The History Book Club at the Cayuga Museum met recently to choose the book selections for the next season, September 2017 through May 2018. The History Book Club meets at 7:00 p.m. at the Cayuga Museum on the second Wednesday of the month, excluding June, July and August. Participation is free and guests can come to any or all of the meetings. Choose the books you are interested in, and start reading now to join our discussions in the fall.
September 13 — Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan. In an ambitious narrative, MacMillan seeks to recover the original intent, constraints, and goals of the diplomats who sat down to hammer out a peace treaty in the aftermath of the Great War. In particular, she focuses on the “Big Three” — Wilson, Lloyd George, and Clemenceau — and uses them as a starting point for analyzing participants’ nationalist agendas. Of particular interest is her sympathy for those who tried to make the postwar world more peaceful.
October 11 — Polio: An American Story by David Oshinsky. The gripping story of the polio terror and of the intense effort to find a cure. Drawing on newly available papers of Jonas Salk, Albert Sabin and other key players, Oshinsky paints a suspenseful portrait of the race for the cure, weaving a dramatic tale centered on the furious rivalry between Salk and Sabin. He also tells the story of Isabel Morgan, perhaps the most talented of all polio researchers, who might have beaten Salk to the prize if she had not retired to raise a family.
November 8 — White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg. Surveying political rhetoric and policy, popular literature and scientific theories over four hundred years, Isenberg upends assumptions about America’s supposedly class-free society — where liberty and hard work were meant to ensure real social mobility. Marginalized as a class, white trash have always been at or near the center of major political debates over the character of the American identity.
December 13 — Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard. Churchill would later remark that this period, “could I have seen my future, was to lay the foundations of my later life.” Millard spins an epic story of bravery, savagery, and chance encounters with a cast of historical characters—including Rudyard Kipling, Lord Kitchener, and Mohandas Gandhi—with whom Churchill would later share the world stage. The lessons Churchill took from the Boer War would profoundly affect 20th century history.
January 10 – Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick. This is a complex, controversial, and dramatic portrait of a people in crisis and the war that gave birth to a nation. The focus is on loyalty and personal integrity. As a country wary of tyrants suddenly must figure out how it should be led, Washington’s unmatched ability to rise above the petty politics of his time enables him to win the war that really matters.
February 14 — A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance: Portrait of an Age by William Manchester. From tales of chivalrous knights to the barbarity of trial by ordeal, no era has been a greater source of awe, horror, and wonder than the Middle Ages. Manchester leads us from a civilization tottering on the brink of collapse to the grandeur of its rebirth — the dense explosion of energy that spawned some of history’s greatest poets, philosophers, painters, adventurers, and reformers, as well as some of its most spectacular villains — the Renaissance.
March 14 — The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero by Timothy Egan. A dashing young orator during the Great Famine of the 1840s, in which a million of his Irish countrymen died, Thomas Francis Meagher led a failed uprising against British rule, for which he was banished to a Tasmanian prison colony. He escaped and six months later was heralded in the streets of New York — the revolutionary hero, back from the dead, at the dawn of the great Irish immigration to America. Meagher’s rebirth in America included his leading the newly formed Irish Brigade from New York in many of the fiercest battles of the Civil War. The hero’s last chapter, as territorial governor of Montana, was a romantic quest for a true home in the far frontier. His death has long been a mystery to which Egan brings haunting, colorful new evidence.
April 11 – Paper: Paging Through History by Mark Kurlansky. Paper is one of the simplest and most essential pieces of human technology. For the past two millennia, the ability to produce it in ever more efficient ways has supported the proliferation of literacy, media, religion, education, commerce, and art; it has formed the foundation of civilizations, promoting revolutions and restoring stability. By tracing paper’s evolution from antiquity to the present, with an emphasis on the contributions made in Asia and the Middle East, Kurlansky challenges common assumptions about technology’s influence, affirming that paper is here to stay.
May 9 — American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin. The saga of Patty Hearst highlighted a decade in which America seemed to be suffering a collective nervous breakdown. Based on more than a hundred interviews and thousands of previously secret documents, American Heiress thrillingly recounts the craziness of the times (there were an average of 1,500 terrorist bombings a year in the early 1970s). Toobin portrays the lunacy of the half-baked radicals of the SLA and the toxic mix of sex, politics, and violence that swept up Patty Hearst and re-creates her melodramatic trial.