Saturday, July 08, 2006

National Geographic Non Fiction Round Up

National Geographic Books, by way of Raab Associates. Since my grown up/ adult reading consists mainly of non-fiction, I was curious to take a look at some of the books being published for children by National Geographic.

Moving North: African American and the Great Migration, 1915-1930 by Monica Halpern. A good introduction to the African American migration before the Depression, including the how and why people migrated from the South to the North. There's a little bit of everything, including details of life in the city compared to life in the country. As expected, there is an emphasis on the Harlem Renaissance. I think details about history are important, to help the reader connect to the past (as Farm School's recent Understood Betsy quote illustrates). One example from this book: the details about apartments and rents, how much the average rent was, how landlords tried to take advantage, and things like that. Also good: the sources included websites, such as The African-American Mosaic from The Library of Congress and The Northern Migration of Sharecroppers in the 1920s.

Killing Germs, Saving Lives: The Quest for the First Vaccines by Glen Phelan. Whenever anyone starts rambling about how the good old days were better, I think about two things: indoor plumbing and medical care. (After my recent June visit to New Orleans, make that three things: indoor plumbing, medical care and air conditioning.) I can even laugh at myself, as I use my anti-bacterial hand lotion; yeah, as if that makes a difference, and how ironic, as I'm living during a time and in a nation where vaccines and have increased the life expectancy and quality of life. Anyway, I was pleased with how this book presented germs and how doctors treated illness. One thing that surprised me was the level of human experimentation necessary to create an effective vaccine; but it's only common sense, because what else could people do 100 or so years ago? Since this is a kid's book, the vaccines work, people live, but I can't help but wonder about failed experiments. It was also interesting to read about the personal life behind the scientists, including that of Louis Pasteur, who buried three of his five children. "Good old days"? Nope.

Voices from Colonial America: New York 1609 - 1776 by Michael Burgan with Timothy J. Shannon, Ph.D.,Consultant. When walking in New York City, it's hard to imagine that it was ever anything but a city of skyscrapers. This book is about more than NYC, but NYC does figure prominently in this history. I also like it because it seems that too often US History gives a sentence or two to Colonial America (and its usually to mention Roanoke, Jamestown, Plymouth, and suddenly it's Revolution time). This is part of a series that examines the colonies in the time between European settlement and 1776. I liked the timelines and sources; and the way it covered settlement by the various European countries and religion. It includes original prints, quotes, and highlights people and events.

Saladin: The Muslim Warrior Who Defended His People by Flora Geyer. Part of the reason I was intrigued by this book is because I'm a big fan of Eleanor of Aquitaine, and because of her Richard the Lionheart. And Robin Hood. So of course I was interested in this biography of Saladin. It gives a concise look at Saladin, his world, and his battles, and is clear about when it crosses into conjecture (i.e., instead of saying Saladin did something, saying it would have been true of most boys his age.) The book is full of pictures and photographs, maps and timelines. Because of the pictures, and the photographs of artifacts and historic locations, this book seemed modern; it wasn't limited by the black and white of early photography and 19th century etchings. This also provides a look at the complexity of the Muslim world during Saladin's life.

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