Tuesday, October 25, 2011

History Ahead: Stories beyond the Texas Roadside Markers, by Dan K. Utley and Cynthia J. Beeman

The best history books not only reveal the past so as to help us learn from it but also are fun to read.  This book meets that mark.   It is a "micro -history" in that it tells the smaller stories, tales that might otherwise go unknown.   And some of the fun comes from the design:  the material is entirely based on roadside historical markers in Texas.    This means you can not only read about events but also plan your road trip to the specific marker site; this is cool!

Just because I refer to this as a micro - history does not mean the stories are insignificant.  The story of Bessie Coleman, who in June of 1921 became "...the first black woman in the world to earn a pilot's license," or of Carl Morene, who was perhaps the least likely person to bring organized music instruction to Schulenburg High School in the 1930s and '40s, are inspirational, touching and meaningful.

Similarly, reading about Margo Jones -- perhaps my theatre friends know the name, but I'd never before heard of her -- was interesting, given that her work in the first half of the 20th century may have played a big role in my ability to see live theatre in a variety of venues today.

Nearly every chapter gives a similar example.   This is a very enjoyable read.

But, not without flaw: editing in chapter 19 allowed reference to Margo Jones' 1942 encounter with Tennessee Williams to be described on page 272 and again on page 273 as though it hadn't previously been mentioned. This would be easy to correct in a following edition. [The page references are from my hard copy first edition, which I acquired at the Texas Book Festival, having had the good fortune to also hear the authors speak at one of the sessions.]

All in all this is a book worth owning -- most particularly, but not exclusively, for those living in Texas; it warrants a read.

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