A note here – I’ve mostly been listing nonfiction books in the month I started reading them, and combining my thoughts from throughout the time I was actually reading it. But I actually spent months reading some of these nonfiction books.
Nonfiction: They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War by DeAnne Blanton is really, really dry in style but blew my mind at the same time. There were so many women who fought, for so many reasons and in so many ways, and so much evidence of their presence which was later forgotten or suppressed. There are so many amazing stories in this book; every one could be a novel on its own.
Forty Miles a Day on Beans and Hay: The Enlisted Soldier Fighting the Indian Wars by Don Rickey Jr. is a bit dated in some respects, mostly regarding gender and race, but is worth reading because of age as well; veterans of the U.S. Army during that time were still alive, and interviewed by the author. The book’s very anecdotal, but a decent information source, I think.
White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South by Martha Hodes is very enlightening, though the style is dry and academic. As one might expect, most of the factual information is drawn from court cases, which may or may not have had anything to do with the actual relationship. The book begins with a marriage between an Irish indentured servant and a Black slave in 1681. This became a court case because by the laws of the time, she and her children were supposed to become slaves upon the marriage, and they did, but then the laws changed and her grandchildren sued for freedom. They lost, but then a great-grandchild sued and won. One of the author’s main points seems to be that lynching culture (and black men being accused of raping white women) didn’t become virulent until after black men gained the right to vote and thus became more of a threat to white men. The last chapters, on Reconstruction and the ensuing torture and murder, are pretty tough going as you might imagine, but the thing that struck me most is how easily I could transfer the events and the arguments to today’s news reports. That made me sad and angry, even though it wasn’t really news to me, because it’s still happening.
Victorian Babylon: People, Streets and Images in Nineteenth-Century London by Lynda Nead is one of those books that gives you a lot to think about in a lot of different directions.