ON THE SHELF: A look at major historic events through new adult nonfiction works

Published 8:00 am Sunday, April 24, 2022

This column was submitted by Evangeline Cessna, Local History Librarian at the Warren County-Vicksburg Public Library.

This week’s column features history titles from the New Adult Nonfiction section.

“The Last Slave Ship” by Ben Raines tells the incredible true story of the Clotilda, the last ship to carry enslaved people to America. It also tells the story of the unique town its survivors founded after emancipation and the complicated legacy of their descendants. Fifty years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed, the Clotilda became the last ship to bring slaves to the shores of the United States. The ship was scuttled and burned upon arrival to hide the crime, thus allowing the wealthy culprits to avoid prosecution. The ship remained hidden for 160 years in spite of numerous efforts to locate it. In 2019, journalist Ben Raines announced to the world that his exhaustive quest to locate this archaeological treasure was successful. Africatown, the Alabama community founded by the captives from the ship prospered even in the face of adversity in the Jim Crow South.

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Author Tracy Borman’s latest is called “Crown & Sceptre: A New History of the British Monarchy from William the conqueror to Elizabeth II.” This book is a sweeping narrative published on the eve of Queen Elizabeth II’s historic 70th anniversary on the throne. Since William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy crossed the English Channel in 1066 to defeat King Herold II and unite the various kingdoms, forty-one monarchs have sat on Britain’s throne. It is a bit amusing, however, that in 955 years of British history, the throne’s occupant has been ambiguously English — the Norman French, the Welsh-born Tudors, the Scottish Stuarts, and the Hanoverians and the German successors have dominated the throne to the present day. The author attempts to lift the veil for those who have a fascination with British royalty by revealing the remarkable, weak, lazy and evil monarchs who have ruled. Since the Glorious Revolution of 1688, most have ceremonially reigned — a necessary distinction that explains the staying power of the monarchy as the royal family has had to evolve and adapt to the needs and opinions of its people in order to avoid the kinds of rebellions that brought many of Europe’s royals to an abrupt end.

“Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression” is an unusual recreation of one of the most dramatic times in modern American History. The author, Studs Terkel, tries to recapture all of the complexities of the Great Depression of the 1930s. This book features a plethora of voices and memories from politicians, businessmen, artists and writers — from those who were just kids to those who remember losing their fortune. These first-hand accounts of everyday Americans are a rich source of information as well as a fascinating look at the interplay of memory and fact. This book is more than a “rendering” of the depression, it is that time, its lingo, its mood and its tragic and humorous stories.

Author Garrett M. Graff offers a fresh look at one of modern history’s most controversial events with “Watergate: A New History.” In the wee hours of June 17, 1972, a security guard named Frank Wills makes an entry into his logbook at the Watergate office complex: 1:47 AM Found tape on doors; call police. Five men were arrested for trying to bug and burgle the Democratic National Committee offices. Three of them were Cuban exiles and the other two were former intelligence operatives. Their arrest subsequently unraveled a scandal that ultimately led to the end of a presidency and forever altered the public’s view of moral authority and leadership. Watergate has become a sort of shorthand for corruption, deceit and unanswered questions. The story actually begins in 1971 with the publication of thousands of military and government documents known as the Pentagon Papers, which revealed decades of dishonesty about the U.S.’s involvement in Vietnam. This sparked public outrage. President Richard Nixon was furious that the leak might expose his administration’s own duplicity during a crucial reelection season, so he gathered his closest advisors and gives them implicit instructions: Win by any means necessary. The author uses new public documents, transcripts, and revelations to recount every twist and turn in this remarkable drama. He brings the reader into the backrooms of Washington, D.C., the chaotic daily newsrooms, crowded Senate hearings, and even the Oval Office in search of the truth of this dark chapter in American history.