Friday, May 1, 2020

May 1, 2020 # 54

Quote for the day: "... Ann Arbor was at the extreme end of the habitable world, beyond which the sun went down on a boundless, bottomless morass, where the frightful sound of yelling indians, howling wolves, croaking frogs, rattling massaugers, and buzzing mosquitoes added to the awful horror of the dismal place." Henry Little recalling the settling of Michigan in the 1830s. Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collection. Vol III, 1881.


This Won't End Well
Camille Pagan

Annie Mercer has had enough. She lost her job as a chemist because her boss got away with sexual harassment and she is now cleaning houses in Ann Arbor to make money. Her best friend's advice is to let crystals help her deal with life and her fiance has asked for space and understanding when he abruptly leaves for Paris and asks her not to try and reach him while he's gone. In response, Annie decides to retreat from life and from people. She swears off meeting new people and making new friends and decides to create some much-needed space to re-examine her life.

Camille Pagan is a writer who seems to effortlessly create believable and sympathetic characters facing difficult personal problems. When the reader becomes immersed in the story it almost feels like the author has stepped back from the narrative and lets the character find her own way out of the conundrum. The characters become as real as your next-door neighbors and there is not a missed-step or false note as the narrative plays out.

Annie's vow to make no new friends or even meet new people is almost immediately put to the test when a gorgeous young woman moves in next door who may have some serious personal problems concerning her safety. Then an off-beat amateur detective worms his way into Annie's life while trying to keep track of the neighbor. Almost against her will Annie becomes involved with both her next-door neighbor's problems and Mo the private detective. 

The author uses emails, texting, and Annie's diary within the story and the different narratives fit together as perfectly as jigsaw puzzle pieces. The book is very amusing and even laugh out loud funny. And if you're the type of reader who highlights or underlines phrases and sentences that are especially noteworthy you'll need a couple of highlighter pens. Two of my favorites are "...Leesa can talk a blind man into seeing things her way..." and "We ask for equal pay and a seat at the table, and instead we're handed control-top pantyhose and pink wine with cupcakes on the label."

"This Won't End Well" is a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying read that does, in fact, end well.
This Won't End Well by Camille Pagan. Lake Union Publishing, 2020, $24.95.

The Elusive Purple Gang: Detroit's Kosher Nostra
by Gregory A. Fournier

At the height of their power, Detroit's Purple Gang was among the most successful and richest criminal organizations in the country. This concise account of the gang's rise from a gang of  Jewish delinquents involved in petty crimes to Detroit's most powerful criminal organization whose influence and corruption reached into city hall, the police department, and Wayne County justice system makes for fascinating reading.

By the time the delinquents grew into adults and prohibition corrupted an entire country the Purple Gang controlled all the rackets in Detroit. They began by hijacking booze shipments being smuggled across the river from Canada by independent operators and they eventually controlled all smuggling of booze into Detroit. By 1929 bootlegging was the second most important industry in the city with only automobile production making more money. The gang ran the numbers racket and all the betting shops where gamblers placed bets on horse races from all around the country. They kidnapped and held for ransom men who ran speakeasies and gambling halls, and other illegal businesses because the gang knew these men wouldn't go to the police.

The Purple Gang were notoriously violent and never hesitated to murder anyone who tried to cut into their territory or even operate without their consent or a share of the profits. The Detroit Police Department estimated, without proof to support their claim, the gang was responsible for 500 solved and unsolved murders between 1925 and 1929. Even if that estimate was grossly over-inflated and the gang was responsible for only half that number of killings it would be an outrageous tally of assassinations. 

This is a compulsively readable tale of the most notorious and violent gang of criminals ever to  
operate in Michigan.
The Elusive Purple Gang: Detroit's Kosher Nostra by Gregory A. Fournier. Wheatmark, 2020, $18.95 pb.

Gathering Moss: A Douglas Lake Mystery
by Eric M. Howe

This is the author's second book in the series of mysteries set in the Douglas Lake Biological Station. For those new to the series, the station was founded in 1909 and is operated by the University of Michigan. It is a research and teaching facility in which professors and grad students conduct biological research and classes are offered in spring and summer terms.  The author has spent many summers at the station, or The Bug Camp, as it is often called by the staff and students. 

Once again, professor, Rick Parsons is called upon by the local police to help solve what appears to be a murder. Skeletal remains have been found on the station's grounds. They don't know how old the remains are but the buckshot found with the skeleton indicates the bones may be all that's left of a murder victim.  The police ask Rick Parsons, who specializes in the study of the less than romantic forms of vegetation like algae and moss, to perform a forensic examination of the remains and determine how long they have been in the ground and if the body had been moved from the murder site.

In pace, location, characters, and the method in which the murder is solved are all distinctly different from most mystery novels. The pace is leisurely and the detective work is played out against wonderful descriptions of the area's natural setting, bits of history along with glimpses into the ongoing scientific work at the Bug Camp. The book also does a fine job of describing the general area around Douglas Lake including mention of two of my favorite area restaurants the Brutus Camp Deli and the well out of the way Moosejaw Junction.

An entirely enjoyable mystery that unwinds at its own pace. I believe a third book in the series is due out sometime this year.
Gathering Moss: A Douglas Lake Mystery by Eric M. Howe. Independently published, 2019, $6.99.   

Any of the books reviewed in this blog may be purchased by clicking your mouse on the book's cover which will take you to Amazon where you can usually purchase the book at a discount. By using this blog as a portal to Amazon and purchasing any product helps support Michigan in Books.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

April 1, 2020 Post # 53

Quote for the day: "...[Lake Superior is] beautiful, empty, glittering, cold and brooding, gull-swept and impersonal; always there, always the same -- there for the grateful and ungrateful, there for the bastards and angels." John Voelker. Anatomy of a Murder.


The Trial of the Edmund Fitzgerald: Eyewitness Accounts from the U.S. Coast Guard Hearings
edited by Michael Schumacher

On November 10, 1975, the Edmund Fitzgerald sailed into history and became part of Great Lakes' lore when she sank in Lake Superior with all twenty-nine hands. The demise of the Great Lakes' largest vessel stunned the shipping community.  The Fitzgerald was a relatively new and powerful ore carrier. She was widely acknowledged to have the best crew and the most experienced captain on the lakes. Seasoned Great Lakes sailors and shipping experts as a whole felt that the mighty Fitz should have survived the storm with no problem. The Coast Guard quickly appointed a Marine Board of Investigation to determine the cause of the ore carrier's loss. 

Author Michael Schumacher, in order to research his book on the loss of the Fitzgerald was allowed to photocopy all 3,000 pages of testimony and documentation produced by the board. Years after publishing his book "The Mighty Fitz" Schumacher was drawn back to the mountain of documents and realized there was a lot of information contained in those 3,000 pages that never made it into his book. He set out to edit the wealth of information contained in the documents and final reports of the Coast Guard's Marine Board of Investigation and the National Transportation Safety Board and produce a documentary history of the sinking that would serve as a companion to "The Mighty Fitz. " It is not necessary to read Schumacher's earlier book on the Fitzgerald before diving into this one. The documents and testimony in the hearings come from naval architects, former crewmen of the Fitzgerald, search and rescue personnel, ship inspectors, loading experts, climatologists, scientists, and seamen who were on the SS Anderson which was some 10 miles behind the Fitzgerald when it simply disappeared from Anderson's radar. Schumacher has arranged the testimony so that it reads like a well organized and engrossing narrative and culminates with the report of the two boards and a Lake Carriers' Association Letter of Dissent. 

I was surprised to learn the Coast Guard was intensely interested in how the Fitzgerald was loaded. And even more surprised to learn that each Great Lakes ore carrier must be loaded in a specific manner that differs with each ore boat. The loading not only effects the seaworthiness of the vessel but could even cause the immense bulk carrier to break in two at the loading dock and sink. The book is highlighted by numerous photographs, maps, charts, and drawings that depict the position and scattering of the wreckage on the lake bottom. The book also includes a full list of the crew -- of which none of their bodies have been recovered -- addresses, and next of kin.

Reading the contemporary accounts of those who were on Lake Superior when the Fitzgerald went down, recount their participation in the search for survivors, hunted for the remains of the Fitz, and the numerous and diverse experts that testified on everything from ship construction to loading procedures brings a surprising immediacy to an event that took place almost fifty years ago. The book is a must for any library that boasts a collection on Great Lakes maritime history and the public who are still fascinated by the loss of the Fitzgerald and read extensively on Great Lakes shipwrecks. 
The Trial of the Edmund Fitzgerald: Eyewitness Accounts from the U.S. Coast Guard Hearings edited by Michael Schumacher. University of Minnesota Press, 2019, $19.95 pb.

Secret Upper Peninsula: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure
by Kath Usitalo

I fell in love with the Upper Peninsula with my first ferry ride across the Straits of Mackinac in the early 1950s. Over the course of seventy years, I have traveled and vacationed throughout the length and breadth of this unique and marvelous peninsula many times and I thought I was fairly knowledgeable when it came to its unique history and attractions. Then I cracked Kath Usitalo's third travel guide to the U.P.

I didn't know NASA had a launching pad near the tip of the Keweenaw Penisula, or that the 1st highway roadside park in the United States lies four miles east of Iron River on US-2. Didn't know that WWII military gilders famously used on D Day to drop troops behind enemy lines,  were built in the U.P. I knew of the restaurant that was famous for its giant cinnamon rolls, but deeply regret being unaware of another eatery that made Korppu, twice-baked slices of toast slathered with cinnamon and sugar and sold by the loaf. Then there's the company town founded by Henry Ford in the 1920s and now owned by Michigan Tech in which some of its twelve still standing homes can be rented for the night. I didn't know the Yooper Dome in Marquette was the world's largest wooden-domed stadium. I did happen to know that the world's first indoor hockey rink was built in Calumet and still remains a hotbed for hockey players from kids to adults. I have driven the Brockway Mountain Drive which is the highest above sea-level road between the Rocky and Allegany Mountains and second the author's enthusiastic recommendation.

I would have especially liked to visit a remote park located at the tip of a slim 11-mile long peninsula jutting out into Lake Superior that is seldom visited and has 2 miles of rugged shoreline that offers magnificent views of the Keweenaw Peninsula and the Huron Mtns. The only drawback is the U.P. version of the walking dead, otherwise known as black flies that can attack in hordes. Try to visit on a day with a strong southerly wind that will drive the flies inland. For someone who thought they knew the U.P. this book is a humbling experience.

Each attraction features a succinct description, a photograph, directions for getting there, cost if any, and tips on how to best enjoy your visit. This book belongs in the glove compartment of anyone planning a trip to the U.P.

Secret Upper Peninsula: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure by Kath Usitalo. Reedy Press, 2019, $20.95 pb.

Point North: Discover Hidden Campgrounds, Natural Wonders, and Waterways of the Upper Peninsula
by Mikel B. Classen

Yes, yet another travel guide to the Upper Peninsula, and if you're tempted to dismiss it and say enough already, you would be wrong. This is both a travel guide to 40 uniquely beautiful and scenic wonders or historically significant destinations north of Big Mac and it also doubles as a tribute to the indisputable beauty, splendor, and unique history of the U.P.

Unlike a typical travel guide, a two- to four-page essay is devoted to each site. The author's love for the U.P. is obvious on every page. Whether a museum, a state park, or a 17,000-acre wilderness area Classen's descriptions are vibrant, enticing, and thorough. Color photographs, most of which were taken by the author, complement the essays. 

The book contains almost as many surprises as the "Secret Upper Peninsula." The author credits the Au Train River as the best kayaking river in the U.P. In an essay on a state forest campground located on Lake Michigan near Naubinway he not only fully describes the little-used campground and the beautiful beach but also mentions that just offshore is the Lake Michigan Water Trail which I Googled because I had never heard of it. It seems the trail is still under development in the four states surrounding Lake Michigan and when completed it will be the longest freshwater water trail in the world. 

I was particularly taken with the book's scenic descriptions, history, and activities to be found at the 17,000-acre McCormick Wilderness Tract, the three square miles of the little-used Donnelley Wilderness Tract located in the foothills of the Huron Mtns, and the Grand Canyon of the U.P. the Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness. It is another book that belongs in the car of any Troll (those of us living below the Mackinac Bridge) vacationing in the U.P. Better yet the book should be read by anyone planning a trip to the Upper Peninsula. It is sure to influence their itinerary.

Even if you are never going to the U.P. it is still well worth reading just to gain an appreciation of what this great state and the Upper Peninsula have to offer its citizens in the way of outdoor adventures and unique natural wonders. This sparkling collection of essays makes for great reading. There is no arguing with the author's claim that the essays and the research that went into them were a"labor of love."

Points North: Discover Hidden Campgrounds, Natural Wonders, and Waterways of the Upper Peninsula by Mikel B. Classen. Modern History Press, 2020, $27.95 pb.

Deja Noir: A Detroit Mystery
by Robert E. Bailey

Retired cop Ray Kerze is a private eye with a rent-free office in an abandoned Detroit office building in which someone forgot to turn off the electricity and heat. It is all the office he can afford because what little money Ray makes supports a serious drinking problem. Business looks to be picking up when an attractive young woman finds her way to Kerzie's office and wants to hire him for a simple job. The woman wants Kerze to kill her. She will pay him with all the money she has in the world which amounts to $11.60.

And so begins one of the most original, captivating and entertaining mysteries I've read in some time. The woman's simple request leads to unpaid loan sharks, right-wing white supremacists looking for trouble, a crooked Detroit councilwoman, a corpse who comes back to life in the city morgue, and a plot with more twists and turns than a colander of al dente fettuccine. 

Adding to the fun is that every chapter is narrated by a different character. So the point of view changes with every chapter and each new narrator takes the story in a new direction. The author does a great job of giving each character a distinctive voice and point of view. The dialogue is crisp and often funny and Bailey writes sentences I found myself underlining, such as, "His skin looked like a sheet of crumpled parchment and his neck rattled around his shirt collar like a soda straw in a bucket."

The different narrators may have readers wondering at times just where the plot is going but it all gets resolved in the conclusion and had me hoping for a sequel until I read the acknowledgments at the back of the book. It was written by the author's wife who thanked countless people and doctors whose encouragement and care helped Bailey complete the book even as he was dying from a Glioblastoma brain tumor. Which makes this book a living testament to this fine author's courage and tenacity, and makes it a certainty I will be searching libraries for his three earlier mysteries. 
Deja Noir: A Detroit Mystery by Robert E. Bailey. Ignition Books, 2019, $13.99

Any of the books reviewed in this blog may be purchased by clicking your mouse on the book's cover which will take you to Amazon where you can usually purchase the book at a discount. By using this blog as a portal to Amazon and purchasing any product helps support Michigan in Books.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

March 1, 2020 Post # 52

Quote for the day: "If you live to shop, you'll have a life expectancy of less than three hours (on Beaver Island)." Tom Powers. More Natural Michigan. 1992.


Shoulder Season: A Lake Michigan Lodge Story
by Kathy Fawcett

The shoulder season for up north resorts and lodges is the slower spring and fall seasons on either side of the big money-making summer season. For single, 34-year-old Kay Kerby even the summer season isn't likely to save the Kerby Lodge which she inherited when both her parents died a dozen years ago and she took over running the resort. 

The lodge lies on the shore of Lake Michigan and under her parents' ownership it thrived. Kay never made up her mind if running a resort was what she really wanted to do, so for a dozen years, she has coasted along doing practically nothing to improve the place, keep the old customers, or work to build a new clientele. The resort has become worn, outdated, lost bookings, and is close to bankruptcy. Kay doesn't know it but when David Mayne a rude, standoffish, loner rents one of the resort's a-frame cottages from September through November her life and the resort is about to undergo drastic changes.

The author does a fine job of describing the nuts and bolts of running a lakeside resort and the pitfalls that can spell ruin for an inattentive owner. When Mayne breaks an ankle trying to change a light bulb in his cottage Kay moves him into the main lodge and takes care of the tight-lipped grouch. They end up making a strange team under Mayne's surprising leadership in remodeling the resort and building a new clientele.

This is the first in a series of novels about the happenings at the lodge and the author has done a nice job of capturing the feel of a Michigan resort community from the perspective of those who live off tourists. David Mayne and Kay Kerby are finely drawn characters and many of the minor characters come alive under Fawcett's pen. The book makes a pleasant and enjoyable read as Kay learns how to become a real owner and the last half of the novel reads like a how-to guide in rejuvenating and marketing an outdated resort. The author writes with humor and authority on the tourist trade and for a little added spice Kay finds herself becoming unexpectedly involved in a budding romance.
Shoulder Season: A Lake Michigan Lodge Story by Kathy Fawcett. Self-published, 2019. $12.95.

Michigan's Civil War Citizen-General: Alpheus S. Williams
by Jack Dempsey

The author has rescued a Michigan Civil War hero from the dust bin of history with this biography. The future Michigan general was born and raised in Connecticut, attended Yale and graduated in 1831, then returned to Yale in 1833 for a law degree. After becoming a lawyer Williams headed for Michigan where he hoped to earn his fortune speculating on real estate.  

When the Mexican War broke out the newly minted Michigander joined the army and was appointed 2nd in command of a Michigan regiment. Although he never saw combat he became very adept at organizing, training, managing supplies, and handling all the reams of paperwork necessary to keep a regiment in the field.  All of which the author shows made Williams a valuable state asset when the Civil War erupted and Lincoln called on the states to send troops to defend the Capitol. Williams helped organize and train the 1st Michigan Infantry Regiment. The Governor then appointed Williams to raise and train a brigade of which he was named the commander.

The author does a fine job of outlining Williams distinguished wartime career. In many of the major battles in which the Army of the Potomac was engaged, Brigadier General Williams played an important and prominent role. He led his men into the thick of the fighting around the bloody cornfield at Antietam and his leadership helped stabilize the armies' right-wing.  He played a significant role in saving the Army of the Potomac from a complete rout at Chancellorsville by stemming Stonewall Jackson's crushing surprise attack. He also fought Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley and fortified the Union's strong position on Culp's Hill on the right side of the Union front at Gettysburg. In many of these battles, Williams often found himself temporarily in command of Divisions and the entire Corps.  

In spite of Williams' record and his effectiveness in handling large concentrations of troops in the heat of battle, he was never promoted beyond commanding a brigade. Williams felt the lack of promotion was grossly unfair and even considered resigning from the army because of the slight, but his patriotism kept him from turning his back on saving the Union.

This readable and informative book is a welcome addition to Michigan's participation in the Civil War and shines a spotlight on a Michigan officer who has too long remained hidden in the shadows of history. 

Michigan's Civil War Citizen-General: Alpheus S. Williams by Jack Dempsey. History Press, 2019, $21.99 pb.

Unsalted: A Hilarious Michigan Guidebook Written by a Texan
by Wes O'Donnell

I am not sure who the author's intended audience is for this often funny and wonderfully odd guide to Michigan. O' Donnell moved from Texas to the Muskegon area some years ago and the book sometimes reads like he is trying to convince residents of the Lone Star State that
Michigan is as great a place to live as Texas. He even broaches what some living between the Rio Grande and the Red rivers may consider heretical -- that Michigan may, on the whole, be a more attractive place to live than (I'm whispering) Texas.   

The book makes a fine introduction to Michigan culture, history, tourist attractions, weather, and it's people. I believe life-long Michiganders will enjoy and benefit from reading the book because it is a look at our state from an entirely different perspective. And the author clearly meant the book to be a guide to his newly adopted state for everyone because he said he purposely included a lot of photographs so those living in Oklahoma and Ohio could also enjoy the book.

The author mixes state history with his experiences in exploring the state and enjoying  its many tourist attractions. The author's personal observations range from an explanation of the Toledo War with Ohio, Detroit's recent turnaround, the beauty of the Great Lakes, the glory of the Upper Peninsula, the Flint Water Crisis, to Lake Effect snow and winter driving. He even boasts of Michigan's culinary contributions to the nation which include Vernors, Coney Islands, Mackinac Island Fudge, Detroit Square Pizza, and the Olive Burger which the author testifies can only be found in Michigan.

The author is flummoxed that in 2012 Marquette was listed among the 10 best places to retire in the U.S. by CBS MoneyWatch in spite of the fact the city is buried under 150 inches of snow every winter. He comments on the state's horrible roads and observes the state is among the 10 lowest in the country for spending on roads. Included is an illustrated list of five things to do with potholes including plant flowers in them, go spelunking, or fill it with ice and make it a beer cooler.  

Under Deadly Wildlife the author includes a Michigan Black Bear Encounter Checklist. Among the bullets in the checklist are: "Does it appear to be trying to fight forest fires?" and "Does he answer to 'Fuzzy Wuzzy' but ironically have no hair?" A glaring error in this checklist is the absence of decerning whether or not the bear is red and pitching a particular brand of toilet paper.  

The book is filled with an amazing amount of useful information and a fair helping delightful nonsense. It is fun, informative and salted with a tasty glaze of sarcasm. Welcome to Michigan Wes O'Donnell, Texas' loss is our gain. 

Unsalted: A Hilarious Michigan Guidebook Written by a Texan by Wes O'Donnell. Warrior Lodge Books, 2018, $9.95.  

Secret Remains
by Jennifer Graeser Dornbush

It seems only a couple of weeks have passed since Dr. Emily Hartford left her surgical residency at a Chicago hospital to return to Michigan, in the first of this mystery series, to care for her estranged father who had suffered a heart attack. Her father is a county coroner and as Emily tries to nurse him back to health she also temporarily serves as the county coroner. Although it almost results in Emily's death she proves instrumental in helping solve a murder.

This second book in the series takes off like an F-15 catapulted from an aircraft carrier. Within the first half dozen pages, her father dies from a second heart attack and the bones of a high school girl who disappeared a decade earlier comes to light when a basement is excavated for a new house. The last person to see the girl was Emily's high school sweetheart who is now sheriff. Making matters worse is that Emily and a consulting forensic anthropologist announce the girl was murdered and the sheriff's high school varsity jacket was found with the remains. Emily is determined to clear the sheriff's name and find the murderer.

But that's not all that Emily has to keep juggling while she hunts for the killer. Does she return to her surgical residency in Chicago, run for county coroner, or accept an offer from a forensic anthropologist to come to U of M and study with him and later teach. Then there's her ex-fiance, the sheriff, and a forensic anthropologist vying for her affections. Emily also stumbles across information her father had withheld from her concerning her mother's death, and the reading of her father's will reveals a shocking family secret.

The author is very adept at keeping all these plot elements in the air at once while even adding more surprise twists to the story. The setting of the small town on the west side of the state is believably drawn as are the characters populating the town and the story. If you've got things to do and places to go pick this book at your own risk because it is going to play havoc with your to-do list and schedule for a day or two.

Secret Remains: A Coroner's Daughter Mystery by Jennifer Graeser Dornbush. Crooked Lane Books, 2020, $26.99.

Any of the books reviewed in this blog may be purchased by clicking your mouse on the book's cover which will take you to Amazon where you can usually purchase the book at a discount. By using this blog as a portal to Amazon and purchasing any product helps support Michigan in Books.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

February 1, 2020 Post #51

Quote for the Day: "(During the 1880s) the only toiletries north of Saginaw were mustache wax and alkali soap." Russell McKee. Audubon Magazine. March 1988.


Broke: Hardship and Resilience in a City of Broken Promises
by Jodie Adams Kirshner

I can't remember a book that made me as mad as this very readable and incisive examination of the profound effect Detroit's bankruptcy, engineered by one of Governor Snyder's appointed city managers, had on the common people of the Motor City. The author closely follows seven Detroiters over the course of the bankruptcy and details how it impacted their lives. The book left me angry and distressed as it recorded yet another shining example of how the poor are so often ignored while the wealthy get richer.

The author clearly demonstrates that the City of  Detroit was broke a few years ago, as in no money, and broke as in not working, busted, or wrecked. Or at least broke and inoperable if you were a poor resident of the city but not if you were rich, a predatory developer, or a millionaire businessman given millions in tax breaks and concessions.  The author follows one family living in a barely inhabitable house a developer bought then sold the near-derelict house to a family on a strange land contract which states if the family misses one payment they lose the house. And evidently, the land contract didn't go through a title company because it didn't show any leans on the property. So the owner was surprised to find a foreclosure notice on his front door that said if back taxes, from two years before he owned the house, weren't paid he would lose it. He was urged to borrow money to pay off the couple of thousand dollars in back taxes. In the strange world of Detroit, when a house is foreclosed the city sells it at an auction, often for as little as $500 which the city pockets. Why not pay off the back taxes? Because the interest on paying off back taxes is 19% -- the highest interest charged in the country. And oh! No one in the city, state, or federal government told the family that if they were living below the federal poverty level the taxes could be waved. The author argues that bankruptcy might have been good for the municipality of Detroit but not for its poorer residents.

While the family struggled to find a way to keep their home the Ilitches received nearly a billion dollars in Detroit tax money to build a new hockey arena. They promised to hire Detroiters for half of the expected 5,000 jobs the project would generate. It never happened. Quicken Loans pocketed $50 million in tax incentives for moving downtown. Better yet, a city refinery got a $175 million tax break for expanding their plant. The new construction created 15 new jobs. One can only wonder how long it will take those 15 new employees paying Detroit city taxes before they can match the $175 million tax break?

It seems every other page jolts the reader with surprising and disturbing information. Such as the fact that many wanted the governor's appointed city managers to possess the power to suspend local democracy, tear up union contracts, and run every aspect of governing a city. Or the fact that at one point Detroit did not have any qualified assessors. The city turned to fines and fees as a regular source of income which mostly fell on the poor, not the wealthy. And lastly, a piece of information that still disturbs me. In Detroit, the life expectancy fell below that of Russia and even North Korea. YES, NORTH KOREA. That must be a real point of pride for Michigan's governor and legislature.

This is a disturbing and important book that deserves wide readership by anyone concerned about the welfare of our state and the state of our democracy.

Broke: Hardship and Resilience in a City of Broken Promises by Jodie Adams Kirshner. St. Martin's Press, 2019, $28.99.

Stormy Outside: The Adventures and Misadventures of a Forester and His Dog
by Mark Stormzand

As long as he could remember, the author wanted to be outside and work outside. To reach this goal he got a degree in forestry from MSU and with wife and later children in tow he worked in forests from Idaho to New England before settling down with his family on a farm in northern Michigan.  

Stormzand has lived a busy, rewarding life as both a forester and a family man and this book of exceptionally well-written biographical essays records his many adventures in the woods, wilderness, and on the domestic front. The great majority of the essays are set in Michigan and contain plenty of humor, charm, close observations of the natural world, and wise commentary on life and living. Essays vary from the pleasure found in building a stone wall to the charm and drawbacks of heating with wood, why clear-cutting is sometimes good for both the forest and wildlife, why he likes the month of March, to a malady he calls "latitude sickness" in which symptoms include grumpiness, a hair-trigger temper, and fidgeting all of which appear when forced to travel below he 45th Parallel.

The author's thoughts and observations on aging hit pretty close to home for this 70+-year-old reviewer. He writes, "I (like many men) still think I am eighteen. I will probably still be thinking I'm eighteen while getting my Last Rights." He recalls that as a kid he and his brothers loved to watch WW II movies. "One of our favorites was "Up Periscope." But not anymore. The term has new meaning since I turned fifty. Who thought up that test?" At the end of the essay, he determines, "Not acting my age is a good thing."

These are wonderful essays even when he writes of his wife Gail's death from breast cancer. Readers will smile on nearly every page when he describes the antics of the long line of Golden Retrievers who were his constant companions both at home and in the field. And you may shed a tear when Stormzand describes how their Golden Retriever, Dusty, was always at his wife's bedside during her final weeks. And after her passing  Dusty instinctively knew when the author was at his lowest and, "would appear out of nowhere and nuzzle my hand with her nose. Absolutely amazing."

You will not find a more entertaining, deeply felt, and life re-affirming book of essays this year or next. It deserved to be counted among this year's Michigan Notable Book List.

Stormy Outside: the Adventures and Misadventures of a Forester and His Dog by Mark Stormzand. Mission Point Press, 2019, $16.95.

Heaven for Me: Selected Lyrics and Scores by Jay Stielstra
edited by Nada Rakic and Barbara Schmid

I can't read music or carry a tune in a wheelbarrow, and folk music never cracked the top ten of my favorite musical genres. Yet the editor of this book, in a great leap of faith, sent a review copy to me and I'm so glad he did.

I had never heard of Jay Stielstra and that is my loss as well as anyone else who never crossed paths with the man's music. Stielstra's lyrics are memorable, funny, provocative, plain-spoken, poetic and don't have to be set to music to be deeply appreciated or move the reader. Whether the subject is social justice, the passing of the years, the passing of a friend or loved one, the Great Lakes, or his love affair with northern Michigan they will strike a chord with the reader. 

But why should I try to convince you of Stielstra's often heartstopping lyrics when just a few examples of his magic with lyrics is much more effective. Here are a few stanzas from some of my favorite songs or poems found herein. 

from The Lake
"She's pretty as a woman and big as the sky
Angry as God in a churchgoer's eye
She'll float a boat 'til it's nearly home
Then let it sink like a granite stone"

from Heaven for Me
"So hand me down my fly rod and hand me down my gun
Dress me in my waders when my days on earth are done
Dump me in some corner in northern Michigan
Wrap my stiffened fingers 'round a Pabst Blue Ribbon can"

from Far Side of the Bed
"I'm not quite the man I was a while ago
The last two three years I been moving kinda slow
Then she slipped away, with no warning she was gone
Like the evening star with the coming of the dawn

And the far side of the bed is as cold as a stone
I just can't get used to sleeping alone" 

Stielstra wrote more than 150 songs and the editors and his wife have chosen 52 for inclusion in this book. The lyrics and score are complemented by photographs and the book contains a very short biography, several testimonials by other artists, and a discography. If you want more than the small appetizer of the above lyrics buy this book.

I can't pass up two stanzas from a song entitled "I'm Singing" which is one of my favorites in the book and I nominate for Michigan's state's anthem.  

"I love those April mornings when spring is finally here
And evenings late in June filled with mayflies and beer
How I love October with leaves of polished brass
And even January with the snow up to my ass

I'm singing, I'm singing 'bout this old State of mine
Closest thing to heaven that I will ever find
Her Great Lakes and her rivers are flowing sweet as wine
And an old empty beer can can buy a man a dime"

Heaven for Me: Selected Lyrics and Scores by Jay Sielstra edited by Nada Rakic and Barbara Schmid. Nada Rakic Publisher, 2019, $30

Any of the books reviewed in his blog may be purchased by clicking your mouse on the book's cover which will take you to Amazon where you can usually purchase the book at a discount. By using this blog as a portal to Amazon and purchasing any product helps support Michigan in Books.



Tuesday, December 31, 2019

January 1, 2020 Post # 50

Quote for the day: "Torch Lake has driven writers to poetic exhaustion when trying to describe its beauty." Glen Ruggles. Michigan History Magazine. January/February 1979


Downstream From Here: A Big Life in a Small Place
by Charles R. Eisendrath

The author was a Time Magazine foreign correspondent who ceaselessly roamed the world and was as rootless as an artificial Christmas tree. He was the bureau chief in a South American country with a wife and two small children when he was overwhelmed with the urge to put down some roots and make a home for his family. And it just so happened he had inherited a farmhouse and 140+ acres of land on the south arm of the Lake Charlevoix that is grandfather bought on the last day of World War II.

This charming and enjoyable book of essays is part autobiography, part musing on journalism, and a whole lot of putting down roots in northern Michigan. And by putting down roots I mean literally putting down roots. One of the first things Eisendrath does after moving to the farm is to plant ten acres of cherry trees as a cash crop.  This leads to a none too titillating discussion of the sex life of a cherry tree, reveals that it takes a year just to prepare the ground to receive young trees, and the correct way to prune a cherry tree to get the best harvest. The author also learns how easy it is for any number of things can go wrong and lose a crop.

The essays range from the world of a foreign correspondent to a meditation on the smells associated with a northern Michigan farm; from the odor of light oil used to sharpen tools and lubricate machinery, the stink at the bottom of a silo, the common odor of sour milk, and the all-pervasive scent of wood smoke. Other essays describe his neighbors who get by on subsistence farming, a recollection of  Charlevoix in the middle of the last century when there was a strict separation of Jewish and Christian neighborhoods. Strangely enough, many of the Jewish and Christian summer residents were from Chicago where they continually crossed paths while doing business in the Windy City. There's a great chapter on fishing, boating, and lake living in which he recalls the first time a steelhead hit his lure. He writes, "I thought at first that something terrible had happened to the rod, reel, boat, maybe the world."

Eisendrath is a thoroughly engaging author who writes movingly of how the love of place and pleasure of putting down roots is such an important part of a well-lived life. Each of the chapters or essays are small literary gems that bring past and present northern Michigan, it's people and way of life joyously alive.   

Downstream from Here: A Big Life in a Small Place by Charles R. Eisendrath. Mission Point Press, 2019, $19.95.

by B. G. Bradley

Hunter Lake is a small, fictional U.P. village that is filled with singularly engaging characters. The people and the village exist in the imagination of B. G. Bradley and the three books, to date, he has written chronicle critical and life-changing events in the villagers' lives. I have frankly become an addict of the series of which "Fallback" is the third.

Jake O'Brian left Hunter Lake after high school, became a world traveler, lawyer, dealmaker, and an international VIP. Late in middle-age, he married a trophy wife. The man who was always two steps ahead of everybody else, confident, and very self-assured slowly comes apart when his wife becomes pregnant and he is not sure the child is his. His wife adds to his torment by constantly changing her story or mind as to who is the father. Like a wounded animal returning to his den, Jake returns to Hunter Lake hoping to find some solace and support from family and friends, figure out if there is hope for his marriage, and can he love the child if it isn't his. Making things more difficult is the fact that his wife will not tell him whether or not she wants out of the marriage.

B. G. Bradley is not afraid to experiment with narrative styles. Thumbing through his first book with all its narrative kinks and novelties I thought it would be unreadable yet I became completely caught up in the novel. He takes similar chances with narrative style and pacing with this book. Most of the book is composed of very short chapters as Jake tells his story to friends and family and wrestles with what to do. Interspersed with the chapters set in Hunter Lake are brief scenes from a host of different locations ranging from sessions with a therapist to airports, Fiji, and a hunting camp in the U.P. to name a few. At first, the reader doesn't know if all the narrative jumping about is in chronological order or are flashbacks.  Ultimately, it doesn't matter because the brief chapters become brushstrokes of a talented portrait artist adding depth and character to his subject.

Once again the author's unorthodox style snares the reader and pulls them into Jake's life and his struggle to decide on a path of his post playboy life.  The book is not without surprise twists and turns. As with all Bradley's books on the denizens of Hunter Lake, the heart of this novel helps define home, love, family, and the unexpected turns one's life can take.  I am eagerly looking forward to meeting yet another fascinating character from Hunter Lake. Hopefully in the near future.

Fallback by B. G. Bradley. Benegamah Press, 2019, $9.95

The Gray Drake: A Burr Lafayette Mystery
by Charles Cutter

Quinn Shepherd is the best guide on Michigan's legendary trout stream the Au Sable River. After a night of fundraising at a posh trout lodge, Quinn takes his Au Sable boat and floats downriver to his favorite spot and reaches for his fly rod. The next morning he's found at the bottom of the stream with his boat's anchor cable wrapped around his ankle. His death is ruled accidental. He is survived by his wife Lizzie and their six-year-old son. A year later a damaged canoe paddle is found. The police reopen the case and Lizzie is soon charged with the murder of her husband.

Enter Burr Lafayette a lawyer who was recently kicked out of his Detroit law firm and has a lot more liabilities than assets. Frankly, he's in debt up to his eyebrows and endanger of losing the building he is buying to house his new law firm and his sailboat. He is talked into meeting Lizzie, who hardly has two dimes to rub together and reluctantly agrees to defend her. The deck is stacked against Lizzie and Burr goes to trial with no idea as to how he is going to mount a defense and create any doubt in the jury, let alone reasonable doubt.

The author has done a fine job of keeping the reader spellbound as the narrative unspools and Burr continues to grab at straws hoping it will lead to a crack in the prosecution's case. The author has peopled the book with a cast of interesting characters from an incompetent judge to flawed expert witnesses and the singular lawyer Burr Lafayette. The plot features unexpected twists and turns and will keep readers guessing to the end.

The Gray Drake is a dry fly. It is also a species of Mayflies and a famous fishing lodge in which the author has taken some literary license and moved it from the banks of the Manistee River to the Au Sable. The Gray Drake is also a fine mystery, a riveting courtroom drama set in and around Grayling that will hook readers within the first few pages.
The Gray Drake: A Burr Lafayette Mystery by Charles Cutter. Mission Point Press, 2019, $16.95

Any of the books reviewed in this blog may be purchased by clicking your mouse on the book's cover which will take you to amazon where you can usually purchase the book at a discount. By using this blog as a portal to amazon and purchasing any product helps support Michigan in Books.  



Sunday, December 1, 2019

December 1, 2019 Post #49

Quote for the day: "... those who have never seen Superior get an inadequate even inaccurate idea, by hearing it spoken of as a 'lake,' and to those who have sailed over its vast extent the word sounds ludicrous."  Reverend George Grant, the diarist of an 1872 expedition on the lake.


Overtime: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines at the Crossroads of College Football
by John U. Bacon

The author spent nearly a year with the Michigan football team during the 2018 season. From spring practices to the Peach Bowl Coach Harbaugh gave Bacon full access to the team from players, coaches, trainers, recruiters, and academic advisors, to equipment managers, nutritionists, strength coaches, and even players' parents. The result is the best book I've ever read about college football.

The book provides an interesting portrait of Jim Harbaugh who was hyper-competitive even in grade school and the readers get to know some of the players and learn why they picked U of M and how they benefitted from the program. The reader learns that the academic reputation of the University of Michigan played a major role in many of the players choosing U of M. When Harbaugh is asked to evaluate the team he always echoes his coach's (Schembechler) answer to that question by saying it is what the players achieve after ten or twenty years after graduating. Did his players become good fathers, were they respected in whatever job or career they choose, were they good husbands, and were they men of character? That belief is reflected in the Michigan football players who are confident that after spending four years being on the team they are ready to face any challenge. 

The author has no respect for the NCAA as a governing body of college sports. He points out that when a southern university was caught steering its football players to sign up for fictitious, non-existent courses that were never held and for which the players received an A the NCAA
 threatened to penalize the school.  When the university argued that any student could have signed up for the fake courses the NCAA lifted its sanctions. Logically, Bacon argues that when a major basketball powerhouse was stripped of two NCAA championships because the coach supplied prostitutes to players they were recruiting, the sanctions would have been lifted if the coach had provided prostitutes to the entire student body.  

Bacon also makes it clear that fans of college football are much more passionate about their team than NFL fans are about their hometown teams. This was not news to me because I have a daughter who graduated from U of M and comes close to sweating blood during the football season. Bacon has written a unique and revealing portrait of college football and just not a recapitulation of the season's games. Anyone who follows college football will find Bacon's book as engrossing as watching their team win a national championship. U of M fans will simply devour the book.

Overtime: Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines at the Crossroads of College Football by John U. Bacon. William Morrow, 2019, $28.99 hardback.

Upper Peculiar: Tales from Above the Bridge
by Joseph Heywood

Michigan readers can always count on Joseph Heywood for solid entertainment, captivating descriptions of the Upper Peninsula's natural setting and the character of the people who inhabit this unique and sparsely populated corner of America.  Once again the author does not disappoint with this collection of short stories set in the U.P. 

The stories range in time from World War II to the present with the WW II story initially set aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress on a training mission over Lake Superior when the crew is forced to bail out because of mechanical failures. The story focuses on the plane's tail gunner who is introduced to the Porcupine Mountains when his parachute becomes tangled in a tree and the airman finds himself hanging in his parachute harness from the top of a tree as evening falls and so does the temperature. Heywood's prose, as expected, is sharp, often memorable, and funny. Heywood treats the reader to sentences like, "Death was like graduating high school. You went through the door and never came back." Or, "The sky was the color of motor oil a thousand miles past a scheduled change."

The stories range from the dead man who was "not impressed" when he discovered heaven "seemed to be a dead ringer for the U. P." to the tale of a man who "mostly accidentally killed"  his best friend. The short story "Moccasin Square Garden" introduces John Clash, Chief of Tribal Police and his friend and counterpart Houghton County Sheriff Nayar Sekhar. The pair team up to handle an explosive situation when a recently released convict is bent on mayhem and retribution. I'd like to see the duo featured in a novel. 

Like all Heywood's books set in the Upper Peninsula, the latest is packed with marvelous characters and a wonderful feel for its unique setting. It is another gem from a prolific Michigan author and state treasure.

Upper Peculiar: Tales from Above the Bridge by Joseph Heywood, Lyons Press, 2019, $27.95.

The Life of the Sleeping Bear: Views and Stories from Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive
Jerry Peterson and Kathy Cole, editors

In 2011 ABC's Good Morning America ran a contest to select "The Most Beautiful Place in America." Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was voted #1. There is no better way to soak in the beauty, marvel at the grandeur, and learn about the natural and human history of this remarkable place than driving the seven-mile-long Pierce Stocking Drive and stopping at the 11 interpretive signs placed at significant points along the drive.

Produced by the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes, this book serves as an excellent in-depth guide to the national lakeshore by using the 11 interpretive stops on the scenic drive as the starting point for a much more detailed exploration of the geological and human history within the area.  The brief but thorough human history began some 8,000 years ago with the arrival of prehistoric hunters.  Logging, farming, and tourism are all covered and Pierce Stocking is given credit for helping preserve the land and began buying up acreage in the area when he foresaw the establishment of a national lakeshore. When the creation of the park was delayed he built a 14-mile road over and through the dunes as a tourist attraction.  When the park came into being the first thought was to close the drive but instead, it was shortened to seven miles and paved. Stocking also opened dune buggy rides that operated from 1934 to 1978. I can still vividly remember my Sleeping Bear Dune Buggy ride from the mid-1950s.

Maritime history is especially interesting with an explanation of the Manitou Passage as a major shipping lane and a map showing the known final resting places of many of the 60 vessels lost in the area. Lighthouses and the U. S. Life-Saving Station are also covered. The authors also explain the creation of the 450-foot high perched dunes and the story of how the dunes received their name. The book also details safety precautions visitors need to take when climbing the dunes. The book is packed with contemporary and historical photographs, charts, and illustrations.

The book is a fine memento for your visit to the National Lakeshore and makes even a better guide for planning a visit. You will arrive with a better appreciation for "The Most Beautiful Place in America" and it will single-out not-to-be-missed points of interest and spots of breathtaking beauty. This beautiful book will make your exploration of Sleeping Bear Dunes even more memorable. The book can be found in bookstores or ordered direct from the Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes at 

The Life of the Sleeping Bear: Views and Stories from Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive edited by Jerry Peterson and Kathy Cole. Mission Point Press, 2019, $29.95, Limited Edition $34.95.

The Words Between Us
by Erin Bartels

Robin Windsor, the owner of a small, and failing, used bookstore in a fictionalized Bay City wants nothing more than to remain invisible. Her father is on death row for corruption, extortion, and three highly publicized murders. Her mother is serving time for trying to help cover up her husband's crimes. Robin has taken an assumed name, has stopped all communication with her parents and wants nothing more than to be left alone and forgotten by the press and the public.

On the day her father was to be executed his lawyer wins a stay of execution and Robin receives a book in the mail that brings back painful memories. In succeeding days Robin receives more books which she fears may lead to her being identified and hounded by the press because of her father's notoriety and eminent execution. The arrival of the books splits the book's narrative into two storylines. One narrative returns Robin to her freshman year in high school and her relationship with senior Peter Flynt. Peter's mother was a book lover who died when he was much younger. As Robin and Peter's friendship grows Peter begins giving Robin his mother's favorite books to read. In payment for each book, Robin writes a poem about the book when she finishes it and gives the poem to Peter. When Robin is convinced Peter has betrayed her she leaves all the books on Peter's porch and flees to the U.P. to escape the press and her past life.  

The other narrative follows Robin's efforts to save the failing bookstore and, fearing exposure as the daughter of a killer, she tries to emotionally come to grips with what she believes is her parents' betrayal. It is also troubling and mysterious why Peter, after nearly 20 years, is sending his mother's books back to Robin at the rate of one a day. The two narratives, past and present, ultimately intertwine as Robin struggles to find a way to live with her past, make a new life for herself, and deal with Peter's reemergence into her life. The novel is beautifully written and will surprise readers with several unexpected plot twists. 

This second fine novel within a year by Erin Bartels of Lansing marks the debut of an important Michigan author.  It is an engrossing story featuring believable characters dealing realistically with betrayal, forgiveness, redemption, the emotional and psychological power of words, love of books. and learning to be true to yourself.

The Words Between Us by Erin Bartels. Revell, 2019, $15.99 pb.edition.

Any of the books reviewed in this blog may be purchased by clicking your mouse on the book's cover which will take you to Amazon where you can usually purchase the book at a discount. By using this blog as a portal to Amazon and purchasing any product helps support Michigan in Books.

Friday, November 1, 2019

November 1, 2019 Post #48

Quote for the day: "In 1889 Michigan was not only the greatest copper producing state in the United States, but it mined more copper than any foreign country." M. M. Quaife, Michigan: From Primitive Wilderness to Industrial Commonwealth. 1948.


The Women of the Copper Country
by Mary Doria Russell

This engrossing historical novel takes the reader back to Calumet, Michigan in 1913 when the copper miners at the Calumet & Hecla Mining Co. went on a months-long strike for better pay and better working conditions. What made the strike so extraordinary is that it was organized and led by a 25-year-old wife of a miner who opposed the strike. Annie Clements grew up in a Calumet mining family and was painfully aware of the miners' inherent dangers and the poor pay that barely kept food on the table. If a miner was injured and no longer able to work they were out of a job, received no recompense from the company and faced a complete absence of any state, federal, or local safety net that provided food or shelter to the miner and his family. 

To compete with the open-pit copper mining in the West the company began replacing the two-man drill with a drill operated by a single miner. The one-man drill was hard to control,  resulted in a flood of injuries, and sparked the strike. Annie Clement became a symbol of and a leader and organizer of the strike. She led daily marches through Calumet holding a huge American flag and won fame as the "Joan of Arc of America."  She was arrested, beaten, and jailed for her efforts. The book gives special and long overdue attention to the contributions of the Calumet women in the struggle for better pay, better working conditions, and a shorter workweek.

Although a novel, the book presents a powerful and honest portrait of Annie Clements and paints a colorful and authentic description of miners' lives in the company town of Calumet. Miners worked `12-hour shifts in dangerous, injury-plagued mile deep shafts that extended far out under Lake Superior. The miners and their families lived in company-owned houses and, could only shop in company-owned stores. The poor pay and company stores barely kept food on the table of a miner's family.  The work was dangerous and frequently fatal. This often forced a miner's young son to go in the mines so the family had food and a roof over their heads.

You will not find Annie Clements' name even mentioned in Michigan history textbooks and this compelling novel makes for a fine introduction to her life and courageous fight to better the lives of Michigan miners. Annie Clements, the company town of Calumet, and Michigan's copper mining era comes brilliantly alive under Russell's pen.  

Women of the Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell. Atria Books, 2019, $27.

Kingdom Forgotten: The Rise and Demise of a Mormon Island King
by Laurie Lounsbury

One of the strangest and most interesting chapters in Michigan's history is the story of James Jesse Strang who proclaimed the angels of the Lord anointed him the leader of the Mormon church after the death of Joseph Smith. Strang led his growing flock of believers to Beaver Island where he announced he was King of Beaver Island.  Strang preached that God gave Beaver Island to the Mormons and encouraged his flock to take what they needed from non-Mormons on the island. This thievery was called "consecrating." Strang took his second wife in secret and later told his first wife and his congregation the lord approved of multiple marriages. He took four "spiritual" wives who all gave birth to a child after his death.

Lounsbury's deeply researched, historically accurate, and utterly fascinating novel is a vivid and authentic depiction of life on the island for both recently converted Mormons and non-Mormon inhabitants who watched as several thousand Mormons flocked to the island. The non-Mormons found life difficult as arriving Mormons freely stole farming equipment and forced non-believers to pay an annual ten-percent tithe to Strang. 

The book is peopled by both fictional characters and real people. It realistically portrays the growing conflict between Mormons and Gentiles and paints a compelling portrait of James Jesse Strang and his lust for power and women. His authoritarian rule made enemies of both Gentiles and even among Strang's inner circle of followers. The novel is also noteworthy for its depiction of the women in his life, both Mormon and Gentiles, and how his multiple wives adjusted to polygamy. 

Strang's total control of his followers' lives even included what women should wear. And strangely enough, the issue of clothing played a part in his assassination. This is a well written and compelling novel that tells the fascinating story of the only man in America to declare himself king. That it happened in Michigan on Beaver Island makes it even more interesting.

Kingdom Forgotten: The Rise and Fall of a Mormon Island King by Laurie Lounsbury. Blue Foot Creative, 2019, $17.99.

The 16th Michigan Infantry in the Civil War
by Kim Crawford

The 16th Michigan Infantry Regiment arrived in the nation's capital and joined the Army of the Potomac after the First Battle of Bull Run. In the following four years, the regiment was engaged in every major battle fought by the Army of the Potomac and was on hand at Appomattox when Lee surrendered.  This revised and expanded edition is a sterling example of how well written and researched Civil War regimental histories capture the lives of Union soldiers and their day-to-day experiences in camp, on the march, and in battle.

The formation and organization of the regiment was entangled in controversy and their performance on Little Round Top at Gettysburg left a black mark on the unit's reputation. Colonel Thomas Stockton of Flint was a Mexican War officer and when the call went out for the states to send regiments to Washington Stockton was eager to raise and command a regiment.  Governor Blair, a staunch Republican, refused to accommodate Stockton, a Democrat. So Stockton raised his own regiment and had to petition the War Department to force Blair into equipping it, officially recognize the regiment's officers, and accept the unit as an official state regiment.

Of particular interest is the regiment's actions in the Battle of Gettysburg. The 16th was in the same battalion as the 20th Maine. The battalion was rushed to defend the Little Round Top from a flank attack by General Longstreet's division. The 20th Maine held the left flank of the Union forces on Little Round Top and the 16th Michigan held the rightwing of the Union line. Much has been written about the heroics of the 20th Maine including the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. During the same Rebel attack, several companies of the 16th Michigan were on the far right of the line and under great pressure from several Confederate units. Outflanked companies and broke and retreated. The timely arrival of another Union regiment halted the Confederates and sent them reeling. The men of the 16th were deeply embarrassed by the retreat. It was a black mark against the regiment and the 16th developed a code of silence around the retreat at Little Round Top and never talked or discussed the battle even long after the war.

Crawford maintains that the story of the 20th Maine's saving of the Army of the Potomac from defeat that day became a "mythic tale." The author supports his opinion with factual detail and keen analysis. He also maintains the retreat of 2 or 3 companies from the 16th (the smallest regiment in the battalion) was not an act of cowardness. On entering the battle the Michigan regiment was placed in the most exposed position, and simply overwhelmed by four Rebel regiments. Crawford breaks with many Civil War historians with the opinion that if Little Round Top had been lost to the Rebels it would not have automatically meant the Confederates would have won at Gettysburg.

The most important virtue of this book is to make the everyday lives of the men under arms in the 16th Michigan from Detroit, Saginaw, Hillsdale, Lansing, Adrian, Plymouth, Albion and far off Ontonogan a shared experience with the reader. As soldiers will, they complained about everything. It particularly irked the men that they had to support the regimental chaplain at $7 a day and felt they were not getting their money's worth from the man of God who did little more than pick up the mail daily and give a sermon on Sunday.  One soldier wrote, "It hain't preaching either; he gets up and yam[s] it a spell and sing[s] a patriotic song and dismiss[es] the men."

Crawford does justice to the men of the 16th Michigan who fought and died to save this country. High marks also go to the publisher for producing a beautiful book with high-quality paper, sewn not glued binding, great page layout, a wealth of photographs, and an attention-grabbing cover. Appendices include a complete regimental roster, footnotes, index, and an exhaustive bibliography.

Michigan Infantry in the Civil War, Revised and Updated by Kim Crawford. Michigan State University Press, 2019, $49.95.

Any of the books reviewed in this blog may be purchased by clicking your mouse on the book's cover which will take you to Amazon where you can usually purchase the book at a discount. By using this blog as a portal to Amazon and purchasing any product helps support Michigan in Books.

May 1, 2020 # 54

Quote for the day: "... Ann Arbor was at the extreme end of the habitable world, beyond which the sun went down on a boundless, bottoml...