Sinking the Sultana: A Review

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.
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Title: Sinking the Sultana: A Civil War Story of Imprisonment, Greed, and a Doomed Journey Home

Author: Sally M. Walker

Setting: 1865 Mississippi River

Synopsis:

The worst maritime disaster in American history wasn’t the Titanic. It was the steamboat Sultana on the Mississippi River — and it could have been prevented.

In 1865, the Civil War was winding down and the country was reeling from Lincoln’s assassination. Thousands of Union soldiers, released from Confederate prisoner-of-war camps, were to be transported home on the steamboat Sultana. With a profit to be made, the captain rushed repairs to the boat so the soldiers wouldn’t find transportation elsewhere. More than 2,000 passengers boarded in Vicksburg, Mississippi . . . on a boat with a capacity of 376. The journey was violently interrupted when the boat’s boilers exploded, plunging theSultana into mayhem; passengers were bombarded with red-hot iron fragments, burned by scalding steam, and flung overboard into the churning Mississippi. Although rescue efforts were launched, the survival rate was dismal — more than 1,500 lives were lost. In a compelling, exhaustively researched account, renowned author Sally M. Walker joins the ranks of historians who have been asking the same question for 150 years: who (or what) was responsible for the Sultana’s disastrous fate?

Civil_War_Steamer_Sultana_tintype,_1865 (1)My review:

This little known catastrophe was a tragic end to the war. In their rush to get Union prisoners home after the war, they packed the first boat far past its capacity. That alone might not have caused this disaster, but when the worst happened and the boilers exploded, hundreds more died because there was no way to safely evacuate them all.

I’m so glad I had the chance to read this book. I’ve read many books on the Civil War, but I didn’t know anything about this disaster. The author does a great job of putting this accident in its proper perspective. What made it so heartbreaking is that the entire thing could have been avoided.

This book is packed with photos, maps, and facts that make the story come alive. The writing is clear and easy to follow. I would definitely recommend this one for kids or adults who like reading about disasters or the Civil War.

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What are you reading?

Happy Monday! How was your weekend? I had a yucky cold! Which means I got lots of reading and gaming done, but not much else. I did go to Winger’s for burgers with my husband, and that was fun. But otherwise it was a slow weekend.

Now for what I’m reading!

The old opened book is christian Psalter

I guess I got on the Net Galley’s good list at last, because I got everything I asked for! I’m happy and stressed, because now I have even more to catch up on. Plus I got an ARC from Library Thing too. Add all my indy review requests, and I really don’t need to go to the library for a month.

Currently reading:

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This is one of the ones I got from Net Galley. I was SUPER excited at that, because I loved The Martian, book and movie. I’ve already finished it and a review is coming soon. My son, who discovered this author before I did, is really jealous. Let me just describe it briefly as a space version of Ocean’s 11.

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This one is my audio book from Overdrive I’ve been listening to while I sew. It’s about the scientists who discovered aspects of evolution before Charles Darwin. It’s interesting, but not so much that it’s keeping my attention. I find my mind wandering and realize that I missed everything for several minutes.

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This book is a different story. The plot and the characters are so well done that I keep wanting to drive somewhere just so I can listen. This one is on audio book in my car on CD and it’s so good. It’s got magic and wizards and hints of evil plots to steal the throne. I think something bad is about to happen and I can’t wait!

I’m also reading a CERTAIN BOOK that I can’t name because it’s SECRET! It’s about to be revealed on Friday and then you’ll have plenty of time to tell your friends to follow my blog and have a chance to win a SIGNED COPY. But it’s really exciting, with an orphan MC, an oppressive government, and a fairy tale twist.

Have you read any of these? What did you think? What are you reading? Comment below and let me know.

Throwback Thursday – Princesses

Since I have a book about Norman Queens on here, I thought I would rerun this post about princesses, as a sort of companion piece. Enjoy!

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Title: Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History – Without the Fairy Tale Endings

Author: Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

Setting: worldwide, across history, across time

If you’re thinking Disney has the scoop on princesses, you are so far wrong. Real princesses are fierce, ruthless, vain, spendthrift, ambitious, violent, mystical, proud, and occasionally, mentally ill. Not really all at once, but as a whole, they are about as far from the sweet virginal doll as it’s possible to get.

This is a book club read and it’s going to be  a fun discussion next month. McRobbie sorts the women out by type – heroes, warriors, madwomen, etc. Some of these stories were totally shocking. And some were already familiar to me. I knew quite a bit about Hatshepsut, who started as a princess right enough but wound up as a pharaoh in her own right.

But others were entirely new to me. Princess Olga of Kiev was absolutely dedicated to the cause of revenge. When her husband was murdered, she embarked on a terrific campaign of getting her own back against the country responsible. When she was through, hundreds of men were dead and she was a national hero.

This was an extra treat since the author picked such a wide range of princesses. Instead of the usual choice of white Europeans, she went world wide – African, Asian, all over. She also makes an effort to tell the whole story, not the traditionally accepted Eurocentric story. The book is organized generally by the accepted story first, then the real story after. Some of the stories are quite short, but others are really long.

As far as the “mad” princesses go, it was enlightening to see the way women with mental illness were treated throughout history. Some of them clearly  needed restraint or something, but it was sad to think that so many of them could have been helped with modern treatment. One princess with an eating disorder and a distorted body image seemed especially sad to me.

Some of the stories were a little racy, many were violent, and some were seriously messed up, so I wouldn’t recommend this one for kids, but teens would get a kick out of it. Nothing deep, but a good introduction to the real stories behind this figures. There are also suggestions for further reading.

Who is your favorite real life princess? Tell me in the comments.

American Colonies: Review

Title: American Colonies: The Settling of North America

Author: Alan Taylor

book description:

“With this volume, Alan Taylor challenges the traditional story of colonial history by examining the many cultures that helped make America. Transcending the usual Anglocentric version of our colonial past, he recovers the importance of Native American tribes, African slaves, and the rival empires of France, Spain, the Netherlands, and even Russia in the colonization of North America. Moving beyond the Atlantic seaboard to examine the entire continent, American Colonies reveals a pivotal period in the global interaction of peoples, cultures, plants, animals, and microbes. In a vivid narrative, Taylor draws upon cutting-edge scholarship to create a timely picture of the colonial world characterized by an interplay of freedom and slavery, opportunity and loss. “

my thoughts:

This is the most comprehensive book on pre-Revolutionary America that I’ve ever read. It covers everywhere and virtually everyone, from the Pilgrims that you always read about, to the slaves, women, and native people that are usually overlooked. It is sometimes grim reading. Europeans were frequently cruel to the natives. There’s a lot about the conditions the slaves lived in. So many massacres, so much bloodshed.

But it’s not all dismal. Some of it talks about politics, land speculation, exploration, trade, and social customs. Even if you thought you knew about pre-Revolutionary America, you’re going to find a lot of stuff you didn’t know. I enjoyed listening to this, but I think it would have been better in print with some maps. Fortunately, I know basic American geography so I was able to follow along. I really recommend this one.

 

Hamilton At War

downloadI received this free in exchange for a honest review. My views, however, are my own.

Title: Alexander Hamilton’s Revolution: His Vital Role as Washington’s Chief of Staff

Author: Philip Thomas Tucker

“Sell-out crowds every night enjoy the smash hit Hamilton on Broadway, which presents a fact-filled and entertaining glimpse into the patriot’s life. But very few of us know about Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton, General George Washington’s trusted military advisor.”

If you thought Rob Chernow’s masterpiece Hamilton was just not detailed enough, then this book is for you. I’m a major fan of Alexander Hamilton – the guy was a genius and I’m glad to see him finally getting the credit he deserves. But even I was a little daunted by the level of detail in this new book by Turner.

I agree with his basic premise – we focus a lot of what Hamilton accomplished before and after the revolution, but sometimes overlook what he did while he was serving. This book deals mainly with the extraordinary relationship between Washington and Hamilton. They became an amazing team who Got. It. Done.

But while the book was insightful and like I say, I love the idea, the writing was often repetitive. He’d wind up saying things three times in one chapter. I don’t need that. I can remember what you just said. And then the level of detail – naming so many names, for instance – was really just too much. I would recommend this one for serious readers of American History and advise others to pass.

 

Wheat Belly

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Title: Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Way Back to Health

Author: Dr. William Davis

I love bread. And cake. And cookies, and pasta, and brownies, and pizza, and pretty much everything made from wheat. And I’m fat. There you go! Proof, right there, that wheat is bad.

Except it’s not. Not proof, not conclusive. My weight has to do with a lot of issues, partly my diet, partly my age, my sedentary lifestyle, and my genetics. Only some of those issues are in my power to change. But what about that wheat? Is that the real problem?

According to Dr. Davis, wheat is the main culprit behind the obesity epidemic in the United States. And it is an epidemic. Weight, and waistlines, have increased steadily for the last 100 years. So has incidence of adult onset diabetes, heart disease, and a host of other illnesses. His main contention in this book is that modern wheat – not the historic stuff from 200 years ago – is to blame.

Wheat has changed, food scientists will admit that. Modern high yield wheat has drastically changed agriculture. Fewer farmers are needed to feed lots more people. He backs up his contention with fancy science facts that I couldn’t really follow, but I agree with him there.

Where I disagree is that while modern diets are terrible, wheat is not the only problem. He seems to think that it is. I would blame carbohydrates in general. Americans eat too many of them. I don’t eat much wheat anymore. I’m on a low carb, high fat diet, LCHF, or a keto diet. I’ve lost a lot of weight and I feel much better. (I’m still fat though. But I’m getting there!) But wheat is not the only problem. What about sugar?

He bases his book on the fact that he’s encouraged his heart patients to cut out the wheat products and they’ve all gotten healthier, but this is what’s called anecdotal evidence. Certainly celiac disease and general gluten intolerance is a major problem now, compared to 100 years ago. And modern wheat farming may be to blame. But what about getting them to cut out fast food? If they’re avoiding wheat, they can’t eat fast food, and maybe that’s responsible for their improved health. Maybe some whole grains would be just fine, as long as they’re not deep fried.

His writing isn’t terrible, but it’s not great, and he is really repetitive. He has a very definite style that will turn a lot of readers off. I can’t say I’d recommend this book to everyone. But if you’re trying to lose weight, I’d say it’s worth looking through. I wouldn’t buy it though. I got my copy from the library’s audiobook collection and I decided not to finish it. I got the idea about 100 pages in and I sure didn’t want to listen to the whole thing. Bottom line – do your own research and don’t believe everything you hear.

Criminal Tales

Title: The Devil & Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness and Obsession

Author: David Gann

Described as “a collection of spellbinding narrative journalism,” this book contains an amazing assortment of stories. From the opening story about the Sherlock Holmes fan who died in real life mysterious circumstances, to the final profile of a truly nasty criminal, this was a compelling read (or rather, listen, as I got the audiobook from my library. It’s not quite up to his book, The Lost City of Z, but it’s quite good. I think what I missed was something to tie all these stories together. These were pieces that appeared in print previously, so maybe there wasn’t really a thread that tied them together, but I think he could have grouped them differently or something. As it was, it was sort of odd. My favorite story was the one about the sandhogs, construction workers building a giant series of tunnels under NYC. Recommended, but not so strongly that you should add it to the top of your list.

Witness to Revolution

Title: Red Fire: Growing Up During the Chinese Cultural Revolution

Author: Wei Yang Chao

Setting: Beijing, China 1960s

Ever wondered what it would be like to be a witness to history, to watch these watershed moments take place in front of your eyes? From what I’ve read, the answer is – terrifying. Wei Yang Chao was a witness to one of the biggest revolutions in history, especially if you go by the sheer number of people involved. He attended one rally that included over a million people, and the prospect of violence at every turn. He was lucky to survive.

This book  is a first-hand account of the Cultural Revolution in China. Chao was there after the Summer Palace was destroyed. He was a witness to the rise of the Red Guard. He saw teachers and other “enemies of the state” tortured, sometimes to death. His own parents were victims of a “struggle session” as soldiers his own age smashed through the house and beat his parents.

This was an incredible but grim read. To me it was nothing but terror and abuse, as the country fell into chaos. But Chao was more caught up in the struggle. At times, he wanted to fight against the class enemies, but when people he respected became targets, he would question why this revolution had to be so violent.

I would definitely recommend this book. I knew little about this time, so I found it darkly fascinating. It’s not for everyone. It is violent. But it’s an important record of real life.

I received this book free in exchange for an honest review.

Top 10 Tuesday

Inspired my recent read, A Lady in the Smoke, which features a railway doctor, I thought I would give my Top 10 Books on Medicine that I would recommend. These are mostly non-fiction, but include some fiction as well.

  1. The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee. This one is about cancer, and it’s a truly impressive book from start to finish. I was amazed at the amount of research that went into this. I read it after my dad passed away from cancer, and yet I found it an inspiration to read about all the people who are working so hard to find treatments and one day, even a cure.
  2. In Reckless Hands: Skinner V. Oklahoma and the Near-Triumph of American Eugenics by Victoria F. Nourse. If the last book inspired me, this one enraged me. Eugenics was a big movement for a shockingly long time which culminated in Nazi experiments in the prison camps. But it was big here in the US as well, and could have become law if not for a landmark court case.
  3. The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic that Shaped Our History by Molly Caldwell Crosby. I’ve read a lot of epidemic books, and this is my favorite on yellow fever. I tell you, you’ll be swatting mosquitoes a lot harder after this book!
  4. The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic by Gay Salisbury. This is another great one to read this summer when you’re sweltering in the heat. Read about the race through blizzards to get a diphtheria antidote to an isolated community in Alaska and you’ll feel so thankful for vaccines and for air conditioning both.
  5. Aspirin: The Remarkable Story of a Wonder Drug by Diarmuid Jeffreys. From its discovery to Bayer’s shameful Nazi connections to modern research, this covers everything.
  6. Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters by Matt Ridley. I really liked the way this book organized, a chapter for every pair of chromosomes, and a gene from every chromosome. It’s not even a little comprehensive, but it was compelling reading.
  7. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Lacks was a poor Black woman who died of cancer, but her cells live on in research that has saved hundreds of lives. However, that raises questions about the rights of patients in this book that’s now a movie.
  8. The Leper of Saint Giles by Ellis Peters. I love the Brother Cadfael mysteries, but this one is my favorite in the series. Not only is the mystery compelling, but the description of the nursing among the lepers in England, of the disease and its effects is truly moving.
  9. An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears. This one is big. But it’s my favorite look at 17th century medicine. It was a time of great discovery, but also a time of superstition and prejudice. Told from multiple POV, it makes the story more complex.
  10. The Physician by Noah Gordon. An orphan is driven by an urgent need to know how the body works. He makes his way to medieval Palestine so he can study medicine and learn what there is to know.

20 Days to Enter!

20170527_153836Want to win free books? Dumb question, of course you do. My giveaway is dying for lack of interest, so let me remind you. You must like the ORIGINAL POST and follow my blog to win. You can like this post too, if you want, but that doesn’t count as an extra entry.

If you want extra entries, follow me on Twitter, mention the giveaway on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, and then send me a link that you did so. That’s up to 3 extra entries.

4820And these are all good books, but just in case that’s not enough, I’m going to throw in this. Here’s my review. So that FOUR free books that you could win. And hey, if you don’t pay enough attention to me, I may add more books!!! Heaven knows there’s plenty around here to choose from. 🙂

So please, spread the word. I’d really like to see my blog grow so I can reach more readers. Thanks! You’re all great!