Category: Goodreads

Read about a family, learn about an era

The Black Calhouns: From Civil War to Civil Rights with One African American Family by Gail Lumet Buckley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This detailed and long-ranging history of an extraordinary family is, at least for me, the best way to read history — through the perceptive eye of a uniquely-placed narrator. Buckley weaves social and family history into a journey as suspenseful as a novel, but grounded in hard truths. Seeing how individual members of the Calhoun family navigated the Jim Crow laws in the South and more subtle forms of racism in the North, and how their descendants initiated change and activism during the 1950s and 60s, was sobering and awe-inspiring.

I found this book because I was curious about Lena Horne, but this was a much richer read than a biography. Or, maybe, it’s the way I wish more biographies were written, with close attention to multiple relationships, in the context of which certain portraits of individuals stand out.



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Check out the life of UP copper miners in 1913

book cover

The Women of the Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fascinating glimpse into a little-known — at least to me — part of labor history, and Michigan history, and American history. If you’re a fan of Elizabeth Gaskell, this fictional riff on a 1913 miners’ strike in the UP will be right up your alley. They even mention Mary Barton at one point. In a similar way, this brings the struggles and triumphs of working people, and the incredibly unjust machinations of the moneyed and connected into sharp and personal focus.

It’s written in present tense, which at first distanced me. I felt a sense of cynicism and fatalism or something that almost turned me off…but I kept coming back to it, to read a few pages more, and a few pages more… and then the style paid off hugely. I felt inside of a complex and somehow even-handed narrative that was exactly right for the story and the characters. It left me wanting to learn more about the actual history and also read more of this writer.



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