This is my next donation of books and an achievement of sorts. I clear off my first shelf—at least for a little while. It will soon be full of books I have lying around the house. But savor the victory for the moment.
History and Documentation of Human Rights in Iran (2000) by Shirin Ebadi is a compilation, beginning with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) of various laws, treaties, and declarations intended to protect the Iranian civilian’s individual rights with respect to nearly all aspect of everyday life. After a brief preface, the documents are presented with little introduction. It doesn’t make for a rip-roaring yarn, but it is an important collection in the field of human rights research and defense.
Frankly, I don’t recall what I thought I was getting when I ordered this book—but not this. Nevertheless, I read it, appreciating the irony and poignancy it silently highlights.
Bio: At the time of the Iranian Revolution in 1980, Shirin Ebadi (b. 1947), like all female judges, was removed from the bench. She became a secretary in her own court. She was eventually able to practice law, where she defended dissidents and worked to protect the rights of women and children. In 2003, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She has written many other books, including Until We Are Free (2016), and currently lives in the UK because of persecution for her human rights work in Iran.
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl (2006) by Timothy Egan is a heartbreaking collection of oral histories of people who lived through the Dust Bowl of the Midwest of the 1930s Great Depression. Egan not only talks to the now-elderly survivors, he combs through historical records and includes iconic photographs. His admiration for the toughness and resilience for the people who made it—or who tried—shows through in his account, as does his contempt for disastrous government policies.
When it was over, no one wanted to talk about it, of course. But it changed the way people lived. It changed people’s outlook.
The Worst Hard Time was awarded the 2006 National Book Award for Nonfiction and the 2006 Washington State Book Award in History/Biography.
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors and the Collison of Two Cultures (1997) by Anne Fadiman is an examination of the misunderstandings among a Hmong child who is too young to speak for herself, her parents who don’t speak English, and her doctors who care, but misunderstand what is going on. The child, Lia, has epilepsy. A Hmong description of a seizure forms the title. The author admits to wanting to blame someone for the tragedy that befalls the child, but realizes the more she learns the less she can blame anyone.
She does an excellent job from the first page of painting the Hmong world. This is a moving, sad book.
Bio: Anne Fadiman (b. 1953), according to the blurb, worked as a wilderness guide. She has also been a staff writer for Life, editor-at-large of Civilization, and editor of The American Scholar. She is the author of two collections of essays, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (1998) and At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays (2007) in addition to a memoir, The Wine Lover’s Daughter (2017)
Eyewitness to Discovery: First Person Accounts of More Than Fifty of the World’s Greatest Archaeological Discoveries (1996) edited by Brian Fagan is a collection of first-hand accounts of archaeological discoveries from the 18th to the 20th centuries. They’re divided first by topic: Part I is Human Origins and contains accounts by the Leakeys, for example. Part II is “Great Discoveries” and contains all the biggies and a lot of the adventure stories: Austen Henry Layard at Nimrud, Howard Carter at the tomb of Tutankhamun as well as some lesser-known, but no less revealing finds such as an African cemetery in Manhattan. This part is divided by geographic location and makes up the bulk of the book. The third and final main part is about archaeology becoming a science. There are black-white-photos scattered throughout the text and a center section of color plates. A short introduction opening each entry gives the account context.
I had a lot of fun reading this.
Bio: Brian Fagan (b. 1936) is a British archaeologist, author, and a professor emeritus of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His writings include standard introductory textbooks in the field of archeology, a column in Archaeology magazine. His latest book, Climate Chaos: Lessons of Survival from our Ancestors (2021) is written with Nadia Durrani.
From Black Land to Fifth Sun: The Science of Sacred Sites (1998) by Brian Fagan describes the technical methods used to examine the sacred sites from more than a dozen sites all over the world. He opens with what he calls “The Archaeology of the Intangible.” It’s unlikely that we’ll fully understand what these sites meant to the people who built and used them. The “black land” of the title is the fertile soil around the Nile, and the “fifth sun” refers to Aztec Tenochtitlan and the Templo Mayor at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Fagan also discusses San rock art in Africa and (how could he escape it?) Stonehenge. This is not light reading, but Fagan uses stories from his own field work to add narrative to make the work enchanting.
Bio: see Eyewitness to Discovery