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DK’s Big Ideas Simply Explained Series

It’s likely that, at one time or another, you’ve perused a guide by DK, the British-based publisher of illustrated reference books in 60+ languages. This multinational publisher has numerous series that cover a seemingly endless list of topics, such as arts and culture, health and beauty, language learning, religions and ideas, transportation, and much more. Regardless of which series or topic, their books tend to be thorough (some would say dense), visual (some would say overstimulating), and full (some would say jam-packed). Generally, there’s a lot happening – text, charts, timelines, images/photos, quotes, illustrations, micro-bios, etc. – at once on any given page. In my experience, people either adore or abhor them, with little opinion in between. Me? I adore them!

My most recent DK adventure took me through three titles from their Big Ideas Simply Explained series: The Art Book, The Economics Book, and The Philosophy Book. Rather than discuss each book individually, I’ll treat them collectively. I might mention, too, that these are but three of 20+ topics covered in this series. Others include astronomy, business, history, literature, movies, politics, science, and more. Two people are covered so in-depth that entire volumes are dedicated to them—Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes.

Each of the three that I reviewed are around 350 pages, with similar layouts: a 3-4 page table of contents (which is itself illustrated); a 4-6 page introduction; six sections that cover the big ideas in that field; and, in the economics and philosophy books, a directory and glossary, while the art book contains a glossary and, rather than a directory, portfolio and quotation sources. The books are, as is typical of reference-style nonfiction, larger and somewhat heavy, thus more of a coffee table or lap book than one you’d want to accidentally drop on your face when holding it above, reading before bedtime. They are textbook-ish (which I like).

This series lends itself well to either reading the whole book (though I did not read each from cover to cover), reading bits and pieces here and there, or reading section by section (and not necessarily in the order that they are presented). Of the three, I spent the most time with The Art Book. Like in the other books, each section begins with an introduction that includes a timeline through a particular period in that subject. For example, the “Romanticism to symbolism” timeline spans 1800-1893, beginning with Francisco de Goya’s The Naked Maja (which he got into trouble for) and ending with Edvard Munch’s ubiquitous The Scream.

Unique to The Art Book, however, is the “Portfolio” at the end of each section, which lists influential artists/works for that period. The “Portfolio” equivalent in The Economics Book and The Philosophy Book is the “Directory” at the end of the books that list people important to those fields. Additionally, “See also” cross-references are listed, which helps connect theorists and philosophers not only to one another, but to other aspects of the ideas that they represent in a manner that’s different than how they’re contextualized within the text proper. You could, if you wanted to, just read the directory listings and their associated “See also” pages to learn about certain people or theories somewhat thematically (rather than chronologically).

DK promotes this series as a “graphic and quote-led approach.” Indeed, it is. What I like about this approach is that the graphics and quotes – some of which take up whole pages – break up the text nicely while vividly illustrating the points discussed. The “In context” text boxes, which are found throughout the series, are especially helpful, as are the biographical text boxes, which offer a short list of key works.

I realize that I’m writing more about how the books may be used than how they read. For me, usability is part of what makes books like these good. If the organization of information within is not approachable, or accessible in different ways, then the book is less usable. Although I haven’t thumbed through all the books in the Big Ideas Simply Explained series, I assume that they’re comparably organized. Sure, there’s a lot going on from cover to cover – illustrations, graphics, photographs, quotes, asides, and such – and, I admit, that may become distracting, overwhelming even, but, overall, I find the books in this series very usable. And I look forward to more!

As always, happy reading.

Mend! : A Refashioning Manual and Manifesto by Kate Sekules

Over the last couple of years there has been a movement back toward mending. Rather than getting rid of old clothes, you can grab a needle and thread and give them a new life with a few simple techniques. And if the techniques are simple, they can be made complicated – that is where visible mending comes in.

Rather than mending to hide holes and tears, visible mending seeks to celebrate them. Using contrasting fabrics for patches and bold thread colors for seams and darns, visible menders draw attention to their work. They also turn their mass-produced wardrobe into a collection of one-of-a-kind pieces.

Have you ever had to throw out your favorite sweater just because it had a small hole? Visible mending may be for you!

At Joplin Public Library, we have a few books about visible mending – in fact, three have been added in the past year – but my favorite is MEND! : A REFASHIONING MANUAL AND MANIFESTO by KATE SEKULES.

Kate Sekules is a writer, clothes historian, mender, and mending educator; and in Mend! she brings all of these skills to the table. Her book delves into the history of mending worldwide, and into the current renaissance it is having today.

The book is organized into seven chapters that tell the story of mending: What, Why, When, Who, Where, How, and Which. “What” provides a brief introduction to the concept of visible mending.

In “Why,” Sekules talks about the cost of manufactured clothing on the planet, from poor working conditions in factories to the piles of clothing that end up in our landfills.

“When” examines the history of visible mending – starting with the Copper Age patchwork fur pants of Otzi the Iceman and ending with the psychedelic color palettes of 1970s hippie couture.

Sekules showcases the other artists currently making waves in the visible mending movement in the fourth chapter, “Who.”

“Where” discusses storage of your mending materials and organization plans for your wardrobe. Just because you haven’t worn an old skirt in the past year doesn’t mean it needs to be thrown out. Maybe you should add some embellishments and give it a whole new style!

Mend! turns its attention to methods in chapter six, “How.” This chapter provides new menders with a vocabulary to get started, as well as illustrated techniques for basic stitches. Sekules also offers advice for dealing with specific fabric, and finding time for mending.

“Which” follows up with project examples. Since every tear is different, Sekules does not give step-by-step instructions for a project. She gives examples of damage and provides readers with a suggestion for a mending technique.

This book is not a craft project book. There are not any patterns to cut out or numbered instructions to follow. It is a book of ideas; a place to find inspiration. Flip through it just out of curiosity, and when you splatter paint on your best jeans, check this book out again to remember how you do a satin stitch, or what kind of patch fabric works best with denim.

Mend! is full of useful graphs and charts, but it also has its fair share of photographs. And don’t forget that Kate Sekules is a clothes historian – she has a picture of King Tut’s 3,350-year-old mended kerchief, and lots of stories to tell about clothing.

My favorite anecdote from this book has to do with what Sekules calls “the opposite of mending.” In the late 1300s, people were shredding their clothes on purpose. Hoods, gowns, and doublets all received intricate, decorative slashes – probably to mimic the way a knight’s clothes would become slashed in battle.

So whether you’re wearing a punk rock shirt with the sleeves torn off, or pre-ripped jeans you bought at the store, you have these fashion rebels from the 1300s to thank.

As the pages of this book will tell you, visible mending is nothing new. It used to be a necessity to look after the few clothes you were able to afford. Although clothing is much easier to come by these days, we can still choose to be more careful with the clothes we have.

With inspiration from Mend!, and a few basic tools, you can revolutionize your wardrobe and make it as individual as you. But be careful, you may find yourself starting to wish that your clothes would fall apart!

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Houseplants for All: How to Fill Any Home with Happy Plants by Danae Horst

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve impulsively purchased houseplants only to get them home and realize that perhaps I’m not able to provide an environment in which they’ll thrive. Yet I try. As of this writing, I have about 30, most of which do well enough alongside a few that sort of languish. A languishing plant is a sad sight to behold, so I sought a solution and found it in Danae Horst’s Houseplants for All: How to Fill Any Home with Happy Plants.

In her introduction, Horst admits, “Unfortunately, enjoying plants and keeping them happy do not always have a direct correlation” and she discusses her experience with collecting houseplants, unknowingly making mistakes, and watching them struggle or die. Like many of us who’ve watched our houseplants die slow deaths, Horst began questioning her plant-parenting abilities. After making a move with a handful of houseplants that she managed to keep alive, she continued caring for them and learning more about them, eventually having the “Aha” moment that she needed: “When I began to choose plants based on what they needed rather than just how I wanted my home to look, I found my plants seemed happier and healthier.” Aha, indeed!

In Houseplants for All, Horst debunks what she calls the “back thumb myth” and shares with us the essentials we must understand to be able to choose plants based on their needs rather than just our preferences. Also, she teaches us how to assess our space and what we’re able to provide, as well as advice for creating environments in which plants will thrive. Plus, she includes design tips and plant profiles throughout the book, which are accompanied by bright, beautiful photographs. Although a lot of information is packed into fewer than 200 pages, its arranged and presented in an approachable manner.

In section one, “the right plants for you,” we learn about the misconceptions and truths of light and humidity and how they impact the health and happiness of plants. Particularly helpful is the explanation of how light comes in through our windows and the definitions of the different types of light we’ll find within our homes. Also, Horst further defines the light terms we encounter on plant care cards. For example, “partial shade or mixed shade” for outdoor plants is equivalent to “a mix of direct sun and bright indirect light” in houseplants. Suggestions for how to measure light within your home, whether by observation, with a light meter, or an app on your phone, are included. Section one concludes with humidity and light strength “quizzes” that are less like quizzes and more like questionnaires with flow charts to help us measure and determine how much of each we do (or do not) have in our homes so we may plant accordingly.

Section two, “environment profiles,” is my favorite section of the book, as it breaks them down into five easily understood profiles: bright and sunny space, lower light space, humid space, indoor-outdoor space, and shifting light. Each profile begins with the pros and cons of having that type of space. For example, a pro of a bright space is that you’ll have more plant options, but you’ll need to water more often because they’ll dry out quicker. Each environment profile goes on to include the different types of light you might encounter within that profile, as well as specific suggestions for which plants will do well in that type of space. Detailed plant profiles, care, placement, and styling tips are also a part of each environment profile, as well as other tidbits.

Section three, the final section of the book, is applicable to caring for plants in all environment types, as it covers the “plant care essentials,” from the basics of choosing healthy plants at the store to various methods of watering and propagating them. “Plant Problems” and “Pets and Plants” are great subsections within this section.

Horst concludes her title with a list of further resources and a reminder that “plant care is a journey” and that we’ll no doubt make, as well as learn from, the mistakes we make along the way. In the 20 years that I’ve kept houseplants, I’ve made mistakes aplenty and learned a lot. I wish that I would’ve had a book like this back when I started my journey, but I’m glad to have it now. I recommend it to houseplant aficionados and beginners alike.

As always, happy reading.

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Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World by Andrea Pitzer

Tales of polar expeditions haunt because we know how they end. In the early 20th century, pack ice crushed Ernest Shackleton’s ship, dashing his race to trek Antarctica. Even this is a relative success as all crew members survived. Not so for John Franklin’s 1845 expedition to find the fabled Northwest Passage. He and his crew were never heard from again. (The British government subsequently investigated their disappearance. Perhaps they should’ve left well enough alone lest unpleasant answers surface, such as those told via eyewitness Inuits: The shipwrecked crew cannibalized each other. News of this scandalized England.)
In “Icebound: Shipwrecked at the Edge of World,” Andrea Pitzer takes us back even further, to William Barents’ 1596 quest to find a northeastern route to China. Brisk and informative, it’s also stress-laden from bow to stern. Precariously, we sail up and around Nova Zembla, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean just north of Russia. Storms threaten to snap our mast. Polar bears prowl and then attack. It’s constant tacking to slip evermoving sea ice, some akin to floating mountains. On one occasion, we pass through an ice canyon, which is equal parts mesmeric and terrifying. (“Snow and hail lacquered the ships white, turning them into ghost ships.”) We’re sailing into the unknown. And Barents attempts this journey three times.
A Dutchman, Barents manifested his country’s spirit of the day: capitalize on Far East trade. Spain and Portugal had already made numerous entries into the Southern Hemisphere, so the Dutch looked for a way to expedite trade that avoided the arduous journey around the Cape of Good Hope and awaiting pirates. Of course the Dutch knew that there was a reason no northern route yet existed. But they also were hoping to underscore a long-standing argument that if one could make it past the ice, there’s a chance conditions would moderate. The idea of a temperate North Pole was something that respected cartographers took seriously. As Pitzer notes, Barents and Dutch merchants chose to believe this “lethal delusion.”
Barents didn’t command these voyages; he navigated. While he was in high standing among the crew, his singular goal to complete a voyage often collided with the crew’s singular goal to survive. Most of the book surrounds the third voyage and the sea ice’s eventual victory. Barents and crew must winter on Nova Zembla, and Pitzer’s telling of their ordeal is as harrowing as you can imagine. Without trapping arctic foxes, it’s hard to see how they would have survived. Scurvy had weakened them to the point they could barely function, not that they could do much outside anyway. Often, the structure they built was completely buried in snow during the long polar night.
And then, of course, the polar bears. Pitzer writes of their “lethal magnificence,” and that “each bear offered the same fusion of the mundane and the mythic as the Arctic itself.” Even a felled polar bear almost killed the crew. Desperate for sustenance, but loathing polar bear meat, they devoured the bear’s liver. This almost killed them because a polar bear’s liver contains a lethal dose of Vitamin A.
The asides that Pitzer offers throughout the book are welcome relief from reading of the sailors’ miseries. I learned that most European sailors of the time didn’t know how to swim. And even though we are in the nascent stages of the scientific revolution, superstition still often carried the day. Dutch sailors crossing the equator for the first time had to pay a fine in honor of Poseidon, god of the sea. Also, seeing a parhelion (where ice crystals in the atmosphere refract the illusion of two or three suns) was a good omen to sailors. (Of course, superstition and sailing seem forever entwined.)
Pitzer states that, in terms of making preparations, it’s somewhat perplexing that Barents didn’t learn from his two erstwhile attempts. It’s a good point because he was almost snared by ice during those voyages as well. Perhaps it can be attributed to European hubris of the era: The rest of the world is to be conquered, and we are the ones who will do it. On one of the earlier expeditions, the crew, sailing Russia’s northern coast, came across an indigenous man. Instead of inquiring how he and others survived in this unforgiving climate, they asked him if the territory they were on belonged to “the grand duke of Moscow.” The Nenets man had no idea whom they were talking about. No matter. They tried to kidnap him nonetheless. The same applied to animals. See a walrus? Kill it and take only the tusks. Tragi-comically, on their first expedition they thought they could catch and actually hold a live polar bear aboard the ship. They were quickly disabused of that notion.
Escape from what they called Ice Harbor did not happen until June 1597. Barents did not survive the return, dying next to the sea that would bear his name. (Sailors would also call the sea “the devil’s dance floor.”) He and his crew had discovered Spitsbergen, sailing farther north than any known human. But it’s their story of survival that captivated. A handful of years later, Shakespeare made mention of it in “Twelfth Night”: “where you will hang like an icicle on a Dutchman’s beard.”
Barents’ voyages changed how polar regions were seen. They became destinations to be explored, not thoroughfares to other lands. According to Pitzer, Barents “launched another identity for explorers: the beleaguered polar hero.” These new explorers would be less concerned with linking known lands than with exploring the unknown as the end itself. And their hallmarks were suffering and endurance.
Pitzer eventually discusses what most readers will be thinking throughout the book: Barents sailed 400 years too soon. Disappearing sea ice is a fraught subject, and Pitzer’s book shows us what’s being lost. The polar wild now includes emaciated polar bears clinging to melting floes. In writing the book, Pitzer made a trip to behold Ice Harbor. The current that sent driftwood to the shores—thus providing life-saving fuel for Barents and crew to burn—now sends plastic trash. As I said, this book is stressful.

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The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker

”THE ART OF GATHERING” is PRIYA PARKER‘s gift to those wanting to put together a successful and memorable gathering. She has used her years of field work to create a guide for planning and hosting more authentic and people-centered gatherings.

According to Parker, gathering “is the conscious bringing together of people for a reason” and she feels event planners and hosts have a responsibility to think outside the box and create something meaningful and unforgettable. She believes that the “way a group is gathered determines what happens in it and how successful it is; the little design choices you make can help your gathering soar.”

What makes this book special is Parker’s unique experience. She is an expert in conflict resolution and has planned events for leaders from around the world, so she has had a lot of practice in bringing people together. In this one-of-a-kind offering, she translates her passion around gathering into eight concise chapters that teach the reader the highlights of gathering.

To say Parker is a frequent host is an understatement. She is almost always planning an event or is being invited to a gathering. This allows her to give numerous examples of successful events and, more importantly, examples of lackluster or failed gathering. She talks frequently of what parts of her gatherings have not been successful and the things she has done to remedy the issues either during the gathering or at future gatherings. Readers can tell that she is constantly observing all the gatherings she attends for ideas and ways to strengthen her own events.

 

Chapters are focused on such topics as:

1. Determining if a gathering is necessary.

2. Being selective during the invite process.

3. Being a generous host.

4. Creating a temporary world for guests

5. Logistics are not the way to start an event

6. Being vulnerable both as a host and an attendee

7. Creating a little controversy can make some gatherings more interesting.

8. Ending the gathering in an appropriate way.

 

Key takeaways for me:

• The event is not the be all, end all. Start “priming” guests well before any gathering. Parker suggests naming the gathering in a way that suggests expectations, and reaching out between the invitation and the gathering.

• Create an alternate world (it can be simple, with ground rules that exist only during the gathering) and welcome guests across a “threshold” into that newly created world.

• Logistics should not be covered first. Her chapter title, “Never Start a Funeral With Logistics” and the example of the funeral director giving parking instructions while people are weeping for their loved one, further drives this point home.

• Foster authenticity and vulnerability among guests; hosts should help lead the way with their own vulnerability.

• A gathering’s final moments “should be authentic” and hosts should prepare their guests for reentering the real world after the gathering is finished.

The only chapter that I struggled with was “Creating a little controversy can make some gatherings more interesting.” In this chapter, Parker talks about incorporating “good controversy” into gatherings. While we often hear other experts saying we should not air our differences of thought on certain subjects, such as politics and religion, at gatherings, Parker disagrees. She does not advocate talking about hot button topics willy-nilly and writes that they need to be “designed for and given structure” with a plan for adding some “heat” to gatherings without letting them “burn up in flames.” And the end goal must be worth the discomfort the controversy brings.

She shares several examples of incorporating “good controversy,” with the most interesting being a “cage match” style debate session for a design firm she was working with. This controversy added a fun, passionate and helpful element to the gathering and in turn helped the participants make a pivotal work decision that they had been dancing around. It was her ability to plan for and manage the controversy that made it work. This might be harder for inexperienced hosts, which is why I may have struggled with this chapter.

As a whole, Parker has created a well-written and compelling guide. As I work to plan gatherings, I find myself thinking about her book and what she would suggest for each element. I am eager to continue to practice her suggestions and make the gatherings I am a part of more authentic and distinctive. This book is a must read for anyone planning a gathering — weddings, meetings, conferences, funerals, birthday parties, dinners, etc. No matter the size or scope of the event, there is something for everyone.

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Good Mail Day: A Primer for Making Eye-Popping Postal Art by Jennie Hinchcliff and Carolee Gilligan Wheeler

In 2014 we, meaning Post Art Library (the privately funded not-for-profit arts organization located inside Joplin Public Library since 1981), put out a call for entry for mail art. The idea was to create a one-off exhibit of mail art received from all over the world to introduce locals to the medium and encourage their participation. At the time, I was myself somewhat new to engaging with mail art and my experience with the world-wide mail art Network – yes, that’s a thing – was limited at best. Yet there I was, helping to coordinate a mail art call for entry and co-curate the resulting show. Enter Jennie Hinchcliff and Carolee Gilligan Wheeler’s Good Mail Day: A Primer for Making Eye-Popping Postal Art.

This book differs from other mail art books that I’ve read (such as Mail Me Art by Darren Di Lieto and Correspondence Art, edited by Michael Crane and Mary Stofflet, both of which are wonderful) in that it’s not only a gallery of mail art, but a sort of mail art workshop, as the authors offer oodles of advice for how to make mail art, start a mail art project, and navigate the mail art world. Plus, it introduces readers to mail art terminology and, perhaps most importantly, mail art etiquette.

But what’s mail art? A basic, common definition of mail art (a.k.a. correspondence or postal art) is that mail art is when people send small-scale works of art to one another through the postal service, often with the package itself being considered the work of art. Frankly, that definition falls flat and fails to describe the vibrancy of this decades-long movement. In my experience, the best way to describe mail art is to hand someone a stack of it. The only sure thing about mail art is that it is, as Hinchcliff and Gilligan Wheeler write, for everyone: “Anyone can be a mail artist, regardless of skill level or style of artwork.” The mail art itself is all over the place and all mediums are welcome. (The authors remind us, however, not to send anyone anything that we don’t want to deal with in our own mailboxes, such as perishable items.)

Although mail art is for everyone, the Network, like any other, has some basic rules. Namely, that “every piece of mail art that comes into your mailbox should receive some sort of acknowledgement in return.” That is, send something back! In the mail art world, this reciprocity is known as documentation. “No returns” is another tenet of mail art exchanges, meaning that each piece you receive is yours to keep, just as each piece you send out is someone else’s to keep. I appreciate that Hinchcliff and Gilligan Wheeler tell us the rules and “Time-honored Traditions” of mail art culture at the start. It’s as if they’re telling us that if we cannot respect those rules, then we needn’t read further or participate.

Of course, there are non-Network rules that mail artists must abide by, such as those of the postal service (or services, when mailing internationally). As such, we’re reminded to become familiar with our local postal regulations and to keep in mind that mail is categorized based not only on shape, but on thickness and weight. For example, if an envelope exceeds the maximum dimensions or thickness, then it may be categorized as a package and, accordingly, require more postage. The chapter that touches on regulations also includes “The Ten Commandments of Mail Art,” “The Seven Sins of Mailing,” and “Seven Suggestions for Shepherding Your Mail Art Safely to Its Destination.” You’ll also find tips on wooing your mail carrier and becoming friends with those who work in the post office.

The bulk of the book isn’t about defining mail art or mail art rules, but about having fun and making mail art. A few pages cover turning everyday objects, such as produce stickers, wrappers, leaves, and bird feathers into mailable mail art. What to do with those old dryer sheets? Mail them! As the authors discovered, they make for durable mail art. The point is that you may creatively make use of whatever you have nearby and whatever you find laying around, like found objects, old catalogs, junk mail, etc.

Ideas for decorating and illustrating envelopes, whether ready-made or those you create yourself, are included in this title, as are other techniques, such as paper-folding, texturing, and creating patterns, as well as stenciling, faux postage and artistamps, refining your handwriting, finding pen pals, and developing your postal personality.

My old friend, Chapter 10, details how to start a mail art project of your own, including writing a call for entry, creating documentation, and developing a correspondence register, which is more involved than keeping a list or address book of mail art contacts because it has more information. For example, a correspondence register might have columns for name, address, what you received, when you received it, what you sent back, when you sent it, and any other tidbits that you’d care to include. Trust, when coordinating a mail art project, which involves sending documentation (i.e. mail art thank yous) to those who send to you, a register is handy!

“You Can Take It with You: The Traveling Mail Art Kit,” is one of my favorite chapters. In the chapter, the authors emphasize that “mail art can happen anywhere, at any time, and in any place.” Think a waiting room that you’re stuck in, when you’re on hold making a phone call, or utilizing public transportation, or some such situation. The idea behind the mail art kit is that it’s possible to make mail art even when time is limited. The “Suggested Items for a Well-stocked Mail Art Kit” list is great, though your kit may contain whatever you like. What’s in my kit varies from time to time, though at minimum it includes stamps, stationary, and a few envelopes.

Peppered throughout the book are mini-interviews with mail artists from around the world, as well as great visuals, with the book ending with a mail art gallery followed by a contributor’s list, further resources, and an envelope template. Interestingly, the authors became friends when getting to know one another through mail art after meeting at a book arts event. Thus, the mail art that they’ve exchanged is a visual account of how their friendship developed—so cool!

So, is Good Mail Day a good primer for aspiring mail artists? Indeed, as it continues to guide me through what started as a one-off mail art project in 2014 and has since turned into an ongoing project for our growing collection. At the time of this writing, we have 300+ pieces of mail art from around the world in our collection and we’re about half-way into our third mail art exhibit, which is accompanied by an active call for entry. Visit us at www.postartlibrary.org to learn more about Post Mail Art Projekt 2021: Show Me Mail Art and check out Hinchcliff and Gilligan Wheeler’s Good Mail Day to learn how to get started.

As always, happy reading. And happy mailing!

Historic Missouri Roadsides by Bill Hart

This book review is a celebration of sorts of both the Missouri Bicentennial (2021) and National Preservation Month, also known as Historic Preservation Month (May). In Historic Missouri Roadsides, author, historian, and preservationist Bill Hart takes us on a two-lane highway trip through several of Missouri’s small-town destinations, introducing us to, or reacquainting us with, what they have to offer.

Before taking us on the road, Hart breaks down the “how to” of using his book, pointing out that how long each trip takes to complete is, in fact, up to the traveler. Each stop along two-lane Missouri includes basic historical information about the place, suggestions for where to eat and stay, as well as for where to visit and what to do. Hart reminds us that these trips are meant to be leisurely rather than a race from point A to point B: “Chill. You’re not traveling on two lanes to win any races […].”

These adventures are arranged neatly into six road trips: Missouri Highway 79 / The River Road; El Camino Real; Route 100 / Gottfried Duden & the Lewis and Clark Trail; Osage Hills and Prairies; Mostly Route 24; and The Platte Purchase. Each tour begins with a summary about the trip and information about where, exactly, to start, and each town visited within a given tour clearly directs us to the next town. Although it is possible to reach some of these points using freeways, I recommend following Hart’s directions, as exploring what’s along our byways (rather than the sameness of our freeways) is the beauty of venturing out in the first place.

I feel a special kinship with this book as I start to travel about again. It’s a fantastic resource for those of us who wish to start by seeing what the places close to home have to show us. One of my favorite things about this title is that the largest city we’re guided through is St. Joseph, with a current population of about 73,400, give or take, whereas the smallest cities are only in the double digits.

Don’t get me wrong – I love visiting Kansas City, St. Louis, and other larger Missouri cities – but Missouri has much outside of those cities to show us. For example, a 1910 Beaux Arts-style post office in Nevada; the historic Hall of Waters in Excelsior Springs; a theatre in Blackwater, where productions written and directed by a local playwright are featured and locals serve free punch and cake during intermission; and landmark bluffs and other natural sites in tiny towns like Arrow Rock. We may even opt for additional “side trips” that take us into more remote areas of the State, such as Lithium, which, once upon a time, was a Victorian resort town.

Hart touches on the prehistory of Missouri, mentioning which Indian tribes traversed which areas before European American settlement, as well as tells the story of town names and sites that take their name from Native American and early European American history. He also makes mention of conservation areas, national register listings and districts, state parks and historic sites, persons of note, and more.

Not to mention the wonderful photographs, which enhance the stories of these lesser-known Missouri places. Check out the magnificent 1884 Second Empire Federal Courthouse on page 20, the picturesque view from the Fourche à Duclos Roadside Park on page 43, or the Old Dutch Hotel and Tavern’s neon sign in Washington on page 86.

It’s worth mentioning that two editions of this book are published and that the second edition is expanded to include “Destinations,” which are meant as stand-alone places to visit rather than a guided road trip. These destinations include St. Joseph, Glasgow, The Boonslick area, Fulton, Sedalia, and the Arcadia Valley.

As noted in his foreword, this book is “a travel book, a history book, a photography book, and more.” Indeed, it is all that and more. It is an opposition to what Hart describes as “Generica,” or the commodification of place and product. The fast-food chains and big-box stores found along our freeways and in our commercial districts, for example, all of which look the same regardless of locale. Hart encourages us to turn away from Generica for the uniqueness of “what lies right beneath [our] noses here in the Show-Me State.” Not only does he encourage us in this direction, but he literally tells us how to get there.

Happy trails and, as always, happy reading.

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The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes by Zachary D. Carter

If there’s one college course that seems to fall into the “liked it/hated it” dichotomy, it’s probably Macroeconomics. For every student who leans into studying the national economy, there’s another who will be just fine to never again read such phrases as “elasticity vs. inelasticity of demand.” There’s one man to credit (or blame) for this: John Maynard Keynes.

Keynesian economics (read: macroeconomics) has pulsed throughout our political economy since the New Deal. In short, some of its main tenets concern full employment, aggregate demand clearing supply, and inflation. Still, I knew very little about the British economist himself. “The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes” by Zachary Carter certainly took care of that knowledge gap.

Mathematics, not economics, was Keynes’ University of Cambridge degree. After a brief stint as a civil servant, he returned to academic life at Cambridge, which was where the Exchequer’s office found him just prior to World War I. A banking crisis afoot, Keynes’ keen mind was known and needed. So he crammed his 6’7″ frame into a motorcycle sidecar and made his way to London.

The Great War and the British economy would engulf his life. He wouldn’t fight in the war, as he applied for conscientious objector status, a position he came by honestly. Keynes was part of the Bloomsbury Set, which included such notables as Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, and Lytton Strachey. Of the many things that formed their bond, with the arts at the pinnacle, pacifism was certainly a part. For some in the group, that Keynes would work for the government during wartime went beyond the pale.

The frustration was returned in kind by Keynes. Someone, he argued, had to address the awful reality and manage a wartime economy. This wouldn’t be last time there was tension within the group. Years later, Keynes fell for, and subsequently married, a Russian ballerina. This was contrary to the Keynes they knew. Bloomsbury Keynes was a homosexual.

At war’s end, Keynes vehemently opposed the Treaty of Versailles. Forever an enemy of austerity measures, he believed the harsh economic terms would destabilize a defeated Germany and potentially lead to another world war. The treaty put Keynes at war with himself. As a young man, obtaining a post at the esteemed British Treasury was his singular goal. Now, having seen firsthand how important the roil of politics is, he could not sit quietly as a future disaster was being orchestrated.

He penned “The Economic Consequences of Peace” which became a sensation in both Europe and the U.S. His intellectual might was on full display, doubtless, but so, too, was his acid tongue. Sparring no one also effectively ended his government career (at least until World War II). Keynes is famous today for his economic theories. In the early 1920s, however, his fame was as a polemicist.

Had a pre-war work—finally published in 1921—augured more than just an acknowledgement that it “made a contribution to the field,” Keynes may have swiftly returned to university life, but, this time, in the philosophy department. His “A Treatise on Probability” was overshadowed by one of his friendly rivals. For when Wittgenstein’s “Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” was published, the gravity shifted and all of academia fell in with the Austrian philosopher.

Keynes continued to publish on economics and, in so doing, challenged conventional (classical) economics. At the macro level, the study of economics was firmly entrenched in laissez-faire thinking: You let the business cycles work and equilibrium will be achieved. Keynes certainly agreed that supply/demand was the driving force. But what of those moments of disequilibrium? Laissez-faire’s response: It will won’t last; the market will stabilize in the long run. “In the long run,” Keynes returned, “we are all dead.” This rejoinder has been bandied about ever since and in a myriad of contexts. But here’s the rest of the quote: “Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if, in tempestuous seasons, they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.”

Keynes advocated what economists now call “demand management.” Demand did not always clear supply, especially during times of war and depression. To Keynes, government expenditures via fiscal policies would shift the demand curve. Such movements would have a positive multiplier effect on other areas of the economy. His multiplier theory argued that laissez-faire’s inaction was actually actionable in that it allowed economic distress to reverberate.

While Keynes’ work would be seen as “revolutionary,” the man behind it was somewhat uncomfortable with that adjective. In many ways, his worldview was formed as a Burkean conservative. But he also valued some of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s egalitarianism. Merging the two philosophies to thwart authoritarianism was, to Keynes, a laudable enterprise. He loved his posh Bloomsbury life too much to see it end. Plus, he wanted the rest of us to have a chance to live such a life as well. So he was no Marxist. In fact, he believed that Marx’s argument that capitalism would inherently fail was inherently wrong. At the same time, he didn’t believe that there was any natural law that destined capitalism’s success either.

Keynes taught his theories at Cambridge, yet, initially, they were not winning the day among graduate students. (Marxism was.) This began to change. Not only were these students beginning to embrace Keynesianism, some would travel down to the London School of Economics and provoke impromptu debates with the students still fixed in laissez-faire. Eventually, American economics students embarked to Cambridge to study under Keynes.

Still, Keynesianism was at the periphery. Keynes knew he needed to codify it into an esoteric work meant for academics. (In the world of academia, “you need a theory to kill a theory.”) This was realized in the “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.”

The Great Depression resulted in Keynes becoming Churchill’s de facto chancellor of the exchequer. Particular attention was given to the fiscal policies put in place in the United States, as they were seen as test cases for Keynesianism. The result: American economists who initially resisted Keynes became Keynesians in the same decade of his death.

According to Carter, “No European mind since Newton had impressed himself so profoundly on both the political and intellectual development of the world.” The revolution had come. And as happens with so many revolutions, so comes the counter-revolution.

In the U.S., the aristocracy saw Franklin Roosevelt as a traitor to his class. Riled moneyed men were willing to fund academics and publications willing to challenge Keynesianism. William F. Buckley Jr.’s “National Review” used Friedrich Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom” as its intellectual base and went to work. Keynesians were up for the fight. What left them reeling, however, was McCarthyism.

Keynesianism would have many morphisms throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. American Keynesians, at turns, embraced more corporate-influenced policies the British Keynesians found abhorrent. Another famous quote concerning Keynes came from President Richard Nixon: “I am now Keynesian in economics.”

Enter Milton Friedman’s monetarism and decades of strident debate concerning the size and role of government in fiscal and monetary policy, and here we are. (Economists can be an acerbic lot, where things get really personal, really fast.) And you don’t have to go back too far to see Keynesian fiscal initiatives at work, as in the 2008 financial dilemma.

Regardless of the modern relevance of Keynes, here’s what Carter wants us to take away from his astute book: Keynesianism isn’t so much about economic theory as it is about radical optimism. Keynes lived in a time of dire economic crises that gave rise to authoritarians who then took their respective countries off the cliff. For him, economics was the light by which we could find our way out. For us, Keynes was every bit a philosopher of war and peace.

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The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman by Margot Mifflin

March is Women’s History Month. To celebrate, I encourage you to read a book written by – or, better yet, by and about – a woman. I started this year’s celebration by doing just that, with Margot Mifflin’s The Blue Tattoo: The Life of Olive Oatman. Admittedly, this wasn’t my first reading of this title, but my third.

Olive Oatman was born to parents who decided to settle in the American southwest as it was becoming the American southwest. Although much of the Mormonism that she was brought up with was left out of the many narratives about her life, Mifflin picks up Olive’s story at the point when it was, in fact, that very Mormonism that influenced the family’s move. Following the Brewsterite sect that broke away from Brigham Young, the Oatmans set west with others to what they thought would be a sanctuary and some sort of nation in and of itself, a nation within an expanding nation (both of which were destructive, to say the least, in their makings).

On their trek to California from Illinois, Olive’s father, Royce, broke the family away from the original Brewsterite caravan in what is now southwestern Arizona, quickly leading to the family’s demise. After an intense night “marooned on a tiny island surrounded by quicksand in the Gila River in Mexico,” the family encountered members of the Yavapai Indian tribe, who, after seemingly harmless initial contact, killed Royce, his wife Mary Ann, and four of their seven children. Lorenzo, who was all but dead after the attack, was thrown off a cliff and left to (presumably) die, while two of the daughters – Olive, 14, and a younger sister, Mary Ann – were taken by the Yavapai.

Olive and her younger sister spent about a year with the Yavapai Indians. According to Mifflin (and others), they were treated as captives, which is to say that they were treated poorly. The Mohave tribe, upon seeing the girls’ mistreatment, requested that they were traded to them. After negotiations, the girls were traded to the Mohaves, who accepted, raised, and treated them as their own. Olive spent about four years with the Mohaves; Mary Ann fewer only because she perished during a famine that they experienced.

Olive and Mary Ann were led to the beautifully described Mohave Valley by Topeka, who became their Mohave sister. Espaniole, a festival chief, and his wife, Aespaneo, became the girls’ Mohave parents. The bond that the girls, especially Olive, had with their Mohave family was strong. When Mary Ann died, both Olive and Aespaneo mourned in the traditional Mohave manner. The Mohaves gave Olive a nickname, which “confirms her acceptance within the culture; if she had been marginalized within the tribe, she would never had warranted one.” Some suspect, though never substantiated, that Olive married and had children while with the tribe.

It’s unknown whether Olive actually wanted to rejoin white society after her time with the Mohaves. It is known, however, that she had no choice but to do so once her whereabouts were discovered. The Mohave Indians were forced to return her to the whites “in exchange for horses, blankets, and beads.” Olive was upset during her so-called restoration to white society, which, as Mifflin points out, is an indication that she did not wish to return. Also, Olive never spoke ill of the Mohaves and, when the opportunity arose later in life, she went to greet and see a member of the tribe speak at an event.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Olive’s tattoo – the blue tattoo – not only because that is the book’s title, but because I am a visibly tattooed woman, though in another, vastly different, context. Nevertheless, I’m intrigued by Olive’s status as a tattooed woman, as well as interested in the history of women and tattoos, which, admittedly, is what prompted my initial reading of this book (and others by the same author).

Placed on her chin, Olive’s tattoo was a very public, permanent mark – in the 1850s! – of her time with the Mohaves. Unlike some other tribes, the Mohaves did not tattoo their captives. Rather they tattooed only those who became a part of their tribe. Mifflin writes that Olive’s willingness to be tattooed indicates her willingness to become Mohave. Olive is the first known tattooed white woman in the United States, as well as the first known to profit from her tattoos. (In addition to her chin tattoo, she had vertical lines on her arms, though those were never shown publicly.) Olive’s narrative became so popular that tattooed ladies – women with real tattoos – started showing their skin in circuses and sideshows, stealing Olive’s story, distorting it and claiming it as their own, saying that they were captured and forcibly tattooed by Indians.

Olive was not like any other woman of her time. Upon her return to white culture, a man by name of Stratton wrote a (highly profitable) sensationalized account of her capture and she became a touring lecturer during a time in which it was highly unfavorable for women to work or have agency outside of the home. Eventually, Olive married a man named John B. Fairchild. In a letter to her aunt that the author includes and discusses in the postscript, it seems Olive’s marriage was a happy one. Eventually, Olive and her husband settled in Texas, where she died in 1903.

In her epilogue, Mifflin discusses Olive’s posthumous appearances. That is, her ongoing legacy in literature and television, connecting her to numerous novels and shows inspired by her story, as well as to those who tried to write themselves into her story. The author refers to this legacy as “Oatman’s Literary Half-Life” and notes, and seems disappointed, that not once in these fictional accounts is Olive reunited with her Mohave family. Indeed, it is disappointing that, even in fiction, Olive never makes her way back to the Mohaves.

I might mention that you will not find this book on the library’s shelves, but as an e-book via the library’s Ebsco eBook Collection database, which may be accessed with your library card on Joplin Public Library’s website or through their card catalog.

As always, happy reading.

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The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to The Hidden World of Everyday Design By Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt

I sort of stole this book review from my husband, meaning that I robbed him of the opportunity to review it himself as soon as I set eyes on it after his discovering and sharing it with me. The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design by Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt is as beautiful as it is brilliant. But first, who are these guys and why everyday design?

Roman Mars is the creator and host of the fascinating and entertaining 99% Invisible podcast (est. 2010). Initially, 99% Invisible was a one-man show, but has since grown into a talented staff, including Kurt Kohlstedt, who is the digital director and a producer, as well as co-author of this book. On 99pi.org, they describe the podcast as being “about all the thought that goes into the things we don’t think about — the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world.” In other words, it’s about everyday design. The premise for the book reflects that of the podcast. Now, let’s tune in to the book proper.

The 99% Invisible City is tangibly splendid, making it clear that careful consideration went not only into the design of the book, but the touch and feel of its materials. The texture and weight of its matte pages are pleasant to the touch and the embossed cover and half-sized jacket are nice features. Of special note is the cover image. Spanning both covers, several figures within the image are labeled numerically, corresponding to the legend printed inside the book jacket. I repeat: the legend printed inside the book jacket—almost too cool!

Content is organized into six chapters, each of which is further arranged into three to six sections containing short entries. I appreciate a well-organized book, especially when, like in this one, an array of topics is covered. It’s as well-researched as it is organized, with an expansive bibliography that, if you’re interested, doubles as a “further reading” list.

Although I wouldn’t necessarily call this a coffee table book, as it’s not glossy and oversized (or overpriced), I’d say it’s like a coffee table book in that it’s interesting to look at, makes for a great conversation piece, and is suitable for casual reading while still appealing to avid readers.

The 99% Invisible City is exactly as it claims, a field guide to the hidden world of everyday design. Like most field guides, it can be read in its entirety or in bits and pieces. I skipped ahead to chapter four – Architecture, my favorite – after reading chapter one only in part and wandering about here and there in other parts of the book. Regardless of how its read, it recalls visuals of everyday things I’ve seen and wondered “What/why is that?!”

Have you ever heard of stink pipes (think obelisks)? According to Mars and Kohlstedt, obelisks and “other seemingly innocuous sculptures in cities around the world” are, by design, meant to ventilate their sewer systems. So, if you find yourself near such a structure, then you might give the air a sniff to see whether the sculpture is functional or purely aesthetic.

The standardization of utility codes, such as those one sometimes sees spray painted on the ground, came into being after a massive explosion killed/injured at least two dozen people in Los Angeles, California, in 1976. Today, the American National Standards Institute maintains the codes: red means electrical, orange signals telecommunications, yellow identifies combustive materials, pink is for “temporary markings, unidentified facilities, or known unknowns,” and so on. Though not hidden but generally unnoticed, these markings are, by design, meant to make our communities safer.

The authors also explore how regulations may influence everyday design. Perhaps this is best seen in architectural landscapes. For example, the British government once implemented an individual brick tax, thereby causing manufacturers to create larger bricks or builders to use other building materials. A similar window tax, again in Britain, caused people to board up or otherwise cover up their windows. The effects of these taxes can still be seen (or, as in the case of the windows, hidden) today.

Planned failures (e.g. breakaway posts), municipal flags, inflatable figures, towers, foundations, graveyards, water, technology, illumination, property markers, manhole covers, and so much more are covered within the covers of this book. The 99% Invisible City is everyday design presented and written about in an extraordinary manner. What’s more, it’s all remarkably illustrated by Patrick Vale. Though “for all you plaque readers and curious urbanists” is inscribed on the title page, this book has something for everyone. Check it out!

As always, happy reading.

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