Books in the Park

suggestions from the Barbara S. Ponce Public Library at Pinellas Park

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Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording), by Lin Manuel Miranda

Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording), by Lin Manuel Miranda

Few musicals have taken off in popularity the way that Hamilton has. The hit show about founding father Alexander Hamilton has been going strong on Broadway for two years and the original cast recording has gone platinum twice.

The story begins with a narration by Aaron Burr, played here by Leslie Odom, Jr., who describes himself at the end of the first song as “the damn fool that shot him.” The introduction, Alexander Hamilton, tells the story of Hamilton’s tragic upbringing and his immigration to the United States, setting up his involvement with the American Revolution.

The themes of friendship, revolution, toil, and arrogance ring throughout the musical. Ambitious as can be – Miranda described the titular character as a Slytherin when asked about his Hogwarts house – Hamilton is quick to make influential friends, including Aaron Burr, the Marquis de Lafayette, and George Washington. Burr, as most likely remember, was later Vice President of the United States – the post that he held when he and Hamilton dueled in 1804.

I will say that I am not much of a hip hop fan. This was one of my first forays into the genre, and it was a good introduction, indeed! Miranda’s writing combined with music by Alex Lacamoire is catchy, witty, and holds the attention of five and fifty year olds, alike (However, while my children enjoy the clean version of the soundtrack, it’s not something that I’d recommend for all children!).

Check the PPLC catalog for Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording). 

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Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik

rgb carmon“Laws which disable women from full participation in the political, business and economic arenas are often characterized as ‘protective’ and beneficial. The pedestal upon which women have been placed has all too often, upon closer inspection, been revealed as a cage.”

The Internet phenomenon that is Notorious RBG has given Ruther Bader Ginsburg (the second woman to ever be appointed to the Supreme Court) some well-earned popularity and respect. After one of her famous impassioned dissent speeches, feminists flocked to the Internet to discuss just how awesome RBG is.  This book not only chronicles her life, education, and career but it also explores the many Internet memes surrounding her and her opinion towards them.

RBG attended Harvard Law School in 1956 with just nine other women. She was wildly successful, but when her husband, who had recently recovered from a very serious bout with cancer, obtained a job in New York, she transferred to Columbia Law where she graduated at the top of her class. RBG faced constant unequal treatment due to her gender and career choices. With the support of her husband, her hard work, and excellent intellect, she was eventually appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton.

While RBG claims to be a moderate, she always votes for equality. Often, voting against her fellow peers and fighting for justice alongside movements that are typically aligned with the left. Despite efforts and calls for her retirement, RBG has remained on the bench making solid decisions. Sandra Day O’Conner and Ruther Bader Ginsburg paved the path for future female justices and are an inspiration to equal rights movements across the country. Oh and check out the sweet blog that started it all:

Check the PPLC Catalog for Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport

romanov sistersEverything I ever learned about the Romanovs came from that terrible animated movie in the nineties, Anastasia. To my surprise there were no talking bats in the real story. Rappaport does an amazing job defining each individual girl and even their reclusive mother through their personal letters and diaries. They weren’t just victims of assassination, they were war time volunteers, charming and playing, international celebrities, and extremely loyal and loving. The family banded together to care for their ailing mother and hemophiliac youngest brother often spending long periods of time inside their grounds and rarely attending social engagements. This separation from their people and society bred rumors and it was apparent that the public despised the Tsarina. The girls, however, were adored or at least as much as they could be by a country on the brink of revolution.

I recommend this title to history buffs or to those who love a good gossip magazine. It certainly didn’t read like any history book I’ve read before, and I’m definitely walking away with some cool information. Also, Rasputin is like the weirdest/most interesting person and definitely an important part of the Romanov story.

Check the PPLC Catalog for The Romanov Sisters.

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Aftermath, by Joel Meyerowitz

am joel mThere are hundreds of books about 9/11, but this one stands out. The author, Joel Meyerowitz, is an award-winning photographer that captured not only the immediate aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks, but also the intensive rescue missions and cleanup efforts.

Interspersed between the pages and pages of breathtaking color photography are poignant essays by Meyerowitz that describe his ground-zero experience in his own words. At first he was denied access to the area, but he slowly gained the trust and admiration of those involved in the cleanup and was soon allowed to photograph the relief effort. Now the photography included in Aftermath is a permanent collection at the Museum of the City of New York.

Thankfully, however, you don’t need to travel to New York to see this awe-inspiring collection when you check it out in book form.

Check the PPLC Catalog for Aftermath.

Our 9/11 memorial in 2015:

9-11-15 display 9-11-15 display 2

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Letters from an American Farmer, by J. Hector St. John

letters from an american farmerHector St. John de Crevecoeur, an emigrant French aristocrat-turned-farmer, provides an “everyday life” account about the emerging United States.

The year was 1765 in Orange County, New York. After having acquired his citizenship, de Crevecoeur became a landowner. His property generated both a food staple and a “literary staple.” In a series of observant and erudite letters, he interprets the development of American society.

Letters from an American Farmer paints a vivid portrait of the young country, not only detailing the hardships of frontier living but the perilous unrest that existed between fanatical patriots, back-country loyalists and plantation culture in the south.

“For many [Europeans], his essays offered the first major impressions of the American landscapes, the people, the institutions, and the problems that stood in the way of making one nation out of the diverse former colonies.”

For a glimpse into “everyday life” from 18th century America and general colonial history, Letters from an American Farmer provides candid insight.

As a work in the Public Domain, Letters from an American Farmer is available as a free download from

Check the PPLC Catalog for a physical copy of Letters from an American Farmer.

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Do Not Sell At Any Price by Amanda Petrusich

do not sell at any price coverAs a species we seem to have a special penchant for collecting and treasuring objects, especially when those objects are rare and speak to something in ourselves. In Amanda Petrusich’s Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records, we get a unique glimpse into one of these “collecting cultures,” a community that is brimming with obsession, eccentricity, and huge personalities.

As it turns out, 78 rpm records have quietly become one of the most fiercely collected types of art on the planet. With prices that routinely rocket into the tens of thousands of dollars for rare examples, these largely pre-war recordings of country, blues, and jazz command the attention of some the most determined aficionados on the planet. And it’s when Petrusich turns her attention to these collectors that Do Not Sell fires on all cylinders. Petrusich manages to coax stories and learn from her subjects without becoming blinkered by their hobby or ridiculing their more idiosyncratic tendencies. What we end up with is a series of wild stories from people who are seriously passionate about their music. The bits about music history are also interesting, written in an introductory way that makes pre-war popular music understandable and exciting, even for people who haven’t taken a course in music appreciation.

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Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent

Last Call CoverAgainst the backdrop of America’s worst economic slide since the Great Depression, only a few industries have managed to buck the trend of declining profits. One of those industries, the liquor trade, could hardly be described as a household necessity, and yet alcohol continues to turn a profit despite tough economic times. It’s a testament to the enduring place that drinking and drinking culture inhabits at the heart of the American experience, but also highlights the anomaly that is the U.S. attempt at Prohibition. Daniel Okrent explores this odd national experiment in the excellent Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.

Last Call manages to avoid the fixation on organized crime that many other Prohibition accounts seem to be hung up on. Certainly, Okrent doesn’t ignore the influence of organized crime, but simply folds the information into his narrative to provide a thorough documentation of one of the most fascinating political movements in American history.

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