How Does a Family Farm Really Work?

Hilty_Dirt_Sweat_72.jpgThose who depend on the land for their living, who roll their dice with weather and pestilence and uncertain commodity prices, see rural life differently than those who don’t. —from the introduction

As each generation goes by in American life, fewer people have the experience (or grandpa’s memory) of working and living on a family farm. Much is romanticized in our thoughts about country living, and much information in pop culture about agriculture is simply incorrect.

In this new book by Steven L. Hilty, readers go on a one-year journey through the seasons with a father-son family farm team, their families, and their hired hand. Set in western Missouri, you will laugh at the funny incidents (nothing is held back) and will feel for the livestock they take care of. Go into the heart of the rural Midwest lifestyle of cattle and row crops with Dirt, Sweat, and Diesel: A Family Farm in the Twenty-first Century.

This book presents a view of the complexities of farm life that few urban dwellers ever see: a “get-your-hands-dirty” look at keeping farm machinery repaired, keeping cattle healthy, struggling with planting and harvest, violent weather, new technology and cycles of birth and death. Above all, it is a chronicle of success and of a way of life integral to our economy and nation.

The great strengths of this book are the author’s knowledge and understanding of rural life, including the weather, land, animals, technology, and people of the Midwest. There is a remarkable attention to detail. —Bonnie Stepenoff, Professor Emerita of History, Southeast Missouri State University, author of Big Spring Autumn

Want to ride along in trucks, tractors, and combines for a few hours? Pick up this book today for an intimate portrait of life on a modern family farm.

Steve Hilty is an author and naturalist whose work has focused on birds and natural history. For more than twenty years he has made his home in Overland Park, Kansas, where he maintains a strong interest in agriculture and family farms.

American Tragedian: The Life of Edwin Booth

Daniel J. Watermeier’s American Tragedian has just been selected as a finalist for the George Freedley Memorial Award for an exemplary work in the field of theater or performance. American Tragedian examines the life of Edwin Booth (1833-1893), widely considered to be the preeminent tragic actor of his era, and the greatest-ever American Shakespearean actor. His achievements, however, are often overshadowed by his brother’s assassination of Abraham Lincoln. (In a weird coincidence, Edwin Booth saved Lincoln’s son, Robert, from serious injury or death when he slipped between a moving train and the platform.)

This biography focuses on Booth the actor, the producer-director, and the champion of the “classical” acting tradition. Booth’s histrionic “genius” and his extraordinary popular success were affected by a number of off-stage buffetings, including the unexpected loss of his actor-father, Lincoln’s assassination, the premature death of two wives, and the failure of his theater and the resulting bankruptcy. In American Tragedian, Booth’s behind-the-scenes life is intertwined with and balanced against his on-stage work.

The scholarship that underpins this work is first-rate, but scholarship alone does not a good biography make. The biographer has to get on the wave-length of his subject and gain a kind of intimacy with that personality, as this one does. It was gratifying that my reading of this book confirmed what theatre historians have been buzzing about for years: Watermeier’s will be the definitive Booth biography.—Felicia Hardison Londré, author of History of World Theater: From the English Restoration to the Present

The 71st Anniversary of the Bombing of Nagasaki and How One Man Tried to Avoid the War

On the 71st anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, the city’s mayor Tomihisa Taue urged the international community to use its “collective wisdom” to rid the world of nuclear weapons, according to the Japan Times. Through diplomacy, we can try to work for a peaceful future. But could war with Japan have been avoided all together? Diplomat Saburo Kurusu desperately tried to achieve just that.

On December 7, 1941, the course of U.S. history changed forever with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Three weeks prior, Japanese Special Envoy to the United States Saburo Kurusu visited Washington in an attempt to further peace talks between Japan and America and spare his country the loss he knew would occur if a war began. But as he reported, “Working for peace is not as simple as starting a war.” For more than seventy years, many have unfairly viewed Kurusu and his visit as part of the Pearl Harbor plot. Editors J. Garry Clifford and Masako R. Okura seek to dispel this myth with their edition of Kurusu’s memoir, The Desperate Diplomat.

Kurusu published his personal memoir in 1952, in Japanese, describing his efforts to prevent war between the two nations, his total lack of knowledge regarding the Pearl Harbor attack, and what “might have been” had he been successful in his endeavor for peace, while offering an exclusive perspective on the Japanese reaction to the attack. However, the information contained in his memoir was unavailable except to those fluent in Japanese. With the discovery of Kurusu’s own English memoir, his story can finally be told to a wider audience. Clifford and Okura have used both the Japanese and English memoirs and added an introduction and annotations to Kurusu’s story, making The Desperate Diplomat an essential look at an event that remains controversial in the history of both nations.

A unique and invaluable study of American-Japanese diplomatic history. The authors present a compelling explanation of how Americans—both the general public and critical members of the Roosevelt administration—perceived Kurusu. The authors also highlight Kurusu’s relevance in the run-up to war and do much to bring him out from behind Admiral Nomura’s shadow, while also presenting a compelling portrait of familiar figures including Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Franklin D. Roosevelt. The use of often overlooked but essential sources such as the Bernard Baruch and Arthur Krock papers make this an impressive volume.— Sidney Pash, author of The Currents of War: A New History of American-Japanese Relations, 1899–1941

White Male Working Class Frustration

“Joe is simultaneously racist, homophobic, sexist, a gun lover, patriotic, a World War II veteran, a provider and a dangerously frustrated and violent individual.”

The current presidential election features working class frustration with the current political and economic climate.   This anger emerges from a number of directions – the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs in the economic meltdown of 2008-2009, the predominance of the one percent over real power, a rapidly changing demography of the United States, and  the ability of African Americans, Latino Americans and gay and lesbians to hold political office and corporate jobs with visibility.   Political commentators often remark about the newness of this phenomenon.    The under-recognized classic American film Joe (1970) illustrates that this is not the case.  Joe emerged as the openness and freedom of the counterculture became awash with drugs and degradation and as the sixties closed with the Manson murders, millions of new addicts and the loss of faith in a new and liberated system.  Peter Boyle’s masterful performance as the title character, a working class, family man who has had it with all of the changes he witnesses is highly representative of the current political backlash.  Joe is simultaneously racist, homophobic, sexist, a gun lover, patriotic, a World War II veteran, a provider and a dangerously frustrated and violent individual.   He is attempting to make sense of a country he does not understand in which he feels he gains no respect.  His children are never home, his job is monotonous, and he finds it difficult to make friends in his middle age.  Joe exists during a time of great social and economic change and he finds that his old rules of morality, female subservience and nationalism no longer apply.  Joe is a film well worth taking another look at; it is emblematic of a recurring pattern of white male working class frustration.

Guest blogger Gerald R. Butters, Jr. writes about American history and popular culture. For more of his writing, see his website at

Conversations Never Held

“Within the last five years, a disturbing phenomenon has taken place in regard to popular culture and it has greatly influenced conversation among friends, colleagues and family members.”

Gerald R. Butters, Jr. is today’s guest blogger. He is a Professor of History at Aurora University and his research and publications examine the intersection of race and gender in American popular culture.  He is the author of Black Manhood on the Silent Screen and two books published by the University of Missouri Press: From Sweetback to Super Fly: Race and Film Audiences in Chicago’s Loop, 1970-1975 and Banned in Kansas: Motion Picture Censorship, 1915-1966.

We simply don’t watch anything in common anymore. The continued proliferation of cable channels, streaming platforms, content producers and ways of watching such content means that, much like the millions of us walking down the street with our earbuds on, listening to our own individual tunes, we simply watch programs when and how we want them and don’t have those necessary discussions about our favorite shows or those we loathe.   In fact, this phenomenon has stifled conversation.  I am currently now trying to avoid friends who have seen season four of Orange is the New Black (I know someone dies).  I avoided posting anything for months about the conclusion of The Good Wife out of respect for my friend Michelle who needed to catch up.  Go to a social function and try to find anyone who watches the same television shows that you do.  Other than an occasional Games of Thrones, it is nearly impossible.  I have friends who have been their own individualized fan base of Mr. Robot, Penny Dreadful, Bones etc. – and they have no one to talk about their programs with.  There is a sad desperation in their eyes.  I have been begged by friends and family members to start watching their shows just so they can have someone to discuss things with.  I have used this same guilt with my spouse in regard to The Wire.   Those of us old enough can remember when we had three or four television channels and we were forced out of lack of choice to discuss what happened last night on All in the Family, Designing Women or Hill Street Blues.  I miss those days.

To read more of Butters’ writing, check out his books, From Sweetback to Super Fly: Race and Film Audiences in Chicago’s Loop, 1970-1975 and Banned in Kansas: Motion Picture Censorship, 1915-1966.


Beneath the Mushroom Cloud

“The basic idea of peace is to have some understanding of other people’s pain.”

Harry S. Truman’s grandson, Clifton Truman Daniel, tells the moving story of his trip to Japan to attend the memorial ceremonies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the anniversary of the dropping of the bombs. Listen on The Moth.

Robert James Maddox discusses the contentious decision to bomb Japan in Hiroshima in History: The Myths of Revisionism. From the introduction:

maddox“The use of atomic bombs against Japan at the end of World War II remains one of the most controversial issues in American history. Those who defend the decision claim that it ended a bloody war that would have become far bloodier had the planned invasion of the Japanese home islands proved necessary. Although the primary consideration was saving American lives, according to this view, millions of Japanese also were spared the catastrophic  effects of an invasion coupled with round-the-clock conventional bombing, naval bombardment, and blockade. Those who have become known as ‘Hiroshima revisionists’ contend that this version of events is nothing more than a postwar myth concocted by Harry S. Truman and his advisers to make more palatable what was basically a political rather than a military decision.”

For more on Harry S. Truman, the University of Missouri Press has an extensive collection of books on his life and presidency on our website.

A Civil Rights Hero Who Disappeared

Author James Endersby discusses Lloyd Gaines and the Fight to End Segregation in an interview with Scott Jaschik from Inside Higher Ed:

Many remember James Meredith, the first black person to enroll at the University of Mississippi. But Lloyd Gaines is not a name widely known or taught, though he was the plaintiff in a suit that led to a 1938 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that Missouri had to provide, in the state, an opportunity for black students to go to law school. Until then, Missouri had a policy of paying for black students like Gaines to attend law school out of state, rather than at the all-white University of Missouri law school. But while the Supreme Court ruling was in some sense a victory for black students, it also was a defeat. The court said Missouri could keep the law school for whites only as long as it created a comparable one for black students. The state opted for this option (although the new law school was hardly comparable). Gaines might have challenged the fairness of the state’s new version of separate but equal, but he disappeared, literally, and no one knows for sure what happened to him.

As a result, he is largely absent from the focus of historians studying desegregation. A new book, Lloyd Gaines and the Fight to End Segregation (University of Missouri Press), seeks to tell the story of Gaines and his Supreme Court case. The authors are James W. Endersby, associate professor of political science at the University of Missouri at Columbia, and William T. Horner, a teaching professor of political science at Mizzou.

Endersby responded via email to questions about the book.

Q: The Supreme Court decision in the case upheld separate but equal (without really requiring equal). Is that why it has largely been ignored?

A: The Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education had such a huge effect on educational equality that we often neglect the historical significance of the earlier cases. We correctly remember Brown as a landmark decision, but Gaines was the first in a series of Supreme Court decisions, mostly involving segregation in higher education, that led to Brown. The court’s decision in Gaines demanded that educational facilities, if separate, must be equal. Subsequent court decisions expanded this need for and definition of equality. The court’s decision in Brown ultimately decided that educational facilities, if separate, are inherently unequal.

Q: What do you see as the real significance of the Gaines decision?

A: The Supreme Court in Gaines made the first application of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause to emphasize equality of education. Moreover, equal protection was a constitutional protection guaranteed to the individual by the (state) government. The University of Missouri law school was open only to white students. Black students, according to Missouri’s position, could attend law school at various institutions in adjacent states. In Gaines, the Supreme Court declared that if Missouri provided legal education to white students, it also had to provide an equivalent legal education to black students within the state. Once the Supreme Court applied the constitutional standard that a state must guarantee equality to all individuals, the end of racial segregation was near. The decision cracked the judicial doctrine of separate but equal and racial segregation that would crumble in subsequent court decisions.

Q: Had Lloyd Gaines lived, do you think there would have been a successful challenge to whether the program at Lincoln University (created by the state to comply with the Supreme Court decision) was truly comparable to that of the University of Missouri?

A: First let me point out that we don’t know what happened to Gaines! Had Gaines pursued his case, it is quite possible that the Supreme Court under Charles Evan Hughes may have moved more quickly on issues of educational equality. Certainly, Charles Houston and the attorneys for the NAACP thought that the challenge would be successful in federal court. The majority on the Hughes court seemed adamant that educational opportunities provided by the state for blacks and whites should be equal. Moreover, the strongest defenders of racial segregation would soon leave the court. If Houston and the NAACP could get a second hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court, it is difficult to imagine anything other than that the small and poorly funded black-only Lincoln law school provided equal educational opportunities compared to the white-only Missouri law school. It may be important that to recall that the decision in Brown involved two decisions, the first to demand educational equality and the second to enforce it.

Q: What do you think happened to Gaines?

A: When people today first learn of Gaines’s disappearance, they often assume first that he was a victim of racial violence. That certainly is a real possibility. Those within the NAACP and the black press, however, assumed that Lloyd Gaines grew weary of the litigation and just walked away. The anecdotal evidence supports the view of the NAACP. But it is also puzzling how Gaines, a person of such prominence within the black community, never resurfaced in later years. If there was no foul play, we assume Gaines would renew contact with family and friends ultimately. So we are left with a conundrum. There has been no criminal investigation of his disappearance because there is no evidence of a crime. Unless someone comes forward with new and solid information, Gaines’s disappearance is likely to remain an unsolved mystery.

Q: Race remains an issue at the University of Missouri and elsewhere in higher education. What are the lessons of the Gaines story for today?

A: One lesson is that equality of opportunity in education remains an important goal, but an elusive one. Most of us today agree on the importance of equal educational opportunities for individuals from all groups, but we also hold competing values on a host of other issues. Educational equality may still conflict with other political and social norms. Charles Houston taught us that we must have goals to achieve over the long term, but we must often seek short-term success. Houston, Redmond, Marshall and the others intended to eliminate segregation and ensure racial equality. But they also understood that equality in education and other venues involved a series of steps in the right direction.

The Supreme Court would not overturn the separate-but-equal doctrine fully and immediately. But constant pressure from a series of judicial decisions would lead to that ultimately. Another lesson from the experience of Gaines and his attorneys is that willingness to pursue freedom and equality involves a tremendous personal cost. To stand up for rights and freedoms involves a significant emotional toll. Few are willing to make the sacrifice for the greater good.

Dan De Quille and the Sagebrush Journalists – Summer Sale!

The Sagebrush School was a literary movement that came out of Nevada’s mining frontier in the 1860s and lasted into the early twentieth century—its most illustrious representative being Mark Twain. Another important writer from the group was Dan De Quille, best known for his writings on the Comstock Lode. Author and historian Lawrence Berkove, today a guest blogger, gives rich details about De Quille and the Sagebrush School below.

Now, you can collect some of this witty and irreverent writing with our summer sale!

Buy Before The Big Bonanza and receive The Sagebrush Anthology in paperback, FREE!

Just follow this link (and type in the quantities).


The Big Bonanza (1876) by Dan De Quille (the pen name of William Wright) remains the Curtis&Berkove_FNLclassic contemporary account of the development of the Comstock Lode, the fabulously rich combination of silver ore and gold in western Nevada. But because of pressures he could not resist to emphasize the positive, he pulled his punches and did not deliver a fully honest story.  Before The Big Bonanza remedies those shortcomings in rich and fascinating details for the earliest years 1860-63.  Inasmuch as no other journalistic record of those years has survived, this collection of newspaper correspondence is a particularly valuable gathering of the primary sources for the later book by the author himself just as De Quille was making a name for himself as the most important and respected writer of the Comstock Lode.  Before The Big Bonanza additionally supplies new and important biographical information about the travels of De Quille and his experiments in style that made him along with Mark Twain, Bret Harte, and Ambrose Bierce, one of the Old West’s four leading authors.

The columns that comprise Before The Big Bonanza were recovered from the archives of newspapers in Iowa and California and represent De Quille at his freest and when he abundantly supplies reliable information available nowhere else.  Here he unconstrainedly details the turbulences and the bad as well as the good in the context of his frank amazement of how, in only four years’ time, a remote wilderness was transformed into one of the world’s most technologically advanced mining enterprises and an orderly functioning city of almost 25,000. This just-published book is therefore a precursor, companion, and partial corrective of The Big Bonanza that will complement the collections of libraries and owners of the later book.

Sagebrush - BerkoveThe paired bonus, The Sagebrush Anthologyis a related recovery of another and perhaps more enduring feature of Comstock culture, the hitherto overlooked literary movement known as the Sagebrush School.  The high wages that prevailed on the Comstock attracted not only miners and investors but also some of the best journalistic and literary talent in the United States. Everyone knows the most famous graduate of the Sagebrush School, Mark Twain, and its most accomplished pupil, Ambrose Bierce.  The literature of most of its other members, however, such as Dan De Quille and Sam Davis, was almost forgotten until this collection re-discovered it and made available once more some of its most accomplished works of humor and short fiction whose range, variety, and quality will surprise and delight all readers.

—Lawrence I. Berkove

Final May Sale

Mother’s day has passed, but there is still time to shop for dads and grads. Our final sale this month features two books of beautiful photography:

The Art of the Missouri Capitol and The Galápagos, both 30% off!

Use code PBH16 at our website or call 800-621-2736.

 Offer good for one week, May 23-31

Bob Priddy & Jeffrey Ball
270 illustrations
Hardcover, regularly $49.95, now $34.95


After fire destroyed Missouri’s capitol in 1911, voters approved a bond issue to construct a new statehouse. The tax to pay the bonds produced a one-million-dollar surplus, leaving a vast amount of money to decorate the new building. A special commission of art-minded Missourians employed some of the nation’s leading painters and sculptors to create powerful and often huge pieces of art to adorn Missouri’s most important new structure.

Priddy, a journalist, and Ball, an art historian, use a wealth of historical materials to connect the grand design of the capitol decorations with accounts of sometimes temperamental artists and meddling politicians. The authors provide historical and artistic context to explain the many surprising, controversial choices the artists made, and they use Missouri history to explain the tales depicted in the artwork, revealing the events—and inaccuracies—that the paintings bring to life.


The Galápagos: HessExploring Darwin’s Tapestry
John Hess
188 illustrations
Hardcover, regularly $49.95, now $34.95

With an extensive background in ornithology and evolutionary ecology, and a lifetime of experience as a naturalist and a photographer, John Hess has produced a celebration of these “Enchanted Islands.” After describing the islands’ origins and the complex of physical forces that make the Galápagos so remarkable, Hess turns his attention to the most prominent habitats on the islands and to the plants and animals found there. He then focuses on the animals most encountered by visitors, animals that Hess presents as Galápagos royalty: the flightless cormorant, the marine iguana, the Galápagos tortoise, and others. A photo essay for each of these species provides the reader with an intimate look at their physical and behavioral adaptations, and the accompanying text offers insight into their lives, showing that each of them is a unique and priceless evolutionary achievement.

The photographs are amazingly intimate, offering close-up views that bring readers into virtual contact with the animals, illustrating their behavior and apparent quirks: an albatross that takes its egg for a stroll, a seabird that can’t swim or land in the water, and a gull that has learned to fish for squid in the dark. For Hess, the Galápagos are more than a tourist attraction, more than a shrine to science—they are a place of breathless awe. His book invites readers to share his affection for the islands and his appreciation of the exquisite beauty of Darwin’s tapestry.

Little House, Big Sale

For Little House on the Prairie fans: don’t miss our third week of May sales!

We have three books on sale that explore different ways Laura Ingalls Wilder’s famous series has influenced American culture.

Get From Little Houses to Little Women, Little House, Long Shadow,
and Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane, all for just $50!

 Use code LH16 at our website or call (800) 621-2736

Offer good for one week: May 16-22

Nancy McCabe
Hardcover, regularly $29.95

Nancy McCabe, who grew up in Kansas just a few hours from the Ingalls family’s home in Little House on the Prairie, always felt a deep connection with Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House series. McCabe read Little House on the Prairie during her childhood and visited Wilder sites around the Midwest with her aunt when she was thirteen. She didn’t read the series again until in adulthood she decided to revisit the books that had so influenced her childhood. It was this decision that ultimately sparked her desire to visit the places that inspired many of her childhood favorites, taking her on a journey that included stops in the Missouri of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Minnesota of Maud Hart Lovelace, the Massachusetts of Louisa May Alcott, and even the Canada of Lucy Maud Montgomery. Traveling with McCabe as she rediscovers the books that shaped her and ultimately helped her to forge her own path, readers will enjoy revisiting their own childhood favorites as well.

Leading Wilder scholar Anita Clair Fellman offers a fresh interpretation of the Little House books that examines how this beloved body of children’s literature found its way into many facets of our culture and consciousness—even influencing the responsiveness of Americans to particular political views. Because both Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, opposed the New Deal programs being implemented during the period in which they wrote, their books reflect their use of family history as an argument against the state’s protection of individuals from economic uncertainty. She argues that the popularity of these books—abetted by Lane’s overtly libertarian views—helped lay the groundwork for a negative response to big government and a positive view of political individualism, contributing to the acceptance of contemporary conservatism while perpetuating a mythic West. Beyond tracing the emergence of this influence in the relationship between Wilder and her daughter, Fellman explores the continuing presence of the books—and their message—in modern cultural institutions from classrooms to tourism, newspaper editorials to Internet message boards.

John E. Miller, one of America’s leading authorities on Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane, explores the collaborative process of these women and shows how their books reflect the authors’ distinctive views of place, time, and culture. Interpreting these writers in their larger historical and cultural contexts, Miller reconsiders their formidable artistic, political, and literary contributions to American cultural life in the 1930s. He looks at what was happening in 1932—from depression conditions and politics to chain stores and celebrity culture—to shed light on Wilder’s life, and he shows how actual “little houses” established ideas of home that resonated emotionally for both writers. These nine thoughtful essays expand the critical discussion of Wilder and Lane beyond the Little House. Miller portrays them as impassioned and dedicated writers who were deeply involved in the historical changes and political challenges of their times.