Murder of a President

Murder of a President

Based on Candice Millard’s excellent book Destiny of the Republic, this PBS American Experience production takes us to Washington, D.C. in the summer of 1881. James Garfield has just been elected President and is turning out to be a strong leader–one determined to eliminate the horrible mess of machine politics and to continue the fight for equality for […]


The War that Saved My Life by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley

Cruel and neglectful are the kindest things to say about these two English children’s mother. When they are evacuated to the countryside to avoid the Blitz, they are immigrants in a new, strange land. Understated, sad and triumphant, this is an important book for adults and children.


The Defender by Ethan Michaeli

The Defender by Ethan Michaeli

  I knew The Defender was highly influential in Chicago, especially on the south side, but I didn’t know about its national reach. For much of the 20th century the newspaper was near the epicenter of the nation’s social and political turbulence. It swayed the elections of Chicago mayors, of course, but also the elections […]


Little Black Dress by Shannon Meyer

Little Black Dress by Shannon Meyer

LBD. Little black dress: a fashion concept both simple and complex that’s rich with possibilities. This is a truth “modern” designers (think Chanel and later) grasped to the benefit of thousands and thousands of women who wonder what to where…anywhere. Black was originally a color of mourning that arose from pagan ritual practice and the […]


Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America by François Weil

Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America by François Weil

First, this book isn’t a ‘how to’ manual on genealogy. Instead it’s a slightly academic work on the ‘why’ of genealogy in the United States from Colonial America to the DNA-testing era of our century. Weil’s thesis is fascinating: Americans’ search for identity through genealogy has firm roots in the desire to improve their social […]


“Most Blessed of Patriarchs” by Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf.

“Most Blessed of Patriarchs” by Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf.

When I was growing up my politically centrist parents sometimes called me Jefferson. They idolized him as a broad-minded small-government hero and wanted me to do likewise. So I did, having no idea what that meant. Decades later I’m less a fan of his politics–for the moment I’m in the corner of his rival, Alexander […]


Augustine’s Confessions: A Biography by Garry Wills

Augustine’s Confessions: A Biography by Garry Wills

There’s much to say about Confessions, Augustine’s great work of self-study composed as a 13-volume soliloquy to God. Wills manages to say plenty in just 148 pages in this contribution to the “Lives of Great Religious Books” series (from Princeton University Press). We get not only a close reading, but also the inside story of […]


To Mary and English Lord: Or, How Anglomania Really Got Started

To Mary and English Lord: Or, How Anglomania Really Got Started

In Edith Wharton’s novel The Buccaneers, we meet a group of young American heiresses, daughters of wealthy and powerful men (but, alas, of families deemed a bit socially declassé by New York’s entrenched 400 in the late 1800s in America) who swoop down like a fleet of pirates on British soil to marry the sons […]


Typewriter by Tony Allan

Typewriter by Tony Allan

I loved my IBM Selectric. It was my daily companion for almost 15 years when I was on the advertising staff of the Montgomery Ward Catalog (ancient, pre-Amazon retailing device). It had a distinctive sound and feel, and the a ribbon cartridge that was the devil to change. This book caught my eye because I […]


The Jewish State by Theodor Herzl

The Jewish State by Theodor Herzl

At age thirty-five, nine years before he died in his native Austro-Hungary, Theodor Herzl published this nationalist manifesto. Though he judged his own arguments “ancient,” the book generated immediate acclaim and controversy.  His last decade was spent traveling from capital to capital to build support. Arguing that Jews possessed a nationality, and that they could […]