Saturday, February 21, 2015

Real v. "Reel" History

Real history is far more interesting
than "reel" history!
I have to confess I was really thrilled when I received the first email from the History Channel about its miniseries Sons of Liberty.  They were giving it the full-court press, promoting heavily, creating educator materials.  And then I watched it.  Beautiful, but hardly history.  Now I'm not an historian; I'm just a humble history teacher.  Sons of Liberty should have come with a "based on" disclaimer.  I'm not faulting the actors, the directors, the locations, or any other of the trades who contributed. I did enjoy watching their work, as long as I disassociated it from the actual history.

That dissatisfaction led me to my bookshelf, and, not having time to dive deeply into a biography of one of the founders, I pulled out a large volume that was digestible in small bites:  John P. Kaminski's The Founders on the Founders: Word Portraits from the American Revolutionary Era.  Kaminski is a genuine historian who, in this work, let the founders' own words speak for themselves.

To put it simply, this volume is a curated collection of excerpts from primary source documents.

With only occasional editorial comment, Kaminski serves up delicious entries by and about all the folks you've heard about and several you should have. What emerges is a far more realistic image of both the authors and their subjects which takes them out of the flat engraving and makes them human.

Far from diminishing their heroic efforts toward independence, adding this third dimension makes their accomplishment even more astonishing because so many managed to put aside, or at least work around, competing interests and feelings of intense dislike for one another. It is a lesson which could not be more timely.
The first two First Ladies are also included

What about you?  What real history books can your recommend?  Post them in the comments below!


Saturday, February 7, 2015

An Epic Tomato Book!

Although I'd promised myself that I would complete reading books I already own before purchasing a new one, I just could not resist buying Epic Tomatoes by the heirloom tomato guru himself--Craig LeHoullier.  Although I could have downloaded it immediately to my Kindle app, a quick look at the free preview showed me that I would want to read it on paper.  The weighty package that arrived in my mailbox a few days later raised my expectations.  One look at the book confirmed my choice.

It is a beautiful book.  Before I get into the nuts and bolts of the book, I must congratulate Storey Publishing, editor Carleen Madigan, and art director/designer Carolyn Eckert.  The cover is joyful, and each page of the book reflects the love of the subject and the teacher's heart the LeHoullier shares.  Wonderfully done, friends.

The subtitle of the book promises much:  "How to Select & Grow the Best Varieties of All Time."  The good news is that the author, whose Twitter handle is @nctomatoman, delivers on that promise.  His chapter titles include

  • The Origins of Today's Tomato
  • Anatomy of a Tomato
  • Planning and Planting
  • Growing Maintenance and Care
  • Harvest Celebration
  • Saving for the Future
  • Breed Your Own Tomatoes
  • Q&A
  • Troubleshooting:  Diseases, Pests, and Other Problems
Interwoven with LeHoullier's story of how he became "tomatoman" is solid information on selecting, starting, and growing your own tomatoes.  His advice is suitable for the casual (1 or 2 plants) through prolific home grower (although commercial growers may glean a bit of insight, too).  He is practical--when his garden wore out and the trees caused too much shade, he began using containers.  He confesses, quite without shame, that he does enjoy a few hybrid varieties, and also that he uses non-organic fertilizers--quite a refreshing contrast to the gardening wars that are often waged.

The book is chock-full of tables of his findings from his gardens, including 250 varieties rated for size, season, color, and taste.  He also shares his favorite 10 varieties, a several yummy-sounding recipes.

The troubleshooting section is especially helpful and includes color photographs for ease of identification as well as remedies which emphasize prevention first.

One of the things I appreciate most about the book is how truthful the author is about yields, size, and about some varieties' less-attractive tendencies.  Even in his photographs, which are beautiful, I find that the varieties which crack for me, seem to have cracked for him!  I cannot express how encouraging that is!

As informative as the book is, it is a quick read, so you have time to squeeze it in before gardening season starts.  You'll be glad you did.

So, thank you, Craig LeHoullier!  Epic Tomatoes is epic indeed.

What's growing in your Savory garden?