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Book Review: Plank Bottom Chairs and Chairmakers: South Central Pennsylvania 1800-1880

Merri Lou Schaumann, Plank Bottom Chairs and Chairmakers: South Central Pennsylvania 1800-1880. Carlisle, PA: The Cumberland County Historical Society, 2009. Photos, 136 pgs., $29.95.

In Plank Bottom Chairs and Chairmakers: South Central Pennsylvania 1800-1880, Merri Lou Schaumann presents a thorough analysis of this prolific furniture form, with an emphasis on the Cumberland Valley. The book's five chapters include a history of the chairmaking business, styles and construction of the chair form, methods of painting and decoration, design motifs, and a directory of known nineteenth-century local makers. 

Book Review: Railroads of Pennsylvania: Fragments of the Past in the Keystone Landscape

Lorett Treese, Railroads of Pennsylvania: Fragments of the Past in the Keystone Landscape. Mechanicsburg PA: Stackpole Books, 2003. Photos, 256 pps., $18.95.

This book is described by its writer as "part history and part travel guide, intended to place many of the Commonwealth's railroad artifacts, or fragments, in historical context." It is organized into eight chapters based on regional tourism promotional districts. Each chapter then follows a standard format to discuss the major railroads, rail stories, historic figures, existing artifacts and rail trails. Cumberland County is included in the Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country section.

Book Review: Rockville Bridge: Rails Across the Susquehanna

Dan Cupper, Rockville Bridge: Rails Across The Susquehanna (Halifax, Pa.: Withers Publishing, 2002) 112pp., illustrated (some col.), maps, plans, $29.95.

More than a century after it was built by the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Rockville Bridge continues to carry mainline rail traffic over the Susquehanna River. This stone and concrete structure, the third bridge to stand at this site, has weathered ice and flood, corporate bankruptcy and merger, and changes in usage, yet it remains a monument to American railroading.

Book Review: Taverns of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania

Taverns of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, 1750-1840. By Merri Lou Schaumann. Illustrated, 250 pp. Carlisle: Cumberland County Historical Society, 1994. $34.95.

The title of Ms. Schaumann's superb work understates the wealth of material to be found therein; indeed, the book contains just about everything the reader might wish to know about early taverns, particularly those rural and small town hostelries that flourished in the Pennsylvania hinterland. Communities often derived their colorful names from their early taverns. Whatever strikes the reader's fancy—architecture, socio-economic status of the tavern patrons, historic events that occurred, ownership and proprietorship, and the varied uses to which taverns were put—it will be there, all carefully researched and documented.

Book Review: The American Civil War: A Military History

John Keegan, The American Civil War: A Military History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009), 416 pp.; index, photographs, maps. Hardcover, $35.00; ISBN: 978-0-307-26343-8; Paperback, $16.95; ISBN: 978-0-307-27493-9 

British historians have long been fascinated by the American Civil War. To give but two examples: In 1926, the first book by David Knowles, a Benedictine monk best known now for his volumes on medieval monasticism, was The American Civil War; the middle third of the fourth and final volume of Winston Churchill's A History of the English-Speaking Peoples ( 1958) recounts the American Civil War. Now John Keegan, for forty years a formidable name among military historians, contributes his own book on the subject, one he has been studying for much of his career. From his days as an undergraduate at Oxford until now, he has returned again and again to the battlefields, letters, and memoirs of the American Civil War. In 1987 his The Mask of Command featured, alongside Alexander the Great, the Duke of Wellington, and Adolf Hitler, Ulysses S. Grant; in 1995 his Fields of Battle (published in the U. K. as Warpaths) discussed several battles waged on United States soil, including the Peninsula Campaign. In this fine book he sums up the Civil War as "an entirely new way of warfare, a struggle between beliefs fought by populations quite untrained to fight." 

Book Review: The Bitter Fruits: The Civil War Comes to a Small Town in Pennsylvania

The Bitter Fruits: The Civil Wilr Comes to a Small Town in Pennsylvania. By David G. Colwell, 1998. Cumberland County Historical Society, 1998. 

Another book on the Civil War, you say. Yes, but one that is unique to that vast body of writing. It is about the overall situation that led to the Civil War and its conduct until the Battle of Antietam. It is about the war's effect on Carlisle. But most of all it is about James Colwell, a 49-year old lawyer from Carlisle who enlisted in the Union cause shortly after the firing on Fort Sumter, and his wife, Annie, who was twenty years younger. Two things complicated· the situation-James made his decision to join the Army without consulting Annie, and Annie, born in Baltimore, tended to be Secessionist in her point of view. 

Book Review: The Indian Industrial School Carlisle, Penna: 1879-1918

Linda Witmer's chronicle of the Carlisle Indian School makes one feel that he was really there and knew some of the students personally. The story begins with the journey of seventy-two shackled Indian prisoners to St. Augustine, Florida in 1875 under Richard Henry Pratt, the transfer of most of them three years later to Hampton, Virginia, and the establishment of the Indian Industrial School at Carlisle in 1879. Pratt served with distinction as Superintendent of the school for twenty-five years.

Book Review: The Moravian Mission Diaries of David Zeisberger 1772-1781

Hermann Wellenreuther and Carola Wessel, editors, The Moravian Mission Diaries of David Zeisberger 1772-1781. Penn State University Press, 2005. Maps, appendix, register of persons, index of place and river names and other geographical terms, bibliography, and index, 666 pages, hardcover $65.00.

Primary sources are often given a bad rap. They are dimly remembered as recalcitrant beasts from secondary school or college, dry and confusing and often in storage. They resist the easy gratification of false authority; indeed, radically, they require the reader to think, to do more research beyond and behind and around them, and to think some more. They are work. Primary sources, however (and this is kept as a secret by the cognoscenti), are also fun. Properly approached, they are exciting, provocative, and astonishingly vivid in their expression of a particular time, place, and character. Penn State University Press has given a tremendous gift to the history of the state by publishing David Zeisberger's diaries, one of the most valuable primary source publications in the eighteenth century field.

Book Review: The Most Learned Woman in America: A Life of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson

Anne M. Ousterhout, The Most Learned Woman in America: A Life of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004. Photos, 394 pps., $35.00.

Recent years bear witness to an inordinate and pervasive coverage in books and through other media of America's "founding fathers" and the ethos of the nation and society they wished to create. In fact, the treatment is so extensive that critics are debating why such an increase in fascination now and what does it say about ourselves and our nation. Books such as the Founding Fathers by Joseph Ellis, John Adams by David McCullough, Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson and Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow are enjoying a surprisingly positive reception even among the general reading public.

Book Review: The Old Country Store on the Miracle Mile: A True Story

Mel Spahr, The Old Country Store on the Miracle Mile: A True Story. (New York: Vantage Press, 2000). viii, 45, illustrated. Paperback $8.95 (ISBN 0- 533--12837-4)

At one time almost every crossroad community in Pennsylvania had its own general store, so named because these businesses handled all types of general merchandise from food to hardware to clothing. Victims of the big-store competition made possible by a mobile society, few of the old stores remain.