Why I Review History Books and Why You Should Too

BooksHow many books do you read each year?

How many books do you read because a friend, family member, or colleague recommended them to you?

How many do you read and purchase because you read a favorable review online?

Book reviews serve as important guides for potential book readers and buyers.

In this post you will discover why leaving book reviews on retail and review websites such as Goodreads helps both your fellow readers and historians.


The Power of a Review

Book reviews sway our decisions about whether we should read, and/or buy, a book because they offer us social proof of its quality and content.

Our time is precious and none of us want to waste our time reading a book that has a poorly written or told story or that does not contain the information we seek. Therefore, we rely on reviews to help us figure out which books are worth investing time in.

We also use reviews to help us determine whether we should purchase a book or borrow it from our local library. If a lot of people loved a book, you may be more inclined to purchase it whereas you may opt to place a book on your library borrow list if it has a mix of positive and negative reviews.


2 Types of Reviews: Ratings and Scholarly Reviews

There are 2 types of reviews that effect our decision-making process: Ratings and Scholarly, or Literary, Reviews.

Amazon1. Ratings: Websites often allow customers to review a book by rating it.

Amazon uses a 5 star scale: 1 star means the book is bad and 5 stars denote a MUST read.

If a book carries a lot of positive ratings, you are more likely to decide to read it because a group of people have vetted the book as good and therefore worth your time.

If you are undecided about whether to read a particular book, negative ratings, or a lack of ratings, may sway you against reading it.


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Wednesday Link Roundup #71: Productive Writing and Interesting History

Jefferson Roundup Wednesday Link Roundup: Links to the most interesting history, news, writing, and technology posts that passed through my RSS and Twitter feeds over the last week.



The Law Library of Congress announced a partnership with HeinOnline to offer better digital access to US federal law documents for free.

Do you like camping? The New England Historical Society reminds us that “Before the Winnebago there was the Springfield Portable House.”

The 16th-Century Dance Plague” hit Strasbourg, France in July 1548.



Would you like to be more productive? Fast Company writer Rachel Gillett suggests setting a work-type theme for each day of the week in “Give Your Day a Theme to Regain Focus.”

3 Productivity Tips from Winston Churchill“offers information about 3 of Churchill’s productivity rituals.


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Boston Historical Events for the Week of October 20, 2014

Boston Historical EventsBoston Historical Events: A list of history-related events taking place in Boston between Monday October 20 and Sunday October 26, 2014.


Abitail Adams HSAbigail Adams Birthplace

Saturday, October 25, 9am-2pm, Historical Symposium, First Church in Weymouth, Free, RSVP Requested

The Abigail Adams Birthplace Historic Site and The Adams Papers Editorial Project will commemorate the 250th wedding anniversary of John and Abigail Adams with an historical symposium. The symposium will take place in the historic First Church of Weymouth, the church where Abigail’s father William Smith preached. Five accomplished scholars will discuss the public and private roles John and Abigail played throughout their lives together. Time will be allowed for the audience to ask questions and for a general discussion during each session of the symposium. Please visit the Symposium website for a detailed schedule.


Boston-by-Foot.gifBoston By Foot

Saturday, October 25, 1-2:30pm, Walking Tour, Kings Chapel Burying Ground, $5 Members/$15 Nonmembers, Tickets Required

Learn about Puritan New England death customs in “Grave Undertakings: Death in Boston,” an exciting tour that will take you through three of Boston’s historic burying grounds: King’s Chapel, the Granary, and the Central Burying Ground. As you walk among the dead, your knowledgeable guide will tell you about Puritan religious views, practices, headstone symbolism, and traditions of death. Meet your guide in the King’s Chapel Burying Ground.


Sunday, October 26, 2-3:30pm, Walking Tour, 555 Talbot Ave, $5 Members/$15 Nonmembers, Tickets Required

Join Boston By Foot for a tour of “Carruth’s Hill” in Dorchester. Public transportation allowed “Carruth’s Hill” to develop into a beautiful garden suburb. The wealthy flocked to this neighborhood where they used well-known architects to build their beautiful Victorian houses. Your guide will lead you through this historic neighborhood and together you will experience its beauty and explore the lives of the extraordinary people who have called it home.


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The Historiann Challenge: Tackling The New York Times Book Review Interview

NYT Book ReviewThis week I am taking “Historiann” Ann M. Little’s Challenge.

Inspired by James McPherson’s Q & A in The New York Times Sunday Book Review, Little decided to answer the same questions The Times posed to McPherson. She posted her responses on her blog “Historiann: History and Sexual Politics, 1492 to the Present” and encouraged her readers to do the same.

In this post you will discover what my answers are to The New York Times Book Review interview questions.


The Interview


What books are currently on your night stand?

BooksPresently, I have 7 books on my nightstand:
1. Gregory O’Malley, Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619-1807

2. Ian Mortimer, The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century

3. Ian Mortimer, The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England

4. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations: A New Translation

5. Mark Satterfield, The One Week Marketing Plan: The Set It & Forget It Approach for Quickly Growing Your Business

6. Lawrence Hill, The Book of Negroes

7. Allegra di Bonaventura, For Adam’s Sake: A Family Saga in Colonial New England


What was the last truly great book you read?

In terms of history, the last great book I read was John Demos’ The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America. This well-written history narrative provides excellent insight into how an historian’s mind works. It is a history book that tells a gripping story that reads like a detective novel.

Amazon ImageThe Unredeemed Captive tells the story of Eunice Williams and her family. On the night of February 29, 1704, French-allied Native Americans raided the town of Deerfield, Massachusetts. The raid came early in Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713), the second out of four wars waged between France and England for domination of North America. The raiders kidnapped Eunice Williams and many of her family members during the attack. In fact, the Native Americans went to Deerfield with orders from New France’s governor to take Williams’ father, Reverend John Williams, because he would fetch a high value in any prisoner exchange between New France and New England. Although the Governor of Massachusetts Bay arranged for the redemption of all of the Williams family members, the Native Americans had adopted 4-year-old Eunice and refused to part with her. As a result, Eunice became an adopted member of the Kahnawake Mohawk people. She grew up as both a Mohawk and as a French-speaking Catholic, a fate almost worse than death for her Puritan family.

Demos spends much of the book sorting out the knowns and unknowns of Eunice’s life as a Kahnawake. Sparse documentary evidence about Eunice’s life causes Demos to discuss theories or speculations about what Eunice’s life as a Mohawk must have been like. He bases his theories and speculations on first-hand accounts of what the village looked like, how the Kahnawake lived and worked, and the Mohawks’ process of captive adoption. Demos admits that much of his evidence comes from accounts biased with European prejudices.

In sharing his thought process throughout The Unredeemed Captive, Demos shows how the mind of an historian works. Throughout the book Demos demonstrates how historians weigh evidence. He gives a lot of weight to evidence that specifically documents Eunice and notes how and why some supporting evidence such as letters between family members or the captive narratives of others do not offer as reliable evidence.


Who are the best historians writing today?

In alphabetical order: Colin G. Calloway, John Demos, Alan Taylor, and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, to name just a few.


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Wednesday Link Roundup #70: Hamilton Sings, Poe Forgives, and Franklin Bakes

Abigail Adams RoundupWednesday Link Roundup: Links to the most interesting history, news, writing, and technology posts that passed through my RSS and Twitter feeds over the last week.



J.L. Bell reports that Lin-Manuel Miranda has written a musical about Alexander Hamilton that is destined to hit an off-Broadway stage soon in “A Hip-Hip Hamilton Coming to a New York Stage.”

How did the Adams family of Massachusetts use codes, ciphers, and keys to encrypt sensitive state documents while overseas? Junto blogger Sara Georgini discusses in “Decoding Diplomacy.”

On Sunday October 12, 2014, Boston unveiled its statue to native son Edgar Allan Poe, which prompted The New York Times to proclaim “Edgar Allan Poe’s with Boston? Nevermore.

The Bostonian Society opened the 113-year-old time capsule it found inside the Old State House Lion’s crown. What did they find inside? Check out: “Old State House Time Capsule: See What’s Inside the Lion’s Head.

John Fea interviewed my classmate Kyle Bulthuis about his new book Four Steeples Over the City Streets: Religion and Society in New York’s Early Republic Congregations.”

On October 15, 2014, the Colonial Society of Massachusetts will release its latest edited volume of Thomas Hutchinson’s Papers.

Historian Rachel Hope Cleves picked apples and then baked them into “Benjamin Franklin’s Apple Pudding.”



Registration is now open for “‘So Sudden an Alteration': The Causes, Course, and Consequences of the American Revolution,” the 2nd part of the the American Revolution Reborn conference series. The conference will take place in Boston, April 9-11, 2015.


Writing & Writer Platform

S.C. Gwynne presents writing tips for historians in “Three Things to Keep in Mind When You Are Trying to Write a Compelling History.”

Social media and platform expert Frances Caballo offers advice for “How to Target Your Readership” on social media.

Buffer suggests “23 Tools and Resources to Create Images for Social Media.”


Share Your Story

Do you have any tips to add to Gwynne’s 3 Things?


Fun Video

One of Tim’s co-workers attached a GoPro video camera to his quadcopter and took this amazing footage of a hawk attacking his drone in Cambridge, MA.


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