December is a Historic Month!

December marks the anniversaries of several turning points in American history. Turn to books owned by the Mercer County Library System to learn more about these pivotal moments!

The Boston Tea Party

On the night of December 16, 1773 a group of colonists from Boston boarded ships owned by the British East India Company and dumped 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. The colonists were revolting against a tea tax and the persistent efforts of Great Britain to legislate taxes without colonial representation in the British Parliament.

American Tempest: How the Boston Tea Party Sparked a Revolution by Harlow G. Unger
American Tempest: How the Boston Tea Party Sparked a Revolution by Harlow G. Unger
“The author of assorted narratives and biographies connected to the American Revolution, Unger here embeds John Hancock in his Bostonian political milieu. Pegged to the town's political actors, the narrative culminates in the outbreak of war and British evacuation of Boston. The famous Boston Tea Party assumes its place as one of many events in the intensification of conflict over Britain's tyrannical usurpations, according to one view, or the colonists' treasonous resistance, in another. The dynamic in Unger's telling derives from the movement of individuals between political poles, with radicals like Samuel Adams pressuring moderates like Hancock to break with local supporters of British rule, such as Thomas Hutchinson. Recounting meetings, pamphleteering, and mob action, Unger underscores the atmosphere of menace never absent from patriot righteousness. For Tories and the British, the 1773 tea party's conflation of property destruction with tax resistance was the last straw. Considering the incident's resonance for the current Tea Party movement, Unger's history allows timely comparison of the original and its contemporary namesake.”—Booklist

“Journalist, historian, and biographer Unger turns his attention to the 50 years surrounding the infamous event that resulted in ‘a nation of coffee drinkers...a declaration of independence, a bloody revolution, and the modern world's first experiment in self-governance.’ Unger traces the growing anger of colonial businessmen toward British taxation to pay for defense of American soil, from the Molasses Act to the Tea Tax, not the first but fourth attempt to tax the colonies. Unger brings to vivid life familiar historical characters (the incompetent businessman Sam Adams; the wealthy John Hancock, Boston's ‘merchant king’) with lively text and fine reproductions of period maps, paintings, and engravings. Readers will sense foreshadowing of the ultimate irony that ‘a decade after independence the American government seemed to mirror the very British government that Tea Party Patriots had fought to shatter.’”–Publishers Weekly

The Aerial Age Begins

On December 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville and Wilbur Wright achieved the first controlled, sustained flight on an airplane.

The Wright Brothers by David G. McCullough
The Wright Brothers by David G. McCullough
"An outstanding saga of the lives of two men who left such a giant footprint on our modern age." –Booklist (starred review)

"[A] fluently rendered, skillfully focused study. . . . An educational and inspiring biography of seminal American innovators." –Kirkus Reviews

"McCullough's usual warm, evocative prose makes for an absorbing narrative; he conveys both the drama of the birth of flight and the homespun genius of America's golden age of innovation."--Publishers Weekly

“A story of timeless importance, told with uncommon empathy and fluency. . . . A story, well told, about what might be the most astonishing feat mankind has ever accomplished. . . . The Wright Brothers soars.”—The New York Times Book Review

“The nitty-gritty of exactly how [the Wrights] succeeded is told in fascinating detail.”--The Boston Globe

“An elegant, sweeping look at the two Americans who went where no others had gone before and whose work helped create a national excellence in aviation that continues today."—USA Today

”Concise, exciting, and fact-packed. . . . Mr. McCullough presents all this with dignified panache, and with detail so granular you may wonder how it was all collected.”—The New York Times

Arrival in the New World

On December 21, 1620 the Mayflower Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The Mayflower transported the first English Pilgrims to America, with 102 passengers. When the Pilgrims disembarked, they founded the Plymouth Colony. The Plymouth Colony, along with Jamestown, Virginia, was one of the earliest successful colonies to be founded by the English in North America.

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick
Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick
From the perilous ocean crossing to the shared bounty of the first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrim settlement of New England has become enshrined as our most sacred national myth. Yet, as bestselling author Nathaniel Philbrick reveals in his spellbinding new book, the true story of the Pilgrims is much more than the well-known tale of piety and sacrifice; it is a fifty-five-year epic that is at once tragic, heroic, exhilarating, and profound. The Mayflower's religious refugees arrived in Plymouth Harbor during a period of crisis for Native Americans as disease spread by European fishermen devastated their populations. Initially the two groups--the Wampanoags, under the charismatic and calculating chief Massasoit, and the Pilgrims, whose pugnacious military officer Miles Standish was barely five feet tall--maintained a fragile working relationship. But within decades, New England would erupt into King Philip's War, a savagely bloody conflict that nearly wiped out English colonists and natives alike and forever altered the face of the fledgling colonies and the country that would grow from them. With towering figures like William Bradford and the distinctly American hero Benjamin Church at the center of his narrative, Philbrick has fashioned a fresh and compelling portrait of the dawn of American history—a history dominated right from the start by issues of race, violence, and religion.

“Philbrick delivers a masterly told story that will appeal to lay readers and history buffs alike. Clearly one of the year's best books; highly recommended.”—Library Journal

William Sherman Takes Savannah

After leaving the decimated city of Atlanta on November 16, 1864, Sherman led his troops on a destructive campaign of the Civil War, which concluded with the capture of the port city of Savannah on December 21.

Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of Willian Tecumseh Sherman by Robert L. O’Connell
Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of Willian Tecumseh Sherman by Robert L. O’Connell
A profile of the iconic Civil War general explores the paradoxes attributed to his character to discuss such topics as his achievements as a military strategist, his contributions to the Transcontinental Railroad, and his tempestuous family relationships.

“Sherman remains one of the most celebrated and controversial military icons in American history. Adored by his Union troops during the Civil War as Uncle Billy, he was despised by Southerners as the monster who mercilessly waged war upon the civilian population in Georgia and the Carolinas. Praised by some for his effective campaigns against the Plains Indians, he was condemned by others as a proponent of genocide. O’Connell, an author, analyst, and professor of history, views Sherman’s controversial legacy as a reflection of the contradictions and complexities within his character. By nature and inclination, he despised the pretensions and affectations of the wealthy, but he mixed with them freely and aspired to match their financial success. He claimed to hate politicians and journalists, yet he talked incessantly in their presence, and his off-the-cuff remarks often served to distort his true views. Despite the apparently wanton destruction of Sherman’s March, he actually kept tight discipline over his troops. This is a well-written and revealing reexamination of the character and career of an undeniably great American.”—Booklist

Washington Crosses the Delaware

One of the most famous events of the American Revolution happened on a bleak Christmas night in 1776, during driving snow. General George Washington led 2,400 men across the Delaware River at McConkey’s Ferry, Bucks County, PA, to conduct a surprise attack on Hessian troops at Trenton, NJ.

Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer
Washington’s Crossing by David Hackett Fischer
“At the core of an impeccably researched, brilliantly executed military history is an analysis of George Washington's crossing of the Delaware River in December 1776 and the resulting destruction of the Hessian garrison of Trenton and defeat of a British brigade at Princeton. Fischer's perceptive discussion of the strategic, operational and tactical factors involved is by itself worth the book's purchase. He demonstrates Washington's insight into the revolution's desperate political circumstances, shows how that influenced the idea of a riposte against an enemy grown overconfident with success and presents Washington's skillful use of what his army could do well. Even more useful is Fischer's analysis of the internal dynamics of the combatants. He demonstrates mastery of the character of the American, British and Hessian armies, highlighting that British troops, too, fought for ideals, sacred to them, of loyalty and service. Above all, Brandeis historian Fischer uses the Trenton campaign to reveal the existence, even in the revolution's early stage, of a distinctively American way of war, much of it based on a single fact: civil and military leaders were accountable to a citizenry through their representatives. From Washington down, Fischer shows, military leaders acknowledged civil supremacy and worked with civil officials. Washington used firepower and intelligence as force multipliers to speed the war for a practical people who wanted to win quickly in order to return to their ordinary lives. Tempo, initiative and speed marked the Trenton campaign from first to last. And Washington fought humanely, extending quarter in battle and insisting on decent treatment of prisoners. The crossing of the Delaware, Fischer teaches, should be seen as emblematic of more than a turning of the war's tide.”—Publishers Weekly

“Most Americans still know the famous painting Washington Crossing the Delaware but fewer recall the significance of the event it depicts. Fischer puts this pivotal event back into context - the course of world history. The 1776 campaign was a disaster for the Continental Army. The Howe brothers' organized and successful strategy had roundly defeated the Americans in New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Compounding this was disarray among American commanders, a lack of discipline among the troops, and most enlistments expiring. Many on both sides felt that the rebellion was broken. Washington's bold offensive across the Delaware arguably saved the American cause. The Hessian defeat at Trenton and later at Princeton rejuvenated American hopes and saved Washington's command. In this well-written and -documented history, the author relies on an impressive mix of primary and secondary sources. The firsthand accounts and personal stories of major players from both sides add color to the narrative. The book features copious illustrations; maps; numerous appendixes including troop strength, casualties, weather, and Battle Order; and an excellent historiography of the event.”—Library Journal

Wounded Knee Massacre

On December 29, 1890, more than 200 Native American men, women and children were killed by the U.S. Seventh Cavalry at Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota.

Wounded Knee: Party Politics and the Road to an American Massacre by Heather Cox Richardson
Wounded Knee: Party Politics and the Road to an American Massacre by Heather Cox Richardson
“The latest scholarly analysis of the causes leading to this tragic event takes a unique tack. Richardson attributes the fate of the Minneconjou Sioux massacred at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on December 29, 1890, not only to growing tensions between the Indians and the burgeoning numbers of settlers, but also to grandstanding by President Benjamin Harrison, who was trying to attract western voters and thus secure South Dakota's U.S. senate seat for the Republican Party. To aid in this effort, he ordered a huge army presence in the state to protect settlers from an Indian uprising, despite the fact that his general saw no danger of an insurrection. Richardson's meticulously documented account includes extensive historical background of the treaties and events preceding that fateful winter, including the Compromise of 1820, the Treaty of Fort Laramie, and the Dawes Act of 1888, which drastically reduced Indian landholdings. Bitterly enough, the Republicans lost the senatorial race, and Harrison lost the 1892 election, falling into an oblivion from which he never recovered.”—Booklist

“Historian Richardson brings a fresh perspective to the massacre at Wounded Knee in her engaging study. The U.S. Army slaughter of nearly 300 surrendering Sioux men and women was not just an appalling act of racist brutality, argues the author, it was the outcome of roiling partisan politics. Desperate to maintain their political majority as well as business-friendly tariffs, Republican lawmakers swept into the West, gaining new congressional seats and distributing patronage jobs to supporters, including posts on the newly formed Sioux reservations. Stripped of land, livelihood, and dignity, many Sioux turned to a religious movement called the Ghost Dance-misinterpreted by Republican appointees as a sign of impending insurgency. Their panic was fanned by a feckless media and the Republican political machine hungry to see its vision-a West transformed into thriving farms humming with commerce-fulfilled. Richardson describes the collision of incompetence, political posturing, and military might with elegant prose and the right blend of outrage and humanity, subtly highlighting the parallels between the disastrous partisanship of the late 19th century and the politics of today.”—Publishers Weekly

“In her previous book, West from Appomattox: the Reconstruction of America after the Civil War, Richardson argued against the view that Reconstruction ended in 1877, positing instead that it continued through the 19th-century conquest of the West. Now she builds upon that thesis by arguing that the Wounded Knee Massacre (1890) was the inevitable end result of Reconstruction politics, which featured bitter partisanship and a media establishment run amok. Despite the author's well-crafted study of the Reconstruction era, the connection to the Wounded Knee Massacre is tenuous at best. In trying to prove her Reconstruction thesis, the author apparently turned a blind eye to the fact that Europeans and their descendants had been indiscriminately massacring Native American populations for centuries.”—Library Journal

Panama Assumes Control of the Canal

On December 31, 1999 at noon, the Panama Canal Treaty of 1979 expired and the Republic of Panama assumed full responsibility for the canal and the US Panama Canal Commission ceased to exist.

Panama Fever: The Epic Story of One of the Greatest Human Achievements of All Time—the Building of the Panama Canal by Matthew Parker
Panama Fever: The Epic Story of One of the Greatest Human Achievements of All Time—the Building of the Panama Canal by Matthew Parker
The building of the Panama Canal was one of the greatest engineering feats in human history. A tale of exploration, conquest, money, politics, and medicine, Panama Fever charts the challenges that marked the long, labyrinthine road to the building of the canal. Drawing on a wealth of new materials and sources, Matthew Parker brings to life the men (including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Ulysses S. Grant who recognized the impact a canal would have on global politics and economics, and adds new depth to the familiar story of Teddy Roosevelt's remarkable triumph in making the waterway a reality. Parker's grim chronicle of the actual construction lends another meaning to Panama fever. As thousands of workers succumbed to dysentery, yellow fever, and malaria, scientists raced to stop the deadly epidemics so that work could continue. The treatments they developed changed the course of medical history. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 spelled the end of the Victorian Age and the beginning of the American Century. Panama Fever brilliantly captures the innovative thinking and backbreaking labor, as well as the commercial and political interests, that helped make America a global power.

“Replete with hubris, obsession, tragedy, and ultimate triumph, the story of the building of the Panama Canal recurrently attracts authors. After clearing historical underbrush about surveys and proposed routes, Parker introduces Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps, the impresario of the Suez Canal, who attempted a repeat performance on the Isthmus of Panama. Parker's attention to why this was fundamentally impossible--de Lesseps demanded a sea-level canal--displays the author's strength in relating the backbone of the entire story: construction engineering. With engineering's handmaidens of finance, labor, and politics, Parker fluidly narrates the frustrations of the French effort that ended in failure in the late 1880s, followed by the controversial events and personalities who delivered the project and a swath of Columbian territory to the U.S. in 1903. Incorporating into the American construction phase the eradication of yellow fever and discrimination against the black West Indian workforce, Parker achieves a fine history, complete in both technological and human dimensions.”—Booklist

“This is not a narrow history of mechanical engineering but a well-researched and satisfying account of imperial vision and social inequity.”—Publishers Weekly

-Lisa S.


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