Thoughts after six months in L.A.

View looking towards Malibu from the top of the ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier, February 16, 2015

View looking towards Malibu from the top of the ferris wheel on the Santa Monica Pier, February 16, 2015

I’ve been resisting writing a post like this, knowing that much of the eastern U.S. has been repeatedly hammered with snowstorms this winter.  So if you’re housebound and don’t want to hear about L.A., then click away because SPOILER ALERT it’s been really, really nice here this winter.  We spent President’s Day at the Santa Monica Pier.  NOTE to all of our family from Massachusetts and Wisconsin who are visiting us in the spring instead:  Why???  Why aren’t you here NOW?  Only you can answer that question. Continue reading

Christmas crowds: they must be good for something, right?

sleepingbeautyxmas

Crowds of peasants amble through Sleeping Beauty’s castle

A reader writes:

Dear Historiann,

For a Christmas gift exchange, I’m buying a present for someone I don’t know very well . When I asked someone who knew her much better what would work, I was told, books, and history – “not too academic, but not dumbed down”. She’s read a lot about the (American) Civil War, and history generally. So I would like to crowdsource my Christmas shopping to your readers. What recent books would you put in the category of not dumbed down, but not too academic, interesting to a curious informed reader?

Well, friends:  what do you think?  I assigned Drew Faust’s This Republic of Suffering:  Death and the American Civil War (2008) to a senior seminar a few years ago, and it went over really well.  I found the book fascinating and *I* could see the interventions she made in the historiography, but I don’t think they would distract a non-academic reader.

(Whether or not one would want to give a book about death for Christmas–well, that’s another question, isn’t it?  Maybe I should brace myself for a follow-up Dear Historiann letter, in which a reader wonders why a Secret Satan Santa gave her a book about death and what it might mean about their relationship.)   Continue reading

A little slice of Yellowstone on Wilshire Boulevard

labreaI took a little break from thinking about history yesterday to think about prehistory instead with a visit to the LaBrea Tar Pits and the Page Museum.  The photo above shows what a dig there looks like–a jumble of different animal bones encased in solidified tar.

The open, ongoing digs were interesting, but I had no idea how active the site still is.  The Page Museum’s perimeter is full of bubbling tar seeps that will still entrap small animals and permit your children to cover themselves in tar!  For realz.  Keep an eye out for traffic cones on the lawn alerting you to an open seep.  It’s extra-cool, because this Yellowstone National Park-like seismic activity is all happening on Wilshire Boulevard in the middle of Los Angeles, on the same campus as the LACMA. Continue reading