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10. Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians but were Afraid to Ask by Anton Treuer

A short book set out in FAQ format about Indian (he's American, it's their preferred terminology but as a Canadian it makes me twitch) culture, history, religion, languages, politics, economics, education. It's US-centric but a lot of it is applicable to the Canadian experience. Truer is Ojibwe from Minnesota so most of the examples are from Great Lakes or Great Plains tribes - which is great for me because those are similar groups to the first nations people where I grew up.

It's well written, warm and helpful even though almost all of the content is extremely angry-making. Another one you should all read.
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6. 1493: How Europe's Discovery of the Americas Revolutionized Trade, Ecology and life on Earth by Charles C Mann

The follow up to 1491, which I read recently. The thesis here is that every aspect of life on earth was affected by what Mann (borrowing from someone else) refers to as the Columbian Exchange - the movement of peoples, animals, plants and diseases around the world following the European discovery of America. He concentrates on a few examples in detail - tobacco, rubber, the Spanish shipping of silver around the world, slavery. For me the most interesting part was probably the chapter on runaway slave societies. I knew of their existence in, particularly, Jamaica, but not of their extent and, particularly in Brazil, how their existence still affects people today.

This one is even longer than 1491 but it's well worth the effort. There was a lot here that I knew, but loads that I didn't. Such as the fact that before the fens in England were drained, malaria was endemic to England.

I enjoyed 1491 more, but this one is a very important book too.
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2. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles C Mann

A while ago, someone on Facebook linked to an article that had a wealth of resources on the subject of native Americans. This one and its sequel struck me as something I had to read right away.

Through the course of his work, the author, a journalist, found out that most of what he was taught about native Americans and the Americas before Columbus is simply not true. He was then horrified that his son was being taught the same load of lies and decided to do something about it.

In a nutshell, the Americas were populated earlier than is usually thought, the pre-Columbus population was a lot higher than we have been told, and (perhaps most importantly) the landscape was not pristine wilderness but highly and sophisticatedly managed.

The other key fact is that most of the native Americans were wiped out by epidemic disease before Europeans got to them. Pizarro was easily able to defeat the Inca because they were in a state of civil war; that in turn happened because the ruler had died in a smallpox epidemic. If you read accounts of very early explorers they talk about encountering large populations; when the settlers came 100 or 200 years later they found an emptier landscape and wrote off what the original explorers observed as fantasy. Mann details how European weapons and armour weren't really better than the native versions; conquest and settlement were made easier by the fact that most of the European settlers encountered cultures already in crisis.

It opens with an area and culture I'd never even heard of (in what is now Bolivia), which was a good start. There is a lot about the Inca and the various Mesoamerican cultures. I've read a lot about these, but this book is still full of things I didn't know. Because they didn't use the wheel and only used metal for decoration, every book I've read highlights this aspect and therefore sees everything they did achieve as a kind of cute factoid and/or curiosity. Mann emphasizes how advanced and how well adapted these cultures were - I knew the facts about the way the Inca state was run but had somehow never appreciated just what an achievement it was; because it's always been presented as some kind of fluke.

This is not only an important book, it's a really good read. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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16. Loyal Till Death: Indians and the North-West Rebellion by Blake Stonechild and Bill Waiser

Arguably, the only interesting thing that ever happened in Saskatchewan is the Riel rebellion (although if you nerd for labour history there's the Bienfait miners' strike).[1][2] In school we were taught that the rebellion was an uprising of the Metis[4] and First Nations (only I'm old, our teachers still called them Indians) against the Canadian government.

This is the real story of the First Nations' involvement in the rebellion. Which, for the most part, was non-existent. Where it did happen, it was either due to disgruntlement with the local "Indian agent" and about very specific grievances, or they were coerced by Riel's forces. For the most part, the tribes (who had only come into treaties over the last 10-15 years after the collapse of the buffalo herds) took their treaties with the Queen very seriously. The Canadian government was already looking for an excuse to not uphold these, though, so were quick to cast them as rebels and broadcast lies and half-truths about events.

Like every history of the Canadian west, it's about how the white people screwed over the First Nations. There was lots in this book that I didn't know, because I went to school at the very tail end of the "white people are great!" era of education.

While of course the book is angry-making about the events, what made me angry is that they were still teaching something that was so patently wrong when I was in school 100 years later. The evidence has always been there, but nobody cared to set the story straight.

This was the easy one. While at home I also picked up another book about Riel that has "postcolonial" in the subtitle.

[1] Google them.
[2] Because while bootlegging was A Thing in Moose Jaw[3], the Al Capone connection is actually about his underlings and pretty dull.
[3] Yes, there's a town called Moose Jaw. My dad's from there, so don't start.
[4] Google that too.
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57. Hearts in Atlantis by Stephen King

A collection of five linked short stories (technically two novellas and three very short stories) touching, directly or indirectly on the Vietnam War.

The first two stories, the long ones, are amazing. The first, Low Men in Yellow Coats, is set in 1960 and is about a young boy who lives with his miserable, controlling single mother in a small town in Connecticut. An older man comes to live in their apartment building, and swiftly becomes friends with the boy, eve though the child is aware that the older man is crazy.

Or is he?...

It starts out a innocent childhood adventure, and turns into a tragedy in many ways, one of which may or may not be supernatural and documents how a very promising young man loses all hope in life and stops trying, before his life has even got started.

This one really stuck with me.

I didn't know this part has been made into a film - it's on later this week, and probably sucks, but as I've just read the book I'm going to record it anyway.

The second story, the title piece, is a coming-of-age story set at the University of Maine, Orono in 1966, where a bunch of young men learn to live on their own and become politically aware. Not a lot happens, but really emotional stuff.

I didn't get much out of the last three stories - they show how messed-up the Vietnam experience made people, and tie up some loose ends, but that's it.

These don't take up much room, so I do recommend this book.

58. Black Skies by Arnaldur Indridason

Went into the library to collect something else and this was sitting there - it's one of the detective series set in Reykjavik, and as we'd only just got back from there I couldn't resist.

The main character isn't the usual detective, Erlendur - who in this book is off on holiday. It follows his parter Sigurdur Oli. While Erlendur is the glummest detective in all of fiction, he's basically a likeable chap. Sigurdur is just a dick. He is, however, a really good detective.

59. The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan

Bought this one because the author was on The Daily Show and made it sound really interesting. It's about the women who worked at Oak Ridge in Tennessee enriching uranium as part of the Manhattan Project. In some places I would have liked more depth - it's largely an exercise in collecting the oral history of the women who were there before they die.

It was a completely surreal environment - tens of thousands of people shipped off to a city that grew up from nothing and didn't officially exist. Nobody could talk about their work, and nobody knew what it was that they were really doing, which made for an interesting way to try to build a society. In that way the somewhat jumping-around and episodic structure of the book mirrors life at Oak Ridge.

What is mainly interesting though, is how many women occupied quite senior roles within the Manhattan Project (not all at Oak Ridge, but Kiernan mentions some of the others) who have largely been written out of history. Because it was in Tennessee, Oak Ridge was segregated, and Kiernan doesn't pull her punches about how awful that was.

I'm completely failing to be coherent - it's not as excellent as I was hoping, but is an entertaining and informative read and definitely worth while.
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23. The Many-Headed Hydra - Sailors, Slaves, Commoners and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker

I finished this before I went on holiday but didn't have time to write it up.

This book is about (among other things) how some of the more radical ideas cooked up in the British Civil War (which were largely sold out as Cromwell established his power base) were taken to the New World by a collection of sailors, slaves, pirates, labourers, and indentured servants, including women. These ideas became the basis for the American revolution as well as more slave revolts than I can count. However, by the time of the actual Revolution, the likes of George Washington and Tom Paine were deeply suspicious of the lower classes, so this story got written out of history.

The book starts with the increasing enclosures and loss of the commons in the Tudor era, which were still a major issue by the time of the Civil War, and how the rise of capitalism and wage labour depends on the appropriation of the commons. Along the way it touches upon piracy in the Atlantic world, the multi-racial makeup of the English navy, indentured servitude (or, why I know Niall Ferguson is Not Even Wrong) and the real historical basis for Shakespeare's The Tempest.

Once again, I'm not doing it justice. It's fascinating, if somewhat information- and concept-dense, but is more than worth the effort it requires.

It's a must-read for anyone who cares about the people who get written out of history.


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