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Book Reviews

Wendy Doucette, Book Reviews Editor

Birdwell, M. E. & Dickinson, W. C. (2015). People of the upper Cumberland: Achievements and contradictions.

Blackburn, B. (2016). The doctor’s daughter: The choice.

Brandt, R. (2016). Painted trillium.

Fritz, S. (2015). Ostkrieg: Hitler’s war of extermination in the east.

Johnson, R. (2016). Grandfather Mountain: The history and guide to an Appalachian icon.

Kimmerer, T. (2015). Venerable trees: History, biology and conservation in the Bluegrass.

Williams, T. J. (2015). Intellectual manhood: University, self, and society in the antebellum South.


Birdwell, M. E. & Dickinson, W. C. (2015). People of the upper Cumberland: Achievements and contradictions. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. 434 pages. ISBN 13: 978-1621901099

The Upper Cumberland region of Tennessee and Kentucky remains mostly overlooked by the American public. This collection of essays does an excellent job of helping readers understand the geography, history, and people of the intriguing Cumberland area. Topics covered in this work include women’s achievements, race relations, famous politicians, folk medicine, music, and African-American contributions. Each essay is written by well-respected authorities of Kentucky and Tennessee history.

This compilation begins with Randal Williams’ thoughtful essay on the history of Native Americans in the Cumberland region. Michael Allen’s detailed research on the Cumberland people’s work and leisure activities follows. Next is Ann Toplovich’s insightful essay on women’s daily life and accomplishments in the Cumberland. Al Cross, David Cross, Mark Dudney, and Mary A. Evins each contribute an essay on the politics of the region and provide well-researched information on famous politicians of the area like Joe L. Evins, John Gore, and Cordell Hull.

Also included are essays from Michael E. Birdwell, John Nisbet III, and Troy D. Smith discussing legal and criminal issues like moonshining and famous criminals of the region, such as Champ Ferguson. This is followed by Opless Walker’s, Janey Dudney’s, and W. Calvin Dickinson’s essays on health and medicine in the Cumberland, which provide valuable information on local folk remedies for a wide range of ailments. Finally, essays by Wali R. Kharif, Laura Clemons, and Michael E. Birdwell discussing African-American life and relationships between races during the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras conclude the work.

Detailed notes at the end of each chapter and a thorough bibliography and index aid in accessing and referencing the work and facilitating future research. Editors Michael E. Birdwell and W. Calvin Dickinson are professors of history at Tennessee Technological University and are respected authorities in the history of the Cumberland region, having written other works discussing this topic.

This unique look into the past of the Upper Cumberland area of Tennessee and Kentucky is full of colorful facts, quotes, and anecdotes that paint a vivid picture of life in this remote area of the country and will prove valuable to students of American history. Recommended for undergraduate students and above.

G. Suzanne Roberts
Assistant Library Director
Bethel University Library


Blackburn, B. (2016). The doctor’s daughter: The choice. (Reviewed from prepublication document).

Belle Blackburn has returned with a sequel to The Doctor’s Daughter: Journey to Justice, and it is every bit as enjoyable as her original book. The Doctor’s Daughter: The Choice, continues the story of Kate Seaver and her family, which now includes her husband’s family as well as her mother. Readers of the first volume will remember that Kate’s family moved to a ramshackle house in Peony (a small rural community several miles south of Nashville) when Kate was young. Her social position improves immensely after her marriage to Brice Rockwell, only son of a wealthy Nashville family, and her subsequent move into the Rockwell family mansion in Nashville. In the latest installment of Blackburn’s series, Civil War-era Nashville is under a military governorship and the Rockwell family home is confiscated by Union forces. When the family of six is banished from the city, Mr. Rockwell decides that the family, along with their three remaining slaves, will move in with Kate’s mother in Peony. The move is a challenge for everyone as Kate’s mother has to cope with the loss of her privacy and figure out how to feed everyone; the wealthy Rockwell family has to adjust to living in crowded quarters and poverty; and Kate has to adjust to having both her childhood friend, Danny, and her husband, Brice, near. And just like real life, some will make the best of the situation, while others will have difficulty with the adjustment.

Blackburn’s writing instills ordinary events with vividness so that they become as important to the reader as they are to the character. Nothing illustrates this better than the number of scenes that involve food. Readers will find themselves absorbed by the family’s struggle to harvest and hide the crops before the Yankees come and confiscate the food. They will also root for Mrs. Rockwell and her daughter, Carolina, as they struggle to learn how to prepare and cook meals, and share Kate’s concern and fear as she waits in an abandoned cabin for her family to come with food and medicine. Of course, there are also many dramatic incidents as befits a novel in the mode of Gone with the Wind.

As in her first book, the author uses her knowledge of history to bring to life the experiences of ordinary people living in an extraordinary time. For example, Blackburn’s realistic portrayal of the relationship between Mrs. Rockwell and her slave, Ruby, illustrates the complicated nature of slavery. Blackburn also does a fine job of portraying the knotty relationship between Union forces and the residents of Nashville and its vicinity. In an instance that foreshadows the healing that will have to happen after the war ends, Kate, whose experiences in Nashville have led her to despise all Yankees, has to rethink her feelings when she has to deal with the repercussions of her mother’s love affair with a Yankee officer. As a bonus, readers will also learn a little bit of family law from the Civil War period and get a chance to enjoy more words and idioms from the time period over the course of the story.

In conclusion, The Doctor’s Daughter: The Choice is a historical novel that will appeal to many readers, including those who have not read the first book. It can be heartily recommended for public and academic libraries with popular fiction and/or Tennessee fiction collections.

Kathy Campbell
Student Success Librarian
East Tennessee State University


Brandt, R. (2016). Painted trillium. Nashville, TN: Wandering in the Words Press. 218 pages. ISBN 13: 978-0996787857

When we learned about the Civil War in school, it was mainly the facts. One does not think about what it would have been like to carry on daily life within a war zone. Imagine, if you will, living on a farm with your mother and younger sister near Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Your brother and fiancé have been killed in the war. You have had some education and you love to read. Yankee soldiers have made off with three pigs that would have provided food, and supplies are scarce for everyone. This is the world of our heroine, Carrie Blaylock, an independent thinking young woman.

Carrie travels up to Nashville on the railroad to visit a family there. She is noticed by a young general who assists her in getting through the checkpoints in Nashville. When the general sends a captain out from his unit in Murfreesboro to investigate the theft of the pigs, Captain John Lockridge becomes acquainted with the Blaylock family and is instrumental in helping the family with food and a few pigs to make up for the stolen ones.

One social challenge during this period was the constant need to keep one's image and reputation from being tarnished. Because fraternizing between the North and South simply was not done, a Southern woman would not be seen walking down a street with a Northern soldier. In order to help the family in their time of need, the characters must learn to become crafty and covert.

Painted Trillium is organized chronologically and keeps the momentum going between the Blaylock family, Captain Lockridge, and the soldiers at Murfreesboro. The author interjects the verisimilitude of the time by presenting letters written by the characters. Robert Brandt has done a lot of research in this compelling drama of divided loyalties and survival in a war-torn region. Brandt has a BA in history from Centre College and a JD from Vanderbilt University. Formerly a lawyer and judge, he is now retired and living in Nashville.

This civil war novel would interest teens, young adults, and adults. It would be a nice complement to local history collections as it reveals some of the difficulties that Tennesseans faced during the hard time of war. The book is a fast read that opens up some interesting discussions about daily life during war.

Willetta Grady
Library Media Specialist
Dickson County Public Library


Fritz, S. (2015). Ostkrieg: Hitler’s war of extermination in the east. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky. 640 pages. ISBN 13: 978-0813161198

Viewers of the television sitcom Hogan’s Heroes will remember the fear that struck Colonel Klink and Sergeant Schultz when threatened with a transfer to the eastern front. Stephen Fritz’s Ostkrieg: Hitler’s War of Extermination in the East clearly illustrates why this fear was warranted; eight of ten German soldiers died on the eastern front during World War II.

The German word ostkrieg translates to war in the east. Fritz’s Ostkrieg, as the title indicates, focuses on the east not the west and presents a German view of the war in Europe. Ostkrieg clearly explains the importance of the eastern front which is frequently overshadowed or overlooked in many American-centric WWII studies of the war in Europe. Fritz presents the military and political dimensions involved with Hitler’s decision to invade the Soviet Union and explores the economic and ideological aspects of ostkrieg. Understanding these many dimensions of ostkrieg leads to a better understanding of German policies and the decisions that arose from Operation Barbarossa which began as an attack against Stalin and the Soviet Union but “developed into a war of annihilation” (p. 182). By the end of the book Fritz has convinced the reader that “despite the widespread perception in the West that the Normandy invasion was the event that defeated Nazi Germany, the real war had always taken place in the east” (p. 469).

As the author states in the preface, his work is a “synthesis, an integrated narrative based primarily on exhaustive research by German, British, and American historians over the past two or three decades. It is also clearly told from the German perspective, with no pretense of being a balanced account of the war” (p. xx). In ten chapters from “Dilemma” to “Death Throes,” Fritz takes the reader chronologically through the war in the east with visits to the western front as needed to understand the situation. The book is enhanced with maps, photographs, a listing of abbreviations and foreign terms, supplementary data, notes, an extensive bibliography, and an index.

Stephen G. Fritz, a professor of history at East Tennessee State University, is the author of two other books on Germany and Germans in World War II.

This award-winning book was originally published in 2011. The paperback edition, the subject of this review, was released in 2015. If you failed to add this book to your collection when it was first published, take the opportunity to remedy that omission now. University and public libraries with an interest in World War II studies need to check their collections and verify that Ostkrieg: Hitler’s War of Extermination in the East is available for their patrons.

Livy Simpson
Librarian / Associate Professor
Volunteer State Community College


Johnson, R. (2016). Grandfather Mountain: The history and guide to an Appalachian icon. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press. 290 pages. ISBN 13: 978-1469626994

Grandfather Mountain: The History and Guide to an Appalachian Icon describes the history of this iconic place in the Appalachian Range with the perspective and insight available only from someone who is intimately acquainted with the location. We begin by traveling though geologic time to better understand the composition of the mountain. Readers become acquainted with the people who lived here, including Hugh Morton, who bought the mountain in the early 1950’s. We also gain knowledge of the legal issues and controversies surrounding the establishment of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The history of the mountain and its ownership are thoroughly covered, with the end of the first section explaining how Grandfather Mountain has now come under the guidance of three different organizations, including the privately managed Grandfather Mountain, Inc., the State Parks of North Carolina, and the National Park Service.

The second section of the book describes the natural resources of the area, including many plants and animals found only on Grandfather Mountain. There are also detailed descriptions of hiking trials. The highlights of the book are the photographs and maps, including historical images that enhance the narrative. There is a very detailed bibliography as well as an index at the back of the book. The bibliography and the author’s personal experiences on the mountain provide for personal insights as well as the opportunity for further reading.

Randy Johnson is the author of six books, including several hiking guides. He was responsible for creating the fee-based trail program on Grandfather Mountain in the 1970’s, which led to the restoration of many trails in the area. Randy is a member of the Grandfather Mountain State Park Advisory Committee.

Grandfather Mountain is an excellent book for people who are interested in history of local attractions, as well as those who enjoy learning more about the history of hiking in the Appalachians. A limitation of this book is the inclusion of trail guides. This is not a book that one would take on a hiking trail, given its hefty size. However, the guides have sparked my interest in hiking the trails and seeing what has been described so very well. This book would be a wonderful addition for a public library or an academic library with a strong program in natural resource management.

Heidi Busch
Electronic Resources Librarian
Paul Meek Library
The University of Tennessee at Martin


Kimmerer, T. (2015). Venerable trees: History, biology and conservation in the Bluegrass. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press. 229 pages. ISBN 13: 978-0813165660

Tom Kimmerer describes his book, Venerable Trees, as “a celebration of the long relationship between people and trees, and a cautionary tale of what happens when we neglect that relationship” (p. 2). The venerable trees that he writes about are ancient trees, from 200 to 500 years old, in two areas in the mid-South: the Bluegrass Region, which lies mostly in Kentucky, with some areas in Ohio and Indiana; and the Nashville Basin, which covers most of the Middle Tennessee area.

The author explains the effect that settlements, nature and animals (domestic and wild) have had on the regions’ trees. Farmers have long used trees as shade for their livestock, as anyone who has seen the rolling hills of Kentucky horse country can appreciate. The interest in public spaces which started in the 1800’s has been very important in retaining these old trees, and making sure they are cared for properly.

The different chapters of the book cover specific trees, such as the St. Joe Oak in Lexington, Kentucky, or areas like the Elmwood Stock Farm in Scott County, Kentucky. One chapter goes in depth into the five species of trees (bur oak, blue ash, Shumard oak, chinkapin oak and kingnut) “that form our woodland pastures and that are long-lived enough to have been here in 1779” (p.47). Other chapters address trees in public spaces, such as cemeteries and parks, and the conservation and future of these ancient trees.

The book includes an index, notes and an appendix listing the types of trees in the bluegrass and woodland pastures. The appendix gives the tree’s common name, species, family and where it is found. With over 140 black and white figures (photographs, maps, and charts) and 48 pages of color plates, the book is well illustrated.

Tom Kimmerer is a forest scientist with Venerable Trees, Inc. (, a non-profit organization working toward the conservation of ancient trees in the Bluegrass region and the Nashville Basin. This book, with its emphasis on regional conservation and environmental history, would be a good addition to public and academic libraries, particularly in the mid-South area, or any other library with a special interest in tree conservation.

Zinia Randles
Senior Library Assistant
Walker Library
Middle Tennessee State University


Williams, T. J. (2015). Intellectual manhood: University, self, and society in the antebellum South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 284 pages. ISBN 13: 978-1469618395

Antebellum North Carolina was considered something of a backwater, and not only because it was a slave state. Its roads were poor, suffrage was limited even among white men, and its economy was stagnating as many residents moved west. It did, however, have an influential university, which was, depending on one’s criteria, the oldest public university in the country. It was at the University of North Carolina (UNC) that many future leaders cultivated “intellectual manhood:” a distinctively male (as opposed to boyish or female) knowledge and discipline.

Timothy J. Williams, visiting assistant professor at the University of Oregon and a graduate of Wake Forest University, argues that UNC students, in aspiring to intellectual growth more than to a specifically Southern identity, resembled students in other regions of the United States. Using letters, diaries, and records of literary societies, he describes how students conscientiously developed the qualities they considered essential to leaders of their society. “[B]oyhood versus manhood, impulse versus restraint, and dependence versus independence” (p. 21) were developed not only in the classroom, but in literary societies, through outside reading, and in their relationships with family, friends, and other students.

The book is divided into three sections: “University” (how students approached the idea of attending college), “Self” (how they went about their education), and “Society” (how they used their education). There is some discussion of the curriculum and the classroom experience, but the author places more emphasis on students’ intellectual lives outside the classroom. The letters they wrote to family and friends, the books they read for pleasure, and—an area Williams covers in depth—the arguments they pursued in literary society debates reveal much about their thinking, particularly about self-improvement. Interestingly, the UNC college library was small and often inaccessible during most of the period Williams studies; the two literary society libraries were larger and more familiar to students. While it was taken for granted that women, nonwhites, and people from the lower classes were excluded from academic life (although the rights of others were discussed in literary societies and in student publications), Williams finds much to admire in the UNC students’ use of college as a means to become the people they wanted to be, rather than to simply earn a diploma.

The language can be rather repetitive, as the author frequently returns to his underlying thesis. There are also few comparisons with students of other regions, so the reader is left unsure of how typical these UNC students were when compared to other American university students of this time. Nevertheless, it is an engaging read, one that is both eye-opening and familiar. Recommended for collections in Southern history, gender studies, and the history of higher education.

Julie Huskey
Head of Cataloging
Tennessee State University

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