Although some of you might think otherwise, reading outside of the school setting can be very enjoyable and fulfilling. Here are some books that I have enjoyed that you might want to check out. Some are a little more interesting than others, and some of them are a little more advanced than others. Not all of them deal with history. Let me know if you decide to take on any of these challenges. All write ups have been provided by Amazon.com. I have rated the difficulty of each book so that you have will some idea of what you are getting yourself into. * - Beginner; ** - Intermediate; *** - Difficult
1. Animal Farm (George Orwell): * Since its publication in 1946, George Orwell's fable of a workers' revolution gone wrong has rivaled Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea as the Shortest Serious Novel It's OK to Write a Book Report About. (The latter is three pages longer and less fun to read.) Fueled by Orwell's intense disillusionment with Soviet Communism, Animal Farm is a nearly perfect piece of writing, both an engaging story and an allegory that actually works. When the downtrodden beasts of Manor Farm oust their drunken human master and take over management of the land, all are awash in collectivist zeal. Everyone willingly works overtime, productivity soars, and for one brief, glorious season, every belly is full. The animals' Seven Commandment credo is painted in big white letters on the barn. All animals are equal. No animal shall drink alcohol, wear clothes, sleep in a bed, or kill a fellow four-footed creature. Those that go upon four legs or wings are friends and the two-legged are, by definition, the enemy. Too soon, however, the pigs, who have styled themselves leaders by virtue of their intelligence, succumb to the temptations of privilege and power. "We pigs are brainworkers. The whole management and organisation of the farm depend on us. Day and night, we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples." While this swinish brotherhood sells out the revolution, cynically editing the Seven Commandments to excuse their violence and greed, the common animals are once again left hungry and exhausted, no better off than in the days when humans ran the farm. Satire Animal Farm may be, but it's a stony reader who remains unmoved when the stalwart workhorse, Boxer, having given his all to his comrades, is sold to the glue factory to buy booze for the pigs. Orwell's view of Communism is bleak indeed, but given the history of the Russian people since 1917, his pessimism has an air of prophecy.
2. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger): * Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with "cynical adolescent." Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he's been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. It begins, "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them." His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.
3. Lies My Teacher Told Me (James W. Loewen): *** When textbook gaffes make news, as with the tome that explained that the Korean War ended when Truman dropped the atom bomb, the expeditious remedy would be to fire the editor. Loewen would rather hire a new team of authors bent on the pursuit of context instead of factoids. In Loewen's ideal text, events and people illuminating the multicultural holy trinity of race, gender, and social class would predominate over the fixation on heroes and acts of government. Such is the mood adopted throughout this critique of 12 American history texts in current use. Vetting 10 topics they commonly address--from the Pilgrims to the Vietnam War--Loewen bewails a long train of alleged omissions and distortions. To account for the deplorable situation, he offers this quasi-Marxist explanation: "Perhaps we are all dupes, manipulated by elite white male capitalists who orchestrate how history is written as part of their scheme to perpetuate their own power and privilege at the expense of the rest of us." Certainly students' appalling ignorance of history is troublesome, and broken families and excessive TV viewing are at least the equals of white male conspirators as the cause. However, libraries located where dissatisfaction with textbooks exists should be interested in Loewen's critique.
4. A People's History of the United States (Howard Zinn): *** Since its original landmark publication in 1980, A People's History of the United States has been chronicling American history from the bottom up, throwing out the official version of history taught in schools--with its emphasis on great men in high places--to focus on the street, the home, and the, workplace. Known for its lively, clear prose as well as its scholarly research, A People's History is the only volume to tell America's story from the point of view of--and in the words of--America's women, factory workers, African-Americans, Native Americans, the working poor, and immigrant laborers. As historian Howard Zinn shows, many of our country's greatest battles---the fights for a fair wage, an eight-hour workday, child-labor laws, health and safety standards, universal suffrage, women's rights, racial equality--were carried out at the grassroots level, against bloody resistance. Covering Christopher Columbus's arrival through President Clinton's first term, A People's History of the United States, which was nominated for the American Book Award in 1981, features insightful analysis of the most important events in our history. Revised, updated, and featuring a new after, word by the author, this special twentieth anniversary edition continues Zinn's important contribution to a complete and balanced understanding of American history.
5. The Butter Battle Book (Dr. Seuss): * A cautionary Cold War tale (first told by Dr. Seuss back in 1984), The Butter Battle Book still has a lot to teach about intolerance and how tit-for-tat violence can quickly get out of hand. Explaining the very serious differences between the Zooks and the Yooks, a Zook grandpa tells his grandchild the unspeakable truth: "It's high time that you knew of the terribly horrible thing that Zooks do. In every Zook house and every Zook town every Zook eats his bread with the butter side down!" He then recalls his days with the Zook-Watching Border Patrol, as he gave any Zook who dared come close "a twitch with my tough-tufted prickley Snick-Berry Switch." But when the Zooks fought back, the switches gave way to Triple-Sling Jiggers, then Jigger-Rock Snatchems--even a Kick-a-Poo Kid that was "loaded with powerful Poo-a-Doo Powder and ants' eggs and bees' legs and dried-fried clam chowder." With lots of fun and more-than-fair digs at the runaway spending and one-upmanship of U.S.-Soviet days, The Butter Battle Book makes a chuckle-filled read whether you're old enough to get the historical references or not.
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