At the end of World War II, more than 75,000 people lived and worked in the makeshift town built at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The bus system to take the thousands of workers from the hastily-built barracks, trailers, and homes was one of the 10 largest in the United States. There were 163 miles of wooden sidewalks, 300 miles of roads, and 17 cafeterias. The compound consumed more electricity than New York City, but didn’t show up on a single map.
No one outside Oak Ridge knew what was going on at the facility. And for the most part, no one inside knew either. But they weren’t supposed to know, and weren’t supposed to think or talk about their work at the end of the day. As a sign outside the facility gently reminded them: “What you see here. What you do here. What you hear here. When you leave here. Let it stay here.”
At the end of World War II, the newly-created United Nations was on the hunt for a headquarters. Well, sort of. The leaders of the United Nations were trying to figure out how to make their organization work. A headquarters was low on their priority list. But enthusiastic government officials, business leaders and citizens from cities around the United States recognized that, eventually, the United Nations would need a to find a headquarters.
In Capital of the World, history professor Charlene Mires tells a story of how differing visions for the Capital of the World threatened to undermine the goals of the United Nations before they even had a building and the diplomats who worked to hold the organization together.
On November 14, 1889, 25-year-old intrepid reporter Nellie Bly left New York city on a steamship heading for England, hoping to set a record for the fastest trip around the world and Phineas Fogg’s fictional trip in Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. Hours later, 28-year-old journalist and literary critic Elizabeth Bisland left New York by train toward San Francisco, intending to race Bly around the globe. In Eighty Days author Matthew Goodman follows these two remarkable journalists on the endeavor, which for 70 odd days captivated the world.
Based on that description, I’m sure you can understand why I’m writing about this book. There’s pretty much no way I was going to let a book about two adventurous lady journalists get away from me — there really isn’t a more promising premise for a book. And happily, Matthew Goodman didn’t disappoint in the least. Eighty Days is a page-turning travel adventure, sprinkled with the kinds of historical tidbits that make up the best narrative nonfiction.
For the French, love is something to celebrate. For centuries, the French have situated themselves as guides to the world of love. In How the French Invented Love, author and French professor Marilyn Yalom takes the reader on a wide-ranging journey of the multitude of ways that the French celebrate love.
Although the name “Alexandre Dumas” is probably most recognized as the name of the author of such great works as The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, the novelist Dumas actually shares the name with his father, General Alex Dumas, a mixed-race military leader in revolutionary France.
Alex — as he preferred to be called — Dumas was born to a black slave mother and a fugitive white Frenchman hiding out in Saint-Domingue. However, Alex was raised the son of an aristocrat, and eventually made a name for himself because of his dashing good looks and skill with a sword. Much to his luck, Alex found himself in France during a revolutionary time, one of the earliest civil rights movements, which allowed him to advance through the ranks of the French army until the Black Count commanded more than 50,000 men and became a threat to the great Napoleon.
In an effort to maybe, perhaps, hopefully get caught up on all the books I haven’t reviewed, I’m planning to start doing mini-reviews every couple of weeks for books that I read but didn’t have much to say about. If you have more specific questions about any of this week’s titles, leave them in the comments! In this post, How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran and Murder in Peking by Paul French.
In an effort to get caught up on all the books I read but haven’t reviewed, I’ve started doing doing mini-reviews every couple of weeks for books that I read but didn’t have much to say about. If you have more specific questions about any of this week’s titles, leave them in the comments! In this post, The Night Circus, Seating Arrangements, and Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures.
If you were a woman hired at Newsweek magazine in the 1960s, you had a limited career path. Most women were hired as researchers, working to provide background and information to male writers who received all the bylines and credit for each of the magazine’s stories. Women had almost no chance to move up from researcher to writer, and an even smaller possibility of ever becoming an editor or among the top brass at the magazine.
When Kristen Iversen was a child, she and her family moved to a small subdivision just outside of Denver. Their neighborhood was downwind from Rocky Flats, a nuclear weapons facility that produced plutonium bomb components. At one time, Rocky Flats was identified as the most contaminated site in the United States. Neither Iversen nor her family nor her neighbors knew what was produced at the factory. When asked, Iversen’s mother often guessed cleaning supplies. Besides, Iversen and her family had more important things to worry about — paying the bills, dealing with boys, and surviving their father’s alcohol-induced neglect.
One Sentence Summary: Born an obscure German princess, Catherine the Great became one of Russia’s greatest monarchs through sheer determination (and the love of those close to her).
One Sentence Review: Massie’s epic biography succeeds by showing the personal side of history, infusing even the most dry parts of history with emotion and importance.