Geek out: historical books

Me (and my book club) have been on a historical kick lately with our readings, so I thought I’d share them with you:

First, “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” by Nathaniel Philbrick. This was a book club selection, and I really liked it. The book covers the history of whaling, primarily in Nantucket, and the real-life story that inspired “Moby Dick.” It was absolutely fascinating to imagine the lifestyle people led (women left alone for years at a time, while their husbands traveled thousands of miles around the world) and the reliance on whale oil that made people take absolutely insane risks. The story reminded me of that show, “I Shouldn’t Be Alive.” It’s brutal, but worth a read.
Next, I grabbed “Salt: A World History” by Mark Kurlansky off my own book shelf. Mike had read it before, and I had always been curious about it. The book goes back thousands of years and traces the history of salt production and trade all over the world. I liked this book, but didn’t love it. Mainly because it read more like a textbook. I found myself trailing off many times. The best parts described innovations that people had made to mine salt, or strange things that happened because of it (like a town that basically sunk because they took out too much salt underneath).
Staying on my history kick, I decided to read “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus” by Charles Mann, which Mike had also read before. This book just blew my mind. It’s about so much more than just the year 1491. It’s about new findings related to when people came to the Americas thousands of years ago. It’s about how native Americans had much more advanced civilizations than we used to believe. It’s about how way more people were wiped out by disease than we ever realized. And it’s about countering the idea that native Americans lived on the land but didn’t mess with it. They did a lot to change their environment, but when their populations were decimated by disease, that stopped. Therefore what Europeans saw when they came here was much different. Anyway, though a few parts (mostly dealing with battles) bored me, the rest was so intriguing I couldn’t put this book down. Highly recommend!
And finally, book club decided to go historical two times in a row and we chose “The Lost Cit of Z” by David Grann to read. It’s about an explorer named Percy Fawcett, who disappeared in the Amazon in 1925 while looking for a lost city of riches. Apparently people have become obsessed with finding both what happened to him and the city itself, and many have died or been kidnapped in the process. The author goes on this journey himself, and finds some new details, and ultimately the same kind of conclusion that’s written in “1491” (that advanced civilizations could have existed in the Amazon). Sadly, I was so into “1491” I couldn’t quite appreciate this book as much. I would give it somewhere between a six and seven on our scale. Enjoyed, but would recommend this more as a library check out than a buy.