1861: The Civil War Awakening

1861 was a watershed year, the beginning of Lincoln’s presidency and, of course, the Civil War. This book explores the twists and turns of that year and how the whole (divided) nation was ambivalent about the future.

Although the South was fighting for slavery (all the while denying it), and the North was fighting for union (while largely ignoring slavery), lines were blurry at the time. The damage of “Bleeding Kansas” and the slave uprisings in Haiti made everybody on edge, unwilling to touch the flame to the powder keg.

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But it couldn’t remain this way, half slave and half free, so the inevitable happened.

Goodheart explores the personalities, the scenes and the mistakes of the year, from the colorful Zouaves to the escaped slaves called “contrabands.”

A great focused way to look at a much bigger story.

1861: The Civil War Awakening

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Salt: A World History

An entire book about salt? Is this even possible?

Mark Kurlansky pulls it off admirably in his own style, looking at human history by tracing its interaction with salt.

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Salt has been a purifier, preservative, medicine, even money. Hundreds of places around the world are named for their connection to salt. Explorers made it across great oceans because of salt. Even language has been heavily impacted by salt.

This is sneakily one of the best non-fiction books ever. Kurlansky takes something we all overlook and makes us appreciate its role in our lives.

This is the book that started me reading History again. Well, maybe not the book, but certainly an important book.

Salt: A World History

The Chitlin’ Circuit: And the Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll

This is where rock ‘n’ roll really began, in the hundreds of little shacks all around the South, where music, drink and food – and sex – flowed with equal abandon. The Chitlin’ Circuit.

This book traces the black successor of the old vaudeville circuit, where entertainers honed their craft after the ’40s.

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All the big stars began in this Deep South circuit, from James Brown to B.B. King to Little Richard, and dozens of artists you’ve never heard of but who influenced everybody that came after them.

This is a great read for any music fan and for those interested in the history of cultures hidden just beyond the eyes of most. Well worth it.

The Chitlin’ Circuit: And the Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll