Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Gift Ideas for Historians

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Ready or not, the gift-giving season is upon us! Whether you celebrate Sinterklaas, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or any other opportunity to give presents during the dark days of the winter solstice, we’ve got ideas aplenty. As in previous years, the ABC Staff has looked through their sections and hand-picked various choice literary jewels for your gift-giving pleasure.

We will present these titles in a series of blog posts and recommendation lists throughout the coming month. We hope you will find some inspiration in them, but please remember that these titles only represent a tiny fraction of the books on offer in our stores. Be sure to stop by to see what else there is in the area of your interest!

In this post we highlight books for the historian in your neighborhood from our Mythology and Early and World History sections, as well as from the Military History and Military Fiction sections.

You can find our gift ideas from previous years here (scroll down a bit to 2013 and beyond), and be sure to have a look at our ABC Favorites, too.


Ebook available for The Norse Myths (Penguin edition), Mythology and Bulfinch’s Mythology.


You Review: The Forgotten Man – Amity Shlaes, Chuck Dixon and Paul Rivoche

Friday, September 5th, 2014

Reviewed by Nafmi Sanichar-van Herwijnen

Let’s be blunt here: I don’t read non-fiction. However, I am interested in history and I am an avid comic and graphic novel reader. So the graphic adaptation of Amity Shlaes’s bestseller The Forgotten Man certainly seemed interesting.

Amity Shlaes, with the help of comic writer Chuck Dixon and artist Paul Rivoche, attempts to streamline her own novel into something more accessible. The Forgotten Man chronicles America’s fall into the Great Depression and the failed attempt to solve it with the infamous New Deal.

The Forgotten Man tries to add a human story to the facts. These human elements, fictional of course, as there are no records of private conversations between men and their wives, add some much needed levity to the otherwise dry material.

Rivoche’s art doesn’t really help, as the artist, in an attempt to bring the 1930s to life, changed his art style to match the comics of that era. Now while that does inspire a somewhat nostalgic feel to the book, the static and posed quality of comic art in the 1930s just makes the book more of a chore to read after a while.

The book’s one major redeeming factor, however, are the facts, and most of them are successfully integrated into the story. I found myself pleasantly surprised after finishing the book when I realized just how much I had actually learned.

I struggled to finish The Forgotten Man. It’s a difficult read, but also a very interesting one.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

There is no ebook available of this graphic novel adaptation, but there is an ebook for the original The Forgotten Man, as well as for another book by her, Coolidge.

Profiles in Printing: Bryna Hellmann

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Profiles in Printing is a series of short interviews conducted by Espresso Book Machine operator María Minaya with people who have self-published their work with us.  Featured today is Bryna Hellmann, author of The Time Between, In the Children’s Country and This Is Me, Becca.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m 86 going on 95 – yes, really, I expect to live a little longer.

I was born in the United States, and I lived there until I was 29. I grew up on the East Coast, went to college there, and then I went out to California because someone told me there were a lot of eligible men in San Francisco.  This was in the 50s, and I did indeed meet an eligible man.  We went to Germany to meet his parents and decided to stay when he got a job in the aircraft business.  In 1970, he was transferred to Fokker Aircfraft, and we came to Amsterdam.  I’ve lived here longer than any place else, and I intend to die here.  My kids can dump my ashes in a “gracht”.

For twenty years, I taught English Writing at The New School for Information Services, which I started in 1987.  I retired aged 78.  I’m gone, the college is still there.

How long have you been writing?

I started when I was about 8, so it’s 78 years. As soon as I could write, I started with little stories and my dad loved that. He encouraged and helped me.

What is your writing routine like?

I don’t write before I’ve done all my daily chores.  Then I sit down and write until I’m absolutely exhausted and it’s time for dinner.  Sometimes I’m so busy writing that I look up at the time, realize it’s four in the afternoon and I haven’t had lunch.

When I’m working on a book I do research ahead of time, to make sure I get the details right.  Then I try to write every day, at least three hours at a stretch.  I like to finish the scene I’m working on if I can.  The next day I’ll go through it and make the necessary editing changes.  Which means I might throw the whole thing out!

Please tell us about your book, The Time Between: 1940-1945.

I began with the idea of three different kinds of Jewish girls during the German occupation in the Netherlands.  I gave them names and backgrounds.  Pam is an assimilated Jew; her mother is not Jewish. Jo’s parents are very orthodox and have to hide in an attic. Jo, however, has curly blond hair, so she lives downstairs as “niece” of the people they’re staying with. Because she can pass for not-Jewish she joins the Resistance.  Hannah and her sister come from Berlin to Utrecht to live with an uncle, leaving their parents behind. Hannah gets recruited by the Germans via an SS officer who becomes her lover.

I started writing and discovered what their lives were like. The book writes itself; once you start you have characters that you have to be true to. You can’t have them doing things that they wouldn’t do if they were real. In this way, the plot evolves, and gradually comes together, in this instance via Pam’s brother Adriaan.

For the research, I visited the NIOD, the Dutch war archives, the Verzetsmuseum (Resistance Museum), the Jewish Historical Museum library and the city archives, and I spoke with 3 women who had been teenagers in the Netherlands at the time.  I know it sounds as if the book is more like history than fiction, but, honestly, 90% of what I found out was just to be sure that what I imagined was true to life.  It’s really a novel.

Why did you write it?

I taught English at a private Dutch high school in the 70s and 80s. I was amazed that the kids knew almost nothing about life in World War II other than Anne Frank, “the girl with red hair” and Soldier of Orange. My intention was to write The Time Between and get English teachers in the Netherlands to assign it or recommend it for the final exams. I want the book to be something students could identify with (girls particularly, of course), and that it be easy to read. There’s a lot of dialogue, but there’s also a lot of information woven into the story.  It is accessible to readers aged 14 and up, I think, and adult friends who’ve read it enjoyed it.

Another reason why writing this book was important to me is that my husband was German. He grew up in Nazi Germany and hated it. His brother wanted to join the SS, so he investigated the family tree as far back as 1732 to prove there were no Jews in the family.  My husband went to the United States in 1947, never intending to go back, and then we did after all.

How has the book been received?

I have given it to family and friends and people who’ve read it have loved it.  The best compliment about the book came from one of the three women I talked to as part of my research.  She asked me, “How did you know?”  She said it read as if I had lived through it.

I found 18 teachers here in Amsterdam who do final exams with their pupils and I sent each of them a copy of the book with a letter explaining why I had written it. Of the 18 teachers I got only one answer, from an Englishman! Not one Dutch teacher even bothered to say: “I got your book. Thank you, but we are not interested.”  I’d rather have a  “no” than no answer at all.

I also sent a copy to the Holocaust Archive in New York. The director wrote me back that the he was thrilled to get it, because they did not have anything about the Netherlands; not one single book.

How did you hear about self-publishing with ABC’s Espresso Book Machine?

I’m a long-time customer at the American Book Center. I saw the machine and I asked about it. I had already read about Jason Epstein, the man whose intellectual brain child the EBM was, and I was thrilled that Lynn had bought one. I’m a great believer in self-publishing.

You Review: Signed, Sealed, Delivered – Nina Sankovitch

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Review by Anouschka van Leeuwen

In her previous book, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, Nina Sankovitch took the reader along on her year-long project of reading one book a day, explaining what emotions the books triggered and how they related to her own life. Signed, Sealed, Delivered has the same spirit: this book is again a personal tale. After the discovery of an old box of letters, Sankovitch is inspired to look for the significance of written correspondence. Her findings result in a book, that like its predecessor, mixes the genres of non-fiction and memoir. Unfortunately, I found both of these aspects a bit disappointing.

Concerning the author’s personal reflections, I found that the initial story of the discovery of the old letters was a nice introduction to the book’s subject. However, after a while the author’s sentiments became a bit irksome to me. For example, Sankovitch often expresses how she wishes that her children will write to her once they leave for college so that she will have a memento of their love for her. Although touching, after a few times these motherly sentiments started to become repetitive and did not have any added value to the main subject of the book.

At times, I found that this melodramatic tone made me wish that Sankovitch had tried to approach the subject from a more theoretical perspective, which brings me to my second concern. When I started the book, I had expected something along the lines of an essay explaining the appeal of letter writing. Instead, the majority of the book consists of examples of both famous and non-famous letter writers and receivers.

This is not to say that the book was not entertaining. On the contrary: the example stories are often compelling and sometimes even taught me a thing or two (like the history of Heloise and Abelard and how letter writing played a role in their lives). Still, I felt like the author missed out on the opportunity to delve deeper into the psychological aspects of written correspondence, especially in this digital age. Each chapter centers around a particular function that letters may fulfill, and in between the stories, Sankovitch sometimes drops a line that summarizes the effects that reading or writing a letter can have. I think I would have liked it better if these reflective parts had taken up more space in the book.

To summarize, I have mixed feelings about this book. Being an avid letter writer myself, I have enjoyed the numerous tales that illustrate the appeal of letters. On the other hand, readers who are expecting a philosophical or psychological account of letter writing should realize that Signed, Sealed, Delivered is not intended as such. Instead, it should be seen as a compilation of the most romantic or otherwise touching stories in the history of the handwritten letter.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

No ebook available for Signed, Sealed, Delivered, but there is one of her earlier book: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair.

Pulitzer Prize Winners 2014

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Congratulation to everyone who won a 2014 Pulitzer Prize last night!  The full list can be found here; the winners in the Letters and Drama categories are:

Fiction: The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt *
Drama: The Flick – Annie Baker
History:  The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 – Alan Taylor
Biography or Autobiography:  Margaret Fuller: A New American Life – Megan Marshall
Poetry: 3 Sections – Vijay Seshadri
General Nonfiction: Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation – Dan Fagin

* True story:  I saw my very first goldfinch yesterday morning as I was on a run!  I should have kept running to the nearest bookie, obviously.  :-)  Very pretty and quick bird, and very striking, too.