From the Bookshelf
Periodic musings on books I like.
Only once in my life as a historian has a book recommendation given to a friend actually turned out well. It was a couple of years ago, and a good friend of mine asked that I suggest a book he could give his father for Christmas.
I recommended the following:
Andrés Reséndez, A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca
(New York: Basic Books, 2007)
I had just assigned the book for an undergraduate course on the pre-1900 U.S. West and students ate it up. I loved Reséndez’s much-praised first book, Changing National Identities at the Frontier: Texas and New Mexico, 1800-1850, but it was a much denser academic study that I probably wouldn’t suggest as casual reading to my friend or his father.
A Land So Strange, however, is one of those rare titles that:
- Covers a fascinating topic. The sub-subtitle tells it all: “The Extraordinary Tale of a Shipwrecked Spaniard Who Walked Across America in the Sixteenth Century.”
- Is well-written in engaging prose.
- Is well-researched.
Points 2 and 3 are the real kickers for suggesting books to friends and family. There are plenty of amazing academic books that won’t appeal to general readers. Likewise, there are plenty of popular books that don’t quite stack up as “academic” well-researched scholarship. When people ask for suggestions, as a historian I can’t give them a popular title that is based on shoddy scholarship. But, I know that giving them a well-research, but dense, tome won’t serve any better a purpose. A Land So Strange was a perfect fit. And, from what I hear – his father loved it! Continue reading