Code Talker by Chester Nez and Judith Schiess Avila

Find in textChester Nez was a Navajo high school student at the outbreak of WWII. He enlisted in the Marines and was soon interviewed to be a part of the top secret development of a military communication code in the Pacific. The government and the education system tried to wipe out the native tongue of the Navajo, then found that this unique language was ideal for the creation of a code that could not be broken by the Japanese. This is a fascinating story of the culture and history of the Navajo people and their service to this country, a country that had oftentimes treated them very unfairly. Bonus: the audio CD includes an interview with Chester and a sample of “code talking.”

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders & the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

Find in catalogDuring the 1920’s the Osage Indians of Oklahoma became very wealthy because of oil discovered on their land. The drove expensive cars, lived in mansions, and employed maids. They were the envy of their white neighbors, and this envy lead to murder on a shocking scale. The members of one family were systematically killed until only one woman survived. After 4 years of this J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI began investigating the crimes, finally bringing some measure of justice to the region. This is a very compelling investigation into some really ugly events in American history.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

The Warmth of Other Suns follows three African-American individuals/families as they leave the South and travel North and West toward hopefully brighter futures for themselves and their families’ years after slavery ended in the United States. The author weaves in between these enlightening and beautiful biographies and the facts of the times (i.e. statistics and other notes on the racial cultures within various parts of the United States) that both captures the triumphs and tragedies of the history and culture of the times. I have a fuller appreciation for the struggles and bravery of those Americans that came before me for their determination and resilience when it came to improving their lot and fulling an American deal of achieving a better life through hard work and a little bit of luck. A must read for everyone with the same interests of knowing more about who we are.

Witness to the Revolution: Radicals, Resisters, Vets, Hippies, and the Year America Lost its Mind and Found its Soul by Clara Bingham

Find in catalogI had wanted a deeper understanding of our history and had felt a certain connection with this time period and its spirt of revolution given the current political climate. What a wonderful book! It’s an amazing account of all these different people from all different walks of life and how they saw the war and the peace movement. It was amazing and opened my eyes to the spirit of peace, the government, and our history culture. It was a bit long but any shorter wouldn’t have done the stories any justice. Perhaps one of my favorite book of this year yet!

Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand

Find i catalogThis book tells the story of the race horse Seabiscuit, his jockeys, owner, and the many people involved in his life. The author goes depth to explain what the life of a race horse jockey was like during the Great Depression in the United States. She illustrates how difficult it was for their health and other aspects of their lives. I thought this book was interesting because it gave context to what was going on around the country during Seabiscuit’s popular racing career. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes history, sports, and racing.

The Tigress of Forli, by Elizabeth Lev

Find in catalogI am learning about Renaissance Italy and discovered a great book: the Tigress of Forli. This is not a historical fiction, but a well written history of Catherine Riario, Sforza, Di’ Medici. What a fascinating character living in very interesting times! She was a brave woman who knew her own mind. She had armor built and fought along side her soldiers to defend her castle! Just my kind of gal. If you are a student of Italian history or interested in the life of women in the Renaissance era, I recommend this book.

The Adventures of Henry Thoreau by Michael Sims

The Adventures of Henry ThoreauWe know the iconic Thoreau, sitting alone in his cabin, philosophizing, engaged in civil disobedience. Sims adds a warmer, more complex, physical man, involved with his community. Thoreau loved teaching children about the nature around them, enjoyed outings and ice skating with friends, and sometimes – but not always! – welcomed visitors to his cabin. And he was a dedicated and caring family man, stepping in to assist in times of illness and helping his father develop their successful pencil business.

A keen observer, Thoreau was one of the first people to note the way in which there is a predictable succession of trees in a forest over the years.

Sims excels in showing the early influences on Thoreau. One surprising story is how as a young man Thoreau and a friend accidentally started a fire that burned 300 acres of the local woods. Neighbors rightly blamed Thoreau for the fire, and their reactions may have led Thoreau to distance himself.

Reviewed by Sarav

The Circus Fire: A True Story by Stewart O’Nan

The Circus FireIn the summer of 1944 in Hartford, Connecticut the big top of the Ringling Brothers circus caught fire during a performance. The big top had been waterproofed with gasoline and paraffin so it was completely engulfed within minutes. There were 9000 people in attendance, scrabbling to flee the fire through 7 exits. The book details the psychology of group behavior during a catastrophe, from heroism to selfishness. It also covers the efforts to identify the dead, some of whom were never identified. This was a very interesting read.

Reviewed by Diane

Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art by Carl Hoffman

Savage HarvestIn 1961, Michael Rockefeller disappeared while on an art buying trip in New Guinea. His body was never found, and there has been a great deal of speculation about the circumstances of his death. It was thought that Michael may have been killed by the Asmat, a group of native warriors from whom he had purchased art. The culture of these tribesmen was built around sacred, reciprocal violence, head hunting, and ritual cannibalism. The book delves into the history of New Guinea and the change from colonialism to independence and the effects this had on native cultures. As a part of his research the author submerses himself in the culture of the Asmat, living with them and talking with them about Mr. Rockefeller in an attempt to find out what really happened.

Reviewed by Diane

Ponzi’s Scheme by Mitchell Zuckoff

Ponzi's SchemeI had heard of get rich scams described as “Ponzi Schemes”, but until I read this book, I had no idea that Ponzi was a real person. An Italian immigrant bent on making it big in America, Charles Ponzi came up with a plan to sell international reply coupons and reward investors with ridiculously high returns. In the summer of 1920, the idea caught fire and people were literally lining up around the block to invest their savings in this scheme. The book sets the scene by describing other money scams of the time and explains the press’s role in promoting and ultimately exposing Mr. Ponzi’s business. This is a very interesting look into history and the character of an infamous man.

Reviewed by Diane