Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Travelers to Unimaginable Lands: Stories of Dementia, the Caregiver, and the Human Brain (Dasha Kiper)

Taking care of loved ones with dementia is emotionally draining on the best of days. The caregiver tries in vain to help that loved one with basic day-to-day recollection of events, place, space, and all things living as the loved one’s memory slips and their behavior changes. Dasha Kiper’s book Travelers to Unimaginable Lands: Stories of Dementia, the Caregiver, and the Human Brain examines not so much the loved one with dementia but the caregiver, specifically how the workings of the caregiver’s “healthier” brain prevents them from adapting to and understanding the loved one that is suffering from dementia.

Kiper highlights several stories of parents and children along with husbands and wives: A man believing his spouse is an impostor, a woman who has imaginary friendships, and a woman whose childhood trauma emerges to torment her son. These are all too common examples of dementia in various forms, not just Alzheimer’s Disease that many of us are more familiar with at a high level. Despite “knowing better” that one’s memory is suffering, all too often the caregiver will slip up and resort to confrontation and taking these symptoms personally. Kiper’s book showcases these struggles.

Travelers to Unimaginable Lands is thoughtful and insightful. Dementia not only directly impacts the individual suffering from it but it also produces downstream, indirect impacts on the people who care for and support the loved one. While Travelers does not answer the question “how do you easily fix that,” it does help the caregiver sense that they are not alone and that they can and should find support and solace with others who are going through the same situation.


Thursday, August 17, 2023

A Brutal Reckoning: Andrew Jackson, the Creek Indians, and the Epic War for the American South (Peter Cozzens)

A Brutal Reckoning: Andrew Jackson, the Creek Indians, and the Epic War for the American South by Peter Cozzens details the impact the Creek War of 1813 had on American history. The Muscogee, as the Creek nation is more properly referred to as, had lived in what is now Alabama and Georgia for centuries. Many Muscogee accommodated and adopted White customs, including individual property rights and even slavery. Some Muscogee intermarried with Whites, and factions soon developed within the Muscogee nation between traditionalists, who wanted to purify their land and rid it of increasing White influence, and those who were willing to adopt and adapt to the encroachment of Americans.

Cozzens weaves two histories into A Brutal Reckoning. First: The Muscogee’s own history and its eventual cessions of land throughout the American Southeast through the course of unfair treaty and warfare with militias. Second: The rise of Andrew Jackson and his tendency for brutal reckonings and high capacity for violence. Jackson’s nickname, “Old Hickory,” was a devotion to his steadfastness under harsh conditions; he also earned the name “Sharp Knife” from Indian allies because of his ruthlessness.Both of these histories, complex in their own right individually, are woven together effectively throughout the book. 

The Fort Mims massacre and the Battle of Horseshoe Bend were not large battles in the annals of American history, but Cozzens highlights the importance of these battles. Within 25 years of these battles, the whole of the Southeast was effectively cleared of tribal nations thanks to a successive series of land grab treaties and forced relocations, with the result being millions of acres of land that could support agriculture (and thus slavery). A Brutal Reckoning highlights this lesser known war, which raged while the War of 1812 was capturing the nation’s attention, but was arguably much more significant than “Mr. Madison’s War” in the course of American history.


Monday, August 7, 2023

Easy Money: American Puritans and the Invention of Modern Currency (Dror Goldberg)

Paper currency has existed in various forms since the 7th Century, having first been developed in China. Within European realms, the first paper banknotes were developed by the Swedes in the middle of the 17th Century as a means of payment. The system lasted three years before the central bank that backed the notes went bankrupt. However, the concept that currency could be backed by the faith of the government eventually was tried again.

Dror Goldberg’s Easy Money: American Puritans and the Invention of Modern Currency traces the development of currency in Massachusetts in 1690 to help finance a frontier war the colonists were fighting against the French. In this book, Goldberg explains the mix of circumstances that allowed this experiment to take place, including political instability in England, a lack of coin-based money in Massachusetts, and the economic heft that the colony had within New England and the rest of the developing American East coast.

Goldberg does a wonderful job explaining the evolution of money and the early stages of modern economic thinking in the 17th century and how Massachusetts' actions helped keep the peace domestically but also helped shape how money was thought about and used in the centuries to come.