Here is a mixed bag of book reviews to consider for your end-of-the-summer reading list.
‘Eyewitness Images from the American Revolution’
“Eyewitness Images from the American Revolution,” by military historian Arthur S. Lefkowitz, offers 60 “eyewitness” images from artists actually on site for pivotal moments during America’s revolutionary birth.
Collected here are everything from Charles Wilson Peale’s portraits of George Washington and his generals, Alexander Hamilton at Valley Forge and John Eager Howard, the hero of Cowpens. There are maps by Paul Revere and stunning images of significant battles by the world’s leading artists of the time such as John Singleton Copley, John Trumbell, Thomas Davies and Amos Doolittle.
These are all richly displayed in beautiful color, with a readable text explaining each circumstance that warranted the painting, drawing, map or illustration presented. Particularly moving are “The Battle of Lexington,” revealing a painful rout of the patriot militia, “The Death of General Warren” at the “Battle of Bunker Hill,” and the snow covered “Soldier’s Huts at Valley Forge.” Every America should learn more about this crucial time in our history, and Lefkowitz’s scholarship and collection of amazing images make that duty as pleasurable as any reader could possibly ask.
‘Beyond Control: The Mississippi River’s New Channel to the Gulf of Mexico’
Equally fascinating and striking much closer to home for Gulf coast residents is “Beyond Control: The Mississippi River’s New Channel to the Gulf of Mexico” by James F. Barnett Jr. Here we see man’s struggles to corral a river that flows at a rate of one million cubic feet per second, equal to “250 eighteen-wheeler trailers passing a given point on the river every second.”
And when it stampeded in 1927, it did so at a rate of 17.9 milllion gallons per second, drowning the deltas of Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana. Barnett chronicles efforts by French colonists, the 19th Century’s Henry Shreve’s Corps of Engineers, and modern engineers to reign the river in, using failed policies such as “levees only” and “bend cutoff,” only to have the muddy monster attempt to change its course in 1973, coming within a hair’s breadth of cutting a path to Morgan City and leaving New Orleans without a sea port and surrounded by salt water seeping in to fill the void.
This is a worthy history of nature’s refusal to be bound by man, and Barnett makes it clear that man is destined to lose this particular struggle. The Mississippi, he argues, will someday evade all efforts to control it and cut another path to the gulf if we do not either help it along sans disaster or develop new technology to do what current technology is incapable of doing. Beyond Control is more than just history at its most riveting; it’s a bird’s eye view of a living natural process that, unfortunately, is very much alive today.
‘Dancing with My Father’
Coast denizens love our greatest painter, Walter Anderson, but we only know him through his art. His daughter Leif knew him intimately as artist and father, and her loving tribute to him, “Dancing with My Father,” is a moving reminisce of a daughter coming to terms with a famous and unusual dad.
As she says, people who didn’t know him loved him for his art in ways that she was not allowed to during his many excursions away from home, “and I’m sometimes mixed up in response to it.”
She evolves beyond this, however, to relate how this brilliant but strange artist nevertheless had a unifying effect on his family. She renders this heartwarming story through emotion-drenched prose and drawings of her own and her father’s.
Anderson also explores other avenues in these brief stories, as in the incredible Cat Wisdom, where she inhabits the mind of a feline with uncanny accuracy. But when she writes, “I understand Daddy’s need to escape his beloved mother and the rest of us…to clear his mind of external chatter and the distracting requirements of being in a family,” we experience, perhaps too closely, the human, all too human dynamics of this exceptionally talented family. For this, we owe her a debt of thanks for “Dancing with My Father.”
‘How We Bury Our Dead’
A much darker familial tale is related through the stunning work of Ocean Springs poet Faith Garbin in her poetic venture, “How We Bury Our Dead.”
Garbin inexplicably finds lush poetry in the disasters, loss and grief lurking in the shadowy corners of her past. The darkest are those concerning the horrors of familial sexual abuse, such as “Four and Daisies,” that strike like a hammer blow to the soul, proving once and for all that poetry conveys an emotional punch unknown to even the worthiest prose.
Garbin knows her craft and emblazons it onto the page as if she were using lightening rather than ink. Phrases such as, “Even the floorboards ache with longing,” and “prayers drifted past the attic window, fell like ashes,” force us to reexamine memories buried in the blackest chambers of our hearts.
Poet and the reader collide, metaphorically speaking, with such phrases as, “A bird opens its beak to the hesitant sun. I walk the woods, memories chasing me like hounds.”
There is pain here, but also much beauty, which as we know from familiarity with the ancient poets, is another word for truth. Garbin’s truth is treasure for every reader courageous enough to encounter it.