Study the past if you want to define the future – Confucius

Every book I read unlocks a little piece of history. Every book changes my view on the world. It makes me feel alive. Sometimes it seems like the whole world is on fire. Be it war, disease, natural disaster, politics or some other calamity. At least that’s the sense I get when I look at the news. (You know the US news circuit is going bat-shit crazy when I have to get my daily news from Al Jazeera) It can be a real bummer. Reading takes me to a different place, to a different time. It’s fascinating to read about my heroes as a kid, and to find out they’re actually human and flawed, just like me. The struggle is real for everyone. These are my favorite books of the year so far, including the device that started it all. 

    Crazy Horse and Custer. Stephen E. Ambrose

Mr. Ambrose did an amazing job of putting the reader in the saddle of Crazy Horse and Custer. I remember reading about ‘Custer’s Last Stand’ as a kid. He was often portrayed as a hero of the ‘Republic’. Turns out Custer was an impulsive asshole who selfishly sacrificed the lives of his men at the Little Big Horn. Turns out there’s a bunch of stuff I didn’t know about that time period. There’s so much depth to the story surrounding the lives two young men.They literally lived parallel lives from two completely different worlds. Both of them were fierce, aggressive warriors, warriors that were representative of their respective nations. The wars fought on the Great Plains (there was a number of them) were brutal and unforgiving. It was a clash of two cultures. I can sit my fat ass on the recliner and point out where both Custer and Crazy Horse went wrong. So it usually is in hindsight. But when it comes down to it, it was different time, a different world, a different set of circumstances. I highly suggest this book for anyone with an interest in the Great Plains Wars and the men that lead it.

 Grant. Ron Chernow

This was no doubt my favorite book of the year. It’s hard to fathom what struggles men like Ulysses Grant had to go through during the Civil War years. It wasn’t just the Civil War that was brutal, but life in general at that time… simply brutal. When I read history books in the past about Grant, I could never get a full-visual picture of what it would be like to live during that time. Mr. Chernow’s book put me in the boots of a Union Army officer campaigning from Fort Donelson in the West to Cold Harbor in the East. The fighting was absolutely vicious. Like unimaginable.

Ulysses Grant attended West Point and shortly after fought in the Mexican-American War. He left the service after an incident concerning alcohol. It would follow him the rest of his life. He failed in almost every business endeavor after he initially left the service. When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, Grant was at a low point but would, through trial of battle, become the THE officer in charge of all Union forces. Grant and his number 2, General Tecumseh Sherman, understood that in order to win the war they would have to conduct ‘total war’, or unrestricted war. That’s pretty hard to imagine these days. After the war he would become a two term President who was more often than not the target of the US press (which was unusually brutal at the time) as well as other outside elements. The end of the book literally brought me to tears. It felt like I had ran a marathon. It was amazing and I highly recommend it.

Empire of the Summer Moon. S.C. Gwynn

This book sent me on a mission to research my family roots. According to family records on my fathers side, I’m kin to Cynthia Anne Parker, who was the mother of Quanah Parker.

“Empire of the Moon” revealed just how different the Comanches were than all of the other Great Plains tribes. They were OFP. They were known primarily for their ferocity in combat and also as expert horsemen. Quanah was an effective chief, a brave warrior and a primary provider for his people. Quanah was the last ‘Quahadi’ Comanche chief to surrender to the US Army around 1875. After surrendering, he accepted that his life as a ‘roaming’, free Comanche warrior was essentially over. His assimilation into this new way of life (the White mans way of life) went relatively well considering. One of the ways I can relate to him is by that quick turnover from combat to peace. That vulnerability of “what the hell do I do now”.

Over time he earned his place as the leader of all Comanches. He did well for himself but died a somewhat poor man (because he was always giving to his fellow Comanches). He held the respect of everyone he encountered. He was a Chief, a leader, a warrior, a provider, an entrepreneur but always and primarily Comanche at heart. I hope after more research, that I’m able to to connect the dots and find out if I am truly related to Quanah Parker.

Rebel Yell. S.C. Gwynn

Thomas Jackson, known to people at the time as Stone Wall Jackson, was an anomaly to most people he encountered. He was another West Pointer. After graduating, he fought bravely during the Mexican-American War as an artillery officer. He eventually took a teaching position at VMI (Virginia Military Institute) where he wasn’t exactly respected as a professor by his students, or peers. He was that odd guy that most people shrugged off. He received the name “Stone Wall” after distinguishing himself at the Battle of Bull Run where his brigade beat back a fierce Union assault and held their ground like a stone wall. From there he rose through the ranks and aggressively, some of his own men would say fanatically, pursued an offensive strategy against the Yankees. Stonewall Jackson was the example of Southern grit and was labeled so in the Southern press. His soldiers respected him but also suffered extreme hardships along the way. Most of the time he was outnumbered so he had to rely on speed and maneuver to land surprising, crushing blows on the Union. There’s so much detail on his campaigns that I was unaware of before. I could almost see myself on one of Jackson’s many forced marches, pursuing the Union Army through the Shenandoah valley. Amazing book.