Michigan's Fascinating Past

It took the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 for New Yorkers and others to start moving to Michigan Territory big-time. The peninsula then filled up so quickly that Michigan statehood was achieved in 1837. Over next hundred years, endeavors like timber, mining, shipping, farming, fishing, automobiles, music and education grew apace. Learn about the people and the place that accomplished all this at 2:00 on Sun., Jan. 24 at Malletts Creek Branch, as UM-Dearborn historian Martin Hershock recounts many exciting stories from Michigan's early years.

Youth Nonfiction Finds -- Special Edition: Martin Luther King Jr. Day

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Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day when we should look forward and backward -- backward into history to appreciate how far we have come as a country and the hard work of those who brought us here, and forward to the challenges we still have to face in order to bring about true equality. Here are some good books to help you get a good understanding of the history of the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King Jr.:

Who Was Martin Luther King Jr.? provides a concise biography of its titular subject and background on the issues underlying the Civil Rights Movement, such as Jim Crow Laws and the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision. My Brother Martin, written by Christine King Farris, tells the story of Martin Luther King Jr.'s childhood, for a more human picture of the great man. Did you know that he was quite the prankster as a child? I Have a Dream presents Dr. King's famous speech in manageable bites, accompanied by evocative illustrations.

For those who want to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement itself, Nobody Gonna Turn Me 'Round presents a very understandable, illustrated history of the major events of the movement. A Dream of Freedom provides a more in-depth look at the issues, from Emancipation to the Black Panther Party. In Freedom's Children activists like Claudette Colvin and Ruby Bridges share their experiences of growing up during those tumultuous times. Finally, The Civil Rights Movement for Kids combines history with activities, like skits, songs, speeches and even recipes, to really bring history home.

The Sword of Orion

SwordSwordIn honor of the upcoming Great Lakes Shipwrecks event, I'm reminded of a maritime disaster referred to in one of my favorite television shows, Aaron Sorkin's Sports Night. In episode 18, Jeremy struggles with the breakup of his family by obsessively researching the literal break up of the Sword of Orion.

The yacht was one of several boats to experience tragedy during the 1998 Sydney-to-Hobart race. 115 Boats began that race, five sank, and six crew were lost. Only 44 boats finished. You can read about it in the detailed and suspenseful book The Proving Ground.

One imagines the Sword of Orion's original owner was paying that useful constellation its due in naming the boat. The AADL offers several books on celestial navigation; it's never too early in the season to learn how to find your way home!

Intriguingly Factual Reads on the Hot- and Blue-Blooded

These are not your high school history teacher's textbooks.

Sex with the Queen: 900 Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers, and Passionate Politics, and its male consort Sex with Kings: 500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge, are both written by a namesake descendant of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Eleanor Herman.

In these two luscious books, Herman outlines the auspicious--and more often ominous--adulteries of European royalty, from the middle ages up until the modern Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

As you might expect, they cover many subjects not often touched by history teachers. But, probably for that reason, they are entertaining while still being factually correct. Perhaps a guilty pleasure to read, you will nevertheless be assured that they are not simply fabricated for your enjoyment.

The two books offer intriguing insight into the act of adultery among nobility--its origins and outcomes--with a pinch of feminism and a heaping spoonful of wit. Herman explains not only political and social risings among the mistresses and lovers of kings and queens, but also the fashions and foods inspired by them. They cover nearly all of Europe, from Britain and France to the cold reaches of Russia, and they span from five to nine decades.

She also offers a book on a papal puppetry by a woman, called Mistress Of The Vatican: the True Story of Olimpia Maidalchini, the Secret Female Pope, which Publisher's Weekly called "a window into an age of empire, nepotism and intrigue that rivals any novel for fascinating reading."

If you're looking for a painstakingly-researched read that delves into social and political history, but don't want to be reading yourself to sleep, take a look at these.

The Original Green Machines: Electric Trolleys of Washtenaw County

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In the 1890s, electric mass transportation flourished in Washtenaw County, yet suddenly became extinct after only a few decades. What made this mode of transportation so popular and why did it die so quickly? Find out when authors H. Mark Hildebrandt and Martha Churchill join us to discuss their new book, 'Electric Trolleys of Washtenaw County' on Wed. Dec. 2nd, 7 p.m., at the Downtown Library. This event will include a book signing and books will be on sale courtesy of Nicola's Books.

The Rape of Europa

Amidst the destruction of World War II was the further devastating loss of much of Europe’s great art and architecture. The fascinating 2007 film, The Rape of Europa, tells this story based on the book of the same title by author Lynn Nicholas. Nicholas spent ten years in Belgium researching what would become a best-selling book in 1994, and the film examines the newest issues and later research since its publication.

The German Nazi party is now believed to have stolen one-fifth of Europe’s treasures during WWII. Although much was recovered by the Allies, a large amount remains missing, damaged beyond repair, or in need of restoration work that is still continuing today. Pillage and looting during war was certainly not something new before WWII, but it seems to be the systematic methods involved during WWII that made the crimes so horrific. It was a highly organized operation that not only allowed Hitler's Germany to amass a wealth of art by theft, but also involved the complete destruction of historic landmarks - such as the Royal Castle of Warsaw - to further dehumanize other cultures. The Rape of Europa is a worthwhile documentary about a subject I knew little of beforehand and was glad I took the time to watch. I highly recommend.

The Red Book of Carl Gustav Jung

Red Book

One literary masterpiece which is presently creating a stir is known simply as the Red Book. Unveiled recently, after being hidden in a bank vault in Switzerland for 25 years, it is the very revealing and brave self-analysis of Carl Jung, containing the exploration of his own psyche, his visions and dreams, in both narrative text and glowing art work. Read this article to learn the history of the red leather diary, which was carefully guarded, until now, by Jung’s heirs for fear that their venerable grandfather would be considered, well...crazy.

Currently on display at the Rubin Museum in New York City, a page is turned every day and shown online at this website. Resembling an illuminated manuscript, with carefully hand-lettered text and finely detailed, pulsating color paintings of mandalas, winged serpents and mythic characters, it reveals the inner life of one of the world’s experts on inner life. It will soon be published and, though fascinating, it might not be recommended for bedtime reading!

In our collection, there is a wealth of information about Carl Jung, including his classic autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections, the popular The Tao of Jung and the DVD The World Within.

"As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being". Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 1962

Hidden Gems: Books Unjustly Dusty #6

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Christina Dodwell is a remarkable adventurer/traveler who also happens to be a very good writer. Her adventurous lifestyle began by chance in 1975 when she and a friend on holiday in North Africa were left abandoned and on foot by their fellow travelers. Instead of making it to the nearest airport they went on a voyage of 1,000 miles on rivers in equatorial Africa in a dugout canoe.

After her African adventure, Dodwell decided to go solo through the highlands, jungles and along the Sepik River of Papua New Guinea. Part of her journey (only 1,000 miles or so!) was on horseback where she encountered Stone-Age tribes, crocodile hunters, tribal wars and swamp-forests. In Papua New Guinea is her book about this incredible trek.

Her next adventure, detailed in A Traveller in China, began in Kashgar, an ancient hub on the Silk Road in northwestern China. She canoed in Lake Karakol, followed Marco Polo’s route to Beijing, canoed the Yellow River and was one of the first westerners to witness the Dragon Boat Race on Lake Erhai.

If that hasn’t whet your appetite for armchair adventure, check your pulse and two other books authored by Dodwell: A Traveller on Horseback and Travels with Pegasus: a Microlight Journey across West Africa

Pioneer Theater Guild stages classic musical Oklahoma!

Pioneer High Theater Guild is busy rehearsing Oklahoma! for performances Nov. 7-15. I see on their blog that last month historian Nancy Bryk gave the cast some historical perspective. Ticket info for this fabulous sounding musical is here. All together now: "O-o-o-o-k-lahoma where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain . . ."

Off with her head!

On October 16, 1793, Marie Antoinette, Queen of France under Louis XIV, was beheaded by the French citizenry who were angered by her extravagance. The statement: "Let them eat cake" was credited to her. As the French Revolution raged, she was taken to prison where after several failed escape attempts, was led to the guillotine.

The novel, Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund describes her rise and fall in rich, evocative language. "The French Revolution Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, A New Republic Is Born is an excellent film that includes quite a bit on the tragic queen.

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