A new book promises a good journey through time

Published 12:57 pm Monday, July 24, 2006

As I mentioned before, I cashed in two bookstore gift cards and change for four book in a journey to the Gulf Coast last Thursday.

Finally I have picked which of these wonderful time machines that I’m going to read first. A casual, then a much more careful, reading of the preface convinced me that John Ferling’s “A Leap in the Dark” was where I wanted to begin.

Too many people pass over prefaces, prologues and other beginnings when starting a book, then skip over the epilogue at the end. In doing so, they miss much that is important.

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Prefaces and prologues tell a reader about an author, his professed area of expertise and what he believes he plans to show or prove about the events and forces discussed in the book that the reader is about to begin.

The epilogue tells the reader about what the author believes has occurred in at least some of the time since the period covered by the book and as a result of the forces and events discussed.

For a careful and engaged reader, determining whether to agree with whether the author succeeded in what he set out to do and then whether to agree with the author’s arguments about whether future events resulted from the events in the book are all part of the enjoyment of reading the book.

The preface also can start the reader to thinking about the knowledge he, the reader, already has when he embarks on the journey. For instance, the reader may think the preface sets up too broad a discussion or one not broad enough.

When I read the preface to “A Leap in the Dark,” my first reaction was that the discussion was not going to be broad enough. On reflection, though, I decided Ferling had it about right. In his preface, he stated that he would be covering approximately 50 years of the early history of the people who made up the 13 original American colonies that became the United States, the period from 1750 to 1800.

His premise is that those were the formative years for this nation.

Immediately I disagreed. I would have begun with the settlement at Jamestown and the transition of the settlers from titled men and women who weren’t used to doing much of anything for themselves to the yeomen who came later and truly built a colony. To me, that was the beginning for the ultimate development of our republican form of democracy.

Also, I would have taken the study period through the presidency of Andrew Jackson, the last of the revolutionaries to be elected president and who oversaw, even forced, the beginnings of the more modern democracy we have today.

Then, I thought some more. My time period would have been far too broad for a single volume, even one as thick as Ferling’s, to even come close to adequately covering all the events taking place and the forces abroad in the land. I even now have some concern that maybe Ferling’s single volume ought to be two, or even three, volumes. Only a reading will tell.

I suspect that when I end my journey in his book that I will want to return to the time frame in other books and take a more detailed look at various aspects of it. In other words, it will be like most vacations. I will discover a lot and discover a lot that I want to return to and learn more about.

Some of those paths I have already taken in other books, which is one reason I wanted to read this one. I hope Ferling’s book will tie together many of the earlier paths into a single road that helps provide understanding to the succession of events and forces I have previously studied piecemeal.

As mentioned where I first disagreed with Ferling’s choice of a time frame, the road that hopefully will be laid out by his book is only part of one of the great thoroughfares in history, the history of this nation that truly begins with the discovery of this land and the first colonies placed here on through modern times.

The road continues to be built, of course, for our history is not over. My personal interests, though, lie heavily in our founding through the presidency of Andrew Jackson with side journeys to the Rocky Mountains with the fabled mountain men and fur trappers.

My interests then skip to the development of the character of Theodore Roosevelt, through his presidency and on through the early years of the presidency of his cousin Franklin Roosevelt and our emergence as a world power, but especially I enjoy reading about the events surrounding World War I in that time frame.

I don’t ignore the years between Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt and from the beginning of World War II through today. I read about them as well, just not with as much interest, or in as much detail as I do the periods mentioned.

All of us who read history have our favorite periods. I have a nephew and brother-in-law that can’t read enough about World War II. I have a friend whose favorite field is European history. I have another nephew that dotes on the Napoleonic wars.

My father hated the Civil War and studied it with great fervor. He imbued in me a hatred for that great cataclysm that almost destroyed our nation over issues that should have been resolved when the Constitution was written. Some of my previous reading makes it clear that the founding fathers understood the moral and emotional issues surrounding slavery. I guess their inability to arrive at a way to end that great evil only shows that they were flawed like all humans, including our heroes among whom they stand tall.

I have never been able to determine what about a particular period of history attracts any particular person, including why I have the two favorite periods I have mentioned here. It just happens.

I do know that we each find books to be the most wonderful time machines to transport us to our favorite periods of study, and I know that we can’t get enough of them.