Doggone it, Foxfier! Look what you made me do! The post on various books I have read sent me down the rabbit hole, giving me cause to remember some of my favorite history books, all of which could be very useful to those looking for research materials. The children’s encyclopedias tend to combine everything – up to and including fairytales and nursery rhymes! – and some might think they do not have much to offer now that they are decades out of date.
But I have a weakness for old books. Unless they are clearly moldy, rotting on the shelf, or otherwise untouchable, I will (usually) give them a brief survey when I spot them. Force of genetics and training, really; my family would read the back of a jam jar if nothing else was available. My family’s addictive habit is collecting books. Lots and lots of books. We constantly have to make room for new tomes in order not to trip over them. Sad is the day we spot a volume on the store shelf and realize, “Darn, I can’t buy that right now…”
If you see a theme in the list below, readers, please recall that it is mostly because when I went to make sure the book on ironclads was still on the shelf, I spotted some other volumes I decided I needed to mention. That prompted me to check some other shelves, recalling other titles, and…everything spiraled from there.
Without further ado, here is the list:
I loved reading Ironclads of the Civil War* (American Heritage Junior Library) by Frank R. Donovan. Although it has been some years since I cracked this book open, I still remember it fondly. Until I read it, I never knew there were other ironclad vessels besides the famous Monitor and Merrimac. Their battle is cited as the beginning of the modern age of naval warfare and shipbuilding, as well as the moment that signaled the imminent end of the age of “wooden ships and iron men.” While the era of metal ships was still some years off, the ironclads’ success (okay, yes, the Monitor and Merrimac were sunk and scuttled, respectively) meant that both sides in the Civil War knew that such ships were effective. Thus, they could make more to achieve victory in the conflict.
For some reason, I want to say there were eight ironclads made in total, but that could be my memory playing tricks on me. It has been some time since I read this book, and you will have to search to find the copy I hold. While the book is available through the Amazon link, it does not appear to have been republished or reprinted. Darn – the book deserved better than this. It is interesting, for Pete’s sake…
American Symbols: A Pictorial History* by Ernst Lehner was something I read in the past as well. The copy I have is an older one and there is no dust jacket, but you can see that there is (thankfully) a newer version available* for purchase. It is from the same outfit that reproduced Philip Barry’s The Joyous Season, previously reviewed here, so it is likely a direct replica taken from scans of an older copy. Amazon has at least two of the original hardcover copies for sale at a good price, though, so that version is not impossible to find.
That is good, because this book contains a history of American symbols. We are talking comic strips, government seals, drawings of Huck Finn and Paul Bunyan, images used by political parties – heck there are two pages dedicated exclusively to cattle brands! Each state is represented as well, with their flag, motto, state bird and state flower listed as the book comes to a close. It will not cover anything from the 1960s forward, but this is an invaluable resource for anyone searching for images from 1958 back to the founding of the country.
Stars and Stripes* by Mae Blacker Freeman is a history of the American flag for children, and…okay, Amazon does not appear to have the older hard copy as well as the reproduced version. Good grief, why does this company use such bland covers for their reprints? Yuck.
The reproduction of Stars and Stripes available on Amazon is cheap as dirt: $1.95. Are you serious?! I would snap that off a secondhand store shelf faster than you could blink. Books like that don’t just grow on trees these days…
Stars and Stripes covers the history of the American flag from the Great Union flag (which had the Union Jack in the place where the field of stars would be) to John Paul Jones’ flag, from the flags of the Civil War to Iwo Jima, before ending with the addition of Alaska and Hawaii to the Union in 1959. In the back of the book are the Pledge of Allegiance, the Star-Spangled Banner, and most importantly, Rules for the Flag. Those have changed in the years since the book was published, but the basics still remain. It is definitely a sound primer even now for American history students.
Glass, Stones & Crown: The Abbé Suger and the building of St. Denis* by Anne Rockwell – now this one has a reproduction* that has received two stars. The book focuses on the Cathedral of St. Denis and follows the history of Gothic architecture. Abbé Suger and St. Bernard of Clairvoux’s contributions to the design of Medieval cathedrals are both described herein, and one of the standouts I remember about this book is it goes into detail on how stained-glass windows were made. Specifically, the famous rose windows like those feared lost in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris when a fire devoured the roof a few years ago.
In my opinion, stained-glass windows are not thought about enough, nor introduced in churches nearly as much as they ought to be these days. Rose windows in particular are lacking, and I would like to see more of them in churches and especially cathedrals. While the book may not be perfect, it is an invaluable resource and I have to put it on my reread list. It has been too long since I picked it up.
Scanning my bookshelves reminded me of the famous poem “Horatius At the Bridge,” by Thomas Babington Macauley. I went looking for a copy on Amazon and, lo and behold, this Text and Study Guide* was one of the first to appear on the search engine. The version I have is in a school reader from several decades’ past, so there are questions attached to it, but I no longer remember them.
The Text and Study Guide sounds amazing, though. It apparently includes maps, exercises, and the coveted bits of history that go with the poem. Darn, kids these days have all the luck! If I were of an age to read this for school, I’d probably devour a good chunk of the book before getting to the questions – a regular practice I had in homeschool with subjects I liked. (No, I never peeked at the answers in the back ahead of time. Why ruin the fun of trying to find the answers in the text or working to form a response of my own before I was asked them?)
His Excellency: George Washington* by Joseph J. Ellis and George Washington’s War* by Bruce Chadwick, Ph.D. are two books that stand out in my memory even now for how much extra information they had to offer on the circumstances for the War for Independence. For instance, did you know that one of the times the Continental army bivouacked at Valley Forge, it wasn’t the cold that killed the men, but the wildly fluctuating temperatures? One day it would be fifty-eight degrees Fahrenheit, the next it would be seventy, and the snow that had managed to accumulate would start to melt – only to freeze again over night. Combine these wild changes in temperature with the men’s lack of shelter and hygiene, and the deaths and misery at Valley Forge make a lot more sense.
Another thing – and I cannot recall which of the two books brings up this fact – that I remember from one of these volumes is that the lack of shoes and clothes the men had was such that the Continental government could not buy enough replacements. The expense was too great. So they put out a call to the civilians, asking them to provide any spare clothing and shoes they had to the army. The response was overwhelming; the Continental Army did not expect to receive the amount of donations they did for the men. Once proper housing and hygiene had been enforced as well, the stay at Valley Forge became far more comfortable.
I seem to remember there was a survey done a few years ago that pointed out Americans outpace most of the world in donating to charities. This incident with Valley Forge shows the practice goes back far beyond the present to the dawn of the country. How fascinating is that? 😀
When I started this post, I mentioned children’s encyclopedias. While The Bookshelf for Boys and Girls 10 Volume Set Parents Guide and Volumes 1-9* is not an encyclopedia per se, these books are absolutely bursting with fairy tales from around the world. From Japan and India to Europe and the Middle East, from the Americas to China, you will be hard-pressed not to find some type of story herein. Along with familiar tales such as Cinderella and The Elves and the Shoemaker, you have tales that have likely been forgotten or rewritten since the 1950s, when this collection I have was first released.
These are old books, and some of the copies I have are damaged. Opening and closing them has to be done carefully, to say nothing of storing them. They are still valuable research aids despite this, as they include tales from various myths along with the fairy tales and a variety of other notable stories. Whenever I go to a secondhand book store I try to keep an eye out for similar series, as these are absolute treasures.
I don’t know if these have been reprinted – unfortunately, I rather think they have not been. On the one hand, I doubt very much that their contents would be faithfully reproduced in the original prose, as they are written in the style of decades’ past. That is dreadfully “old fashioned,” you know, can’t have such artful phraseology or terms that call back to the past as the writers lived it.
Pardon my sarcasm, but while I wish these volumes would be reprinted, I have no desire whatever to see them altered to fit current ideas. That would more than halve their value and utterly destroy the richness of these collections. If someone were to reproduce them properly, though, I would be over the moon with joy.
Catholic Literary Giants* by Joseph Pearce is a good book. I have not read it in a while, but the philosophical underpinnings are well worth the read. He covers not only Tolkien, Belloc, and Chesterton but other Catholic writers who have been forgotten by mainstream culture. Graham Greene, Roy Campbell, Dante, Shakespeare, Evelyn Waugh, and many others are the subject of the essays contained in this volume.
I am due to reread this book, if only in fits and starts. Pearce is one of my favorite scholastic writers, as seen by the fact that I have linked to some of his articles previously. From what I remember, he had a readable style and he was not hard to keep up with, so the book is easy to pick up and put down. So many books, so little time…!
How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization* by Thomas E. Woods is a good book. I remember really liking it for the details he managed to cram into it, which took a lot of work. You don’t synthesize 2000 years’ worth of history, philosophy, and science into one relatively slim volume in a month, and I sympathize heartily with him on that point. Research that leads you down the rabbit hole is very different from research that requires you to cite your sources. Putting all that together – not to mention deciding on what to leave out because you don’t have room or time for it – can be a real pain in the neck!
Chivalry and the Mailed Knight by Walter Buehr is a book I actually cited here on A Song of Joy in the past. The part I quoted was from the section on English archers, who turned the tide at the Battle of Crécy with their longbows. But the book has plenty of preliminary information for younger readers on knights, castles, and their world. Looks like Amazon has both the original hardcover and the reprint* for sale…
Good grief, the company that reproduced The Joyous Season certainly gets around! They are the ones selling the reprint of Chivalry and the Mailed Knight, so kudos to them. I still prefer the original cover, but at least their cover isn’t as bland as it might have been. As frustrating as it is to see these books reprinted with uninspiring art, I have to say I am glad they haven’t fallen out of circulation completely. These are resources I would really hate to lose, no matter their flaws and foibles.
The Book of Knowledge: The Children’s Encyclopedia by E.V. McLoughlin – these are the encyclopedias I referenced above. They include some fiction, but they also have articles on a variety of subjects, such as nature, continents, cultures – and of course, countries. Just flipping through them can be an education based on the pictures they contain; I still vividly remember reading through one of these while avidly trying to digest the whole collection, only to stop at a black and white photo of a riverboat in the American south.
Some would say the picture was not as “good” as a modern one. It was in black and white, and it was a bit fuzzy. But all the same, what struck me about it and still stands out to my memory is how very much “of its time” the photo looked. Most such pictures today would be clear replicas, whereas this image looked like it had been taken far closer to the time period in which such boats were the pride of modern progress. That’s another beautiful thing about these books that might be lost if they were “updated” for a modern audience: the images that cannot be repeated nor replicated, no matter what technology one uses.
I am adding Voyages in English Grade 7* to this list out of sheer cheek, as the British say. This was part of my English course, and there were days it gave me fits trying to finish assignments. Some people love grammar just as some people love math; I am not bad at grammar, but there is much love I have for this book only in hindsight. Learning from it in the first place meant there were days of joy, days when I wanted to throw the book at the nearest hard surface, and days when I could not wait for the torture to end.
None of which is to say it is a bad book. There are, simply put, a great many memories contained within its pages.
My father loves the story of the man who discovered Troy. That is why, when he saw Heinrich Schliemann: Discoverer of Buried Treasure* by George Selden for sale at the library, he snatched it up for me. It is a thin book and, unfortunately, the copies Amazon has for sale do not come with an attached picture. I have no idea what they look like.
The book is a good one, and I still remember the illustration of the moment when Mr. Schliemann put some of the jewelry they had discovered at the excavation on his wife’s head. Apart from it being a romantic gesture, I sincerely doubt that one could get away with that these days. What would happen if the jewelry was damaged?
Then again, who knows? Maybe someone has done it – and simply not mentioned it. 😉
Okay, this item is not a book, but Robert Louis Stevenson’s letter in defense of Father Damien was something I had to share. Father Damien: An Open Letter to the Reverend Dr. Hyde of Honolulu is available on Project Gutenberg here: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/281, and it is a mere three pages long. This scathing letter to Hyde, who impugned Father Damien’s character in newspapers the world over, is a treasure that ought not to be forgotten. If you think Stevenson was good with his fiction (and he was), his powers of critique were at least as well developed. I would not have wanted to end up on the wrong end of his pen, readers!
Well, that concludes this list of historical books I enjoyed. Funny how suddenly recalling the book on ironclads got this ball rolling. I owe Foxfier a thank-you post, I think. Hmmm….
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If you liked this article, friend Caroline Furlong on Facebook or follow her here at www.carolinefurlong.wordpress.com. Her stories have been published in Cirsova’s Summer Special and Unbound III: Goodbye, Earth. She has also had stories published in the Planetary Anthology Series. Another story was released in Cirsova Magazine’s Summer Issue in 2020, and she had a story published in Storyhack Magazine’s 7th Issue, Cirsova Magazine’s 2021 Summer Issue, and another may be read over at Ember Journal. Her first anthology in The Guardian Cycle is available in paperback and ebook as well. Order them today!
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