This month I went for the horrific and depressing. It was one of those accidental reading mash-ups that happen from time to time. Two summers ago I found myself reading book after book set in WWII England. This June it was colonial Australian history and one of the worst hurricanes in modern America.
- Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson
- Next summer we are hosting an exhibit called Nature Unleashed from The Field Museum. For pre-exhibit research I decided to read about the 1900 Galveston, Texas, hurricane (to go along with last month’s book on Mississippi River flooding). This book was published in 1999, well before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, but my brief internet searching says that the 1900 Galveston storm was more deadly. What I liked most about Larson’s book is that he combined the science of storms with an explanation of the historical mindset of turn-of-the-century America. He managed to capture the technological hubris of the day, which is shockingly similar to the present. Larson also told a few individual stories out of the thousands. It combined to make a thoroughly interesting, albeit sad, read.
- The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia’s Founding by Robert Hughes
- I read two books this month. Part of the reason is because this bestseller from 1988 is 600 pages long. That’s right, a 600 page history bestseller. That alone was enough to pique my interest. Also, my historical understanding of Oceania is lacking in the sense that it is nonexistent. I never had a class on the area. In fact, the closest I got geographically was one on British India, which shared a few colonial similarities. Bill Bryson introduced me to contemporary Australia, but I wanted to learn more. Hughes covers this immense topic with engaging prose. He talks about class divisions in England, a survey of British crime, penal theory, the practicalities of setting up a colony on an unexplored continent, the assignment system, aboriginal culture, secondary punishment sites, and the mass brutality on Norfolk Island. However, in the midst of punishment, there was also opportunity. Hughes stressed that not all masters were sadists and that conditionally pardoned prisoners often had better economic prospects than their counterparts in England. What a world.
I think it’s time to read some fiction.