America's Sorrows and Celebrations
This month is momentous. Besides marking the beginning of the Civil War Sequicentennial, this January we take note of several other moments of import in our nation's history and culture.
January 20th is the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. Interest in him and in the entire Kennedy clan never flags, since they are the closest thing to royalty America has and the many tragedies surrounding them heighten the drama of their lives. There are as many books about them as about Abraham Lincoln. Recent news has it that a History Channel miniseries about the Kennedys will not air in the U.S. for reasons unclear. This controversy will undoubtedly spur interest in JFK and the clan, so let us recommend a few of the many biographies worth reading. Start with An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 by presidential historian Robert Dallek. Read Thirteen Days and view the movie to understand how close we came to war with the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis. For perspectives on his impact, read Ask Not: the inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the speech that changed America by Thurston Clarke and also Forty Ways to Look at JFK by Gretchen Craft Rubin. Then read and listen to him speak in Let Every Nation Know: John F. Kennedy in his own words, which includes a CD, edited by Robert Dallek. The Kennedy Presidential Library has digitized material from its collections and made it accessible at www.jfklibrary.org.
Under Kennedy's administration, the space program really took off when NASA sent the first American into space and the first American to orbit the earth. He announced plans to send man to the moon by the end of the decade, although he did not live to see this happen. This month we observe the 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster which took the lives of seven astronauts, including a school teacher. Read about her in I Touch the Future--: the story of Christa McAuliffe by Robert T. Hohler.
This month, we also recognize the 25th anniversary of the federal observance of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Historian Michael Eric Dyson assesses the legacy of this singular civil rights leader in April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death and how it changed America. Hellhound on His Trail: the stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the international hunt for his assassin is a gripping history thriller by Hampton Sides. He follows James Earl Ray and King as they crisscross the country, one stalking the other, until the drifter catches up with his prey. Against the backdrop of the resulting nationwide riots and the pathos of King's funeral, Sides gives us a cross-cut narrative of the assassin's flight and the 65-day search that led investigators to Canada, Portugal, and England--a massive manhunt ironically led by Hoover's FBI. Drawing on previously unpublished material, this nonfiction thriller illuminates how "history is so often a matter of the petty bringing down the great".
From one tragedy to the next, we march resolutely along. Undoubtedly historians and policy analysts will publish books assessing the meaning and impact on our country of the most recent senseless tragedy in Arizona, perpetrated by yet another petty individual. These will help us understand where we have been and think about where we want to go and how we want to be defined as a nation.
From the somber to the celebratory, we note that January is also the 75th anniversary of the naming of the first inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Those sports heroes were Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, and Honus Wagner. Ty Cobb tells his own story in My Life in Baseball: the true record published in 1961. Read about Babe Ruth in Sultans of Swat: the four great sluggers of the New York Yankees (the other three were Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle). Honus Wagner is the subject of William Hageman's biography Honus: the life and times of a baseball hero.
Another cultural hero emerged 75 years ago with the first radio broadcast of "The Green Hornet" from WXYZ in Detroit. Britt Reid, a debonair newspaper publisher by day, fights crime by night as the masked Green Hornet, assisted by his faithful valet Kato driving their car Black Beauty. This popular radio serial spawned numerous television productions through the years, and has just been released as a movie starring Seth Rogen. Listen to a Green Hornet sound recording in the library's collection.
Take advantage of these wintry days to dip into the pages of history and learn something new about the important events of our country's past. For these and more memorable stories, visit us at www.tcplweb.org or call 988-2541.