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Book Review: American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans by Eve LaPlante

Book Review: American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans by Eve LaPlanteSummary:
Anne Hutchinson, a forty-six- year-old midwife who was pregnant with her sixteenth child, stood before forty male judges of the Massachusetts General Court, charged with heresy and sedition. In a time when women could not vote, hold public office, or teach outside the home, the charismatic Hutchinson wielded remarkable political power. Her unconventional ideas had attracted a following of prominent citizens eager for social reform. Hutchinson defended herself brilliantly, but the judges, faced with a perceived threat to public order, banished her for behaving in a manner “not comely for [her] sex.”

Review:
I love US History. I have a degree in it, and I particularly enjoy reading about women in US History. I remembered studying a bit about Anne Hutchinson in some of my coursework, so when I saw this book going more in-depth into her life in a used book basement, I picked it up. I ultimately was disappointed to find a book that somehow managed to make reading about a woman with such an interesting life boring.

Anne Hutchinson was what I like to think of as a quiet rebel. She did things like hide the birth of a grotesquely malformed stillborn so that the mother wouldn’t be judged by the community as somehow entangled with Satan or being punished by God. She led Bible studies/prayer meetings in her home, and these groups she led didn’t consist of just women. Men sought her out for advice and knowledge in these groups in a culture where women were only supposed to advise other women. Most fascinating to me was the dynamic between her and her husband. He clearly loved her and gave her basically the reins over their lives. He was known as a quiet person and happily stepped back and let her make the noise. When she was banished, instead of complaining, he just packed up and moved with her to Rhode Island. It’s not that I think that’s the ideal marriage but I do think it went directly against the gender norms of the time, and they were both brave for being true to themselves and what worked best for their own relationship.

However, the writing in this book somehow managed to take such an interesting woman and bore me to tears. I dreaded picking up this book. I eagerly anticipated when the author would quote primary texts because they were exponentially more interesting than her own. The other issue I had with the book was that the author is a descendant of Hutchinson and clearly lets this bias her own perception of Hutchinson the historic situation. On top of this, there’s a lot of talk about genealogy (far too much for my taste), and sections read like someone writing a family history for their own family, not for public consumption. I understand being interested in someone you are descended from, but who you are descended from doesn’t automatically make you a cooler person. People who are proud of themselves because of who they happen to be descended from infuriate me to no end. Do something worthy of being proud of yourself. Don’t rest on your ancestor’s laurels.

Overall, while the historic facts are accurate and Anne Hutchinson herself is an interesting historical figure who deserves to be talked about, the writing of this book is boring and it is colored by the author’s obsession with being descended from Hutchinson. Readers interested in Hutchinson should consider looking elsewhere, perhaps starting with Unafraid: A Life of Anne Hutchinson, which is available in its entirety thanks to Hathi Trust Digital Library.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Brookline Booksmith

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Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge

Book Review: American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms by Chris Kyle and William Doyle (Audiobook narrated by John Pruden)

Book Review: American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms by Chris Kyle and William Doyle (Audiobook narrated by John Pruden)Summary:
Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL responsible for the book American Sniper, was working on a labor of love at the time of his death–this book. His wife and co-author worked together to complete the book (his wife providing an introduction of context). Kyle loved America and guns, and here he combines the two together to present the history of the US through the lens of guns.

Review:
The idea of this book is nothing new. I certainly studied a lot of guns/weapons and their impact while working on my History BA (concentration in US History). But as both a US History and gun lover, I was excited by the idea of a short book that would let me revisit both topics.  I do wish I had paid more attention to the fact that this book is a co-authorship between a Navy SEAL and a Fulbright Scholar though, since I personally tend to find books written from this type of partnership to be a bit frustrating. I certainly found that this book lands in that category.

The book starts with an introduction by Chris Kyle’s wife, Taya, providing context of why he wanted to write this book and how far along he was on it. I wound up pausing to look up his death, because I honestly didn’t realize the American Sniper had died. I wish this book had mentioned, at least simply, how he died.

The guns covered in the book are: American Long Rifle, Spencer Repeater, Colt Single-Action Army Revolver, Winchester 1873 Rifle, M1903 Springfield, M1911 Pistol, Thompson Submachine Gun, M1 Garand, .38 Special Police Revolver, and M16 Rifle. Kyle clearly knows and understands how guns work. I found the descriptions of these guns to be the best-written portions of the books. In particular his explanation of shotguns (single-action or repeating) was the first I’ve heard that had me really grasping how they work.

The quality of the history writing comes and goes, though, and I think that’s evidence of places Doyle had a stronger hand on the writing. Some of the historical episodes are presented clearly, factually, and without obvious bias. Others, though, beg for an editing pass either for removal or acknowledgement of bias or to tighten up the focus or provide a better story arc.  Historical nonfiction can still have a story arc, something that Kyle clearly understands, but he tends to go off on rants about certain parts of the story that he finds most interesting leaving the reader a bit lost or frustrated. The passage that I found most frustrating was when Kyle chose to focus on a soldier in the Revolutionary War era because he descended from him. Sure, that soldier used the gun being focused upon, but so did practically everyone else at the time. It read a bit like your uncle doing the family genealogy, rather than a serious historical nonfiction. What I found most jarring though was the rapid switching between this style of writing and more typical mainstream serious historical nonfiction.

I felt the audiobook narrator did a good job embodying Kyle’s voice, and was easy to listen to.

Overall, readers looking for greater quick knowledge of the guns used at pivotal points in US History would be the most likely to benefit from this read. Those looking for more serious historical analysis or typical historical writing should look elsewhere.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Book Review: Death By Petticoat: American History Myths Debunked by Mary Miley Theobald

Petticoat with skulls on it.Summary:
This history book has assembled the most often-repeated myths of US History and one-by-one debunks them.

Review:
There is not much to say about a book that is so short.  Listing only 63 myths, each summed up within one or two sentences and then “debunked” in under a page, it is possibly the shortest history book I’ve ever read.

The myths and debunking are interesting, but there’s far too few of them.  Additionally, while images are given citations, the debunkments aren’t!  Well, why should I believe what you’re saying, Theobald, as compared to anyone else?  Just because you *claim* there aren’t any records of thus-and-such doesn’t mean that there aren’t unless you back it up with solid evidence.  While I enjoyed the myths and the talk about them, I can’t take it seriously as an academic due to a complete lack of citations.

The cover is super-cute though.

Overall, recommended to people who want to know what the myths are, but not to anyone seeking serious history.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Friday Fun! (On Thursday!)

Hello my lovely readers!  You are getting this week’s Friday Fun a day early because tomorrow’s my birthday, and I took the day off work and will be staying far away from the computer all day!  I’m turning 24!  I have to say, ever since I turned 20, I just feel like I’m improving with age. Like wine.  Only with a lot more work than it takes for wine to get better with age, because let’s face it, they just stick that shit in a cellar somewhere and abandon it, whereas I work damn hard to get better.  Anywho.

By some awesomeness two of my best gal pals also have tomorrow off, so I’ll be spending the day with them, getting bubble tea, going to a farmer’s market, and probably hitting up a bookstore too.  Of course one of my favorite veg restaurants will also be visited.  Because of the fact that my birthday falls on a holiday weekend I tend to get my presents early or late or get informed of what I will be getting.  My dad contributed money so I could get my a/c unit, and my brother informed me he’ll be giving me homemade goat cheese he made himself from his own goats.  It’s a whole bunch of awesomeness.  Also, tonight I’ll be going out to dinner with my third best gal pal (there are three of them), so the celebration is nicely spread out.

I know, you guys do not care this much about my birthday, but I get four days off for it and am EXCITED!! Plus, I freaking love the 4th of July.  I mean, one of my majors in uni was US History.  Plus! The fireworks! The drinking! The bbq’s! The music! Did I mention the fireworks? The fireworks!!

Ok, that was a ridiculously excited post, but I think that’s warranted if only for the fact that I have a four day weekend. Four. Days. Wheeeeee!

Happy weekends, everyone! What will you be reading? What will you be doing for the 4th? *waves*