Book Review: Voices from The Trail of Tears by Vicki Rozema (four stars)

Book Review: Voices from The Trail of Tears by Vicki Rozema (four stars)

“Sir, that paper … called a treaty is no treaty at all, because not sanctioned by the great body of the Cherokees and made without their participation or assent.”

Exhaustive analysis of the forced immigration of most eastern Cherokee from their homelands to the future Oklahoma. Without a doubt a shameful, extralegal confiscation and ejection. Rozema summaries the history, then introduces each primary source. Overkill as the letters and journals of the participants suffice to indict their actions.

“His conduct and course of policy was a series of blunders from first to last … It has been wholly of a partisan character.”

Most sources are unconsciously brutal in their causal callous treatment of Cherokees. Language two hundred years ago was stilted and hard to follow for modern readers. Documents the conflicting opinions among partisans on both sides: bureaucratic “just the facts” reports versus eyewitness anguish of murdered family. The state of Georgia led the movement. President Andrew Jackson acquiesced to the state, even when the United States Supreme Court found the state’s action illegal.

“The removal of the Southeastern Native Americans west of the Mississippi is one of the great tragedies of United States history.”

Early use of concentration camps to temporarily house families forced from their homes. Many individuals rousted with only the clothes they wore: no walking shoes, no utensils, no tools, no winter clothes. Paradoxically, forced smallpox vaccinations saved many from epidemics endemic to the newly settled areas.

“My sun of existence is fast approaching to its setting. When I sleep in forgetfulness, I hope my bones will not be deserted by you.”

Book Review: Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappaport (four stars)

Book Review: Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia – A World on the Edge by Helen Rappaport (four stars)

“For Philip Chadbourn, that day had been a point of significant and perhaps optimistic transition – ‘the blank between the reels’ – separating ‘the black misery and injustice of the first reel’ and the ‘red revolt and bright heroics of the second’.”

The defining year of the twentieth century. The 1917 Russian revolutions in Petrograd as seen by various westerners, mostly English and American, who witnessed it happen. Uniquely British and American condescension to the plight of the Russian people, even as many of them enjoyed (initially) access to the highest levels of Russian aristocracy.

‘This man Trotzky is the king of agitators; he could stir up trouble in a cemetery.’

Rappaport draws heavily on primary sources to create a history which, while it may have a western bias, will be more accessible and understandable to western readers. Whatever their opinions at the beginning all are convinced their witnessing a really big train wreck by the end of the year. Many are thankful just to get out alive.

Kerensky was ‘more afraid of doing the wrong thing than anxious to do the right one,’ he wrote in his later memoirs, ‘and so he did nothing until he was forced into action by others.’

Like the witnesses, readers are left to discern the motives of the various actors for themselves. Even among the press representatives personal bias weighs as heavily as facts on what they see and report.

‘Russia is a wonderful country, full of lights and shadows, though just now the shadows have the advantage. It is too bad that the world must lose so much that was beautiful in Russia to receive – what? Something much worse than nothing.’

Book Review: Lincoln on War by Harold Holzer (Four Stars)

Book Review: Lincoln on War by Harold Holzer (four stars)

“All this talk about the dissolution of the Union is humbug—nothing but folly. We WON’T dissolve the Union, and you SHAN’T.”

Primary source material on Lincoln’s speeches, letters, thoughts on wars in general and the Civil War in particular. Excellent presentation, including short paragraphs giving context.

“Our army held the war in the hollow in their hand [after Gettysburg], and they would not close it.”

Lincoln was a great communicator; it’s easy to see why folks (even in the North) loved and hated him. History shaped him, but he likewise shaped history.

“Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came.”

“The Hessians” by Edward J. Lowell (Four Stars)

The Hessians(Fours stars out of five)

The serious student of history, like the serious historian, values primary sources. The eye witness reports of people directly involved in an event have an immediacy which the sands of time and the fog of memory only dull. Second only to primary sources are serious scholarly works drawing together primary sources which, due to language or inaccessibility or volume, are beyond the reach of the casual scholar.

Such a work is The Hessians: and the Other German Auxilliaries of Great Britain in the Revolutionary War. Writing a hundred years after the American War of Independence Edward J. Lowell gathered many European inputs—treaties, letters, journals and memoirs—to present the perspective of those often unwilling participants whom we collectively call “Hessians.”
Unlike modern writers who casually edit history Continue reading