Obama: The Historic Journey – The New York Times (2009)

Obama_bookNeeding a happy read, I chose to wallow in nostalgia for happy times past with this large coffee table book, Obama: The Historic Journey (NYT). Packed full of great photographs from the time of President Obama, this book was put together using the journalistic resources of the illustrious New York Times and was a pleasure to read. The NYT seems to have the best journalists and photographers, and I really enjoyed this browse through years past, even though it’s not really that long ago. (I think it just seems like a long time ago since our Orange Goblin came in office. Sigh.)

This book not only had great production values with the award-winning photographs, but it also included some of the main speeches which Obama gave, including the nomination acceptance speech, and the Presidential acceptance speech. As a constitutional law professor, Obama was incredibly articulate at describing his vision for the country, and some of his speeches almost made me cry as they were so perfect (and, unfortunately, so very different from the 5th grade utterances of our current Prez).

The book covers Obama’s journey from childhood through to his junior Senator position in Illinois through to his election campaign, the nomination, and then when he is actually President, and if you loved and now miss Obama, you’ll be in the target market for this title.

Spectacular photographs (including some from official WH photographer Pete Souza) combined with solid journalism and spectacular speech-writing skills made this a really interesting and poignant read for me, and I highly recommend this book. You can probably read it in one afternoon on a weekend, and I just loved it. If you’re not an Obama fan, maybe not for you, but for those who are: this was a great read.



For the love of books…


Look at what showed up hanging on my mailbox outside the other day…

I am so lucky to have such thoughtful friends living close by. Thank you, Dede!

She knows me so well! Forget chocolates. Forget roses. Books? Yes please.

At Her Majesty’s Request: An African Princess in Victorian England – Walter Dean Myers (1999)

Book413So, prowling my shelves and thinking of Black History Month as one does, my eye was caught by a thin title and pulled it off the shelf, curious to learn more. The book turned out to be about Queen Victoria (swoon) and how she semi-adopted a young African princess when the girl first arrived in London. It’s an interesting story, but I had not heard of it before, so I dug right in.

Based on a stash of original nineteenth century documents that the author unearthed in the National Archives one day, the book follows the life of young Sarah Forbes Bonetta when she is first “rescued” by a white military officer from an African nation full of warring tribal groups, and then introduced into royal circles in England. (It does have shades of the movie, Greystoke… Perhaps the author wasn’t the first person to find this info out.)

This was in the mid-nineteenth century and slavery was in full force in both England and the States, and, although there were people who were abolitionists, it hadn’t taken up full swing just yet. A Royal Navy officer happened to be at one of the ports where the slave ships would embark with kidnapped slaves-to-be, and after a skirmish of some kind, the girl’s parents were killed, and so she is alone. The military officer decides the best thing is to take the new orphan, and deliver her to England. (Cue: Greystoke here.)


Upon arrival, the young African girl has no English language skills, and hardly any schooling. She was surrounded by people who looked nothing like her, and she was trapped in multiple layers of uncomfortable English clothes in a strange cold country. However, she made the news and that alerted the Queen of her presence.

Hearing talk of this arrival, Queen Victoria asked for a meeting, and that’s how the whole English part of the story began.

Queen Victoria enjoyed the young girl and gave her the best tutors and education that one can receive, and it all seemed to be working out well until the young girl started to get sick more and more often. The Victorians didn’t have a good grasp of medicine at this time, let alone tropical medicine, and after trying to treat her, the little girl ends up on a boat back to Africa where she attends missionary school, but unfortunately has a very hard time fitting in with her peers due to the recent English influence. This is overcome, and in the end, she grows up into adulthood, and no one seems to know of how her life went after this experience.

While I was reading this, I really enjoyed it, but as I started to think about it in a critical manner, it dawned on me that this was a tricky situation to look back on through twenty-first century eyes, especially with the knowledge of slavery for England and US. On the one hand, the little orphan was saved from a poverty-stricken life in an African country and given the royal treatment for a year. On the other hand, this is covered with the haze of white/ colonialism/power, so it’s not easy to parse.

Still, an interesting read. BTW, it’s classified as YA, so it’s a fast read, but it’s still informative.

Part of JOMP’s celebration of Black History Month.


And Black History Month Begins…


In the U.S., February can mean several different things to various people, and for me in particular, it signals the start of Black History Month, one of my favorite projects where I focus on reads by and/or about African-Americans. I think that reading and supporting POC writers is an important part of being a well-rounded reader, so I’ve pulled these titles (image above) from the TBR shelves as potential reads for this month:

  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness – Michelle Alexander (NF)
  • Human Cargo – Matthew Crampton  (NF)
  • Mother Country: Britain’s Black Community on the Home Front, 1939-1945 – Stephen Bourne (NF)
  • Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa – Mark Mathabane (NF)
  • They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys of Sudan – Alephonsion Deng, Benson Deng, and Benjamin Ajak (w Judy A. Bernstein) (NF)
  • Strength in What Remains – Tracy Kidder (NF)
  • Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press – James McCrath Morris (NF)
  • We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation – Jeff Chang (essays)

—along with whatever other titles that come my way! Feel free to let me know of any titles that would fit!

Care to join in the fun?


Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 195


Background Note: Cowboy is one of our cats who showed up out of the blue one snowy January day eight years ago. Since then, she has made us her Forever Home (which works with us). She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (Olympic-level) and she eats a lot.

All of these points are helpful with this project that I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

Black Women of the Old West – William Loren Katz (1995)


A literary friend of mine lent me this rather fascinating coffee table book featuring the role of black (African American) pioneers in the old cowboy Wild West. As I’m really interested in learning more about the African American experience, this book ticked most of the boxes that I look for in a good read.

As it’s more of a coffee table book, it’s concentrated mostly on photographs of the sometimes anonymous women who were living the pioneer life at the time. Generally speaking, I don’t see much focus from many people on the life of African Americans during the late nineteenth century as America traveled west across its new territories, but they were there just as much as The Little House on the Prairie family were.

Afam_pioneer_familyA number of the women who were featured in this collection went west as domestic help to pioneering families, but quite a few of these folk were also determined to be successful independent farmers, ranchers and other professional workers (e.g. teachers, accountants etc.). (Check out my review of another fascinating read of the Exodusters who flowed into Kansas for the ranching opportunities.)

A number of young AfAm women came west as mail order brides for men who were in mining camps and doing other types of work. The men who signed up for the service bought a one-way ticket for the young woman in question, and then, sight-unseen, the two would contractually get married to live in the west. (How very brave were these mail order brides! For some, this invitation to the west was just what they needed to escape terrible home situations so it seems that it benefited both parties for the most part.)


(Above) – Stagecoach Mary (Mary Fields) was the first AfAm postal carrier in the county.

Many freed slaves had little experience apart from working on the land or helping in a domestic role, and it was really interesting to me to learn that once freed, African-Americans (as a group) were intent on getting an education, both for themselves and especially for their children. Literacy was the key to freedom and success, and these families were typically much more educated than the other groups out on the frontier (whites, Hispanics etc.) and their school attendance was at a notably higher level. Former slaves knew and understood the important of knowledge, and so were determined that their families were going to be schooled.

I went ahead and made a few random notes from this read:

  • An African American woman used to own all the real estate in the area now called Beverly Hills in LA
  • In OK and other states, the newly freed slaves joined up with local Native American tribes (although initially the Native Americans embraced slavery as much as the white people had), and in the late 1800’s, 18% of Cherokees were AfAm, and 14% of Choctaws were AfAm.
  • The Native Americans had been introduced to the slavery concept by white people who wanted to make sure that the tribes would not harbor runaway slaves. Most tribes ended up embracing slavery, except for the Seminoles who had a fascinating overlap with the Buffalo Soldiers.
  • One of the earliest settlements of AfAms was in Mercer County, OH, in 1832.
  • Stagecoach Mary (Mary Fields) (photo above right) was the first AfAm mail carrier in the US, and drove a horse and wagon (not a stagecoach) on her route in the wilds of Montana. She wasn’t an employee of the US Postal Service, but had bid and won a contract to deliver mail as she was the fastest person who would drive a team of six horses. She never missed a day of work, and if there was deep snow, she would put on snowshoes and deliver the mail sacks on her back.

What I found to be most interesting to read was the common thread of how AfAms thrived in spite of the awful conditions and in spite of how challenging life was. Families had few resources, but they still came west. I wonder just how much more successful AfAms would have been if there’d be a stronger support system for them. There was the Freedman’s Bureau, but it was decades before the idea of ending slavery became common place and widely accepted. The sheer doggedness and determination of these AfAm pioneers is astonishing to me, and I wish their stories were told more often.

(If you haven’t already read this article on reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates in the Atlantic, it’s a powerful and provocative piece.)

So, really enjoyed looking at the photos in this book. (The writing itself was pretty dreadful, so the pics made the book really.)

Other reads on similar topics and reviewed by JOMP are:

Dreams From my Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance – Barack Obama (1995)


Wincing at whatever the latest gaffe that our latest President has talked himself into, I thought it would be pretty interesting to take a look at the man who had just left the U.S. Presidency and learn a bit more about his life. Written in 1995 (and thus written when he was only in his early thirties), this well-written autobiography was an easy and interesting read about the life of the first African-American President in these here States.

I really enjoyed this deeper look at Obama, and seeing from where he came and how he had seen his life as he was growing up. I knew that he was born biracial and that he had had a lot of his childhood in Hawaii, but apart from that (and from his actions from when he was in office), I didn’t know that much about him. After having read this book and looking back at his Presidency, I can understand so much more about how he sees the world, how his world view included everyone (as opposed to a few rich white men), and how he had to piece his own identity together from a scattered family.

Regardless of how you feel about Obama, his life is an interesting read. He’s not perfect, but there is much to admire, IMO, and he has always been honest in his flaws and used them as a framework to develop a more tolerant country in so many ways.

This was a fast and fascinating read for me to learn about our former President, one who (for me) is missed every day.