Nonfiction Book Reviews

  • Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story

    By Rick Bragg
    HarperCollins Publishers, 2014
    $27.99, Hardcover


    Reviewed by
    Don Noble

    Over two summers, Rick Bragg sat by Jerry Lee Lewis’ bed, where Lewis, in his late seventies, was mostly immobile, in pain, suffering from shingles, systemic infections, pneumonia, a compound fracture of the leg that wouldn’t heal, and crippling arthritis, tended to by his seventh wife, Judith. After a lifetime of alcohol, barbiturates, amphetamines, and thousands of one-night stands with his band and strange women, it was a wonder he was alive at all, but The Killer, a nickname earned in the sixth grade, his last year of schooling, was surviving and unrepentant. Read the complete review

  • Men We Reaped: A Memoir

    By Jesmyn Ward
    Bloomsbury, 2014
    $26, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Don Noble

    Jesmyn Ward’s first novel, Where the Line Bleeds (2008), is the story of twin brothers. Her second, Salvage the Bones (2011), published while she was teaching at the University of South Alabama, won the National Book Award even though it had just been released, there had been no reviews, and the reading public had barely seen it. The judges were rightly amazed. Candid, but in lyrical imagery, Bones captures the life of a poor black family as Hurricane Katrina looms, then strikes. Now we have this painful, raw memoir, and it is not the story of literary and financial success, the rising out of difficult circumstances, that one expected. Read the complete review

  • The Meaning of Human Existence

    By Edward O. Wilson
    Liveright Publishing Company, a division of W. W. Norton & Co., 2014
    $23.95, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Don Noble

    What writer/thinker would have the expertise, the wisdom, the confidence, and the courage to write a book titled The Meaning of Human Existence? The subject is infinite and eternal, not to mention wildly controversial. Luckily, there is such a person: E. O. Wilson, Harvard Professor of Biology Emeritus, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, author of over twenty books, inventor, one might say, of sociobiology, expert on ants and superorganisms of all kinds, premier ecologist, and, one could argue, the Francis Bacon, the Charles Darwin, of our time. Read the complete review

  • Tinsley Harrison, MD: A Teacher at Heart

    By James Pittman Jr., MD
    NewSouth Books, 2014
    $45, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Irene Wong

    As the mother of two children who became medical doctors, I have often wondered how both siblings from our long family line (on both sides) of humanities teachers instead chose medicine for their career. As they made their way through elementary, junior high, and high school, I did not foresee that goal. Some friends teased me about being a “tiger mom,” in the spirit of author Amy Chua (Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother). The only similarity is simply that we both saw potential in our kids and we needed to convince them that if they would apply themselves they might be amazed at what they could do. In view of all this, I just read with much interest the new biography, Tinsley Harrison, MD: Teacher of Medicine by James A. Pittman Jr., MD. It answers many questions about the appeal of the profession of medicine. Read the complete review

  • The Quilt and the Poetry of Alabama Music

    By Frye Gaillard
    and Kathryn Scheldt
    Solomon & George, 2012
    Paper, $19.95


    Reviewed by Edward Reynolds

    Alabama lays claim to an amazing array of musical talent, from the “Father of the Blues,” W. C. Handy, to premier country music icon Hank Williams Sr. In Frye Gaillard and Kathryn Scheldt’s The Quilt and the Poetry of Alabama Music, stories of the rich and famous are shared alongside those of songwriters and musicians who never saw their names in lights. Regardless, the state’s obscure musical talent proudly carries on the beloved tradition of songwriting as brilliantly as that of the stars who inspired them. Read the complete review

  • The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee

    By Marja Mills
    The Penguin Press, 2014
    $27.95 Hardcover


    Reviewed by Nancy Grisham Anderson

    In a June [2014] issue of The New York Times Book Review, two writers for the Bookends section respond to the question “When we read fiction, how relevant is the author’s biography?” This question has been asked about Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, since the author withdrew from public view within a few years of the release of her novel in July of 1960. Several biographies in recent years, a number of them for young readers, have been published without the approval or involvement of the author herself.

    Now The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills, identified as “a memoir,” is an effort to fill some of the voids left by the earlier biographies. Read the complete review

  • 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey (Commemorative Edition)

    By Kathryn Tucker Windham and Margaret Gillis Figh, with a new Afterword by Dilsy Windham Hilley and Ben Windham
    The University of Alabama Press, 2014
    $29.95, Hardcover

    Reviewed by Don Noble

    In 1964 The Strode Publishers of Huntsville, Alabama, released Treasured Alabama Recipes by Kathryn Tucker Windham. A great success, the book’s recipes were accompanied by stories that caught the public imagination. Strode was eager to have another book by Windham, stories this time, no recipes needed. She chose to write up ghost stories from around Alabama. 13 Alabama Ghosts was a hit, too, Read the complete review

  • Birmingham: Then and Now

    By Todd Keith
    Trafalgar Square Publishing, 2014
    Price: $19.95, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Don Noble

    Todd Keith, the author of Insider’s Guide to Birmingham, has collected dozens of photographs, the earliest of which seem to be about 1905, and, restricting himself to the old city limits and early suburbs, matched them up with contemporary shots of the same church, office building, street, park, athletic field, or monument. The photos, combined with brief commentaries, make for a pleasing visual trip through Birmingham’s architectural past. Read the complete review

  • The Island Called Paradise: Cuba in History, Literature, and the Arts

    By Philip D. Beidler
    The University of Alabama Press, 2014
    $34.95, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Don Noble

    Over a long career, Phil Beidler has written analyses of early American and Alabama literature, sweeping commentaries of the literature of World War II and Vietnam, a number of powerful personal essays based on his experiences as a lieutenant in Vietnam and, most lately, in American Wars, American Peace (2007), savage, outraged appraisals of American political leadership and foreign policy. To all this he brings considerable skill as a cultural critic, usually of the U.S. But here the subject is Cuba. Read the complete review

  • Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How The Swampers Changed American Music

    By Carla Jean Whitley
    The History Press, 2014
    $19.99, Paper


    Reviewed by Don Noble

    Through fresh interviews with musicians and considerable research online and in newspaper files, Carla Jean Whitley has generated this compact history. Admittedly most appealing to aficionados, this book will teach any reader a good deal about a section of Alabama often overlooked. Read the complete review

  • Alabama Scoundrels: Outlaws, Pirates, Bandits & Bushwhackers

    By Kelly Kazek & Wil Elrick
    The History Press, 2014
    $19.99; Paper


    Reviewed by Don Noble

    Alabama Scoundrels is a short book, 122 pages, of brief sketches of twenty-two Alabama miscreants. Most of the scoundrels of the title are criminals, usually killers of some type and usually nineteenth century, although a few go back further, to before statehood in 1819, when Alabama was part of the Mississippi Territory. READ MORE…

  • No Hill Too High for a Stepper: Memories of Montevallo, Alabama

    By Mike Mahan
    with Norman McMillan
    NewSouth Books in Cooperation with The Cahaba Trace Commission, 2014
    $27.95, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Danny Gamble

    Complete disclosure: A Montevallo resident, this reviewer is acquainted with both Dr. Mike Mahan and Dr. Norman McMillan.

    Not every Southern boy has a spring-fed swimming hole at the end of his street, a woman’s liberal arts college—known as the Angel Farm—at the other end, and Frog Holler—once a place for illegal horse races, boxing matches, Battle Royals (last black man standing won the pot while the white men stood by & bet), and cock fights, but much later “a perfect playground”—in the middle. Local boy Mike Mahan had all of this and more, and he writes extensively about it in this new memoir No Hill Too High for a Stepper: Memories of Montevallo, Alabama. Read the complete review

  • Fear and What Follows: The Violent Education of a Christian Racist: A Memoir

    By Tim Parrish
    University Press of Mississippi: Willie Morris Books in Memoir and Biography, 2014
    $28, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Don Noble

    A river of books has come out of the civil rights moment: large-scale general histories like Taylor Branch’s three volume America in the King Years and more focused studies such as Diane McWhorter’s investigation of the Movement in Birmingham, Carry Me Home. Likewise there are memoirs by famous activists such as John Lewis and by many minor figures who have contributed their small pieces to the historical picture.

    Up until now we have had almost no reports from the other side of these ’60s and ’70s battlefields. What were the violent racists, brutal policemen and troopers, Klansmen, thinking? Why did they behave as they did? What beliefs, emotions, one might one say misguided principles, caused them to act in vicious, cruel, and finally futile and stupid ways? There is now a trickle of memoirs from those individuals, “recovering” racists, the most articulate of whom attempt to explain why they acted as they did. Read the complete review

  • Send the Alabamians: World War I Fighters in the Rainbow Division

    By Nimrod T. Frazer; Introduction by Edwin C. Bridges.
    The University of Alabama Press, 2014
    $34.95, Hardcover; $34.95, eBook


    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    The awe-inspiring sculpture of a World War I soldier carrying a wounded comrade was the perfect choice for the cover of this book. As the text on the jacket points out: "The book borrows its title from a speech by American General Edward H. Plummer, who commanded the young men during the inauspicious early days of their service.... Impressed with their ferocity and esprit de corps but exasperated by their rambunctiousness, Plummer reportedly exclaimed: "In time of war, send me all the Alabamians you can get, but in time of peace, for Lord's sake, send them to somebody else!" The time was 1918; the event was The Battle of Croix Rouge. Read the complete review

  • Stanislavski in Ireland & Breaking Boundaries

    Stanislavski in Ireland: Focus at Fifty
    By Brian McAvera and Steven Dedalus Burch, eds.
    Carysfort Press, 2013
    $27, Paper

    Breaking Boundaries: An Anthology of Original Plays from the Focus Theatre
    Steven Dedalus Burch, ed.
    Carysfort Press, 2013
    $27, Paper


    Reviewed by Nicholas Helms

    Founded in 1963 by the Irish American actor Deirdre O’Connell, the Focus Theatre of Dublin brought Stanislavskian method acting to Ireland and challenged the country’s parochial preconceptions about theatre. Two recent works chronicle the life of Focus Theatre: Stanislavski in Ireland: Focus at Fifty, a collection of essays that serve as biography of the Focus Theatre and of its talented and eccentric founder, Deirdre O’Connell, edited by Brian McAvera and University of Alabama theatre professor Steven Dedalus Burch; and Breaking Boundaries: An Anthology of Original Plays from the Focus Theatre, a collection of Focus Theatre’s work, edited by Steven Dedalus Burch. Together, these volumes put a microscope to the theatre of Dublin in the 20th and early 21st centuries, charting the type of regional theatre work that, despite its far-reaching influence, so often goes unrecorded. Together they sketch a lively narrative of a theatre that produced high quality work for fifty years while scraping by economically and struggling against the established theatres of Dublin. O’Connell’s Focus Theatre revolutionized Irish theatrical practice, and these two volumes chronicle the far-reaching—and often unremarked—effects that a small theatre on the fringe of the mainstream can have. Read the complete review

  • The Newspaper Boy

    By Chervis Isom
    The Working Writer Discovery Group, 2013
    $27.95, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Jim Buford

    In the first chapter of The Newspaper Boy, Chervis Isom, age about 26, makes a visit to an office on the fourteenth floor of the Empire Building in Birmingham. Possibly he remembered learning as a child that it was one of four tall buildings erected between 1902 and 1912 anchoring the intersection of 20th Street and 1st Avenue North. Though not so tall by later standards, these buildings were skyscrapers of the time and the intersection became known as the “Heaviest Corner on Earth.” The buildings represented Birmingham’s sudden emergence as center of industry and commerce and portended a bright future for the city. And, except for the years when the whole country experienced the Great Depression, that’s about the way things turned out. In 1943, which was the year of Isom’s first memoir essay, the wartime demand for steel had returned the city to prosperity, which continued through the postwar building boom. And even as late as the mid 1950s, Birmingham competed with Atlanta, Memphis and New Orleans as one of the premier cities of the south. Read the complete review

  • New Releases—Nonfiction

    These nonfiction titles were recently released by Alabama authors or publishers, or they cover subjects related to our state. Simply click a book’s title to learn more. View the complete list

  • A Powerful Blessing: The Life of Charles Colcock Jones Carpenter, Sr. 1899-1969, Sixth Episcopal Bishop of Alabama, 1938-1968

    By Douglas M. Carpenter
    TransAmerica Printing, 2012
    $24.99, Paper


    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    In A Powerful Blessing, an absorbing, affectionate, and scholarly biographical narrative about his father, the Reverend Douglas Carpenter notes that his sources were "letters, diaries, notes, and clippings saved at the time of the events, scrapbooks, conversations with people on site, and [his] own memory, which extends back to the summer of 1936, when [his] family moved to Birmingham from Savannah." Read the complete review

  • Kuponya: Healing in the Heart of Africa

    By Henrietta MacGuire;
    Photography by Katie Faulk
    Mockingbird Publishing, 2012
    $12, Paper


    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    This impeccably produced book from Ashley Gordon’s relatively new Fairhope, Alabama, press is a triumphant journal/account about Montgomery author and editor Henrietta MacGuire’s stint as a volunteer worker in an orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, in the summer of 2010. The text is enhanced by a plethora of wonderful color photographs, taken by fellow traveler and volunteer Katie Faulk of Memphis. Read the complete review

  • Cries In the Wind: God’s Answer

    By Vanessa A. Jackson Austin
    WestBow Press, 2012
    $11.99, Paper


    Reviewed by Danny Gamble

    Cancer runs in Vanessa Austin’s family. Her mother and brother—to whom Austin dedicates her book—both died from various types of the disease. Her sister survived breast cancer. On June 1, 2009, Austin heard from her biopsy—malignant. Cries In the Wind chronicles her battle with breast cancer, a battle she eventually won with medical attention, family support, and—above all—her Judeo-Christian faith.
    Read the complete review

  • Darkroom: a memoir in black & white

    By Lila Quintero Weaver
    The University of Alabama Press, 2012
    $24.95, Paper; $24.95 eBook


    Reviewed by Lindsay Hodgens

    After going through the Alabama public school system, I was sure that I had a pretty good grasp on Alabama’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement—that it was a terrible dark spot on our history that involved the cruel treatment of African Americans—but Lila Quintero Weaver’s debut graphic memoir has made me question how much I actually know about the subject. Darkroom: a memoir in black & white tells the story of Weaver’s family, who immigrated from Buenos Aires. Several aspects of the family’s history are explored, such as the father’s complicated and storied ethnicity and the speaker’s own feelings of displacement in American public schools, but it was the speaker’s fresh perspective on the Civil Rights Movement that pulled me in. Read the complete review

  • I Left My Heart in Shanghi, Alabama: Essays on Home and Place

    By Carroll Dale Short
    NewSouth Books Classics, 2012
    $15.95, Paper


    Reviewed by Bebe Barefoot

    Dale Short introduced the 1988 edition of I Left My Heart in Shanghi, Alabama, with humble wonder, marveling at his good fortune and comparing his childhood home to the Garden of Eden. He opens the twenty-fifth anniversary edition with wistful mourning: “I put off going home as long as I could, because home is gone.” Read the complete review

  • My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer

    My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer

    By Christian Wiman
    Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013
    $24, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Sue Scalf

    I have just finished reading Christian Wiman’s autobiographical quest and was shaken by it to say the least. It was difficult to read for several reasons. The author—an intellectual, poet, and Christian existentialist—although I am not sure of this since Christian existentialists are so hard to pin down—is dying of terminal cancer. He is young and at the very top of his literary powers as editor of Poetry magazine, and he has just fallen in love, married and had twin daughters while he undergoes the crisis of his life. Read the complete review

  • Opening the Doors: The Desegregation of the University of Alabama and the Fight for Civil Rights in Tuscaloosa

    By B.J. Hollars
    The University of Alabama Press, 2013
    $29.95, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Don Noble

    Alabama Governor George Wallace’s infamous stand in the schoolhouse door took place nearly fifty years ago on June 11, 1963, at Foster Auditorium. B. J. Hollars, who took the MFA in writing at the University of Alabama and taught there for three years, is perfectly familiar with the work of E. Culpepper “Cully” Clark, whose The Schoolhouse Door: Segregation’s Last Stand at the University of Alabama was published in 1995. He acknowledges Clark’s work and covers this central event expeditiously. Read the complete review

  • Shiloh, 1862

    By Winston Groom
    National Geographic, 2012
    $30, Hardcover; $14.99, eBook


    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    The author of Vicksburg, 1863 proves himself once again to be an expressive literary chronicler of the American Civil War. His subject this time is the Battle of Shiloh (or Shiloh Creek, as it’s also known), which took place near Pittsburgh Landing, Tennessee, in early April 1862, the beginning of the second year of the four-year conflict that has also been called The War Between the States. Each of the seventeen chapters has a descriptive title on the Contents Page. Beginning with April Is the Cruelest Month, these include: From Failure to Fortune; He looked Like an Old Viking King; All the Furies of Hell Broke Loose; My God, My God, It Is Too Late!; and An Exalted Distinction. Read the complete review

  • Southern Bound: A Gulf Coast Journalist on Books, Writers, and Literary Pilgrimages of the Heart

    By John Sledge
    University of South Carolina Press, 2013
    $24.95, Paper; $24.95, eBook


    Reviewed by Jim Fraiser

    Mobile author John Sledge harbors great passion for his Southland, and he shares those sentiments with the same vibrant prose he imbued in his hundreds of Mobile Press Register book reviews and four tomes covering Mobile’s architecture and history. In Southern Bound, Sledge offers past reviews of books ranging from novels that inspired the movies Shane and True Grit, to Winston Groom’s Civil War history, Vicksburg, 1863, and classics such as Joseph Conrad’s Typhoon and Plato’s Dialogues. He also presents exquisite mediations on diverse subjects such as the connection between Oxford, Mississippi, and her many famed authors from Faulkner to Grisham; Greenville’s literary history involving the Percys, Footes, and Carters; and the relationship between Savannah and John Berendt’s novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Read the complete review

  • The Joker: A Memoir

    By Andrew Hudgins
    Simon & Schuster, 2013
    $25, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Norman McMillan

    I have known of chess players who can remember every move they made in championship games over many years. When it comes to jokes, I’d say Andrew Hudgins is in that league. He seems to remember every joke he ever heard. He knows elephant jokes, Helen Keller jokes, dead baby jokes, knock-knock jokes, cruelty jokes, racial jokes, poop jokes, sex jokes, fart jokes, Little Moron jokes, Pollack jokes, parrot jokes, and, of course, Alabama jokes and Auburn jokes. And this is just a partial list. Read the complete review

  • The Books That Mattered: A Reader’s Memoir

    By Frye Gaillard
    NewSouth Books, 2013
    $27.95, Hardcover; $9.99 eBook


    Reviewed by Don Noble

    Frye Gaillard, author of some twenty volumes and winner of both the Lillian Smith Award and the Clarence Cason Award, is solidly in this latter tradition, writing here with insight and feeling about the books that mattered.

    The book offers “eleven essays featuring thirty-odd books.” He understands the list is “deeply personal and purely my own.” Such lists always are. Considering that Gaillard’s work has usually been concerned with questions of civil rights—integration, mandatory school busing—with occasional side trips into the world of country music and NASCAR and that his lifelong heroes are Senator Robert F. Kennedy and President Jimmy Carter, most of his choices are not too surprising. Read the complete review

  • Doc: The Story of a Birmingham Jazz Man

    By Frank “Doc” Adams and Burgin Mathews
    The University of Alabama Press, 2012
    $34.95, Hardcover & eBook


    Reviewed by Edward Reynolds

    Birmingham’s Frank “Doc” Adams has led an extraordinary musical life. As a teen, he played saxophone with Sun Ra’s early orchestra and later worked with Duke Ellington’s band. In Doc: The Story of a Birmingham Jazz Man, the 85-year-old Adams shares an intimately in-depth narrative of his life-long love affair playing and teaching music. Loaded with barely restrained enthusiasm, his voice leaps off the page with wonder and exhilaration as he tells of pursuing and finding his dream. As a storyteller, he’s every bit as entertaining as the magnificent notes he coaxes from his sax and clarinet. Read the complete review

  • Ferns of Alabama

    By John W. Short and Daniel D. Spaulding
    The University of Alabama Press, 2012
    $39.95, Paper


    Reviewed by Phillip Oliver

    It has been almost fifty years since a book about ferns in Alabama was published. Blanche Dean’s Ferns of Alabama and Fern Allies first appeared in 1964 and was revised in 1969. A new book on the subject is certainly welcome and authors John W. Short and Daniel P. Spaulding have written an admirable study that corrects past technical inaccuracies and provides detailed distribution coverage of ferns growing in the state. Read the complete review

  • In Love With Defeat: The Making of a Southern Liberal

    By H. Brandt Ayers
    NewSouth Books, 2013
    $29.95, Hardcover; $9.99 eBook


    Reviewed by Bill Plott

    H. Brandt Ayers, longtime editor and publisher at The Anniston Star, has written a memoir with a unique perspective on his beloved Southland. Writing with historical perception, political awareness, and abiding sensitivity, he has given a history of the South’s painful road from Civil War to the latest New South, a land of culture and prosperity, one in being with the nation yet still maintaining some semblance of the gentle, polite past. His narrative brings us through the hard scrabble years of the Great Depression, the tumult of the civil rights era, and the Republican takeover. Read the complete review

  • John McKinley and the Antebellum Supreme Court: Circuit Riding in the Old Southwest

    By Stephen P. Brown
    The University of Alabama Press, 2012
    $39.95, Hardcover & eBook


    Reviewed by Pam Kingsbury

    Though many Alabamans may be familiar with John Archibald Campbell and Hugo Black’s appointments to the Supreme Court, Alabama had a third, lesser known appointee, John McKinley.

    McKinley’s acumen, paired with his legal expertise and social connections, allowed him to achieve immense success is a very short time. He was elected to the state legislature three times, serving as both a representative and a senator, before becoming a Supreme Court Justice in 1837. His first four years as a justice were spent “circuit riding,” presiding over the recently created Ninth Circuit, which covered the newly created south western frontier of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Read the complete review

  • My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop

    By Ronald Rice and Booksellers Across America, ed.
    Introduction by Richard Russo
    Illustrations by Leif Parsons
    Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc., 2012
    $23.95, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Don Noble

    There is a wave of justified anxiety moving among the bookstore owners and patrons of America; the number of independent bookstores has been declining steadily since the 1990s.

    There has been a slight up-tick lately, from 1,400 members of the Booksellers Association in 2009 to 1,900 in 2011, but the opening of a new independent is news. The December 2012 issue of The Atlantic Monthly carries an article by the novelist Ann Patchett about her new store, Parnassus Books, in Nashville. The Athens of the South had no bookstore at all. Borders had closed and Davis-Kidd was not profitable enough. Still, writers and many readers love independent bookstores. This volume gives eighty-four writers a chance to praise their personal favorite. Read the complete review

  • Tohopeka: Rethinking the Creek War and the War of 1812

    Tohopeka: Rethinking the Creek War and the War of 1812
    By Kathyrn E. Holland Braund, ed.
    A Pebble Hill Book by the University of Alabama Press, 2012
    34.95, Paper; $29.95 eBook


    Reviewed by Pam Kingsbury

    The Battle of Horseshoe Bend, also known as the Battle of Tohopeka, was a turning point in Creek (Muskogee), Alabama, and American History. Set within the larger context of a newly established America, continuing clashes between the settlers and the tribes for land, and the War of 1812, the Battle at Tohopeka made Andrew Jackson a national hero with both military and political clout. Tohopeka: Rethinking the Creek War and the War of 1812 offers multiple viewpoints on the history, archaeology, and preservation of Horseshoe Bend. Read the complete review

  • New Releases—Nonfiction

    These nonfiction titles were recently released by Alabama authors or publishers, or they cover subjects related to our state. Simply click a book’s title to learn more. View the complete list

  • The Silent Season of a Hero: The Sports Writing of Gay Talese

    By Michael Rosenwald, ed.
    Walker & Company, 2010
    $16, Paper


    Reviewed by Don Noble

    Readers today may think of Gay Talese as the immersion journalist who hung out with the Bonnano Mafia family and published Honor Thy Father or the writer who explored America’s sexual mores and reported back in Thy Neighbor’s Wife or the historian of the New York Times in The Kingdom and the Power.

    It is easy to forget that Talese started out as a sports reporter and has been writing about football, boxing, basketball, golf, even soccer throughout his long career. Read the complete review

  • Crazy Brave: A Memoir

    By Joy Harjo
    W.W. Norton and Company, 2012
    $24.95, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Pam Kingsbury

    When most Alabama readers think of Alabama writers, Native American—or American Indian as Joy Harjo calls herself—aren't the first writers who come to mind, yet Joy Harjo attributes what she considers to be three of the most important traits of her artistry—the need for perpetuating family storytelling, the quest for justice, and the return to and fusing of tribal music with poetry in her more recent works—to her Alabama heritage. In much of her poetry, and, more recently, her memoir, Crazy Brave, Harjo has written about her family's Alabama memories, the juncture of past and present, weaving them throughout a narrative that connects her life and work to the family lore that has been passed down for over seven generations. Read the complete review

  • New Releases—Nonfiction

    These nonfiction titles were recently released by Alabama authors or publishers, or they cover subjects related to our state. Simply click a book’s title to learn more. View the complete list

  • Smoke Jumper, Moon Pilot: The Remarkable Life of Apollo 14 Astronaut Stuart Roosa

    By Willie G. Moseley
    Acclaim Press, 2011
    $24.95, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Edward Reynolds

    Currently a senior writer for Vintage Guitar Magazine and editor/columnist/photographer for The Tallassee Tribune, Willie G. Moseley has written an entertaining and informative biography on the life of astronaut Stu Roosa in Smoke Jumper, Moon Pilot, Moseley’s eighth book. Stuart Roosa was a colorful, adventurous character whose life experiences ranged from a summer as a smoke jumper, parachuting into isolated areas to fight fires for the U.S. Forest Service, to orbiting the Moon in 1971. In between those jobs he was a fighter pilot for the Air Force. Read the complete review

  • Grace and Grit: My Fight for Equal Pay and Fairness at Goodyear and Beyond

    By Lilly Ledbetter with Lanier Scott Isom
    Crown Archetype, 2012
    $25, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Pam Kingsbury

    Lilly Ledbetter did not set out to change the workplace; she just wanted to help contribute to her family’s finances, help provide more for her children, and achieve financial stability.

    Like many Alabamians of her generation, she was born in a small town (Possum Trot, Alabama) and lived in a house without electricity and running water, amenities that are now taken for granted. She married her husband Charles at seventeen, they had two children within three years of one another, and, like many couples, then and now, found that trying to live on one paycheck was not enough. Going against her husband, Lilly went out and found a job at H&R Block where she eventually worked her way up to managing the office. Read the complete review

  • New Releases—Nonfiction

    These nonfiction titles were recently released by Alabama authors or publishers, or they cover subjects related to our state. Simply click a book’s title to learn more. View the complete list

  • New Releases—Nonfiction

    These nonfiction titles were recently released by Alabama authors or publishers, or they cover subjects related to our state. Simply click a book’s title to learn more. View the complete list

  • Desert Rose: The Life and Legacy of Coretta Scott King

    By Edythe Scott Bagley with Joe Hilley
    The University of Alabama Press, 2012
    $34.95, Hardcover; $27.95, eBook


    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    The late author of this beautifully written, well- organized biography was the older sister of the subject. As noted in the Preface, the project began several decades ago, at Coretta Scott King’s request. On Thursday morning, April 4, 1968, Edythe Scott Bagley put an initial draft in the mail to a publisher. Later that day, her brother-in-law and the husband of Coretta, Martin Luther King Jr., was shot and killed. Publication of the manuscript was delayed, and eventually canceled. Many years later, in 2004, Coretta asked Edythe to take up the project again. Read the complete review

  • Creatures of the Night: In Search of Ghosts, Vampires, Werewolves and Demons

    By Gregory L. Reece
    I.B. Tauris, 2012
    $17, Paper


    Reviewed by B.J. Hollars

    Gregory Reece knows what it means to be afraid. He, like so many of us, has experienced firsthand the heart-pounding terror that so often accompanies scary stories read by flashlight. Though unlike the hoards of horror-obsessed, monster-magazine-reading pre-teens we likely envision, Reece’s own interest in the supernatural—quite thankfully—far transcended his youth. In a society set on stifling the imagination, Reece seems somehow to have eluded capture, and this—coupled with his keen scholar’s eye—makes him the ideal writer for this highly engaging subject. Read the complete review

  • Facing South: Portraits of Southern Artists

    Photography by Jerry Siegel; text by Julian Cox & Dennis Harper
    The University of Alabama Press / Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University, 2012
    $29.95, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    This handsomely produced, table-size book is a collection of photographic portraiture by Selma photographer Jerry Siegel. The subjects are a hundred of the South’s most celebrated artists. Each portrait is accompanied by a brief paragraph of biography. Essays by curators Julian Cox, of the de Young Museum in San Francisco and formerly at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and Dennis Harper of the Jule Collins Smith Museum also provide interesting, thought-provoking preludes to the photographic content. Read the complete review

  • Rifftide: The Life and Opinions of Papa Jo Jones

    By Paul Devlin, ed.
    Afterword by Phil Schaap
    University of Minnesota Press, 2011
    $18.95, Paper


    Reviewed by Jim Buford

    Jo Jones, who came to be known as “Papa Jo,” was one of the most important and influential drummers of all time. After growing up in Alabama, Jones worked as a drummer and tap-dancer with carnival shows and later with bands, including Walter Page's Blue Devils in Oklahoma City and Lloyd Hunter's band in Nebraska. His big break came in 1936 when he joined Count Basie's band in Kansas City where he developed his innovative style using brushes on drums and shifting the role of timekeeping from the bass drum to the hi-hat symbol. In Rifftide Papa Jo tells us a lot more, although he never got around to writing his autobiography. Rather, he said to his friend, writer Albert Murray, “This is my last hoo-rah. I will not give this wealth of information to nobody else because they don’t know how to handle it.” Read the complete review

  • The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera: An Insider’s History of the Florida-Alabama Coast

    By Harvey H. Jackson III
    University of Georgia Press, 2012
    $28.95, Hardcover; $28.95, eBook


    Reviewed by Don Noble

    Jacksonville University Eminent Scholar in History Hardy Jackson brings to this job all the right tools. The author of several scholarly volumes, Jackson has also shown in Alabama : A Personal History of My State that he can personalize history, narrate history, in a highly readable fashion and commit sociology in the best possible way, from personal experience and keen observation. Read the complete review

  • The Return of Edgar Cayce

    By C. Terry Cline Jr.
    MacAdam-Cage, 2012
    $17, Hardcover
    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    Unless the reader is a sitting duck for a suspend-the-belief book, the most interesting part of the narrative is in the Foreword. Terry Cline Jr. explains that he has spent a “fifty year odyssey in search of Edgar Cayce, the so-called sleeping prophet…. Lying on his couch in a hypnotic trance, Mr. Cayce extracted information during life readings that covered a person’s karma from past incarnations.” Among the famous people who supposedly consulted Cayce back then were Woodrow Wilson, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Thomas Edison. Read the complete review

  • Hank Hung the Moon and Warmed Our Cold, Cold Hearts

    by Rheta Grimsley Johnson
    NewSouth Books, 2012
    $24.95, Hardcover; $9.99, eBook
    Reviewed by Edward Reynolds

    When I saw the title of longtime syndicated newspaper columnist and author Rheta Grimsley Johnson’s latest book, Hank Hung the Moon and Warmed Our Cold, Cold Hearts, I wondered why anyone would want to write about Williams Sr. The singer has been thoroughly-documented; I couldn’t imagine another biography.

    Johnson, of course, has been warming hearts for years with her hilarious, heartfelt, and melancholy observations of everyday people who add color to the world. In Hank Hung the Moon, she does reveal a few new tidbits about “Ol’ Hank,” as she lovingly refers to him, but more importantly, she invites the reader to look at the different styles of music that defined the ups and downs in her life, though she admits that Hank will always be her favorite. Read the complete review

  • New Releases—Nonfiction

    These nonfiction titles were recently released by Alabama authors or publishers, or they cover subjects related to our state. View the complete list

  • The Tears and Laughter of a Southern Voice Calling

    By Amanda Walker
    Walker World Press, 2011
    $19.99, Paper
    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    After reading this collection of essays by an acclaimed columnist with the newspaper Wilcox Progressive Era in Camden, Alabama, I concur with the back cover observation: “She weaves and dances along the heartstrings through us all. She can be quite opinionated and delightfully humorous.” At thirty-nine, Amanda Walker is too young to be called an old soul, but philosophically, that’s her bent, if not her beat. Read the complete review

  • Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality

    By Wendy Reed and Jennifer Horne, eds.
    The University of Alabama Press, 2012
    $29.95, Hardcover; $23.95, eBook
    Reviewed by Bebe Barefoot

    If titles received awards, Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality might take top prize. The book itself forms a literary and philosophical circle composed of smaller circles, capturing in form and content the complexity of Southern women’s Christ-haunted wrestles with trust in the unknowable. Jennifer Horne’s and Wendy Reed’s skilled editing crafts intricate links to form an enclosed sacred space that steps cautiously around itself. The beginning meets not an end but instead a promise of renewal. Read the complete review

  • Truman Capote and the Legacy of In Cold Blood

    By Ralph F. Voss
    The University of Alabama Press, 2011
    $34.95, Hardcover; $14.99, eBook
    Reviewed by Marianne Moates Weber

    Just when you think nothing new could possibly be added to the volumes of literary criticism written about In Cold Blood, a book emerges that is as compelling as Capote’s original crime novel. The author, retired University of Alabama English professor Ralph Voss, brings a unique perspective to his subject: Truman Capote and the legacy of in cold blood. Read the complete review

  • Children of the Changing South

    By Foster Dickson, ed.
    McFarland, 2011
    $35, Paperback
    Reviewed by Bruce Elliot Alford

    This is not a boring high-school textbook. Nevertheless, you might think it is. Children of the Changing South: Accounts of Growing Up During and After Integration has that lengthy dissertation-like title and the sort of cover photograph that says, “You’re in for a long day of schooling.” The photograph shows a loosely-spaced group of teen-aged girls and an older black man with an umbrella lolling down a street in Selma.

    After that, is a preface and then a 21,000-word academic introduction by the book’s editor, Foster Dickson. (Unless one is a scholar, it might all seem daunting and dry.) But after the introduction—Wow! Suddenly, you’re climbing out of a sand pit near Pascagoula, Mississippi. It’s the late fifties, and you feel the desert-like sun burning your neck. After crawling out of that pit, there’s nowhere to go but up. Read the complete review

  • New Releases—Nonfiction

    These nonfiction titles were recently released by Alabama authors or publishers, or they cover subjects related to our state. View the complete list

  • The Majesty of Mobile

    By Jim Fraiser; Photography by Pat Caldwell
    Pelican Publishing Company, 2012
    $24, Hardcover
    Nonfiction—Photo Collection
    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    As coffee table books go, this one is really stand-out impressive. The relatively compact size is good for hand-held perusal and reading, and gorgeous photography on the front and back of the jacket bids you to venture inside the covers. John Sledge notes in his eloquent foreword that such a book “has long been overdue…. Locals and visitors have always known about Mobile’s rich architectural legacy, of course…but until now there hasn’t been a suitably attractive and accessible volume communicating that to take home, display, and thumb through with such pleasure.” Read the complete review

  • Airman’s Odyssey: An Air Force Special Operator’s Incredible Journey

    By Lt. Col. James D. Lawrence, USAF (ret.)
    Deeds Publishing, 2011
    $24.95, Paper
    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    The author of this well-written and impressively organized autobiography spent twenty-seven years in the service of his country. Jim Lawrence, who grew up in Opp, Alabama, recalls that during his pilot training in 1970-71 “[t]here was great intensity and a lot of pressure to learn and apply a new skill each and every day.” After completing service in Air Training Command in 1974, he underwent training in Arkansas before “heading to Okinawa.” Among the twelve titled chapters are: “Iranian Hostage Rescue Attempt (Eagle Claw)”; “Honduras on the Fly”; “Air Commando History Revisited”; and, what would most certainly appeal to older-timers, “Our Greatest Generation—My Boyhood Heroes.” Read the complete review

  • Alabama Musicians: Musical Heritage from the Heart of Dixie

    By C.S. Fuqua
    The History Press, 2011
    $19.99, Paper
    Reviewed by Danny Gamble

    Arriving in time for 2011’s Year of Alabama Music celebration, C.S. Fuqua’s Alabama Musicians: Musical Heritage from the Heart of Dixie is an encyclopedic journey through the cotton fields, church houses, and roadhouses of Alabama. All of the biggies are here—Hank Williams, Emmylou Harris, Erskine Hawkins, three-fifths of the Temptations, Sam Phillips—with extensive biographies detailing their lives and work. Other, lesser-known artists are also included—Azure Ray (Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink), Coot Grant, Ray Reach, Ray “Dr. Hook” Sawyer. The book also includes biographies of two-thirds of Alabama’s American Idol winners/runner-up. More on that later. Read the complete review

  • For the Love of Alabama: Journalism by Ron Casey and Bailey Thomson

    By Sam Hodges, ed.
    The University of Alabama Press, 2011
    $18.95, Paper


    Reviewed by Bill Plott

    I have never written a review that was so highly personal and painful. Ron Casey and Bailey Thomson were friends and colleagues at The Birmingham News and The Tuscaloosa News, respectively. They were bright, dedicated men who died far too soon—Casey at fifty-four and Thomson at forty-eight. There is pain in that loss per se and also pain in what has not changed since their untimely deaths. Many of the problems they explored so eloquently still linger in our state. Read the complete review

  • Rocket City Rock & Soul: Huntsville Musicians Remember the 1960s

    By Jane DeNeefe
    The History Press, 2011
    $19.99, Paper


    Reviewed by Edward Reynolds

    No one should be surprised that the most progressive city in Alabama in the 1960s had a rock and roll scene that shook Huntsville with vibrations rivaling the ground-shaking test-firings of the Saturn V rocket engines built at the town’s Marshall Space Flight Center. While NASA rocketeers aimed for the Moon, rock and soul bands aimed for stardom. After years of interviewing local musicians, longtime Huntsville resident and musicologist Jane DeNeefe has thoroughly documented the city’s musical vista in Rocket City Rock & Soul, while also sharing a history of the town’s societal and economic evolution. (DeNeefe also coauthored Alabama’s Civil Rights Trail: An Illustrated Guide to the Cradle of Freedom.) Read the complete review

  • She: The Old Woman Who Took Over My Life

    By Kathryn Tucker Windham
    NewSouth Books, 2011
    $20, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Don Noble

    She contains a variety of reminiscences of the recent and distant past, but it mainly concerns the changes involved in aging. Kathryn Tucker Windham was, enviably, ninety when this became a problem. That was when the alter ego “She” came into the picture and took over her life. Windham writes, “I can’t recall when I became aware that an old woman was nudging her way into my life.” The arrival of this old woman caused problems. “She disrupts my plans, demands my attention, shames me into completing abandoned projects, requires nutritious meals…hides things from me, makes my handwriting less legible….” And so it goes. Read the complete review

  • The Happy Table of Eugene Walter: Southern Spirits in Food and Drink

    By Donald Goodman & Thomas Head, eds.
    The University of North Carolina Press, 2011
    $30, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Don Noble

    At the time of his death in 1998, Mobile author and Renaissance man Eugene Walter had filing cabinets full of recipes he had collected and a number of different writing projects under way. In addition to several volumes of fiction, poetry, and translations, Walter had already published American Cooking: Southern Style (1971), a very successful cookbook for the Time-Life Foods of the World series, Delectable Dishes from Termite Hall: Rare and Unusual Recipes (1989) and Hints and Pinches: A Concise Compendium of Herbs, Spices, and Aromatics with Illustrative Recipes and Asides on Relishes, Chutneys, and Other Such Concerns. One could say he was a well-seasoned cookbook writer.

    Now, Donald Goodman, Walter’s heir and literary executor, has, with the help of Thomas Head, a D.C.-based food writer, completed and edited a volume of recipes under way at the time of Walter’s death, every one of which includes some kind of alcoholic spirits. The first section is, appropriately enough, forty recipes for drinks. The title is “The Cocktail, Or, I Feel Better Already.” Included are punches, juleps, and eggnog sipped and eaten with a spoon, all southern style. No recipes for Manhattans or appletinis. Read the complete review

  • My Work Is That of Conservation: An Environmental Biography of George Washington Carver

    By Mark D. Hersey
    University of Georgia Press, 2011
    $24.95, Paper


    Reviewed by Don Noble

    Mark D. Hersey’s focus on George Washington Carver’s career at Tuskegee is not the story we are familiar with. An eccentric fellow, with no intellectual peer at Tuskegee, Carver was not a popular faculty member. He wore a flower in his lapel each day, ate edible weeds from the countryside if he didn’t like the cafeteria food, and sometimes made his own clothes. As one might guess, he and the principal, Booker T. Washington, had a difficult relationship. Read the complete review

  • New Releases—Nonfiction

    These nonfiction titles were recently released by Alabama authors or publishers, or they cover subjects related to our state. View the complete list

  • No Remorse: The Rise and Fall of John Wallace

    By Dot Moore
    NewSouth Books, 2011
    $24.95, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    The first question that comes to mind is: Why did the author decide to take on this project? The 1948 murder trial and execution via electric chair of prominent businessman John Wallace in Coweta County, Georgia, for killing a man with whom he'd been involved in the moonshining business, had already been the topic of Margaret Ann Barnes's 1976 prize-winning, still in print best-seller, Murder in Coweta County, which Johnny Cash made into a 1983 TV movie. Read the complete review

  • Tiny Terror: Why Truman Capote (Almost) Wrote Answered Prayers

    By William Todd Schultz
    Oxford University Press, Inc., 2011
    $17.95, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Marianne Moates Weber

    What I found particularly interesting about Tiny Terror is that the author defines Truman Capote’s personality perfectly: he was a tiny terror (short but ferocious) with lifelong attachment issues that afflicted everything he wrote. He was a brilliant, precocious youth that his relatives did not know how to manage, and he quickly learned that as an only child abandoned by his mother, he could have his way by manipulation, tantrums, or simply by being adorable. But why stop there? His adult life was marked by these same traits. He partied, drank heavily, took drugs, and wrote about all of it in his quest for fame, mental peace, and acceptance. Read the complete review

  • Year of the Pig

    By Mark J. Hainds
    The University of Alabama Press, 2011
    $16.95, Paper; $13.56, eBook


    Reviewed by Edward Reynolds

    Even academics relish the thrill of the kill. Auburn University forestry researcher Mark J. Hainds, whose published work includes “Distribution of Native Legumes in Frequently Burned Longleaf Pine-Wiregrass Ecosystems” in the American Journal of Botany, is an authority on vegetative habitats, in particular, the longleaf pine. He’s also quite familiar with feral pigs and the damage they inflict on agricultural fields and other ecosystems, which is thoroughly documented in his book Year of the Pig. Read the complete review

  • Carolina Planters on the Alabama Frontier: The Spencer-Robeson-McKenzie Family Papers

    By Edward Pattillo
    NewSouth Books, 2011
    $50, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    Well-known throughout the South as an art, antiquities, and estate appraiser, Edward “Eddie” Pattillo has compiled and written this impressive history of several pioneer families who made the trek from the Carolinas into early Alabama. Subtitled The Spencer-Robeson-McKenzie Family Papers, the handsomely produced book, which has been published via a grant from the Blount Foundation, contains photographs and well-organized documentation. At the heart of it is a really interesting, at times almost cinematically described narrative. Read the complete review

  • Kearny's March: The Epic Creation of the American West, 1846-1847

    By Winston Groom
    Alfred A. Knopf, 2011
    $27.95, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    Kearny's March is a masterful blend of scholarly research, colorful description, and a confident, enthusiastic style of narrative writing that adds freshness and immediacy to a true-adventure saga from an era that decisively formed our country. In 1846, after Congress had voted to annex Texas and Mexico had declared war on the United States, President James K. Polk, whose mentor was Andrew Jackson, sent General Stephen Watts Kearny from Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, to California with an army of 2,000 cavalrymen to occupy Mexican territory. The expedition included a caravan of wagons bearing settlers and families, frontiersmen, and explorers. When it ended a year later, the country had doubled in size and expanded from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. Read the complete review

  • New Releases—Nonfiction

    These books were recently released by Alabama authors or publishers, or they cover subjects related to our state. View the complete list

  • Thirteen Loops: Race, Violence, and the Last Lynching in America

    By B.J. Hollars
    The University of Alabama Press
    $24.95, Hardcover; $19.96, eBook


    Reviewed by Ravi Howard

    Today, I cannot walk past an oak or a camphor tree without wondering what sordid history might be tied to those branches.

    B.J. Hollars shares this revelation in Thirteen Loops: Race, Violence, and the Last Lynching in America, an insightful analysis of how the residual effects of a violent racial history contributed to a 1981 lynching in Alabama. Read the complete review

  • Behind the Walled Garden of Apartheid: Growing Up White in Segregated South Africa

    By Claire Klein Datnow
    Media Mint Publishing, 2011
    $14.25, Paper; $8.25, eBook


    Reviewed by Bill Plott

    To say that growing up in South Africa in the 1950s and 1960s was like growing up in the segregated American South would be preposterous. Yet, there were parallels in the two cultures based on unapologetic white domination of subjugated black people. Perhaps the most striking thing about Claire Klein Datnow’s memoir is the isolation of the whites in both cultures. Read the complete review

  • The Authentic Animal: Inside the Odd and Obsessive World of Taxidermy

    By Dave Madden
    St. Martin’s Publishing Group, Minotaur Books, 2011
    $26.99, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Don Noble

    It seems that Dave Madden, now an assistant professor of English at the University of Alabama, was taking a course in nature writing when he became interested in museum dioramas and then taxidermy. Madden researched this book on taxidermy for five years and, as unlikely as the subject may at first seem, it is, in its own very odd way, a page turner. Read the complete review

  • The Tuskegee Airmen: An Illustrated History: 1939-1949

    By Joseph Caver, Jerome Ennels, and Daniel Haulman
    NewSouth Books, 2011
    $27.95, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Nancy Wilstach

    Danger, fear, confrontation, heroism. The legendary, history-making saga of the nation’s first black combat pilots is the stuff of romance, that heady aura that surrounds a man who stares down death amid the clouds. He soars far above the earth and deep into our imaginations. It also is the stuff of these particular men’s gritty determination to defend their country, never mind that it was a country steeped in rock-hard racism, a country that then would not even have let them try on a pair of trousers in a department store or drink a malted milk at a drugstore soda fountain. Read the complete review

  • Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast

    By Natasha Trethewey
    University of Georgia Press, 2010
    $22.95, Hardcover; $13.77, eBook


    Reviewed by Bruce Elliot Alford

    In Beyond Katrina, Natasha Trethewey looks at the life, death, and ongoing resurrection of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Trethewey is not the center of the story, nor is she alone in it. She speaks with a former mayor of her hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi, state legislators, a young waiter, an historian, and family members, among others. Besides bringing a fresh witness to the lives of those who were violently baptized by Katrina, the book concerns her brother who was incarcerated for trafficking cocaine. Read the complete review

  • Brothers, Rivals, Victors: Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, and the Partnership That Drove the Allied Conquest in Europe

    By Jonathan W. Jordan
    NAL Caliber , 2011
    $28.95, Hardcover; $14.99, eBook

    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    This somewhat hefty book has "Winner" subliminally imprinted on its stately, classic cover. The Introduction defines it as "the story of three men sent to tear down an empire.... This account of the campaign to liberate Europe is drawn from the words, observations, and writings of Generals Eisenhower, Bradley, and Patton, as well as those of the many aides, staffers, superiors, secretaries, stenographers, celebrities, chauffeurs, and orderlies who walked with them through their great struggle." Read the complete review

  • Keeping the Faith: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives

    By Wayne Flynt
    University of Alabama Press, 2011
    $29.95, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Norman McMillan

    Wayne Flynt’s memoir, Keeping the Faith: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives, is an excellent read for anyone, but it should be required reading for Alabamians. Through the prism of his own life, Flynt addresses some of the most profound issues Alabama has faced over the years and shows how the state has failed to deal with them adequately. Read the complete review

  • Last Bus Out

    By Beck McDowell
    Kirkland Fort, 2011
    $9.99, Paper; $7.99, eBook


    Book Noted

    From the publisher: The true story of Courtney Miles' rescue of over 300 people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. While government officials posed for cameras, a boy from the projects with no driver's license stepped up and showed what "drive" is all about. Last Bus Out tells how Courtney Miles stole a bus, charged past a police roadblock, and argued with a National Guardsman who threatened to lock him in the makeshift jail at the Greyhound Bus Station. Sick with worry about his missing grandmother, he drove his passengers to safety, and then went back into the city at midnight to help others. Read the complete review

  • Civil Rights History from the Ground Up: Local Struggles, A National Movement

    By Emilye Crosby, ed.
    University of Georgia Press
    $69.95, Hardcover; $26.95, Paper


    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    These essays by twelve scholars analyze how and why local-level organization was crucial to the success of the national Civil Rights Movement. Emilye Crosby, a professor of history at the State University of New York at Geneseo, justifies and clarifies that rationale in her Introduction, "The Politics of Writing and Teaching Movement History." A basic theme is that the existing "top-down literature" does not reveal the whole story to students "who want to do in-depth study of the movement, and to make connections between the history and their contemporary world." Read the complete review

  • Leaving Havana

    By Conchita Hernandez Hicks
    Author House, 2011
    $14.95, Paper


    Reviewed by Beth Wilder

    In the 1950s, Havana, Cuba was a playground for the rich and famous. Wealthy Americans and Europeans traveled to and from the worldly city, enjoying the beautiful beaches, glamorous nightlife, luxurious hotels, and fine restaurants and casinos. This was the Cuba Conchita Hernandez Hicks called home. This was the Cuba where Conchita and her close-knit family lived a life of luxury, complete with chauffeurs and nannies, palatial homes and sugar plantations, government connections and influential business partners. But this was not a Cuba that would last forever. In 1959, everything changed—for the country and for the Hernandez family. Read the complete review

  • When Winning Was Everything: Alabama Football Players in World War II

    By Delbert Reed;
    Foreword by Paul W. Bryant Jr.
    Paul W. Bryant Museum, 2010
    $39.95, Hardcover


    Reviewed by Don Noble

    If this were just another Alabama football book I would neither read it nor review it. The world does not need another game-by-game, play-by-play recapping of another however-glorious season. Even the title I take to be a subtle variation on the dubious pronouncement “winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” Football is a serious game, true enough, but war is not a game at all. Read the complete review

  • A Senator's Wife Remembers: From the Great Depression to the Great Society

    By Henrietta McCormick Hill, Foreword by Henrietta Hill Hubbard
    Reviewed by Don Noble

    On February 20, 1928, Henrietta McCormick, age 23, of Eufaula, Alabama, married U.S. Representative Lister Hill. Hill had been a member of the House for five years, its youngest member. He usually ran unopposed and won a seat in the Senate in 1938. Through those early years and on through the Kennedy assassination in 1963, Henrietta kept a journal, wrote letters home, gave the occasional talk or wrote the occasional magazine piece. These scattered and various writings have been edited and pieced together by Henrietta’s daughter to make this informal memoir. Read the complete review...

  • Alabama Afternoons: Profiles and Conversations

    By Roy Hoffman


    Reviewed by Bill Plott

    Warren Koon, a former editor and colleague in journalism, once said everybody has a story to tell if you will just take time to listen to it. Indeed, it was something I had already learned, and Roy Hoffman drives the point further home in this wonderful collection of Alabamians and their stories. Read the complete review...

  • The House by the Side of the Road: The Selma Civil Rights Movement

    By Richie Jean Sherrod Jackson
    Reviewed by Kimberly Carter

    Richie Jean Sherrod Jackson’s The House by the Side of the Road is a dazzling masterpiece composed of extraordinary events during the Selma Civil Rights Movement. Jackson, a native of Mobile, writes about her part in history when she embarked on a life-changing journey with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Read the complete review...

  • Birmingham Museum of Art: Guide to the Collection

    By the curators of Birmingham Museum of Art and Gail C. Andrewes, Foreword
    Reviewed by Ruth Beaumont Cook

    The Birmingham Museum of Art last published a comprehensive guide in 1993 which highlighted 130 of the 14,000 art objects included at that time. Now, seventeen years later in celebration of the Museum’s sixtieth anniversary, this new guide features exquisite, all-new photographs of more than 250 artworks representing the Museum’s collections, which now include 24,000 pieces of Asian, European, American, African, Pre-Columbian, Native American, and Contemporary art. Read the complete review...

  • Motorcycling Alabama: 50 Ride Loops Through the Heart of Dixie

    By David Haynes
    Reviewed by Don Alexander

    Some Alabama motorcyclists relish track time, some their trail time, some their vacation escapes across country, and some the wonderful viewing experiences at Alabama’s Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum and Barber Motorsports Park. Certainly, most of us relish our excursions on a clear weekend day. Motorcycling Alabama is perfect for such day-trips. Read complete review...

  • What There Is To Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell

    Edited by Suzanne Marrs
    Reviewed by Don Noble

    A volume of collected letters gives readers special insights, at a variety of very particular moments, into the psyche, personality, character, concerns, sense of humor, range of interest and circle of friends of one individual. A volume of correspondence between two people gives you this and more—a dual autobiography and the ongoing, intimate building and unfolding of a friendship.
    Read the complete review...

  • Don’t Quit Your Day Job: Acclaimed Authors and the Day Jobs They Quit

    By Sonny Brewer, ed.
    Reviewed by Don Noble

    Reading this book was a great pleasure. Sonny Brewer has somehow convinced twenty-three hard-working, busy, professional writers to pause and remember when they weren’t writing full-time, but earning a living at some job, dirty or clean, poorly paid or lucrative, dangerous or only mortally boring, that they quit in order to devote themselves to their craft. The premise of each of these essays is the same: describe what job you were working at when you decided to try your hand at earning a living writing. The assumption is that the job the writer left would be pretty terrible, in some way or other, and they mostly were. But each of these writers, man or woman, young or old, rural or urban, blue collar or white, has a distinct personal voice.

    Read the complete review...

  • Hugh Martin: The Boy Next Door

    By Hugh Martin
    Reviewed by Edward Reynolds

    Fortunately for us, the late Hugh Martin—born and raised in Birmingham before fleeing to New York City and later Hollywood to forge a brilliant career as a songwriter and vocal arranger—wrote his memoir Hugh Martin: The Boy Next Door a year before his death this past March. Even those not particularly enamored with Broadway and film scores will no doubt be lured into Martin’s charming world of show tunes, a life he shares with amusing, self-deprecating delight. Martin is a superbly engaging writer, with a captivating, dramatic style laced with blunt honesty.

    Read the complete review...

  • Year of Our Lord: Faith, Hope, and Harmony in the Mississippi Delta

    By T. R. Pearson; Photographs by Langdon Clay

    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    This handsomely produced book is the initial project of Mockingbird Publishing, a unique enterprise in Fairhope, Alabama, that has been formed to partner good causes with talented writers. As noted on the Web site by president/editor Ashley Gordon: "We invite authors to tell us about causes they want to support, encourage nonprofits to share with us stories that need to be told, and welcome our readers to suggest authors and causes that would be perfect for each other." In addition to Gordon and her staff, the magical combination here includes eloquent narrative by novelist T. R. Pearson and full-color, artistic photography by Langdon Clay. The real-life main character, Lucas McCarty, is a white boy with cerebral palsy, an exuberant spirit, and a heart of gold.

    Read the complete review...

  • Fighting the Devil in Dixie: How Civil Rights Activists Took on the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama

    By: Wayne Greenhaw
    Reviewed by: Colin Crews

    Fighting the Devil in Dixie is an enthralling mosaic of individuals and organizations working to achieve civil rights and the groups that fought against them. Harper Lee Award winner Wayne Greenhaw’s latest work is as much a character study, personal journey, and legal drama as it is a first-hand account of the struggle for equality. The narrative flows from motivations and intent to historic speeches and Ku Klux Klan terrorist attacks.

  • Back To The Moon

    By Travis S. Taylor and Les Johnson


    Reviewed by Edward Reynolds

    Written by a couple of authors with extensive NASA backgrounds in physics, astronomy, and aerospace engineering, Back To The Moon is a thrilling, fictionalized account of America’s return to the lunar surface some fifty years after astronaut Gene Cernan left his footprints in moon dust as the last human to walk there. What makes Travis Taylor and Les Johnson’s novel so believable is their ability to weave technical, rocket-science accuracy into their tale. Their knowledge is paramount, and their incorporation of the current state of America’s space exploration capabilities—including the inclusion of private companies’ attempts to replicate what was once exclusively NASA’s territory—makes the book nothing short of intriguing.

  • God & Football

    By Chad Gibbs


    Reviewed by John Gruenewald

    Author Chad Gibbs is a diehard Auburn football fan who loves and participates in everything connected with the college football scene. He is also a devout Christian. He wonders if he, like many others who love and follow college football, spends too much time and effort following his football passion than attending to his faith.

  • Nature Journal

    By L.J. Davenport


    Reviewed by Marianne Moates Weber

    Take a stroll around the yard or spend a few minutes by a stream and you cannot help but be awed by a landscape teeming with creatures crawling, burrowing, flying, and being what they are called to be. In Nature Journal, L.J. Davenport shows the extraordinary in the ordinary in the natural bounty surrounding us. Davenport draws on personal experiences and his “Nature Journal” columns that appeared in Alabama Heritage to induce readers to observe, contemplate, and write about nature.

  • My Journey: A Memoir of the First African American to Preside Over the Alabama Board of Education

    By: Dr. Ethel Hall
    Reviewed by: Linda A. McQueen

    Dr. Ethel Hall, a dedicated wife, mother, grandmother, educator, and statewide political leader, is the epitome of a true role model for all generations. She has graced the literary world with her autobiography, My Journey, co-written with Carmelita J. Bivens. Hall’s journeys from childhood to a long career in education led her to become the first African American to preside over the Alabama Board of Education.

  • The Bucyrus That Was: Growing Up in Small Town, America, in the 1950s

    By Bill Elder


    Reviewed by Bill Plott

    Bill Elder is the winningest men’s basketball coach in University of Montevallo history. He started the athletic program at the University of Mobile. He has had successful coaching/athletic director stops at several other schools and has been inducted into the National Intercollegiate Athletic Association Hall of Fame. But you won’t learn about any of those things in reading this book. The Bucyrus That Was is a joyous celebration of being a boy in the 1950s.

  • Barbecue: The History of an American Institution

    By: Robert F. Moss
    Reviewed by: Marianne Moates Weber

    Not many things tug at our primal urgings more than meat based in spicy sauce and roasted over an open fire. If I drive past a hole in the wall diner with smoke curling from its chimney, my mouth waters like Pavlov’s pup. The same goes for Robert F. Moss, barbecue aficionado, who spent a decade researching and writing Barbecue: The History of an American Institution.

  • Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family

    By Mark Leslie

    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    Theatre professional Mark Leslie has made Alabama his home base for almost a quarter of a century. His peripatetic career as a stage manager keeps him on the move around this country, and he spends his vacation time in Italy. This fascinating memoir/cookbook includes Leslie’s daily journal of August 2005, when he lived in Viterbo (in the Lazio region just south of Tuscany) with a family who became his tutors in the language, culinary arts, and the Italian way of "looking at the world."

  • Southern Plate: Classic Comfort Food that Makes Everybody Feel Like Family

    By: Christy Jordan
    Reviewed by: Sarah Eckermann

    Preparing a meal from Christy Jordan’s recipes is as familiar as your favorite pair of tennis shoes or the hand of a loved one. Her tender yet rustic stories that accompany every recipe invite any cook to feel as if Christy is there in the kitchen, sipping on iced tea, sharing a smile and a warm hug, while you preheat the oven and set the water to boil. The food is classically Southern yet uniquely charming. But as Jordan says, “No one will ever cook for you like your mama did, and I’m surely not here to try.”

  • Albert Murray and the Aesthetic Imagination of a Nation

    By: Barbara A. Baker, ed.
    Reviewed by: Norman McMillan

    The title, Albert Murray and the Aesthetic Imagination of a Nation, certainly gets to the heart of what the book is about, but it seems to me that it runs the risk of making some readers expect that it is meant for those especially interested in matters of aesthetics. I think that would be a false assumption. The twenty-seven essays, interviews, and short statements of appreciation included in the volume create, slowly and steadily, a profound portrait of Albert Murray as a thinker, a reader, a writer, a teacher, and a friend. From the pages of this book emerges a present-day Coleridge, who seems to have taken all knowledge as his province and then has set out to reconcile all the pieces.

  • As the Sycamore Grows

    By Jennie Helderman


    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    This amazing chronicle of a courageous woman’s escape from a life of poverty, squalor, and domestic violence should attract many, many readers. It should also be a contender for awards. The author, Jennie Helderman, is a former Vice President and Board member of Alabama’s Department of Human Resources. Currently living in Atlanta, she has been a crusader for victims of abuse in Alabama and Georgia.

  • In That Sweet Country: Uncollected Writings of Harry Middleton

    By: Ron Ellis, ed.
    Reviewed by: Scotty Merrill

    In the sometimes macho world of outdoors writing, rarely does one writer flatter another by selecting and publishing his work. But with the publication of In That Sweet Country Ron Ellis has chosen to thus honor Harry Middleton, a former senior editor of Southern Living, by collecting thirty-five previously published essays and one poem.

  • Rickwood Field: A Century in America

    By: Allen Barra
    Reviewed by: Bill Plott

    Rickwood Field, patterned after Forbes Field in Pittsburgh and Shibe Park in Philadelphia, was among the first steel and concrete stadiums. Both of those major league parks are long gone but Rickwood remains—the oldest ballpark in America still in use. Allen Barra, a notable sports author and Birmingham native, has put together a quite readable history of A.H. "Rick" Woodward, the ballpark, and the rich baseball history that transcends the past century.

  • An Interview with Abraham Lincoln: April 1, 1865

    By: Wade Hall
    Reviewed by: Kevin Wilder

    According to author Wade Hall, next to only Jesus, more books have been published about Abraham Lincoln than any historical figure. Lincoln was a natural storyteller, too, often using humorous narratives to get his political points across without “insulting or angering.” Hall, author of more than twenty books featuring other “good people,” has done something similar in his new book. Decorated with historical illustrations, photographs, and a detailed chronology, it offers yet another charming portrait of our sixteenth president’s rich life.

  • Foot Soldiers for Democracy

    By: Horace Huntley and John W. McKerley, eds.
    Reviewed by: Ruth Beaumont Cook

    James Armstrong served his country during World War II, landing at Normandy Beach. “Fear leaves you,” he said of that experience. “You think about what you are trying to do, and you just move forward filled with faith.”  After the war, Armstrong used the GI bill to become a barber. He also became a registered voter—not an easy accomplishment for an African-American in Birmingham at that time.

  • I Love You—Now Hush

    By: Melinda Rainey Thompson and Morgan Murphy
    Reviewed by: Beth Wilder

    What really happens “. . . after the parties are over, the thank-you notes are written, and the bride takes off the big white dress . . .”? According to Melinda Rainey Thompson and Morgan Murphy, plenty of hilarious stuff. Their new collection of essays, I Love You—Now Hush, is a collaboration of the two popular humorists about the reality of marriage that sets in once the honeymoon ends.

  • The Works of Matthew Blue, Montgomery

    By: By Mary Ann Neeley, ed.; Foreword by Edwin C. Bridges
    Reviewed by: Julia Oliver

    This compendium is a brilliantly enhanced reproduction of a nineteenth century historian’s chronicles of Montgomery, Alabama, during the city’s formative era. The writings of that journalist, Matthew Powers Blue, have been edited and annotated by Montgomery’s current keeper of the flame, Mary Ann Neeley. With enthusiastic participation and encouragement of publishers Suzanne La Rosa and Randall Williams, Neeley has refreshed and amplified the source material with lucid analysis and additional information.

  • Truth, Lies, and O-rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

    By: Allan J. McDonald with James R. Hansen
    Reviewed by: Edward Reynolds

    Truth, Lies, and O-rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster is an abrupt slap in the face, awakening the reader to the mess left on NASA’s hallowed grounds in the wake of the 1986 Challenger disaster. One freezing cold January morning in Florida, seconds after launch, the first in-flight deaths in NASA history occurred. Onboard was Christa McAuliffe, a schoolteacher who was to be the first ordinary citizen to fly into orbit.

  • Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt

    By: Hasan Kwame Jeffries
    Reviewed by: Nancy Wilstach

    It should come as no surprise that Dr. Hasan Kwame Jeffries’ account of the struggles and hardships faced by African-American Lowndes Countians is a well-researched and scholarly work. After all, he is an assistant professor of history at Ohio State University. Unexpected, however, are the heartache and anger the story evokes.

  • Mark Twain on the Move: A Travel Reader

    By: Alan Gribben and Jeffrey Alan Melton, eds.
    Reviewed by: Elaine Hughes

    Mark Twain on the Move: A Travel Reader, edited by Alan Gribben and Jeffrey Alan Melton, is an appropriate tribute to the literary figure many think the greatest American writer. On the occasion of the centenary of Twain’s death, this collection offers reflection on his early career and his first successes. The collection includes excerpts from all five of Twain’s travel writings—The Innocents Abroad (1869), Roughing It (1872), A Tramp Abroad (1880), Life on the Mississippi (1883), and Following the Equator (1897)—and commentary by the editors on the genre and on Twain’s mastery of it.

  • Black Maverick: T.R.M. Howard’s Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power

    By: David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito
    Reviewed by: Nancy Wilstach

    Talk about the idol with feet of clay: Theodore Roosevelt Mason Howard’s character flaws were in proportion to his virtues. The Beitos have painted their portrait of this mesmerizing man without trying to gloss over his flaws.

  • Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming

    By Rheta Grimsley Johnson


    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    The French noun "memoir" looks and sounds mysterious and inviting. It’s all but replaced the solid term "autobiography." Yet frequently, the most attention-getting books in this genre present a victim’s viewpoint of a life filled with horrific situations. That is not the case here. Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming is a testimonial of life as an optimistic, ambitious adventure from a spunky, greatly gifted and disciplined writer. It’s also a paean to a nurturing circle of family, lovers and friends, mentors and colleagues.

  • Haunted Birmingham

    By: Alan Brown
    Reviewed by: Danny Gamble

    Alan Brown’s title Haunted Birmingham is a bit of a misnomer since his book visits haunts not only in the Magic City, but also in Bessemer, Columbiana, Jasper, and Montevallo. The book fairly drips ectoplasm. All the wonders of the invisible world are here—the orbs, the shadows, the footsteps, even a haunted mummy. And some of these specters remind us that the metaphysical is not so far from the physical.

  • HealthSouth: The Wagon to Disaster

    By: Aaron Beam with Chris Warner
    Reviewed by: H. F. Lippincott

    Aaron Beam, co-founder (in 1980) and comptroller of HealthSouth, has written an account of his involvement with CEO Richard Scrushy, who was convicted in 2006 of bribery, conspiracy, and fraud. Although Beam left the company in 2003, eventually to become a whistle blower, he too was convicted as a felon and served three months in the federal prison camp in Montgomery. Since, Beam has spoken widely at business schools about the morality of corporate finance. This book spells out the details of his rags-to-riches story—and back to rags again: Beam now operates a one-man lawn service in Lower Alabama.

  • Black Barons of Birmingham: The South's Greatest Negro League Team and Its Players

    By: Larry Powell; Foreword by Clayton Sherrod
    Reviewed by: Bill Plott

    Larry Powell has broken new ground with this general history of the Birmingham Black Barons, a storied team in the Negro baseball leagues.  It is the first real overview of the team that includes both a basic timeline of the team and also profiles of some of the more notable players.
  • From Peanuts to the Pressbox: Insider Sports Stories from a Life Behind the Mic

    By: Eli Gold with M. B. Roberts; Foreword by Verne Lundquist
    Reviewed by: Don Alexander

    One may know Eli Gold as the radio voice of The Crimson Tide, of NASCAR, of the Birmingham Bulls, or of regional Ford advertisements. But how about the Long Island Ducks, the Roanoke Valley Rebels, World of Outlaws races, or Arena Football? From Peanuts to the Pressbox is a delightful collection of stories about broadcasting, from the recollections of a man whose mom (primarily because of excessive absences) negotiated his high school diploma: “He knows what he wants to do. Give him his diploma, and he won’t bother anyone.”
  • Mighty By Sacrifice: The Destruction of an American Bomber Squadron, August 29, 1944

    By: James L. Noles and James L. Noles Jr.
    Reviewed by: Bill Plott

    Last Spring, a writer in Smithsonian magazine noted that “even after half a century, there are little nuggets of stories about World War II that have just not been told or have not been understood very well.” This fascinating book by James L. Noles and James L. Noles Jr. is proof positive of that observation.  The Noleses have penned a narrative of a United States bomber squadron’s mission to destroy an oil refinery and railroad yards in Moravska Ostrava, Czechoslovakia, in August 1944.
  • Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

    By: Askhari Johnson Hodari Foreword by The Archbishop Desmond Tutu
    Reviewed by: Linda A. McQueen

    Common sense is the theme of these African proverbs. They are kept alive by centuries of experiences handed down by word of mouth from African elders. How many times have you talked to individuals and needed to say something to cause them to think about a situation and see the solution? Do you need a message of guidance and inspiration? Welcome to Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs, edited by Askhari Johnson Hodari and Yvonne McCalla Sobers.

  • Potluck, Postscripts and Potpourri

    By: Jean Gay Mussleman
    Reviewed by: Sherry Kughn

    Those who love the South will enjoy the cookbook memoir Potluck, Postscripts & Potpourri by Jean Gay Mussleman of the Oakland community near Florence. Mussleman interjects a down-home wholesomeness when tying personal stories to time-honored Southern recipes. In the process, she preserves stories of her growing-up years in the 1930s to present times. She writes stories behind many near-forgotten customs that older generations witnessed as children, such as watching their mothers cut up raw chicken, throwing barn parties for neighbors, listening to elderly relatives, honoring their ancestral homes, and celebrating all holidays with food and family.

  • Teddy's Child: Growing Up In the Anxious Southern Gentry Between the Great Wars

    By: Virginia Van der Veer Hamilton
    Reviewed by: Rebecca Dempsey

    Virginia Van der Veer Hamilton’s book is more than a memoir; it is a narrative complete with interesting characters and rich historical detail. Teddy’s Child: Growing Up in the Anxious Southern Gentry Between the Great Wars is about the failures and accomplishments of the author’s eccentric family, but the themes extend beyond Hamilton’s family to comment on the struggles of humanity: the dreams individuals reach to possess and the nobility, and at times futility, of that effort.

  • The Pillared City: Greek Revival Mobile

    By: John S. Sledge; Photography by Sheila Hagler
    Reviewed by: Dee Jordan

    Like most readers, I don’t understand the intricacies of nineteenth century architecture. However, in his new book The Pillared City: Greek Revival Mobile scholar and Mobile Press-Register books editor John S. Sledge reveals his passion and knowledge of architectural history. And this history is fascinating.

  • Tin Man

    By Charlie Lucas; Interviews by Ben Windham; Photographs by Chip Cooper

    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    This Art-with-a-capital-A book is an astutely synchronized compilation of as-told-to autobiography that often reads like music sounds, and brilliant images that look as if they might leap off the pages. In fifteen triumphant chapters, Ben Windham has corralled the essence of wit and wisdom, creative energy, and life-experience of internationally known folk artist Charlie Lucas.

  • This Day in Civil Rights History

    By: Horace Randall Williams and Ben Beard
    Reviewed by: Nancy Wilstach

    This is the kind of book you CAN put down, but you will pick it up again an hour later, a day later or the next time that blowhard at the office holds forth on what “really happened” in 1965 or 1963 or 1950. Originally published in 2005 by Emmis Books, this paperback edition will help you win arguments, impress friends, and find a launch point for further research.

  • A Family Home: A History of the President

    By: Nell Richardson
    Reviewed by: Edward Reynolds

    For the Auburn aficionado who thinks he or she has bought every piece of merchandise available that celebrates his or her beloved orange and blue, Nell Richardson, wife of former Auburn University president Dr. Ed Richardson, has added one more little souvenir. Mrs. Richardson has documented the history of the school’s President’s Mansion in her book A Family Home: A History of the President’s Mansion at Auburn University. It’s a written history packed with candid photographs of the university’s presidents and their families (and dogs) who have ruled over the academic/football kingdom in the Loveliest Village on the Plains.

  • American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

    By Jon Meacham

    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    You may not have much admiration for the famous subject of this biography, but don’t let that keep you from reading it. One incentive could be that the book, which came out last year in hardcover, has won the Pulitzer Prize. Newsweek magazine editor Jon Meacham’s superior journalistic and analytical skills are evident on every page of this fascinating, vividly imagerized history. The modernized style of narration, which at times is delightfully gossipy in tone, makes the long-dead players come alive, especially the central figure.

  • Chasing Wings: Birding Exploits and Encounters

    By: Richard Modlin
    Reviewed by: H. F. Lippincott

    A retired marine biologist who is also an occasional bird watcher, Richard Modlin has collected his birding field notes from all over the world along with meticulous lists of birds for each section. I’m not a birder, but I’ve carted around my youthful Peterson bird guide—Modlin calls him "the Audubon of our time"—all my life, even though I never use it. Yet I soon got caught up in Modlin’s book, and I highly recommend it to anyone even remotely interested in the subject, especially young people. Informal scientific books of this quality are all too rare.

  • Images of America: Gadsden Public Library: 100 Years of Service

    By: Library History Committee, eds.
    Reviewed by: Delores Jordan

    This beautiful picture book of the Gadsden Public Library is not just a historical recounting of the many buildings that made up the library and its branches, but it also is a history of a literary community. Readers can’t help but be impressed by the outpouring of money, time, talent, energy, and love by the people of Gadsden and its surrounding communities. Images of America: Gadsden Public Library: 100 Years of Service is a jewel.

  • Images of America: Gadsden Public Library: 100 Years of Service

    By: Library History Committee, eds.
    Reviewed by: Delores Jordan

    This beautiful picture book of the Gadsden Public Library is not just a historical recounting of the many buildings that made up the library and its branches, but it also is a history of a literary community. Readers can’t help but be impressed by the outpouring of money, time, talent, energy, and love by the people of Gadsden and its surrounding communities. Images of America: Gadsden Public Library: 100 Years of Service is a jewel.

  • The African Book of Names

    By: Askhari Hodari
    Reviewed by: Colin Crews

    Early civil rights activist and author Richard Moore said, “Free men name themselves.” This idea is embodied in Askhari Hodari’s The African Book of Names. The four-part work contains an overview of African culture and history, a guide to traditional naming ceremonies, and more than five thousand African names. Hodari infuses the historical facts with her own story of renaming and self-discovery.

  • The South's New Racial Politics

    By: Glen Browder
    Reviewed by: Colin Crews

    Dr. Glen Browder’s credentials in Alabama politics are as impressive as his unique new work The South’s New Racial Politics: Inside the Race Game of Southern History. The former United States congressman gives a firsthand account of the South’s most enduring and troubling issue and offers an original thesis. Browder displays an uncommon style and approach to this scholarly topic early in the introduction when he refers to Martin Luther King Jr. and George Wallace as “these guys.” But his informal style helps make a sensitive subject more accessible.

  • Twelve and Counting: The National Championships of Alabama Football

    By: Kenneth Gaddy, ed.; Foreword by Mal Moore
    Reviewed by: Van Newell

    Like Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, Twelve and Counting: The National Championships of Alabama Football features a mountain of information, of anecdotes and of history and is a book best enjoyed slowly, letting the history digest in one’s brain. Each of the chapters encompasses at least a year’s worth of information regarding (trumpets at the ready) the Alabama Crimson Tide football program and each national championship that they celebrate. Like a road trip, the reading may take a while, but that may mean you may enjoy the ride all the more.

  • On Harper's Trail

    By Elizabeth Findley Shores

    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    This engrossing biography of Roland McMillan Harper, “Pioneering Botanist of the Southern Coastal Plain,” is clearly a labor of love as well as an extraordinary feat of erudition.... Like many others plagued with the onus of genius, Harper was rife with eccentricities. In the scientific circles he moved in, he became legendary for his encyclopedic knowledge of plants and regional terrain, much of which was gleaned during long, solitary treks over the countryside and coastal plains of Alabama, Georgia, and the Florida Panhandle.

  • A Generous Life: W. James Samford Jr.

    By: Wayne Greenhaw
    Reviewed by: Jim Buford

    The saga of this family began with William James Samford, who was a successful attorney and governor of Alabama. He took to heart the words of Luke 12:48 that “To whom much has been given, much is expected,” and he ensured that the virtues of hard work, service to others, duty to country, and standing up for what’s right were passed on to his children and grandchildren. In A Generous Life, Wayne Greenhaw chronicles the life and times of his great-grandson, William James (Jimmy) Samford Jr.

  • Behind the Hedges: Big Money and Power Politics at the University of Georgia

    By: Rich Whitt
    Reviewed by: Karl Jones

    Behind the Hedges, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Rich Whitt, is a riveting tale of self-interested bureaucrats, politicians, and power-brokers and how they will do most anything to preserve their power and influence. On the surface, the book is a stinging indictment of University of Georgia President Michael Adams, his senior staff, and the news media (including Witt’s former employer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) that turned a blind eye to improper and perhaps illegal activities. As a sad aside, the author died as this book was published.

  • Headwaters: A Journey of Alabama Rivers

    By: John C. Hall and Beth Maynor Young
    Reviewed by: Britt Blake

    While I was growing up in Montevallo, my father often mused that if I took the inclination, I could launch my canoe in Shoal Creek across the street from our house and paddle all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Headwaters: A Journey on Alabama Rivers, with text by John C. Hall and photographs by Beth Maynor Young, offers a much easier tour of the state’s diverse water system–from rain dripping from beech leaves into the soil in mountainous northern Alabama to the "Great River’s" arrival at Mobile Bay.

  • Mammy: A Century of Race, Gender, and Southern Memory

    By: Kimberly Wallace-Sanders
    Reviewed by: Linda A. McQueen

    Mammy: A Century of Race, Gender, and Southern Memory presents an in-depth analysis of the various myth, fiction, history, and other embodiments of the mammy characters between the 1820s and 1935. Kimberly Wallace-Sanders probes the images and themes immortalized in American literary and cultural imagination that continue to have a provocative hold on the American psyche. This book engages questions asked time and time again: Who is this mammy? What does she reveal about race and the American culture? Why do portraits of her insist she preferred white children to her own? How did she become a central figure in our understanding of slavery, gender, motherhood, and the American South?

  • Spit, Scarey Ann & Sweat Bees: One Thing Leads to Another

    By: Kathryn Tucker Windham
    Reviewed by: Rebecca Dempsey

    Kathryn Tucker Windham’s memoir is refreshing because it is not about childhood trauma; there is no abuse or poverty in this story. Rather, it is a nostalgic look back to a distant childhood and a past era of the American South. Windham’s remembrances are tender without being sentimental, and the tone of Spit, Scarey Ann, & Sweat Bees: One Thing Leads to Another is one of tranquility, as if Windham is writing simply because she enjoys savoring her memories.

  • Sweet Spot: 125 Years of Baseball and the Louisville Slugger

    By: David Magee and Philip Shirley; Foreword by Ken Griffey Jr.
    Reviewed by: Sidney J. Vance

    Sweet Spot: 125 Years of Baseball and the Louisville Slugger is a generous pictorial history of the Louisville Slugger, the essential baseball bat for over a century. David Magee’s and Philip Shirley’s complete chronological account begins with the mythic origins of the bat in the 1880s and extends to the technology of contemporary composite alloy techno-bats. The book relies on the unique historical consistency of baseball and its meticulous records to show how the Hillerich family business has imparted a mystique to its bats that has enhanced the game and made its brand one of the most recognizable and profitable in all of sports.

  • Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee

    By: Allen Barra
    Reviewed by: Bill Plott

    Why yet another book on Yogi Berra? Simple answer, according to author Allen Barra: There has never been a serious biography of the Hall of Fame catcher, noted mostly for his years with the New York Yankees and his ability to churn out seemingly dimwitted but nevertheless amusing sayings. Barra says Berra is America’s most beloved former athlete and the most quoted American since Mark Twain. It’s hard to deny either assertion.

  • Alabama Sports: A Comprehensive Guide to Sports in Alabama

    By: Steve Dupont
    Reviewed by: Van Newell

    Part travel guide, part historical record, Alabama Sports offers ten chapters involving the exhibits, venues, sports, and sports legends that have made a mark on the state’s sports history. Giving extra gravitas to the publication is an introduction by Governor Bob Riley, a foreword by Alabama Sports Hall of Fame Executive Director William Legg, and stellar photography reaching back over a hundred years.

  • Fanning the Spark: A Memoir

    By: Mary Ward Brown
    Reviewed by: Norman McMillan

    In 1978, Mary Ward Brown attended a series of lectures at the University of Montevallo by the renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell. According to her new memoir Fanning the Spark, she was most taken with some advice he gave: “To fulfill one’s destiny, a person should follow his bliss.” The central bliss this memoir focuses on is the bliss of writing. However, Brown shows us how that particular bliss competes with many other blisses, such as the delights of family and motherhood, the pleasures of place and home, and the joys of books and reading. Too often, pursuing one bliss means scanting another, and that unresolved conflict takes its toll, sometimes in the form of guilt. Her final thought in her memoir: “I just hope to write one or two more stories before I leave this earth and, at the same time, be forgiven a few sins of omission while doing it.”

  • Life and Death Matters

    By: Robert L. Baldwin, M.D., M.A.
    Reviewed by: Sherry Kughn

    The autobiographical account of how Dr. Robert L. Baldwin came to write against capital punishment is the story of his life. His book, Life and Death Matters, is a candid look at how he, a Birmingham physician of accomplishment, discovered error in his own thinking.

  • PR Made Easy

    By: John Bitter
    Reviewed by: Philip Shirley

    John Bitter reveals the point of this fifty-two-page book in his foreword, saying the purpose of a public relations practitioner is to achieve “action of some sort on the part of the recipient.” Through a series of personal anecdotes and observations, Bitter attempts to put the entry-level PR person or the volunteer publicity director drafted by a not-for-profit at ease as they attempt to tell the story of their organization. He correctly leads them to understand that their mission is not merely to convey information, but to persuade.

  • There’s Hope for the World: The Memoir of Birmingham, Alabama’s First African American Mayor

    By: Richard Arrington
    Reviewed by: Edward Reynolds

    Former Birmingham mayor Richard Arrington has written his recollections and impressions of his two decades running the state’s largest city in his autobiography There’s Hope for the World: The Memoir of Birmingham, Alabama’s First African American Mayor. Arrington’s 1979 election marked a profound change following decades of white rule that was eventually dismantled with the city’s conversion from a city commission style government run by racist thug Bull Connor to a mayor-council operation in the early 1960s that began to recognize black residents in a more equal light, though it took another decade for profound changes to take root.

  • Truman Capote’s Southern Years: Stories from a Monroeville Cousin

    By: Marianne M. Moates
    Reviewed by: Norman McMillan

    Happily back in print is a charming book that many of us found essential in understanding the young Truman Capote. The new version is re-titled Truman Capote’s Southern Years: Stories from a Monroeville Cousin, thereby emphasizing the essential role played by Capote’s cousin, Jennings Faulk Carter, who was the source of the wonderful stories that Moates recounts in the book. The book also sports a new cover photo of Capote holding Queenie, the dog owned by Capote’s soul-mate Sook, a picture that suggests better than the one on the 1989 book the Monroeville world of his childhood and adolescence, when Truman lived in his elderly cousins’ home or returned to Alabama on summer visits.

  • A Wild Perfection: The Selected Letters of James Wright

    By: Anne Wright and Saundra Rose Maley, eds.
    Reviewed by: Dennis Sampson

    The American poet James Wright was a voluminous correspondent, and these more than five hundred pages of A Wild Perfection are merely a sampling of his letters. Wright was a poet of supreme importance to his generation, and to the generation that followed. He was also, as these letters indicate, a man of tremendous compassion and intelligence. He lived, as Rilke said of the sculptor Auguste Rodin, "at the very center of his art."

  • I Just Make People Up: Ramblings with Clark Walker

    By: Foster Dickson
    Reviewed by: Julia Oliver

    This is a gorgeous coffee table book. Elegantly square, not the most comfortable shape to hold, it might be more perused than read—which would be a shame, as Foster Dickson’s narrative biography of Clark Walker is a triumph of the as-told-to style of writing.
  • Jim Crow and Me: Stories from My Life as a Civil Rights Lawyer

    By: Solomon S. Seay Jr. Foreword by John Hope Franklin
    Reviewed by: H.F. Lippincott

    Rather than a conventional memoir, Solomon S. Seay Jr., the distinguished Montgomery civil rights attorney (b. 1931), gives us “disjointed episodes” about his memorable trials and incidents between 1957 and 1977, key years for the civil rights struggle. The tone is lively, to appeal to a broad audience—stories that “have some meaning, yet while being entertaining.”

  • Weird Science and Bizarre Beliefs

    By: Gregory L. Reece
    Reviewed by: Van Newell

    There are those of us who are sated with the basic cable specials on Big Foot, Hidden Worlds, UFOs, and the occult, but for most of us, we are really told very little that we did not already know. Weird Science and Bizarre Beliefs by Montevallo’s Gregory L. Reece capitalizes on the inherent interest that many people have regarding obscure pseudosciences and faux “alien” technology. Instead of a forty-four-minute “hour long” special of by-the-numbers cotton candy that most of us already really know about Big Foot, Reece goes a much appreciated step further.

  • America’s Revival Tradition and the Evangelists Who Made It

    By: David T. Morgan
    Reviewed by: Rebecca Dempsey

    The famous evangelists in America’s history differed somewhat in doctrine, and were widely disparate in education, oratorical style, and business acumen. However, they shared a desire to preach the gospel to as many people as they possibly could, and had the ambition and commitment to make this goal their life’s work. David T. Morgan traces the path of revivalism in America’s history, beginning with Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield in the eighteenth century and ending with the modern-day televangelists. Charles Finney, Dwight L. Moody, Sam Jones, Billy Sunday, and Aimee Semple McPherson, along with Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, and others “contributed to shaping, to a significant extent, the mosaic that is contemporary America.”

  • Born Country: How Faith, Family, and Music Brought Me Home

    By: Randy Owen
    Reviewed by: Kevin Wilder

    If anyone’s qualified to sing in a band named after the Yellowhammer state, it’s got to be Randy Owen. In Born Country, he paints a magnificent portrait of Northeast Alabama, the area where he was born and continues to live.
  • Images of America: Bibb County

    By Vicky Clemmons and David Daniel On Behalf of the Centreville Historic Preservation Commission

    Reviewed by Danny Gamble

    I’m a sucker for historical photographs. The faces, places, and spaces fascinate me. Images of America: Bibb County by Vicky Clemmons and David Daniel on behalf of the Centreville Historic Preservation Commission is one book I will spend hours and hours perusing. The 126-page book is filled with black and white photographs of Bibb County, Alabama, from the late nineteenth through the early twenty-first centuries. The photos were collected from area residents and focus on the people, institutions, and commercial endeavors that once made Bibb County the industrial capital of Alabama. The cover sets the tone for this collection. In it, Mariana and O.P. Dailey stare at the camera from behind the dry goods cluttered counter of their mercantile store in Centreville, circa 1939. This pre-war photo illustrates that while the Great Depression ravaged the country, the Daileys and Centreville were open for business.

  • Images of America: Tallassee

    By: William E. Goss and Karren Pell
    Reviewed by: Ruth Beaumont Cook

    If a picture is worth a thousand words, an all-verbal equivalent of Images of America: Tallassee would run to several volumes. As a slim paperback, this book employs vintage photographs to tell the story of an historic Alabama town whose origins mingle with the Native American settlements of Talisi and Tukabahchi, which also thrived beside the great falls of the Tallapoosa River. A comprehensive Introduction and detailed photo captions fill out the narrative.

  • Moundville

    By: John H. Blitz
    Reviewed by: Chris Bouier

    With Moundville John Blitz presents readers a characterization of a place that by all rights and accounts is as much a national monument as the colossal undertaking of Mount Rushmore and also as invaluable an international heirloom of the human family as the pyramids on the Giza plateau. He develops this profile of the park in three distinct segments: 1) an examination of its modern history; 2) an explication of the scientific methodologies and efforts that have shed so much light on its pre-history; 3) the humanization of this pre-historic data in story form. Finally, Blitz caps this biography of the monument with a brief chapter consisting of the most relevant data of all: an outline and description of what potential visitors should seek and expect when planning their next trip to this remarkable site.

  • Rommel's Peace; Rommel and the Rebel

    By Lawrence Wells

    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    Although priced separately, these books are presented as a pair. The first listing above is a sequel to the second, which is a reissue of a 1986 novel published by Doubleday. Other previous editions of Rommel and the Rebel were published by Bantam in 1987 and Yoknapatawpha Press in 1992. The idea to write a novel about a fabricated journey to America by the German military leader Erwin Rommel, who had distinguished himself in World War I before achieving fame as the wily World War II Field Marshall known as the Desert Fox, came from a press account of a visit to Mississippi by a group of unnamed military men from Germany in the late 1930s. Wells has drawn a convincing parallel between the military tactics of this colorful, well-developed character and those of the Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest.

  • A Tiger Walk Through History

    By: Paul Hemphill; Foreword by Vince Dooley
    Reviewed by: Jim Buford

    Another book about Auburn football by an Auburn alumnus. This time it’s Paul Hemphill celebrating glorious victories, legendary coaches, and noteworthy performances of student athletes on the field of honor—especially the field known as the Iron Bowl. But what about objectivity? Hemphill admits up front that he can’t be objective. And what was First Draft thinking when it sent me the book to me to review? I’m an Auburn alumnus from the class of 1960, which means I was a student in 1957 when Auburn won its only national championship and Hemphill was sports editor of The Auburn Plainsman. All that aside, don’t we need to be encouraging people in our state to attend plays, read non-rhyming poetry, and become more involved in activities that increase their cultural awareness than in reinforcing their preoccupation with revenue producing sports? So do you really think I’m going to tell you that a coffee-table book about football advances the literary arts? Well, yes, actually.

  • Walk-On: My Reluctant Journey to Integration at Auburn University

    By: Thom Gossom Jr.
    Reviewed by: Chris Bouier

    If you are looking for a different type of civil rights story or if you are seeking a different type of sports tale, then Walk-On is the book for you. Unlike many memoirs connected to the era, Walk-On is not a “nuts and bolts” civil rights tale about politics, social unrest, or any of the usual suspects. Those elements are certainly there to be sure, but this is a resolutely personal story written after the height of the most extreme upheavals by someone who was not directly involved in those facets of the movement. Those elements most often lurk in the background of Gossom’s world until they inevitably rise to the fore and force him to deal with them directly.

  • You Want Fries with That? A White-Collar Burnout Experiences Life at Minimum Wage

    By: Prioleau Alexander
    Reviewed by: Edward Reynolds

    Auburn graduate Prioleau Alexander is one hilarious writer. At age forty-one, he walked away from his job as a well-paid advertising executive to explore the underbelly of the employment world by hiring on for a series of low-paying jobs to write a book about his experiences, You Want Fries with That? A White-Collar Burnout Experiences Life at Minimum Wage.

  • A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and Its War with the United States

    By: Timothy J. Henderson
    Reviewed by: David T. Morgan

    Timothy J. Henderson contends in this book that there is glory in defeat, in spite of the fact that the Mexican-American War proved Mexico to be militarily incompetent and resulted in the loss of a vast amount of Mexican territory. After all, Henderson argues, Mexico received millions of dollars in compensation and defended its national honor against a mightier foe. Does that equal a glorious defeat? Let the reader decide after reading this delightfully written account of Mexican political history from 1821 (the year Mexico declared its independence from Spain) through the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848.

  • Gone to the Swamp: Raw Materials for the Good Life in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta

    By: Robert Leslie Smith
    Reviewed by: H. F. Lippincott

    If you asked Leslie Smith’s grandmother where her husband was, she’d answer, “Gone to the Swamp”—the area in north Baldwin County, Alabama, where the family conducted lumbering operations for 150 years, starting before the Civil War. As a boy of ten, Smith (b. 1918) began to accompany the logging crews, helping with chores and gaining self-reliance and a sense of responsibility. Now in retirement from the Navy and as a county school superintendent, he recaptures in great detail the period before World War II when lumbering had not yet been motorized.

  • The Great War in the Heart of Dixie: Alabama During World War I

    By Martin Olliff, ed.

    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    Although World Wars I and II and the Civil War have been eulogized, excoriated, and expounded upon in numerous books of fiction and nonfiction, the attraction of serious readers to these immense, history-making-and-altering subjects does not abate. Subtitled Alabama During World War I, this book contains well-written essays by authors with scholarly credentials. Editor Martin T. Olliff, director of the Archives of Wiregrass History and Culture and a faculty member at Troy University-Dothan Campus, acknowledges that “these chapters examine how Alabamians responded to the pressures and changes brought on by the Great War, but with a single caveat: singly and collectively, they are not the final word on any of the points raised.”

  • The Hollywood Culture War: What You Don't Know CAN Hurt You!

    By: Michael Vincent Boyer
    Reviewed by: Sherry Kughn

    University of Alabama at Birmingham graduate Michael Vincent Boyer is a former location scout for the movie industry for many high-profile films, including Driving Miss Daisy, Forrest Gump, Glory, and Fried Green Tomatoes. From his twenty-year vantage point, he was able to observe the influence of leaders in the movie industry, and he was able to observe the powerful and money-rich culture created by Hollywood’s relationship with leaders in the government, namely those in Washington, D.C.

  • The Wrong Side of Murder Creek

    By: Bob Zellner
    Reviewed by: Chris Bouier

    The Wrong Side of Murder Creek is an important book for many reasons. First, it offers the minority perspective of a Caucasian who was intimately involved in the Civil Rights Era of the mid-twentieth century on the frontline: the Deep South. The significance of this perspective cannot be overstated. Although the vanguard of the movement was African-American, its universal relevance is starkly illustrated by those who could have found their niche in the dominant social hierarchy yet chose to cast their lot with said vanguard for the sake of all who found themselves disenfranchised by the extant power structure.

  • Alabama Masters: Artists and Their Work

    By: Georgine Clarke, ed.
    Reviewed by: Jerry Griffies

    An awareness of history begins close to home. Alabama Masters: Artists and Their Work, published by the Alabama State Council on the Arts, provides us with a glimpse of the history of our artistic community, without which we would have difficulty learning something of ourselves, our cities, our past, and our future. The men and women gathered in this collection earned local, national, or international fame during the twentieth century. All were born in, or achieved fame in, Alabama. The past is a part of their present and of their future.

  • Béjart and Modernism: Case Studies in the Archetype of Dance

    By: Pamela Gay-White
    Reviewed by: H.F. Lippincott

    As a young woman, before college, Pamela Gay-White studied ballet in France, where she incidentally met Béjart. Later, while at Berkeley, he invited her to Europe for a residency to research her thesis, the original basis for this book. Then and subsequently she has seen all of Béjart’s major, full-length works, and her vivid, first-hand descriptions and analyses are the most valuable part of her study.

  • Bohemian New Orleans: The Story of the Outsider and Loujon Press

    By: Jeff Weddle
    Reviewed by: David Wyman

    The book’s title says it all, daddy-o. Bohemian New Orleans: The Story of the Outsider and Loujon Press is a muted trumpet-moan, a woeful but quietly triumphant wail about a now-forgotten literary mag (the Outsider) and its struggling mimeograph-era publisher, Loujon Press. Get your kicks with Jon and Louise ("Gypsy Lou") Webb—bohemians themselves, outsiders both—as they dream, shock, and heroically toil for Art through "Beat-generation" New Orleans in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.

  • Patterson for Alabama: The Life and Career of John Patterson

    By: Gene L. Howard
    Reviewed by: Ruth Beaumont Cook

    After working with his material for two decades, Gene L. Howard has written an extremely readable biography of John Patterson, governor of Alabama from 1959 to 1963. The beginning chapters bring to life Patterson’s father’s crusade to clean up rampant corruption in Phenix City in the early 1950s. It was the mob-related murder of Albert Patterson on June 18, 1953, that led his son John reluctantly into a political career he would never otherwise have pursued.

  • Clean, Well-Lighted Sentences: A Guide to Avoiding the Most Common Errors in Grammar and Punctuation

    By: Janis Bell
    Reviewed by: Treasure Ingels-Thompson

    Few people nestle themselves into a comfy couch to read a grammar book. And when one tells another that this is the plan for her evening, she may get a sympathetic frown in return.... Sometimes, a secret for self-improvement is kept in a book, though. Clean, Well-Lighted Sentences by Janis Bell holds such a secret. Delivering clear, insightful explanation of commonly flubbed grammar rules, Bell provides clever rationale and easy-to-follow guidelines for proper grammar each and every time one speaks or writes.

  • Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause: Southern White Evangelicals and the Prohibition Movement

    By: Joe L. Coker
    Reviewed by: Edward Reynolds

    Samford University religion professor Joe L. Coker has written a fascinating, thorough history of the strange, evolving relationship between liquor and the South, especially southern evangelicals’ dalliances with the demon rum. It’s nothing short of astonishing that Bible-thumping Christians, including Primitive Baptists, were divided on temperance. Some Baptists said grace before pouring rounds of whiskey. Coker writes hilarious anecdotes of evangelicals defending drinking, including a Georgia Baptist preacher who carried a hollow cane full of whiskey which he sipped from during his sermons to prove that he could imbibe while delivering the word of God and not get drunk.

  • Making Crosses

    By: Ellen Morris Prewitt
    Reviewed by: Delores Jordan

    Ellen Morris Prewitt posits an intriguing concept: kinetic prayers. By using one’s creativity of discarded and rejected objects, one can make crosses and commune with God. "Cross making is an ongoing intentional process of making prayerful decisions," she writes. Her book is a testament to her philosophy. It is both a guide and a workbook.

  • Hang in There, Mom!

    By: Phyllis Barrett
    Reviewed by: Rebecca Dempsey

    Hang in There, Mom! is a collection of lighthearted and humorous vignettes based on a column Phyllis Barrett wrote for the Birmingham News between 1979 and 1987. She writes of the problems and rewards of marriage, rearing children, and aging, and the adjustments in life that each of these demand.

  • Hard Scrabble

    By: Mark “Tiger” Edmonds
    Reviewed by: Sherry Kughn

    The genre of creative nonfiction, which autobiography is, usually employs the same elements of fiction, such as setting, characterization, plot, theme, and time, in order to give the reader a balanced view of what is important in the daily lives of the story’s characters. These elements also move the reader along the path of a major change of characterization, usually with plot leading the way. The “almost-all” true story, a reference to what Edmonds says about his book on the back page...chronicles in an almost diary writing style a description of frequent visits he made to the home of his best friend, Nancy Pacey, as she struggles with a death sentence brought on by cancer. The point of the story seems to be that a mature man and woman can have a meaningful, nonsexual relationship.

  • 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles, Birmingham, 2nd Edition

    By: Russell Helms
    Reviewed by: Britt Blake

    60 Hikes Within 60 Miles, Birmingham provides sixty hike descriptions close enough to Birmingham that the drive and hike can be completed in one day. Each hike includes driving directions, an elevation profile, basic trail map, and hike description. Helms offers thorough descriptions that make each hike easy to locate, and the reader is informed on what to expect along the walk.

  • Nobody But the People

    By: Warren Trest
    Reviewed by: David T. Morgan

    This biography of John Patterson by Warren Trest offers inside stories of dramatic and monumental events in the history of Alabama. The author tells Patterson’s story in a highly readable, narrative style. Scholars looking for exhaustive documentation and thoroughgoing analysis will not find it here. However, the intelligent general reader will discover a well told story about an interesting man.

  • Poor Man’s Provence: Finding Myself in Cajun Louisiana

    By: Rheta Grimsley Johnson
    Reviewed by: Joey Kennedy

    If you dare write about this area, you’d better get it right. In her memoir, Poor Man’s Provence, veteran journalist Rheta Grimsley Johnson gets it right. She finds the heart that draws her back to this quirky paradise with its every beat. Not far from Lafayette, Johnson is introduced to the kind of people who are salt of the earth despite their idiosyncratic personalities.

  • Roger Brown: Southern Exposure

    By: Sidney Lawrence
    Reviewed by: Beth H. Wilder

    “I really think that my going in the direction I went comes from being southern.” So opens a new book on the life and work of nationally celebrated artist Roger Brown by the noted art critic Sidney Lawrence. Brown, an Alabama native, was one of the key innovators of the Chicago Imagist movement during the 1960s and 1970s, creating paintings and three-dimensional pieces that moved past the New York Pop Art style and fused influences from folk art, surrealism, comic strips, and advertisements.

  • William Christenberry’s Black Belt

    By: William Christenberry
    Reviewed by: Jerry Griffies

    William Christenberry wants to go home. In his D.C. suburban home, surrounded by artifacts of bygone times, his mind and hands busy themselves, bathed in the warm glow of childhood memory and beyond. Christenberry, best known for his color photography of rural Hale County, one of the poorest counties in the state, shows us this memory through his stark, childlike imaginings of this place holding magical sway and leaving room for the viewer’s own wanderings.

  • Montgomery and the River Region: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow

    By: Mary Ann Neeley; Featuring the photography of Robert Fouts; Corporate profiles by Charles Barnette
    Reviewed by: Julia Oliver

    No one writes more animatedly and authoritatively about the history of Montgomery, Alabama, than Mary Ann Neeley. The author of four previous books on the subject, plus guidebooks, supplementary school texts, and scholarly essays in regional journals, Neeley was for many years the original Executive Director of Landmarks Foundation....

  • Stand Up for Alabama: Governor George Wallace

    By: Jeff Frederick
    Reviewed by: Ruth Beaumont Cook

    In the preface to Stand Up for Alabama, Jeff Frederick declares George Wallace “the most important Alabama politician in the twentieth century….” Early in the first chapter, Frederick also reminds the reader that Wallace “had the power, charisma, and political savvy to prevent his home state from becoming the Alabama that the nation and world would come to scorn.”  

  • The Buccaneer's Realm

    By: Benerson Little
    Reviewed by: David Wyman

    It is rare for a critic to run across a regionally-written popular history so overall perfect in its scholarship and lively prose as The Buccaneer’s Realm by Huntsville’s Benerson Little, a follow-up of sorts to his 2006 book The Sea Rover’s Practice. If you want the scoop on the real Pirates of the Caribbean, this is the book for you.
  • A Centennial Celebration of the Bright Star Restaurant

    By: The Bright Star Family with Niki Sepsas
    Reviewed by: Edward Reynolds

    The Bright Star Restaurant in Bessemer commemorated its one-hundredth anniversary in 2007. In honor of the occasion, long-time Birmingham writer Niki Sepsas has penned A Centennial Celebration of The Bright Star Restaurant with help from the family of the restaurant’s third generation owners, Jimmy and Nicky Koikos, as well as longtime employees and loyal customers. The Bright Star’s perfect combination of unpretentious, friendly service in
    a fine-dining atmosphere makes for a memorable night on the town, regardless if one is dining with parents or drinking with friends. And you must sample a couple of entrees: the Greek-Style Snapper (with a delicious Greek tartar sauce made daily from an "old-country" Mediterranean recipe) and the shamefully rich Lobster and Crabmeat Au Gratin.

  • American Wars, American Peace

    By: Philip D. Beidler
    Reviewed by: David T. Morgan

    In this book Philip Beidler emphasizes that one cannot discuss war without also discussing politics, since it is politicians who lead the American citizenry into conflict. He raises a question about “misperceptions and outright falsehoods brought forth to justify large-scale military commitment ….” He cites Congress’ dutiful response to President Lyndon Johnson’s “carefully orchestrated pretext of alleged attacks…in the Gulf of Tonkin” and President George W. Bush’s shaky claims to Iraq’s having weapons of mass destruction as examples of making war under false pretenses.

  • Crock Pot Living in a Pressure Cooker World

    By: Teddy Butler Copeland
    Reviewed by: Nancy Hutcheson

    Instant everything society—busy schedules, borderline craziness, hectic pace, chaotic lifestyles—that’s life today. Our pace of life is frenetic, bordering on insanity, racing at break-neck speed—and for what? Teddy Butler Copeland, author of Playing the Hand You Are Dealt and Holes in the Darkness, examines this new generational phenomenon of stress and frenzy in everyday life and causes us to reflect on our own harried lives in her most recent book, Crock Pot Living in a Pressure Cooker World.

  • Emmett Till in Literary Memory and Imagination

    By: Harriet Pollack
    Reviewed by: Nabella Shunnarah

    In this book of literary criticism, the editors present a rich compilation of writers who attempt to give insight into the minds and hearts of the people surrounding the murder of and trial for Emmett Till. Citing literary figures such as William Bradford Huie, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Lewis Nordan, this book is an important work to any student of the civil rights movement in the South. This book is a study of the “interracial consciousness” of the times.

  • Mose T A to Z: The Folk Art of Mose Tolliver

    By: Anton Haardt
    Reviewed by: Georgine Clarke

    Mose T was an internationally recognized self-taught or folk artist. At his passing he was the last living artist from the landmark 1982 exhibition Black Folk Art in America 1930-1980, organized at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The field interested in self-taught artists is consistently asking for scholarly works of definitive analysis, works which extend beyond biography, interesting as it may be. This book is not that endeavor. It is rather a love letter written by a friend.

  • The Prince of Frogtown

    By: Rick Bragg
    Reviewed by: Perle Champion

    With this title, The Prince of Frogtown, one expects a story akin to the tall tales of Uncle Remus, and Rick Bragg does not disappoint. He is a consummate storyteller in the southern tradition of “pull up a chair, and let me tell you about the time….” Here he closes the circle of family stories in which his “father occupied only a few pages, but lived between every line.”

  • Focus on Fitness: 5 Steps to a Healthier Lifestyle

    By: Jerry B. Williams, MD
    Reviewed by: Bruce Alford

    You want to lose weight. Eat God-given foods. This is the cornerstone prescription in Focus on Fitness: 5 Steps to a Healthier Lifestyle. “Eating a plan based upon God-given foods is not a diet. It is a way of living,” states author Dr. Jerry Williams, MD.

  • UFO Religion: Inside UFO Cults and Culture

    By: Gregory L. Reece
    Reviewed by: Treasure Ingels-Thompson

    In his latest investigation of cultural fascination, UFO Religion: Inside UFO Cults and Culture, Gregory L. Reece soars straight into a world that on one end of the spectrum celebrates the possibility of learning, growth, and communication that interaction with other beings on other planets throughout the universe and beyond offers and the dangers that such interaction and communication may present to those who participate, willingly or unwillingly.

  • Just How I Picture It in My Mind: Contemporary African American Quilts from the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts

    By Mary Elizabeth Johnson Huff; Photography by Emily Stuart Thomas

    Reviewed by Julia Oliver

    A joint venture by the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and River City Publishing, this well-designed, hardcover book documents a collection of quilts obtained from Kempf Hogan of Birmingham, Michigan. Museum Director Mark M. Johnson states in the Foreword: “The Hogan collection encompasses the work of a diverse group of African American quilters working in Alabama and its environs during the last half century.” The collector was aided in the selection, a seventeen year process, by gallery owner Robert Cargo.


  • Prophet From Plains: Jimmy Carter and His Legacy

    By: Frye Gaillard
    Reviewed by: David T. Morgan

    The reader searching for a definitive biography of the thirty-ninth president of the United States will not find it in Frye Gaillard’s Prophet From Plains. What he or she will find is the portrait of Jimmy Carter’s presidency and post-presidency, the picture of a rare man who dared to make human rights the cornerstone of his policies as president, and an elder statesman who, after leaving the White House, refused to play it safe.

  • The Hand of Esau: Montgomery’s Jewish Community & the Bus Boycott

    By: Mary Stanton
    Reviewed by: Sherry Kughn

    Those interested in Civil Rights history will find a treasure in The Hand of Esau by Mary Stanton, an author, public administrator, and former teacher. The book is written chronologically with ample stories of the personalities involved in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56, an event that called on black, white, and Jewish residents to take part in an economic boycott to force an end to segregation in Montgomery.
  • A White Preacher’s Message on Race and Reconciliation

    By: Robert S. Graetz Jr.
    Reviewed by: Derryn E. Moten

    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. often noted that “an unexamined life is not worth living,” but as scholar and philosopher Cornel West has subsequently observed, “An examined life is hard.”  Robert S. Graetz’s A White Preacher’s Message on Race and Reconciliation fulfils the dicta of both King and West.  As the only white minister belonging to the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) board during the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott, Graetz’s latest memoir is a follow-up to his 1998 A White Preacher’s Memoir:  The Montgomery Bus Boycott.
  • Called to China: Attie Bostick’s Life & Missionary Letters from China: 1900-1943

    By: Rebekah E. Adams
    Reviewed by: Rosanne Osborne

    Attie Bostick left her home in Shelby, North Carolina, in June 1900 and did not return until December 1943.  Her success as a missionary was achieved within a context of famine, illness, war, and detention.  Her great-niece, Rebekah Adams, has relied on Bostick’s letters and diary entries to reconstruct the life of dedication and sacrifice of this pioneer missionary.
  • The Blue Moon Boys: The Story of Elvis Presley’s Band

    By: Ken Burke, Dan Griffin, Brian Setzer (Foreword)
    Reviewed by: Don Noble

    The Blue Moon Boys is not the kind of book I would normally read. I am not, I confess, a music guy. The names Scotty Moore, Bill Black, and D. J. Fontana meant nothing to me, and I have not made the pilgrimage to Graceland. Lead author Ken Burke has a previous title, Country Music Changed My Life. I cannot say the same. But, I was a teenager in the fifties and was entranced by the young Elvis of “Heartbreak Hotel” and the other early work, and I was impressed and amused by Dan Griffin’s documentary about Elvis, Two Hundred Cadillacs, in which he explores one of Elvis’ odder hobbies—buying Cadillacs and giving them away, often to strangers.
  • The Race Beat

    By: Gene Roberts
    Reviewed by: Edward Reynolds

    Gene Roberts and Alabama’s Hank Klibanoff have written a fascinating Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the media’s role in the civil rights movement. The Race Beat is an in-depth, often moving account of the dangers of reporting the plight of black Americans’ fighting for equal rights during the turbulent 1950s and 1960s in the South. Newspaper and television reporters were at times included in the beatings inflicted upon African-Americans by segregationists.

  • Heart Tree for Empty Nesters

    By: Sherry Kughn
    Reviewed by: Bethany A. Giles

    Personal struggles have a way of pushing us to action—research, conversations, and lots of reading online or in the bookstore aisles. Anniston native Sherry Kughn approached one set of personal issues similarly, by talking with friends, listening to others’ stories, reading, and meditating.

  • MoonPie: Biography of an Out-of-This-World Snack

    By: David Magee
    Reviewed by: Catherine Alexander

    "Hey, Mister, I want a MoonPie!" David Magee’s book MoonPie: Biography of an Out-of-This-World Snack demonstrates the significance of this phrase: it has propelled a family-owned business for three generations and a product that has relied upon word-of-mouth support rather than formal advertising.  Magee, who has previously explored American product advertising, marketing, and branding with books on Ford and John Deere, turns to the lone product of Chattanooga Bakery for his most recent foray into Americana.

  • The Life and Art of Jimmy Lee Sudduth

    By: Susan Mitchell Crawley
    Reviewed by: Georgine Clarke

    Fayette native Jimmy Lee Sudduth was one of a significant group of artists whose work falls outside the mainstream of the defined fine-art field. Alabama is remarkably blessed with many of these artists, generally characterized as “self-taught.” These artists, capturing interest often as much by their stories as by their artwork, seem particularly “Southern.”

  • Wrestling with God: The Meditations of Richard Marius

    By: Nancy Grisham Anderson, ed.
    Reviewed by: David T. Morgan

    Richard Marius was obviously a “Renaissance” man. Few have been more versatile than this Tennessee farm boy, for he was a journalist, minister, historian, novelist, and teacher of writing par excellence. Nancy Anderson and her publisher deserve praise for reviving public interest in this extraordinary man who directed Harvard University’s Expository Writing program for sixteen years, during which he influenced hundreds of Harvard students.

  • Alabama Folk Pottery

    By: Joey Brackner
    Reviewed by: Scott Meyer

    As a “folk-challenged” artist, I looked to Brackner’s book to find a productive vantage point from which to view the objects and the people who made them. What I found is one of the most scholarly, rigorous treatments of a topic I have ever read. It is not only well organized and logically presented, it manifests an exhaustive research within which the author’s obvious love for his subject is both potent and contagious. 

  • Alabama, One Big Front Porch

    By: Kathryn Tucker Windham
    Reviewed by: Bill Fuller

    Kathryn Tucker Windham is strongly opposed to most introductions in public and will often nudge the enthusiastic fan tapped to offer opening remarks with "Hush and go stand over yonder." No doubt she also fiercely resists any form of book review, though the Windham canon, now spanning twenty-six volumes, is ripe for scholarly and artistic exegesis...

  • All Guts and No Glory

    By: Bill Elder
    Reviewed by: Paul Finebaum

    When the galleys to All Guts and No Glory arrived in the mail in early spring, I shook my head, saying, “I know it sounds interesting, but I’ve been there and done that.” How many more books can I handle set with the civil rights movement as the backdrop? A month later, with the tome gathering dust, I had inched no closer to cracking it open. Finally, knowing the deadline was knocking on my door, I took a shot and honestly couldn’t put the book down.


  • Discovering Alabama Forests

    By: Doug Phillips with photographs by Robert P. Falls, Sr.
    Reviewed by: Mike Hardig

    In his recent book, Discovering Alabama Forests, Doug Phillips informs the reader that change is what a forest is all about. Phillips has prepared a wonderful treatise on one of Alabama’s finest natural features.  With a style that is succinct, thorough, and engaging, Phillips leads a comprehensive tour of the evolution of Alabama’s forests, from prehistoric times to the modern age... 

  • Frank Lloyd Wright’s Rosenbaum House: The Birth and Rebirth of an American Treasure

    By: Barbara Kimberlin Broach, Donald E. Lambert, and Milton Bagby
    Reviewed by: Todd Dills

    The story of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Rosenbaum House in Florence in northern Alabama is one that shares the traits of the tales of other of the pioneering architect’s projects—his and his apprentices’ staunch commitment to architectural vision leads to cost overruns and other frustrations that intersect neatly with personal dramas near and far. This seventy-nine-page tome, somewhere between art history and coffee-table book, tells the story of the home’s genesis, degradation and restoration in words and pictures both current and historical.

  • Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families

    By: Andrew Carroll, ed.
    Reviewed by: Don Noble

    If you read only one book about America at war since 9/11, let it be this one.  Operation Homecoming began as an idea to get a conversation going between the troops and their families and the American public, most of which is nearly unaffected by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This led to a series of writing workshops on military bases, sponsored by the NEA. The response to this project was huge...
  • A Conquering Spirit: Ft. Mims & the Redstick War of 1813-1814

    By: Gregory A. Waselko
    Reviewed by: James W. Parker

    Near midday on August 30, 1813, hundreds of Indians attacked a small wooden fort that had been hastily erected around the residence of Samuel Mims. The ensuing events here and at other sites near the juncture of the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers began a large scale war that changed the face of the Old Southwest forever.

  • Ain’t Nothin’ But a Winner: Bear Bryant, the Goal Line Stand, and a Chance of a Lifetime

    By Barry Krauss and Joe M. Moore
    Reviewed by Joe Formichella

    "Where were you when the ‘play’ happened?"

    The “play” occurred in the 1979 Sugar Bowl game, fourth and inches from the goal-line, Alabama clinging to a seven point lead. The play propelled Alabama to the National Championship, the team’s stalwart defense to the cover of Sports Illustrated...         

  • Guests Behind the Barbed Wire: German POWs in America: A True Story of Hope and Friendship

    By: Ruth Cook
    Reviewed by: Jim Reed

    Ruth Beaumont Cook’s amazing and entertainingly detailed account of the tiny town of Aliceville, Alabama, during World War II is at once a highly personal narrative, an engrossing true tale of heroism and extreme kindnesses, and a textbook about a time and place that must not be forgotten.

  • Reclaiming Public Education by Reclaiming Our Democracy

    By: David Mathews
    Reviewed by: Jim Wrye

    In poll after poll, Alabamians list education as the single most important issue facing the state. Yet ask citizens about Alabama’s public schools and attitudes change. Differences appear between parents with school-age children and those without. People will speak highly of their local schools, yet say Alabama schools overall are either poorly run, poorly funded, or both.