The Woman They Could Not Silence by Kate Moore

Reviewed by Katy Zignego (Library Staff)

The Woman They Could Not Silence is author Kate Moore’s follow-up to her bestseller The Radium Girls, and I found it just as compelling as its predecessor. I stayed up past midnight to find out what would happen at the end, which is something that doesn’t happen often with nonfiction books!

The titular “woman they could not silence,” Elizabeth Ware Packard, was a housewife and mother of six in 1860 when her husband, a Presbyterian minister, forcibly committed her to an insane asylum. The evidence he provided was that she was disobeying him and not following his religious instruction. At the time, it was possible for a husband to have his wife committed without any medical or judicial determination of her insanity–if he said she was insane, she was. Elizabeth eventually spent three years in the asylum at Jacksonville, Illinois.

She learned in the asylum that she was one of many entirely sane women who were committed by their husbands, generally for disobedience and free thinking. She also learned that women who were truly mentally ill were regularly abused and their conditions left entirely untreated in the so-called hospital. When she supported other women’s charges of abuse and attempted to better their conditions, she was herself punished.

When she eventually gained her freedom–due to some combination of her own efforts and the asylum superintendent’s frustration with her–she devoted herself to exposing the horrific abuses in the asylum system, as well as changing the unjust laws that allowed husbands total legal control over their wives. She wrote books, went on speaking tours, and lobbied legislators for the rest of her life.

I found Elizabeth Packard’s story both horrifying and uplifting, and told in Moore’s signature narrative style it was up-put-down-able. Anyone interested in women’s rights–in the past and today–will find it a compelling read.

Located in Adult Nonfiction (303.48 MOO)

Twelve Mighty Orphans by Jim Dent

Reviewed by Jayne S (Library Staff)

This book is similar to Seabiscuit (the underdog racehorse) and Cinderella Man (the underdog professional boxer). This time it’s about a ragtag group of boys living in a Texas orphanage during the 20’s and 30’s.

Their new teacher and coach, Rusty Russell, wants to make a difference for these boys. He has overcome near blindness in World War I, and while only making $30 a week and starting without any football equipment – not even a ball! – he forms a competitive team that is beating the biggest high school teams in the state.

The book takes the reader through many memorable games and ends with how the young men fared in adulthood. This book was made into a movie in 2021, starring Luke Wilson. The movie changed and condensed a lot of the boys’ histories and sensationalized some aspects. As usual, the book was much better than the movie.

If you like the Depression era underdog stories, this book is for you.

Available through the Bridges Library System

The Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel by Kati Marton

Reviewed by Jayne S (Library Staff)

Angela Merkel grew up in East Germany during the Cold War. Her father was a Lutheran minister, her mother a teacher who was forbidden to teach English. Her grandparents in West Germany sent care packages to her family.

Due to her academic excellence, she was allowed to attend a university and became a research physicist. During that time one of her classmates was hired by the Stasi, the German secret police, to spy on her activities. Then everything changed when the Berlin Wall came down.

She pursued a career in politics, being mentored by Helmut Kohl, the chancellor of the reunited Germany. Within 15 years she rose to the top, using her intellect, her morals, and her scientific reasoning to become the unofficial leader of Europe. She out maneuvered Putin and Trump, worked with Obama and Macron, handled the COVID pandemic with scientific strength and created social policies that included accepting thousands of refugees.

The title of the book really sums it up – she had a remarkable odyssey. I recommend the book wholeheartedly.

Available through the Bridges Library System

All That She Carried by Tiya Miles

Reviewed by Katy Zignego (Library Staff)
All That She Carried, winner of the 2021 National Book Award for nonfiction, is a must-read for anyone interested in American history, genealogy, or museums. Author Tiya Miles begins with a cotton sack–carried by a nine-year-old girl named Ashley and embroidered with Ashley’s story by her granddaughter 70 years later. From the sack and its five-line message, Miles traces the lives of Black women from the 1830s through the 1970s.

Miles uses almost every discipline in her quest to find out all she can about Ashley, her mother Rose, her daughter Rosa, and her granddaughter Ruth. She points out that because women–especially enslaved women–have rarely been viewed as worthy of mention in the historical record, a researcher has to get very creative when searching for clues about their lives. Genealogy, botany, art history, sewing, and literary criticism all take center stage in different chapters. In this multidisciplinary approach Miles emulates the former occupant of her Harvard office, distinguished women’s historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. (You’ll remember her from the oft-quoted line, “Well-behaved women rarely make history.”)

My only quibble with the book is Miles’s writing style. She has also written novels, and in this nonfiction book I worry that she takes too much poetic license in her descriptions. The act of writing history does require some imagination, but “hard” history should never give more detail than the author is prepared to back up with research. (I’m looking at you, Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard.)

I sincerely hope that Tiya Miles continues with her innovative approach to seeking and writing Black women’s history. I look forward to more excellent books from her in the future.

Available through the Bridges Library System

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales by Nathan Hale

Reviewed by Emily Terasa (Library Staff)

I was looking for some quick graphic novels to read, when I saw someone checking out these children’s nonfiction graphic novels that looked interesting. I decided to try a few of them, and I’m glad I did, because they are fun, informative, and quick reads.

The series is Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales by Nathan Hale. The premise of these books is the spy Nathan Hale (from the Revolutionary War) is about to be hung by the British, when a giant history book eats him and he comes back and persuades his captors to stall his execution by telling stories of historically important events, kind of like the 1,001 Arabian Nights. I know this premise sounds weird, but it actually works really well because each graphic novel has Nathan Hale telling the story to both the British Officer and the hangman himself (who is probably the funniest character throughout)!

Some of my favorite books from this series are Raid of No Return (about World War II fighter pilots in the Pacific), The Underground Abductor (about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad), and Big Bad Ironclad (about ship battles during the Civil War, with a starring role for William Cushing who is from Wisconsin). I really like these books because even though they are marketed towards children, I still learn new things I never knew about interesting history events. I hope Nathan Hale continues to make these, because I will continue reading them!

Located in Children’s Nonfiction Graphic Novels

The Liberation of Paris by Jean Edward Smith

Reviewed by Sonia S (Library Patron)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in Paris during World War II after it was taken over by Germany? Or how the allies were able to get Paris back from Germany? This is what takes place in the story, The Liberation of Paris by Jean Edward Smith. The people of Paris had to live without gas, electricity, or even running water in some cases for quite a while during this time period. These resources were not available in Paris because Paris was pretty much on lockdown. As a result, the people of Paris could not really do anything to try and get their city back
from the Germans; so, they had to sit and wait for the allies to find a way to get Paris back.

I have always been fascinated about learning facts about World War II. When I read this nonfiction book on how Paris was liberated, I learned so many new details about the people in Paris I had not thought about while they were taken over by Germany. I also learned so much more about the people that took part in creating the plan to liberate Paris. Overall, I had so much fun reading this book, and if you like reading historical nonfiction, then I would definitely advise you to read this book.

Located in Adult Nonfiction (940.54 SMI)

Nonsense! The Curious Story of Edward Gorey by Lori Mortensen

Reviewed by Cassidy Hammel (Library Staff)

This title was recommended to me by another DPL staff member and as soon as she slid it towards me, I was absorbed with Chloe Bristol’s illustrations. The style just borders on creepy which is the essence of the real life subject of this biography, Edward Gorey. The characters are rail thin with elongated feet and facial expressions that draw you in. They look slightly melancholy at times which embodies what Gorey believed, life isn’t always sunshine, rainbows and happy endings. “To Edward, the world was an uncertain place where anything might happen.” This was the primary reason people didn’t care for his work, they found him and his stories weird.

This biography carries an important message; being different is not bad and that you must keep doing what you love, even when the world tries to dissuade you.

Fans of Tim Burton will adore this book; the characters are reminiscent of those in the Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline and the Corpse Bride.

Located in Children’s Picture Books (E MORTENSEN)

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

Reviewed by Jayne S (Library Staff)

Good things are worth waiting for. This book was very popular when it was published in 2013, the waitlist time was long, so I decided to check it out in the future and then promptly forgot about it. I just happened to pick it up now and am so happy that I finally got to read it.

The author chronicles the life of one of the rowers, Joe Rantz, on his difficult journey to his greatest triumph at the Olympics. With the back drop of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl summers, and Hitler’s rise to power, the story makes you cheer for the ragtag group of college men from the University of Washington.

If you liked the 2003 movie Seabiscuit and the 2005 movie Cinderella Man, this book will be page-turner for you. I loved the underdog story highlighting the effort made during the most challenging times of the 1930s.

I’m sure there are many bestsellers that I missed in previous years. My new goal is to look them up and start plugging away at these great books that are now readily available. I’m excited to start this new personal challenge!

Located in Adult Nonfiction (797.123 BRO)

Bartali’s Bicycle by Megan Hoyt & Iacopo Bruno

Reviewed by Melissa Beck (Library Staff)

This picture book tells the remarkable true story of Gino Bartali, celebrated Italian cyclist and winner of the 1938 Tour de France who performed heroic acts throughout World War II but kept them secret for over 50 years.

As Bartali always said, “Good is something you do, not something you talk about,” and so he kept quiet the fact that he hid forged identity papers in the hollow bars of his bicycle, sheltered a Jewish family in his cellar, rescued POWs, and used his celebrity to cause diversions when necessary.

Iacopo Bruno’s vibrant illustrations play with color and shadows to convey the mood of a world at war and in Bartali’s facial expressions the reader can almost see his mental wheels and sprockets churning a plan to fight injustice. Gorgeous and inspiring.

Located in Children’s Picture Books (E HOYT)

For Self and Country: for the wounded in Vietnam the journey home took more courage than going to battle by Rick Eilert

Reviewed by Jayne S (Library Staff)

This is the memoir of the author’s journey back from Vietnam in 1967. It was a powerful story when I first read it in 1983. Reading it again in 2021 it still pulled me in, and also helped me understand why there are homeless, troubled Vietnam veterans to this day.

It was reprinted in 2010, with a note on the cover that said President Reagan was so moved by this book that he invited the author to the White House.

The book starts with Rick’s horrific combat injury and his long flight to Great Lakes Naval Hospital in Illinois. He is the oldest soldier on the hospital floor; he is 20 years old.

He endures dozens of surgeries and horrific dressing changes trying to save his legs. He worries that his girlfriend will dump him, the anti-war protests dishearten him, and if he will be a “gimp” forever.

There are light moments too: his blind bunkmate is the floor lookout, he plays chicken with another wheelchair bound patient and re-breaks his leg, and the young soldiers, of course, ogling the Navy nurses and female visitors.

This book was not in the Bridges Library System, Emily the DPL circulation manager found it using the State of Wisconsin (WISCAT) InterLibrary Loan system.

If you watched the Ken Burns Vietnam documentary on PBS, this book will add another dimension to the time period. I strongly recommend it.