Thursday, August 7, 2014

Here Is Where: Discovering America's Great Forgotten History

Title:  Here Is Where: Discovering America's Great Forgotten History
Author:  Andrew Carroll
Publication Information:  Crown Archetype. 2014. 473 pages.
ISBN:  0307463982 / 978-0307463982

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through Edelweiss free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "Travel is a glorious form of procrastination, allowing us to put off the daily deluge of e-mails, phone messages, and countless burdens with a simple, socially acceptable excuse:  'Sorry, I'm on the road...'"

Here is Where:  Discovering America's Great Forgotten History is part travelogue and part history book. It all begins with Andrew Carroll's collection of "forgotten history" - notes he took whenever he encountered "a relatively unknown incident" of history.

He sets out on a quest to "search for unmarked sites across America that have been forgotten over time. One trip, all regions of the country. And not only in major metropolitan areas but in small towns and communities from coast to coast." Some of the rules for his journey:

  • The place and history must meet his definition of "forgotten."
  • The incident and place must "be nationally significant and represent a larger narrative in American history."
  • "No weird stuff."

I love history, trivia, and travel. This book sounds like the perfect combination!

The historical incidents presented in the book are the best part of the book. Some are more memorable than others, and some have been forgotten for a reason:

  • Did you know that Edwin Booth (the brother of John Wilkes Booth) once saved the live of Robert Todd Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln's son) at a train station in New Jersey?
  • Did you know that one of the Japanese pilots in the attack on Pearl Harbor crashed on one of the Hawaiian islands?
  • Did you know that Union Pacific would hire immigrants from diverse backgrounds such that the different cultures and languages would keep the groups separate and make unionization more difficult?
  • Did you know that cartographers sometimes include fictional entries on maps to protect their copyrights - a copied map will have the fictitious entry whereas another cartographer who has done original research would see the fiction?
  • Did you know that on Hart Island in the Bronx is a 101 acre cemetery where New York state buries its unclaimed dead?

Each bit of history is presented in a about eight to ten pages. That makes this book easy to pick and put down and read a little bit at a time. As each of the stories is distinct, you can also flip through the table of contents and pick one to read. Even though it is part travelogue, the book does not have to be read beginning to end.

The book organizes the events by topic, ranging from coming to America to medical pioneers to stories about the dead. The book has a detailed table of contents, allowing a reader to get to each separate story quickly. The book also includes a list of sources at the end to authenticate the information presented. What would improve this aspect of the book would be an index, a map of the locations, and perhaps illustrations or photographs.

Some of the descriptions include references to other similar incidents in history. Unfortunately, these are mentioned in a couple of sentences and not developed. At times, these prove to be a distraction - I either want to get back to the main description, or I want to know more about the reference.

As a travelogue, the book is less successful for me. The organization by topic prevents me from getting a sense of Andrew Carroll's journey. It seems to jump from place to place without a sense of continuity throughout. A geographic or chronological organization would lend itself better to understanding his trip. In this setup, I found myself skimming over his personal comments to get back to the historical story he is telling.

An entertaining read, but just not what I expected. I would definitely recommend it to the history buffs in my life.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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