Book Review: Politician Extraordinaire

Politician Extraordinaire: The Tempestuous Life and Times of Martin L. Davey. By Frank P. Vazzano. (Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 2008. xiv, 322 pp. Cloth, $45.00, ISBN 978-0-87338-920-4.)

Nearly all Ohioans are at least somewhat familiar with the Davey Tree Expert Company and its ubiquitous green trucks.  But few are aware that Martin L. Davey, the son of the company’s founder, served in a number of political offices, most notably the Ohio governorship from 1935 to 1939.  Seeking to rectify this gap in the collective knowledge, historian Frank P. Vazzano, who calls Davey “the most interesting man I’ve never met,” has produced a masterfully-written biography of the state’s fifty-third governor.   He draws upon a voluminous collection of primary sources, including contemporary news accounts, Davey Company records, and government documents from the local, state, and national levels to paint a colorful portrait of a controversial man.  Unfortunately, as well-written and thoroughly-researched as this book is, readers may disagree that Martin L. Davey was in any way extraordinary.  On the contrary, what emerges from the pages is a stereotypical portrait of a cynical politician: an ambitious job-seeker climbing the political ladder – vain, hypocritical, self-aggrandizing, and not above employing “mean” campaign tactics, to use the author’s term. Continue reading Book Review: Politician Extraordinaire

Book Review: Appalachian Ohio and the Civil War, 1862-1863

Appalachian Ohio and the Civil War, 1862-1863. By Susan G. Hall. (Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2000. vi, 258 pp. $39.95, ISBN 978-0-7864-3738-2.)

In Appalachian Ohio and the Civil War, 1862-1863, Susan G. Hall provides a narrative history of a select group of Ohioans. Hall’s goal is to show how the Civil War affected the “small society” in Harrison County and the surrounding five eastern Appalachian counties during the one year period from the summer of 1862 to the following summer of 1863. For Hall, this represents a time of “crucial battles and political events which shaped the Civil War and the nation subsequently, and altered societies in many ways.” (p. 1)

This of course could be said for many different time periods during the four years of national conflict. But Hall claims that the recruiting of soldiers in 1862 led to a bitter division between Appalachian Ohio citizens who supported the Union’s actions and the growing presence of anti-war Democrats. She asserts that studying this specific period can illuminate the shift in soldier motivations and the rise of Copperhead support in Ohio, both of which contributed to why 1862-1863 was such a pivotal year affecting the home front and the men away at war. Continue reading Book Review: Appalachian Ohio and the Civil War, 1862-1863

Book Review: Guide to the Building Stones and Cultural Geology of Akron

Guide to the Building Stones and Cultural Geology of Akron. By Joseph T. Hannibal. Columbus, Ohio: Division of Geological Survey, 2006. 75 pp. (paper) $11.00, Guidebook No. 19.

Joseph Hannibal weaves together geology, geography, and history to provide a Guide to the Building Stones and Cultural Geology of Akron, an interpretive tour of the built and natural landscape of Akron, Ohio.  The book can be read as a stand-alone work or carried into the field to find and understand the physical traces of Akron’s geologic, architectural, industrial, and commercial past.  Hannibal’s guidebook, number 19 in a series of field guides of Ohio’s geologic history, was written for the 2006 North-Central Section meeting of the Geological Society of America, which met in Akron, Ohio.

The book, organized in the style of a field guide, is arranged to guide visitors through a series of stops in and around modern-day Akron. Continue reading Book Review: Guide to the Building Stones and Cultural Geology of Akron

Book Review: Call Me Mike

Call Me Mike: A Political Biography of Michael V. DiSalle. By Richard G. Zimmerman. Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 2003.xi, 322 pp. $34.00, ISBN 0-87338-755-4.

In the years since his death in 1981, Michael V. DiSalle, the Ohio city mayor and state governor, and director of the Office of Price Stabilization under President Harry Truman, has received little extensive examination. He deserves more. Born in 1908 to Italian immigrants living in a New York tenement, Michael’s father soon moved the family to the Midwestern industrial city of Toledo. There young Michael worked at many short-lived jobs before rapidly moving up the political ranks to city, state, and national office. After graduating from Georgetown University, he passed the Ohio bar exam and practiced law in Toledo. Meanwhile, local politics proved attractive in the suffering environment of the Great Depression, suggesting to him, as to New Dealers, that a compassionate government could lighten life’s burdens for people. In 1936 he carried that liberal passion into his successful campaign to become a Democratic member of the Ohio House of Representatives.  Continue reading Book Review: Call Me Mike

Book Review: The Story of My Life

The Story of My Life. By Frank Vlchek, translated and edited by Winston Chrislock. Kent:  The Kent State University Press, 2004, xvi, 392 pp., $34.00, ISBN 0-87338-817-8.

The Story of My Life by Frank Vlchek is an extraordinarily detailed account of the fortunes of a Czech immigrant who arrived in Cleveland in 1888 and went on to become one of the city’s leading manufacturers and a prominent member of Cleveland’s Czech community.  The book was first published in Czechoslovakia in 1928 and in 1929, Fern Long, an employee of the Cleveland Public Library, translated it into English but it has remained in manuscript form until the appearance of this edition edited by Winston Chrislock.  All of those interested in Cleveland’s history will be grateful for its appearance since it contains a wealth of detail about the city’s industrial and ethnic life written from the perspective of an individual who participated in Cleveland’s emergence as a major industrial city. Continue reading Book Review: The Story of My Life

Book Review: Akron’s Better Half

Akron’s Better Half: Women’s Clubs and the Humanization of the City, 1825-1925. By Kathleen L. Endres. Akron: University of Akron Press, 2006. 232 pp. (cloth) 978-1-931968-36-2, $54.95, (paper) 978-1-931968-41-6, $27.95

Most of Akron’s claim to national and international historical significance centers on its former status as the rubber capital of the world characterized by Steve Love’s and David Giffel’s, Wheels of Fortune: The Story of Rubber in Akron and historian and communications professor at the University of Akron, Kathleen Endres, 2000 publication Rosie the Rubber Worker. However, Endres, in Akron’s Better Half: Women’s Clubs and the Humanization of the City, 1825-1925 contends that understanding the history of women’s organizations in Akron, Ohio contributes greatly to the local and national narrative of urbanization and underscores the important work of Akron women beyond the factory floors of Goodyear and Firestone. Continue reading Book Review: Akron’s Better Half

Book Review: “Circumstances are Destiny”

“Circumstances are Destiny”: An Antebellum Woman’s Struggle to Define Sphere. By Tina Stewart Brakebill. (Civil War in the North.) Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press. 2006. Pp. xx, 255. $34.95.

“My destiny,” lamented Ohio native Celestia Rice Colby, “is to act, to do life’s humblest duties, in a narrow, unknown sphere, to crush back the upspringing aspirations that rise in my soul, and to strive for the mastery over my own spirit.” (xii)  With this, the reader of Tina Stewart Brakebill’s “Circumstances are destiny”: An Antebellum Woman’s Struggle to Define Sphere, a volume in Kent State University Press’s Civil War in the North Series, is led into one antebellum woman’s thoughts concerning her decades-long struggle against gender-based limitations in American society. Continue reading Book Review: “Circumstances are Destiny”

Book Review: “The Supply for Tomorrow Must Not Fail”

“The Supply for Tomorrow Must Not Fail”: The Civil War of Captain Simon Perkins Jr., a Union Quartermaster. By Lenette S. Taylor. (Kent, Ohio: The Kent State University Press, 2004. xvi, 264 pp. Cloth, $35.00, ISBN 0-87338-783-x.)

A curiously neglected sub-genre within the abundant body of Civil War literature is that which recognizes the important, indeed critical, role played by logisticians in support of the land armies that ranged across a continent from 1861 through 1865. A modern military axiom declares boldly that “amateurs study tactics, while professionals study logistics”. Even so, there are scant comprehensive scholarly works devoted to Union or Confederate supply systems and even fewer that examine the efforts of individual quartermaster, commissary, or ordnance personnel whose existence was essential to the conduct of successful military operations. Lamentably—though perhaps inevitably—the trumpet blast and the roar of musketry continue to trump the army invoice, the railroad schedule, and the bill of lading as topics ripe for serious historical inquiry. Lenette S. Taylor, in “The Supply for Tomorrow Must Not Fail”, details the day-to-day activities of a heretofore-anonymous Federal quartermaster officer; in so doing she has created an important study in what remains a fledgling field. Continue reading Book Review: “The Supply for Tomorrow Must Not Fail”

Book Review: Ohio’s First Peoples

Ohio‘s First Peoples. By James H. O’Donnell III. (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2004. ix, 176pp Cloth, $17.95, ISBN 0-8214-1525-5.)

Ohio University Press, a noted publisher of works on Ohio and regional history, has recently added James H. O’Donnell’s Ohio’s First Peoples to their collection, which includes Religion in Ohio, Buckeye Women, and Civil War memoirs by Ohioans. Professor O’Donnell who has written several works on American Indians is uniquely qualified to bring this significant aspect of Ohio’s history to the general public, especially with the continuing celebration of the state’s bicentennial.

Although there are no Indian reservations in the Buckeye State in the twenty-first century, the Indians did leave their imprint before their forced departure in 1843. O’Donnell points out not only the remnants of ancient civilizations that inhabited the region like the Hopewell and the Adena, but the numerous Indian place names that dot it. He proves to us that European settlers were not the only ones who would have agreed with the English traveler of 1817 who declared that Ohio was “a country beautiful and fertile . . . affording all that nature decreed for the comfort of man.” For several millennia Ohio has been a magnet for settlers with water, mineral deposits, and fertile land in abundance. In this slim volume of 128 pages of text, O’Donnell tantalizes us with an overview of the rich history of the often forgotten, first peoples of Ohio. This is a project that is not designed for the specialist, but for the general public who want to explore further the achievements of Ohio’s Indians and the disturbing challenges that they faced with the arrival of the Europeans, especially during the eighteenth century. Continue reading Book Review: Ohio’s First Peoples

Book Review: American Grit

American Grit: A Woman’s Letters from the Ohio Frontier. Edited by Emily Foster. (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2002. vii, 368pp. Cloth, $45.00, ISBN: 978-0-8131-2265-6.)

In 1826, Anna Briggs Bentley, her husband Joseph, and their six children left their home in Maryland for the frontier of Columbiana County, Ohio . Anna Bentley was from a wealthy and well-connected Quaker family, her father was closely associated with President Thomas Jefferson, and when President James Madison fled Washington D.C. just ahead of the British army he took refuge with members of the Briggs family. However, with the death of Isaac Briggs, the family patriarch in 1825, the family fell upon difficult times. In the hope of making a better life for themselves and their family Anna and Joseph Bentley joined countess other pioneers in moving west, eventually settling on a farm they named Green Hill in the wilderness of Ohio . From her new home, Anna Bentley wrote long letters to her family back in Maryland. These letters detail farm life on the frontier, her struggles to raise her growing family, the generosity of her neighbors, and her desire not to be forgotten by her Maryland family.

Emily Foster’s American Grit is a collection of those letters, written from 1826 to 1858 thatFoster, a director of research and writing services specializing in public affairs communications, allows Bentley’s natural storytelling ability to shine. Continue reading Book Review: American Grit