Category Archives: Books

The Last Amateur: The Life of William J. Stillman


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The Last Amatuer - Life of William StillmanIn a new biography being released in October by SUNY Press, The Last Amateur: The Life of William J. Stillman, author Stephen L. Dyson tells the story of William J. Stillman (1828–1901), a nineteenth-century polymath. Born and raised in Schenectady, NY, Stillman attended Union College and began his career as a Hudson River School painter after an apprenticeship with Frederic Edwin Church.

In the 1850s, he was editor of The Crayon, the most important journal of art criticism in antebellum America. Later, after a stint as an explorer-promoter of the Adirondacks, he became the American consul in Rome during the Civil War. When his diplomatic career brought him to Crete, he developed an interest in archaeology and later produced photographs of the Acropolis, for which he is best known today. Continue reading

New Book: A Dictionary Of Vietnam War Slang


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Vietnam War Slang DictionaryOn August 7th, the US marked the 50th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the basis for the Johnson administration’s escalation of American military involvement in Southeast Asia and war against North Vietnam.

A new book, Vietnam War Slang: A Dictionary on Historical Principles (Routledge, 2014) by Tom Dalzell, outlines the context behind the slang used by members of the United States Armed Forces during the Vietnam War. Continue reading

Circle of Vines: The Story of New York Wine


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New York State Wine HistoryWinegrower and journalist Richard Figiel, who established Silver Thread Vineyard on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake in 1982, offers a short history of New York wine in Circle of Vines: The Story of New York Wine (SUNY Press, 2014).

Figiel follows the state’s wine industry from its turbulent evolution in various regions as it emerged as a dynamic player in the world of fine wine. He begins by examining New York’s distinctive viticultural roots and the geologic forces that shaped the state’s terrain for winegrowing. Starting with early efforts to grow grapes for wine in the Hudson Valley, the story moves west to the Finger Lakes and Lake Erie, circles around the state from Long Island to the North Country, and, finally, to contemporary New York City. Continue reading

A New Biography of Plattsburgh’s Smith Weed


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Smith Weed BiographyRouses Point businessman, Mark L Barie, has written the first biography of North Country politician Smith Weed. In The President of Plattsburgh, The Story of Smith Weed (Crossborder Publishing, 2014), Barie paints a portrait of Weed – six feet tall, with piercing black eyes – a man who was said to smoke nine cigars a day.

Smith Weed was instrumental in the establishment of the Champlain Valley Hospital, the YMCA, the Plattsburgh Library, and the Hotel Champlain, but was perhaps best known nationally for his central role in “The Cipher Dispatches” voter fraud controversy during the fiercely disputed presidential election of 1876. Continue reading

New Book Highlights Covered Bridges


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image001(11)Covered bridges are essential pieces of American and Canadian rural history, gracing the countryside from coast to coast and north to eastern Canada. In a new, small, but lavishly illustrated volume Covered Bridges (Shire, 2014), Joseph D. Conwill recounts the rich, romantic history of covered bridges as they developed from early timber examples, born out of the traditions of medieval times, into modern structures designed for motorized traffic in the early twentieth century.

Reflecting on the efforts to keep covered bridges in service as the face of the rural landscape is transformed, and the challenge of preserving their historic character while making them safe for modern traffic, Conwill guides the reader across the diverse range of covered bridges to be found throughout North America. Continue reading

Adirondack History And Campfire Stories


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Layout 1If you’ve spent any time rambling New York’s north country roads, you may have wondered how Eagle Lake got its name, or how little towns like Schroon Lake and Chateaugay and Redford came to be before the north became a tourist haven. Where is that Cold River hermit that your grandfather told you about? What about the weird beliefs of early Adirondack days? Maybe you’re still holding out for the possibility of a sea serpent in Lake Champlain, or hoping you’ll chance upon a legendary lost silver mine while you’re out enjoying a hike in the balsam wood.

This is the sort of interesting and sometimes unusual information that readers of Adirondack Memories and Campfire Stories (2014) will find fascinating. William J. “Jay” O’Hern has compiled first-hand stories from a series of little quarterly magazines that native Adirondack archivist, historian, and folklorist George Glyndon Cole published from 1946-1974. Few complete collections now exist, in less than a handful of North Country libraries, but back then readers eagerly anticipated each new issue. Some readers will remember reading North Country Life, later called York State Tradition, from cover to cover. It was exciting indeed to read about one’s own rural region, especially when the articles came straight from the pens and hearts of one’s neighbors. Continue reading

Inside Ocean Hill–Brownsville: A Teacher’s Education


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Inside Ocean Hill BrownsvilleIn 1968 the conflict that erupted over community control of the New York City public schools was centered in the black and Puerto Rican community of Ocean Hill–Brownsville. It triggered what remains the longest teachers’ strike in US history.

That clash, between the city’s communities of color and the white, predominantly Jewish teachers’ union, paralyzed the nation’s largest school system, undermined the city’s economy, and heightened racial tensions, ultimately transforming the national conversation about race relations. A new memoir, Inside Ocean Hill–Brownsville: A Teacher’s Education, 1968-69 (SUNY Press, 2014) has been written by Charles S. Isaacs, a teacher who crossed the picket lines. Continue reading

War of 1812: The New Brunswick Regiment of Foot


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The 104th (New Brunswick) Regiment of Foot in the War of 1812Best known for its perilous Winter March through the wilderness of New Brunswick to the battlegrounds in Upper Canada, the 104th (New Brunswick) Regiment of Foot was a British unit originally raised to defend the Maritimes, with members drawn from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Upper and Lower Canada, and the British Isles.

In 1813, the regiment was sent to raid the American naval base in Sackets Harbor, New York, and then moved to the Niagara Peninsula to continue its fight against the invading Americans. Continue reading

The Negro National And Eastern Colored Leagues


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Negro National and Eastern Colored LeaguesAs the companion volume to Black Baseball Entrepreneurs, 1860–1901: Operating by Any Means Necessary, Michael E. Lomax’s new book, Black Baseball Entrepreneurs, 1902-1931: The Negro National and Eastern Colored Leagues (Syracuse Univ. Press, 2014), continues to chronicle the history of black baseball in the United States.

The first volume traced the development of baseball from an exercise in community building among African Americans in the pre–Civil War era into a commercialized amusement and a rare and lucrative opportunity for entrepreneurship within the black community. In this book, the author takes a closer look at the marketing and promotion of the Negro Leagues by black baseball magnates. Continue reading

The Shadow of Kinzua: The Seneca Since World War II


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Shadow of KinzuaKinzua Dam has cast a long shadow on Seneca life since World War II. The project, formally dedicated in 1966, broke the Treaty of Canandaigua of 1794, flooded approximately 10,000 acres of Seneca lands in New York and Pennsylvania, and forced the relocation of hundreds of tribal members.

In Laurence M. Hauptman’s In The Shadow of Kinzua: The Seneca Nation of Indians Since World War II (Syracuse Univ. Press, 2013), he presents presents both a policy study, namely how and why Washington, Harrisburg, and Albany came up with the idea to build the dam, as well as a community study of the Seneca Nation of Indians in the postwar era. Sold to the Senecas as a flood control project, the author argues that major reasons for the dam were the push for private hydroelectric development in Pennsylvania and state transportation and park development in New York. Continue reading

FDR: The Original Game Changer


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Roosevelts Second Act by Richard Moe.jpgThe famous Riddle of the Sphinx asks, “Which creature has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and then two-footed, and finally three-footed?” To which Oedipus answered: “Man, who crawls on all fours as a child, then walks on two feet as an adult, and then as an elder uses a walking stick.”

This is what crossed my mind as I came across a small sculpture of Franklin D. Roosevelt as the Sphinx, with cigarette holder and all, at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum gift shop. I’d often find myself browsing the store during breaks from my research there, but the oddity of the sculpture stuck with me as I was unable to answer the riddle of FDR as Sphinx until reading Roosevelt’s Second Act: The Election of 1940 and the Politics of War (Oxford Univ. Press, 2013) by Richard Moe. Continue reading

Arcadia Publishing Acquires The History Press


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History Press Arcadia Publishing MergerArcadia Publishing has announced the acquisition of The History Press Inc., a wholly owned US based subsidiary of UK based The History Press Ltd, in a private sale. The deal creates the largest publisher of local and regional books in the U.S. with a combined total of more than 12,000 titles available for sale.

“Arcadia is committed to maintaining the creative aspects of both businesses and will keep existing brands entirely separate,” the company said in a statement issued to the press. Continue reading

NYSHA Annual Publication Awards Announced


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Armory Show BookThe New York State Historical Association will announce the winners of its three annual publication awards at its 111th Annual Meeting on July 17.

The winner of the 2014 Henry Allen Moe Prize for Catalogs of Distinction in the Arts is The Armory Show at 100: Modernism and Revolution by Marilyn Satin Kushner, Curator and Head, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections at New-York Historical Society and Kimberly Orcutt, Henry Luce Foundation Curator of American Art at New-York Historical Society. Continue reading

Remembering an Old Friend: John Briant


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JBriantNYHA year ago, I wrote about a regional writer of fiction and nonfiction who had passed away. At the time, he was among the elder statesmen of Adirondack authors. His books include One Cop’s Story: A Life Remembered, which details his service in New York State Police Troops B and D. To share one person’s perspective and to help preserve his memory, here is what I wrote about a man whose presence is missed by many. A year after his passing, I still occasionally receive contacts from people who recall him fondly.

The Adirondacks lost a longstanding member of the regional writers’ community when John Briant of Old Forge, known far and wide for his Adirondack Detective series of books, passed away on May 14, 2013. I’m not a religious person, and I can’t say to what extent John was, but if he was devout, he probably looked forward to reuniting with his beloved wife, Margaret, who passed away the previous June. Continue reading

Lawrence Gooley: Advice for Aspiring History Authors


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RegionalBookImageNYHMany self-publishers offer plenty of encouragement to both capable and less-than-capable writers, and for good reason. Their business plan is not unlike the NYS Lottery’s “Hey, you never know” program: highly successful by playing your emotions against overwhelming odds. I’m not saying the lottery isn’t fun, but here’s a heads-up: they do know. Both the lottery people and publishers know that nearly everyone who pays into their systems will receive no return other than a few anxious moments.

To begin with, e-book publishers would rather we didn’t know that the great majority of e-titles sell only a few copies—usually to the writer’s family and friends. Several years ago, self-publisher Lulu’s average book sold 1.8 copies. Obviously, sales statistics provided by such companies are skewed by the occasional breakout title that sells hundreds or maybe thousands of copies. Most of them don’t. Continue reading

West Kill Creek: History Meets Post-Apocalyptic Fiction


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wkcfrontcoverWest Kill Creek by Shawn Purcell (Troy Book Makers, 2014) is a contemplative work of post-apocalyptic fiction set in upstate New York and shot-through with local history.

A particularly lethal virus has rapidly wiped out most of civilization. A hardy band of survivors does what it takes to stay alive, but the novel also reverberates with the echoes of local history and deep time, the beauty and terror of nature, the power and glory of books, current environmental and political issues, and actual events and places. Continue reading

The Search for the Underground Railroad in Upstate NY


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Underground RR in Upstate NYAs the Civil War loomed and politicians from the North and South debated the fate of slavery, brave New Yorkers risked their lives to help fugitive slaves escape bondage. Because of its clandestine nature, much of the history of the Underground Railroad remains shrouded in secrecy—so much so that some historians have even doubted its importance.

After decades of research, Tom Calarco recounts his experiences compiling evidence to give credence to the legend’s oral history in a new book The Search for the Underground Railroad in Upstate New York (History Press, 2014). Continue reading

The Worlds of the Seventeenth-Century Hudson Valley


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Jacobs_Worlds_9781438450971What follows is a guest essay by Jaap Jacobs and L.H. Roper, authors of the newly published
The Worlds of the Seventeenth-Century Hudson Valley.

As the proverbial schoolchildren know, the Englishman Henry Hudson (c. 1570–1611) conducted his 1609 exploration of the river that bears his name on behalf of the Dutch East India Company. In the same year that Hudson sailed north up the river, trading, fighting, drinking, and negotiating with Native Americans on the way, a Frenchman named Samuel Champlain made his way south from the St. Lawrence River. His trip was not a voyage of exploration and Champlain was not the leader of the expedition. Yet it too involved interaction with Native Americans, culminating in an armed encounter on what later became to be called Lake Champlain between Huron and Algonquian Indians and their French friends on the one side and the Haudenosaunee of the Iroquois Confederacy on the other side. Continue reading

Fact And Fiction In Brian Kilmeade’s ‘Secret Six’


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george washingtons secret sixBrian Kilmeade has done historians on Long Island a great favor. With his latest book, George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution (Sentinel, 2013), co-authored by Don Yaeger and currently one of the top-selling non-fiction books in the country, he has focused national attention on the role played by the Culper Spy Ring that operated between New York City and Setauket, bringing information about British plans and troop movements across Long Island Sound to Connecticut and on to General Washington.

Using his bully pulpits on Fox & Friends, carried on Fox News Channel daily from 6 AM to 9 AM, and his nationally syndicated radio program, Kilmeade & Friends, from 9 AM to noon, he has elevated the nation’s awareness of the significance of Long Island to the outcome of the American Revolution.

Their story unfolds seamlessly, with well-written descriptions of General Washington’s loss of New York after the Battle of Long Island that set the stage for Washington’s desperate need for information, and ending with Morton Pennypacker’s handwriting analysis that identified Robert Townsend as the key information gatherer. But there’s the rub: Kilmeade and Yaeger have spun more than one story here. This non-fiction book hovers dangerously close to the side of fiction. Continue reading

New Book On Kingston’s IBM Years


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9781883789763What happens when a giant high-tech corporation opens a massive new plant on the outskirts of a small, rural, historic city? And what happens when it just as suddenly leaves?

In Kingston: The IBM Years (Friends of Historic Kingston, 2014), three prominent college professors, an award-winning novelist, a longtime Ulster County journalist, and two former IBM Kingston employees examine the history of the IBM complex and the work that was conducted there, the impact the facility had on Kingston and its surroundings, what life was like as an “IBMer,” how it influenced regional architecture and thrust a colonial city into the modern age, and the effect of a “boom and bust” cycle on a rural, traditional community. Continue reading