What We Are Reading Today: An American Marriage by Michael Burlingame

What We Are Reading Today: An American Marriage by Michael Burlingame
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Updated 07 June 2021

What We Are Reading Today: An American Marriage by Michael Burlingame

What We Are Reading Today: An American Marriage by Michael Burlingame

An enlightening narrative revealing aspects of the former US president’s life that are often overlooked, An American Marriage tells the tragic story of Abraham Lincoln’s marriage to Mary Todd.

Based on 30 years of research, An American Marriage describes and analyzes why Lincoln had good reason to regret his marriage to Mary. 

This revealing narrative shows that, as First Lady, Mary Lincoln accepted bribes and kickbacks, sold permits and pardons, engaged in extortion, and peddled influence. 

Amy S. Greenberg said in a review for The New York Times that most scholars had approached Mary Lincoln’s shortcomings with compassion, excusing all but the worst of her sins on account of her traumas and mental illness. But Michael Burlingame, a leading expert on Abraham Lincoln and a professor of Lincoln studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield, believes this sympathy is misplaced and has obscured a central truth about Lincoln: That his home life was, as Lincoln’s law partner, William H. Herndon, put it, a “burning, scorching hell.”


What We Are Reading Today: The Joy of Sweat

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Updated 23 July 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Joy of Sweat

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  • Everts’s entertaining investigation takes readers around the world — from Moscow to New Jersey

Author: Sarah Everts

Sweating may be one of our weirdest biological functions, but it’s also one of our most vital and least understood. In The Joy of Sweat, Sarah Everts delves into its role in the body — and in human history.
Deeply researched and written with great zest, The Joy of Sweat is a fresh take on a gross but engrossing fact of human life.
Everts’s entertaining investigation takes readers around the world — from Moscow to New Jersey.
Everts “is a crisp and lively writer,” Jennifer Szalai said in a review for The New York Times.
Everts “has a master’s degree in chemistry, along with an ability to put abstruse scientific processes into accessible term,” said the review.
It added that Everts “tethers her scientific interludes to scenes in which she was doing some unlikely things around the world.”
She “dispels some persistent perspiration myths, including the one that equates sweating with detoxification,” said the review.
The biggest crisis looming over the subject, which Everts explicitly acknowledges at several points, is global warming.


What We Are Reading Today: The Howe Dynasty

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Updated 22 July 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Howe Dynasty

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  • It said Britain’s desperate battles to guard its most vaunted colonial possession “are here told in tandem with London parlor-room intrigues”

Author: Julie Flavell

The Howe Dynasty tells the story of relatives of King George III in England.
Their grandmother was the illegitimate sister of King George I.
The story spans from the arrival of King George I’s sister in England until the participation of her grandchildren in The American Revolution.
The Howe Dynasty provides “a groundbreaking reinterpretation of one of England’s most famous military families across four wars,” said a review on goodreads.com.
“A riveting narrative and long overdue reassessment of the entire family, The Howe Dynasty forces us to reimagine the Revolutionary War in ways that would have been previously inconceivable,” said the review.
It said Britain’s desperate battles to guard its most vaunted colonial possession “are here told in tandem with London parlor-room intrigues.”
In December 1774, Benjamin Franklin met Caroline Howe, the sister of British General Sir William Howe and Richard Admiral Lord Howe, in a London drawing room for “half a dozen Games of Chess.”
But as historian Julie Flavell reveals, these meetings were about much more than board games: They were cover for a last-ditch attempt to forestall the outbreak of the American War of Independence.


What We Are Reading Today: Afterparties

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Updated 21 July 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Afterparties

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Author: Anthony Veasna So

Afterparties is an expertly written book about the experiences of Cambodian Americans living in California.
With nuanced emotional precision, gritty humor, and compassionate insight into the intimacy of immigrant communities, the stories in Afterparties deliver an explosive introduction to the work of Anthony Veasna So.
“Seamlessly transitioning between the absurd and the tenderhearted, balancing acerbic humor with sharp emotional depth, Afterparties offers an expansive portrait of the lives of Cambodian-Americans.
As the children of refugees carve out radical new paths for themselves in California, they shoulder the inherited weight of the Khmer Rouge genocide and grapple with the complexities of race, friendship and family,” said a review on goodreads.com.
The stories “are slice of life vignettes that intermix the joy and trauma experienced by the characters and community. The characters were so clearly written and individualistic, completely believable as real people,” the review added.
It said that each story “displays how trauma has affected an entire community.”


What We Are Reading Today: How the Word is Passed

What We Are Reading Today: How the Word is Passed
Updated 20 July 2021

What We Are Reading Today: How the Word is Passed

What We Are Reading Today: How the Word is Passed

Author: Clint Smith

How the Word is Passed is a book that deserves a place in today’s high school and college curriculum as well as personal reading libraries, says a review on goodreads.com.
“It is truly extraordinary,” said the review.
In How the Word Is Passed, Clint Smith seeks to examine how America memorializes, and reckons, with the legacy of slavery.
Smith is staff writer at The Atlantic. He is the author of Counting Descent, which won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.
Smith is also a poet, and he weaves his narrative with the prose of a poet in such a lyrical and impactful way.
According to the review, Smith “travels to different plantations, memorials, cemeteries, museums, prisons, etc. and examines how each of these locations reckon with slavery and if they are being honest and truthful, or being dishonest and avoiding the past.”
“This is not a contemporary anti-racist book. It goes far behind history. How the Word Is Passed is about the experience of place, memory, and legacy,” said the review.


What We Are Reading Today: The Icepick Surgeon

What We Are Reading Today: The Icepick Surgeon
Updated 19 July 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Icepick Surgeon

What We Are Reading Today: The Icepick Surgeon

Author: Sam Kean

Unflinching, and exhilarating to the last page, The Icepick Surgeon fuses the drama of scientific discovery with the illicit thrill of a true-crime tale.
With his trademark wit and precision, Sam Kean “shows that, while science has done more good than harm in the world, rogue scientists do exist, and when we sacrifice morals for progress, we often end up with neither,” said a review on goodreads.com.
Kean “tells the true story of what happens when unfettered ambition pushes otherwise rational men and women to cross the line in the name of science, trampling ethical boundaries and often committing crimes in the process,” said the review.
The Icepick Surgeon is Kean’s sixth book. His previous work examined the entertaining and sometimes macaber side of science.
Kean’s work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Mental Floss, Slate, The Believer, Air & Space, Science, and The New Scientist.
According to the review, the Icepick Surgeon “discusses the ethical and moral limits of science and gives us informative insight into some of the most flagrant cases of immoral behavior in science.”