Suitcase Full of Memories

Unpacking History One Discovery at a Time


BooksBooks are often the bridge between ourselves and the past, whether it be the family Bible or the centennial publication from a small town on the Hudson River.  Books help us understand the time and place where an ancestor lived.  Books help us unfold the wrinkles in our understanding of the who, what, when, and why of our past.    The list here will grow as time goes by and your comments, recommendations and observations are welcome.  Come on in and browse.

About this page:

Books on this page will be in one of two categories:  Read or Recommended for books I have personally read or books that have been recommended to be by someone whose opinion I trust.    Each of the two categories will maintain lists of books by subject.   If you find a book in the wrong subject, please let us know and we’ll fix it.

Books I’ve Recently Read 

Women’s History

Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria WoodhullOther Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull by Barbara Goldsmith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I learned so much from this book. Not just about Victoria Woodhull, but about Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Comstock, Tilten, Henry Beecher, and all the major players in suffrage, free love, religious revivalism, and spiritualism. The incredible research brings to live 50 years of women fighting for emancipation.

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American History: Social Comentary

Assassination VacationAssassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Somehow Sarah Vowell is able to connect the assassination of President Garfield to a discussion about the architectural influences of Frank Lloyd and Pablo Picasso on turn of the century architecture. In this book Sarah, and often her nephew Owen, set out on pilgrimages to uncover the oft-hidden details of the assassinations of President Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Cleveland.

The side-detours to the Dry Tortugas and snake-infested cemeteries are presented with all the sardonic commentary only Sarah Vowell can deliver. I learned a ton in this book and listening to Vowell read it was nothing short of pure joy. Sarah delivers.

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American History – Civil War

Hallowed Ground: A Walk at GettysburgHallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg by James M. McPherson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a great book to listen to as we drove to Gettysburg. The straightforward writing brings out the details of this horrendous battle in such a way as to ensure the reader gasps the bigger picture. A must read/listen for anyone wanting to enrich their understanding of Gettysburg.

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Assassin's AccompliceAssassin’s Accomplice by Kate Clifford Larson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In-depth exploration of the culpability of Mart Surratt, the first woman executed by the United States. I knew little about the actual plot to kill President Lincoln before reading this; the depth of detail and knowledge brought forth was fascinating– so many people were involved and all anchored out of the Surratt boarding house.

The confederate sympathies were so deep and full of pure hatred, a hatred I don’t think we can really understand today even in our own divided nation. To be so driven to kill…

The Story unfolds a bit too slowly as the author tries to capture every detail, meeting and nuance, but the evidence is clearly outlined, as is the abominable legal council, the horrific prison conditions and the execution itself.

This book provides an alternative look at the civil war showing the feelings of those seccessionist living so close to the capital, as well as a clear understanding of the role of Mary Surratt in the execution of Preident Lincoln. Well worth the read.

Note: I read via audiobook.

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American History – 20th Century

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in HistoryThe Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the story of the onslaught of disease and humanity’s response. It is a sweeping medical and scientific history of influenza and the people in positions of power to respond, change, prevent and understand the virus causing influenza, both in 1918-1919 and now.

Barry digs deep into his subject, chronicling the epidemic migration, the scientists and investigators who tried to understand and prevent it, the role of President Wilson’s war machine in spreading influenza and contributing to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Barry digs deep to illuminate the break-down of society and the costs of fear and lies that pit sister against sister, neighbor against neighbor and scientists against contagions. He goes further and outlines the current state of readiness for an almost certain return of an influenza pandemic in my lifetime.

I am recommending this book to anyone I know in the health care and political arenas. It has provoked in me a desire to keep learning, and to engage in public health. A powerful and sobering look at our past, and our potential future.

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The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 by David McCullough
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fascination was not what I expected, but there it was. The ingenuity, chutzpa and mental tenacity required to get a canal that not only worked, but worked in tact for over 60 years was nothing short of amazing. I loved hearing the political machinations and the number of pounds of dirt moved. I enjoyed knowing about the money spent and the quantity of shovels required. Now I want to go through the Panama Canal for myself.

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American History – Survey, Criticism and Political Commentary

A People's History of the United States: 1492 to PresentA People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present by Howard Zinn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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