Theme of the Week

C or D – history of Europe, Africa, Asia, archaeology History of the World part 1

Name: Cindy Parkhurst
Author: David McCullough
Title: Brave Companions
Call: CT 214 M34 1992
Rating: 4

Summary: If you have followed these reviews at all over the last few summers, you may know that I have an interest in reading history, particularly biographies of presidents. Last summer I read two biographies of Theodore Roosevelt. One of those books, Mornings on Horseback, was by David McCullough, a two time Pulitzer Prize winner who has written several presidential biographies. When I was looking for a good book to read in the C’s and D’s I came across his book of mini biographies called Brave Companions. In it, I found stories of leading Americans that were instrumental in affecting change in their disciplines and in their country.

I was fascinated to read about Alexander von Humboldt, a scientist who was a contemporary of Thomas Jefferson and his groundbreaking work on mapping South America. His work inspired men nearly a century later to build the Panama Canal.

McCullough includes stories about Louis Agassiz from Harvard University who championed a creationist view of our origins in the face of challenge from Charles Darwin. There is an excellent story about Harriet Beecher Stowe and her book about the horrors of slavery in the mid-nineteenth century.

Each of the people in this book shows extraordinary bravery facing circumstances that seemed overwhelming. Each of these brave companions faced fear with resolve and with intellectual curiosity. Out of their curiosity and tenacity came important change.

This book really helped me get acquainted with a number of characters that I knew very little about. Each mini biography is short but packed with information about their quest to know. In some ways it is more intellectual biography than traditional biography. McCullough’s writing style is clear and flows with the ease of a novel. I really enjoyed this one!

Cindy Parkhurst

Reader: Tony Zbaraschuk
Author: Winston Churchill
Title: The dawn of liberation: war speeches by the right hon. Winston S. Churchill
Rating: 4

Summary: A collection of Winston Churchill’s war speeches from 1944, the year of D–Day. It’s sort of fun to see the great man varying between reporting the Normandy landings and going straight to questions from the British Parliament about broken windows due to V–1 bombs, or the shortage of medals, or this, or that... there’s a lot of daily business that has to be carried on, war or no war, and amidst planning for the post-war state as well.

Probably not the best collection of his speeches ever, but still worth reading for a contemporary look at World War II.

Reader: Hilda Smith
Author: Schonhaus, Cioma
Title: The Forger
Rating: 4

Summary: I’ve picked up a couple of WWII memoirs off the new book shelf recently. This book tells the story of Cioma Schonhaus, a German Jew living in Berlin at the outbreak of the war. He was seventeen, the same age as my parents living in occupied Holland at the time. Because of his job in the arms industry, he was spared deportation. He lost his entire family.

After a period of sabotaging machine gun barrels in the armaments factory where he worked, he had to go underground. His story of survival is amazing, even miraculous. Anti-Nazi Germans helped him along the way.

Because of his graphic arts training, he became an expert forger of travel documents for Jews, saving literally hundreds of lives. Germans would "lose" their identity papers in the church offering plate! Schonhaus would then alter these to be used by fleeing Jews.

When the Gestapo caught wind of his activities, he made a dramatic escape to Switzerland by bicycle. His cleverness, wits, and courage, combined with some incredible luck are amazing. It’s a page-turner just to see how he gets out of the next dangerous situation.

The memoir is not polished, it feels very immediate and reads like a diary, hastily written and translated. I find that immediacy a plus. Real and raw. Just like WWII.

Reader: Kitty Simmons
Author: Arthur Koestler
Title: The Lotus and the Robot
Call Number: CB 427 K6 1961
Rating: 5

Summary: “I travelled in India and Japan (in 1958-9) in the mood of a pilgrim. Like countless others before, I wondered whether the East had any answer to offer to our perplexities...” –– Preface

This book was the perfect follow-up to Esalen, which I had just finished. The author was a popular visitor during the early days of the Esalen Institute, and although Eastern mysticism is also a primary focus in this book, the text is much less difficult to grasp. The countries selected for his journey represented for Koestler the extreme ends of Eastern civilization at the time: India still mired in tradition (the Lotus) and Japan, riding a tidal wave of modernization (the Robot). In addition to covering fascinating aspects of culture and every-day life, the author concentrates on a major spiritual tradition from each of these countries: Yoga and Zen. The no-holds barred observations, surprising insights, and final conclusions make for an intriguing read. I would recommend this book to anyone thinking that the answers to life’s questions are free for the taking in the ashrams of India or the Buddhist temples of Japan. Nirvana is a lot like the Big Sleep and the Zen Garden is really no garden at all!

More than a travelogue, less than a scholarly treatise, this interesting and illuminating exploration is one of many gems in the “C” classification area of the library collection, quaintly named “Auxiliary Sciences of History.”

Theme Archives

B’s – philosophy, psychology, theology, religions
C or D – history of Europe, Africa, Asia, archaeology History of the World part 1
E or F – history of the Americas – Roots
G or H – Economics, business, anthropology, sociology, crime – Wall Street
L – Education – Stand and Deliver
M or N – Music, Art – Amadeus
P – Language and Literature – The Diary of Bridget Jones
Q or R – Science, Math, Medicine – Beautiful Mind