Daniel Sharfstein will be interviewed by Tim Chamberlain and I on KAZI Book Review Sunday, June 26, 12:30-12:45 p.m. central time on KAZI 88.7 FM in Austin, Texas. Listen live online at kazifm.org.
By Tim Chamberlain
Glancing back at history, it is easy to assume that there has always been a fairly clear line dividing whites and blacks in this country. In The Invisible Line Daniel J. Sharfstein shows through a meticulously-researched history how that line was crossed by three families and what circumstances precipitated the move from black to white.
One of the main ideas Sharfstein brings across is that there has never been a definite line defining race no matter how much people have tried. Race classifications were enacted often by legislators, but local standards and classifications varied widely to fit local needs and customs. This space allowed some to become white.
Communities would invent races to explain why some of their neighbors, friends and family were dark-skinned. There were many claims of Indian and Portuguese blood or stories of stranded Spanish explorers to justify why a white person might be darker-skinned than someone already defined as black. Sharfstein states it best when describing OSB Wall’s thoughts on the reality of relations between blacks and whites: “…the law was neither the Constitution nor the legislature’s enactments. It was how people lived every day.”
The three families followed by Sharstein seem to cover the spectrum of families that might make the transition from black to white. The Gibsons are a leading family in the southern aristocracy, staunchly Confederate, but descended from a free black man from South Carolina. The Spencers are farmers in the mountains of rural Kentucky, respected enough by friends and neighbors that their race is never questioned. The Walls are descended from a white slave owner that frees the children he has with his slaves, while at the same time leaving the mothers in slavery. These stories span from the 1760s to the present day, giving The Invisible Line the feel of an American epic. Luckily, the author has helpfully included family trees for all three families–a great relief, as you will find yourself flipping back to them often.
The greatest triumph of The Invisible Line is that it shows not only why crossing the color line was seen as necessary by some, but it also shows how the crossing was possible. There are a great number of quotes from primary sources (such as letters, newspapers and court records) that the author deftly uses to illustrate how people reacted to racial questions in the context of their own time. With The Invisible Line, Sharfstein has given insight into an often overlooked aspect of American history.
An interview with bestselling author David Baldacci, author of One Summer, will broadcast today at 12:45 p.m. central time on KAZI Book Review on KAZI 88.7 FM in Austin, Texas. Listen live online at kazifm.org.
One Summer Plot Summary
It’s almost Christmas, but there is no joy in the house of terminally ill Jack and his family. With only a short time to love, he spends his last days preparing to say good-bye to his devoted wife, Lizzie, and their three children. Then, unthinkably, tragedy strikes again: Lizzie is killed in a car accident. With no one able to care for them, the children are separated from each other and sent to live with family members around the country. Just when all seems lost, Jack begins to recover in a miraculous turn of events. He rises from what should have been his deathbed, determined to bring his family back together. Struggling to rebuild their lives after Lizzie’s death, he reunites everyone at Lizzie’s childhood home on the oceanfront in South Carolina. And there, over one unforgettable summer, Jack will begin to learn to love again, and he and his children will learn how to become a family once more.
David Baldacci is the author of twenty bestselling suspense novels. He lives with his family in Virginia. Together with his wife, he founded the Wish You Well Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting his literacy efforts across America. For more information, go to www.davidbaldacci.com.
By Keefe Boerner
In The Clockwork Universe, Edward Dolnick traces the progress of the intellectually revolutionary 17th century, how the world evolved from 1543, when Copernicus announced that the planets revolve around the sun, not the earth, to 1705, when the queen of England knighted Isaac Newton for his discoveries of universal gravitation.
Dolnick has extensive experience writing for casual readers of science, and this entertaining exploration of the evolution of astronomy and mathematics reads like a mystery, where the clues are gradually revealed through a series of geniuses, each building on the work of another to reveal how the solar system works. He exhaustively researched and illustrates scientists personalities, lives, research, alliances and feuds with entertaining storytelling that is sure to appeal to science wonks as well as the curious in other fields. The math and astronomical theories are simply explained. He injects humanity into the stiff two-dimensional portraits we commonly conjure when we hear the historical names.
In Part One, Chaos, Mr. Dolnick transports the reader back in time to the 17th century to understand the context of the story. We are reminded that there was no hygiene, no clean energy and God ruled all men’s lives through fears of hell’s eternal fires. London is described as filthy, ignorant, feces strewn, sooty, religious and, eventually, nearly wiped out by the plague. The Plague was the reason that Newton left Cambridge in 1664 to return to his mother’s farm for two years, which is referred to as his ‘Miracle Years’ when he developed calculus, his theories for universal gravitation, optics and light. Newton is described as an odd, temperamental, obsessive tinkerer and calculator, shutting himself up for days to solve a mathematical theorem, focus on alchemy, or experiment with his prisms. He had even poked a spike behind his own eyeballs to understand how manipulating the shape of his eye influenced his sight.
Mr. Dolnick points out this century was so remarkable because these scientists were willing to test and question theories that had been held since Aristotle; that the earth and men are not the center of the universe and that motion is predictable and follows geometric and mathematical laws. The way of thinking about the world shifted. It was no longer looking at the world and wondering WHY something happened, but HOW something happened.
Mr. Dolnick delves deeply into the personalities of his characters. For example, he gives insight into Johannes Kepler by tracing his life from sickly poor childhood to his failures as a teacher to early experiments on explaining the solar system and even his time defending his mother of charges of witchcraft. Much of the charm of Clockwork is that Mr. Dolnick spends as much time showing the full, human, process of the discoveries.
In The Clockwork Universe, Mr. Dolnick delivers incredibly rich insight into the remarkable century that brought us into the modern world, where man finally exited the long dark ages and built the foundations that propelled man to clearly see and even touch the heavens. It’s sure to appeal to casual observers of science as well as those deeply involved.
If you love sports news and you want to know the stories and personalities behind the scenes of the biggest name in sports news, ESPN, this is the book for you. With over 700 pages, this is an exhaustive oral history of ESPN from its creation in 1979 by Bill Rasmussen to the recent controversies surrounding the ESPN stars Tony Kornheiser (suspended twice, once for making an unflattering comment about Hannah Storm’s fashion choice in 2009)and Dana Jacobson (suspended in 2008 for being drunk and cursing while on the microphone of a roast of Mike and Mike at Notre Dame). I’m interviewing James Andrew Miller, co-author of the book, on KAZI Book Review Sunday, June 12, 12:45-1pm on KAZI 88.7 FM. Listen live online at http://www.kazifm.org.
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I haven’t never read a book by Craig Johnson, so I didn’t know what to expect. The plot revolves around Sheriff Walt Longmire’s quest to save the hostages of a serial killer that escaped from the custody of the FBI in Wyoming. I loved the self deprecating wit of Longmire and his dogged pursuit of the serial killer up a mountain during winter with a blizzard on the way. There were also some supernatural elements thrown into the story that spiced up the plot. I loved the book and plan to read the rest of the Walt Longmire novels. I’ll be interviewing Craig this Sunday at 12:30 p.m. on KAZI Book Review on KAZI 88.7 FM. Listen live online at kazifm.org.