average Joe to pick up and read. This book was written specifically for academics and the history community. As I read reviews others' had written, they often lamented about unreadable and dry Norton's work was. If I didn't love history and research, I'd agree with them. However, since I adore what I do and am passionate about research, I loved this book. I did cut a star because Norton is wordy. She can write, no question about that, but there are bloated areas in the book that could have been cut down.

Karlsen's book, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman, had posed the question in passing about the Indian wars affecting the people and the wars' role in witchcraft accusations. Norton answered the question with meticulous research; her thesis was that the governor of Massachusetts, councilmen, and judges were the same men who had led unsuccessful campaigns against the Wabanakis Indians, which resulted in a huge loss of life, property, livestock, and goods. The men who failed in the war attempted "to shift the responsibility for their own inadequate defense of the frontier to the demons of the invisible world, and as a result they presided over the deaths of many innocent people" (308). Norton also examined the intricate connections the accusers had to the Maine frontier during the Second Indian War and the personal networks involved in the accusations. Norton explained that the Salem witchcraft trials should be more fittingly called the Essex County witchcraft trials since both accusers and accused came from outside Salem, especially once an outbreak occurred in Andover, the town next to Salem.

Again, this book is crammed with information and is intense. The notes regarding the sources are almost 100 pages long. If you are wanting a book that discusses an overview of the Salem witchcraft trials, look elsewhere. Ideally, this book fits well in a trio with Boyer and Nissenbaum's book and Karlsen's book, with Norton's being the last addition. I admire this book tremendously as an historian, but I can also understand why many people would be turned off by the magnitude of this work.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The English American by Alison Larkin~★★

Author: Alison Larkin
Title: The English American
Release Date: March 4, 2008
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Fiction

Book Jacket: "When Pippa Dunn, adopted as an infant and raised terribly British, discovers that her birth parents are from the American South, she finds that "culture clash" has layers of meaning she'd never imagined. Meet The English American, a fabulously funny, deeply poignant debut novel that sprang from Larkin's autobiographical one-woman show of the same name.
In many ways, Pippa Dunn is very English: she eats Marmite on toast, knows how to make a proper cup of tea, has attended a posh English boarding school, and finds it entirely familiar to discuss the crossword rather than exchange any cross words over dinner with her proper English family. Yet Pippa---creative, disheveled, and impulsive to the core---has always felt different from her perfectly poised, smartly coiffed sister and steady, practical parents, whose pastimes include Scottish dancing, gardening, and watching cricket. 
When Pippa learns at age twenty-eight that her birth parents are from the American South, she feels that lifelong questions have been answered. She meets her birth mother, an untidy, artistic, free-spirited redhead, and her birth father, a charismatic (and politically involved) businessman in Washington, D.C.; and she moves to America to be near them. At the same time, she relies on the guidance of a young man with whom she feels a mysterious connection; a man who discovered his own estranged father and who, like her birth parents, seems to understand her in a way that no one in her life had done before. Pippa feels she has found her 'self' and everything she thought she wanted. But has she? 
Caught between tow opposing cultures, two sets of parents, and two completely different men, Pippa is plunged into hilarious, heart-wrenching chaos. The birth father she adores turns out to be involved in neoconservative activities she hates; the mesmerizing mother who once abandoned her now refuses to let her go. And the man of her fantasies may just be that...
With an authentic adopted heroine at its center, Larkin's compulsively readable first novel unearths universal truths about love, identity, and family with wit, warmth, and heart."

Taryn's Review: I was really excited when I found this book on the library shelf. The premise of the book seemed to promise a captivating read ahead. And the cover was cute, too (yes, I judge books by their covers!).

Lackluster is probably the best word to describe this book. All the elements to create a delightful book were there, yet the story was very predictable. I became extremely bored with the book at times and the book also elicited some serious eye rolls from me. For example, Pippa returns to England and her parents confront her about her credit card bill, which they opened "by mistake" and saw she owed over £3000, or nearly $5000. Once Pippa explained her monetary situation to her parents, her father promptly wrote her a check for the amount. Pippa told the reader over and over in the book how proper the English are and that they don't talk about major issues; yet her parents obviously brought up the touchy subject of Pippa's credit card bill and bailed her out. Oh, and the eye roll-inducing relationship Pippa had with Jack. Anyone who has ever read a book can probably figure out Jack's role in the book after Pippa met him. Pippa's inability to recognize Jack's feelings made her appear rather dense. And Pippa's play, Womb Mate, and its role in opening up a secret nearly made me want to quit the book since it created such an unbelievable connection (and pointless to the story, really).

The "Pandora's box" Pippa opened when she met her birth mother and birth father was again, predictable. Of course they are going to fail when it came to meeting the dream-version of themselves Pippa created her mind. Larkin didn't do the characters any favors by making them so unlikeable, but Pippa's mindless approach to the situation wasn't helpful, either. 

Pippa was the product of an adulterous relationship, coupled with the fact she was given up for adoption. This in itself could have created a fascinating novel to play out the emotions that come with facing that sort of discovery, especially with the cultural contrasts between her two sets of parents. The story was muddled with extras that weren't necessary and created a book that was a disappointment, to say the least.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution by Bernard Bailyn~★★★★★

Author: Bernard Bailyn
Title: The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution
Release Date: Originally released in 1967; this edition released in 1992
Publisher: This edition published by Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; Enlarged Edition
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Cover: "To the original text of what has become a classic of American historical literature, Bernard Bailyn adds a substantial essay, 'Fulfillment," as a Postscript. Here he discusses the intense, nation-wide debate on the ratification of the Constitution, stressing the continuities between the struggle over the foundations of the national government and the original principles of the Revolution. This detailed study of the persistence of the nation's ideological origins adds a new dimension to the book and projects its meaning forward into vital current concerns." 

Taryn's Review: This book came out in 1967 and completely altered the way historians studied the American Revolution. Bailyn used pamphlets from the period to engage his research and what he found was that previous interpretations of the period didn't match his findings. Bailyn examined the pamphlets thoroughly and discovered that words like "liberty," "power," and "constitution" had a very different meaning for those living the 1760s and 1770s than they do today. Even in the years before and during the Revolution, the radical changes in the definitions of the words was evident in the pamphlets.

Bailyn concisely pointed out that the Anglo-Americans living in America were not looking to create a brand-new form of government. In fact, many felt that England had become corrupt and no longer respected the political and constitutional system that had governed England for ages and was considered by Britons to be the best in the world. On page 19 Bailyn wrote, "For the primary goal of the American Revolution, which transformed American life and introduced a new era in human history, was not the overthrow of even the alteration of the existing social order but the preservation of political liberty threatened by the apparent corruption of the constitution, and the establishment in principle of the existing conditions of liberty. The communication of understanding, therefore, lay at the heart of the Revolutionary movement, and its great expressions, embodied in the best of the pamphlets, are consequently expository and explanatory...."

This is the kind of book I wish those people who go around spouting out bad information about the Revolution would read. The book explained the fear Americans had of standing armies, especially after witnessing the fall of Denmark through standing armies' involvement. Fear of an ecclesiastical conspiracy also motivated the Americans to demanded a purer government that truly embodied their understanding of liberty and power. Bailyn did a fantastic job explaining the mixed government in England comprised of estates to balance each other, which included the royalty, the nobility, and the commons, and how this was later translated by the Americans when they created their own federal government. Bailyn also discussed how the truths of liberty became focal points when discussing slavery, established religion, and other areas of social life.

To be honest, this is a difficult book to read for the non-historians. But, if you take time and dedicate ample study to what Bailyn has said, you'll have a better, more enriched understanding of the American Revolution. This book was and still is a pioneering work for historians to appreciate and changed the way historians create a frame of reference for their audience. And a fun bonus, Bailyn included a 1774 town decree from Connecticut that used the word "pimps" to describe those who sought to steal liberties from the people!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Devil in the Shape of a Woman by Carol F. Karlsen~★★★★

Author: Carol F. Karlsen
Title: The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England
Release Date: First released in 1987; this edition released April 17, 1998
Publisher: This paperback edition published by W.W. Norton & Co.
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Cover: "Confessing to 'familiarity with devils,' Mary Johnson, a servant, was executed by Connecticut officials in 1648. A wealthy Boston widow, Ann Hibbens was hanged in 1656 for casting spells on her neighbors. The case of Ann Cole, who was 'taken with very strange Fits,' fueled an outbreak of witchcraft accusations in Hartford, a generation before the notorious events at Salem.
More than three hundred years later, the question 'Why?' still haunts us. Why were these and other women likely witches vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft and possession? In this work Carol F. Karlsen reveals the social construction of witchcraft in seventeenth-century New England and illuminates the larger contours of gender relations in that society."

Taryn's Review: It seems that today everyone knows there were witches in Salem at some point, but few people know anything beyond that. Often when I tell people I have done some reading on the Salem witch trials, someone inevitably mentions the burning of witches at Salem. No witches were burned to death at Salem and most were hanged or died in jail, although one was suffocated to death by having stones stacked upon him. 

A majority of accused witches were women and Karlsen asked the question of why women? Her book was broken down in chapters to explore New England's history of belief in witchcraft; she included lengthy discussions of the demographic, economic, religious, and sexual characteristics of the accused. The study also depicted what colonial life was like for an Anglo-American woman living in New England in the seventeenth-century, what was expected of her, and the influences that shaped the society she lived in.

Karlsen's book was written in response to other historians who had worked on the topic. She pointedly replied to historians Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum and their work, Salem Possessed. The men had argued that outbreak of witchcraft accusations in Salem had stemmed from a class conflict between the mercantile class and the people tied to the land (like farmers). They also argued that economic, political, and ecclesiastical elements were the primary causes and that the strife between the two groups had been going on for two generations. Boyer and Nissenbaum claimed the accusers were persons with a stake in maintaining the traditional social order of a farming community, while the accused were people who had values and material benefits with the mercantile class. The two men also relied on psychoanalysis to discuss the power struggle within the communities. Karlsen felt that this explanation did not provide answers as to why women were the targets of the accusations. On page 216 Karlsen wrote, "My research does not support the idea (as Boyer and Nissenbaum's argument about Salem suggests) that these women were beneficiaries of the new economic order. Some witches clearly were, but most were not. And in a more fundamental way, all witches stood symbolically opposed to---and were therefore subversive of---that order, in that they did not accept their assigned place within it."

Karlsen used some interesting primary sources that easily captured my attention. The book's review of witchcraft in New England began in the early seventeenth-century and ended in 1692. The time frame was useful in helping the reader understand the complexities that created the society which allowed witchcraft accusations to come to fruition. I don't think you have to be well-versed in history to enjoy this book. Karlsen explained other historians' arguments clearly and she outlined her thesis and evidence in a straightforward manner, too. If you have an interest in witchcraft accusations in New England, definitely give this book a read.