White Hot (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for White Hot:

Abercrombie and Fitch was racist? You don’t say….

Quick synopsis:

The story of when Abercrombie and Fitch became huge and the downfall after.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

Abercrombie and Fitch has been around since 1892.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

It actually started out selling clothes for the outdoors not highly sexualized clothes for teenagers.

My Take on White Hot:

This should have been right up my alley. Abercrombie and Fitch during the time of this documentary was my high school and college years. I vividly remember heading to the mall (that’s the place where a lot of stores were centrally located, kids) and thinking AF was just a little…off. Everything seemed a little extra and it seemed weird that they sold clothes, but their models were always half naked.

Well, this documentary dives into how and why AF was the way it was. Basically, you needed to be hot and even store workers would be fired if they weren’t hot enough. Then AF gets sued and the megalomaniacs behind AF react the way you think it would.

The problem with the documentary is it almost never finishes everything it starts. AF took off and made a lot of money out of nowhere after being around for over 100 years. How? You will barely know. Were the models sexually harassed? Probably, but the short amount of screentime means we won’t know. It’s a documentary that needed to have better focus and do some real digging.

Verdict:

It’s a disappointment but if you want some nostalgia, you could choose worse. Watch it here!

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Episode 17 is up! Author Steven T. Collis joins us!

Let’s talk religion! Sure, you avoid the subject at family dinners to avoid a brawl, but author Steven T. Collis joins us to talk about his book, The Immortals, which tells the story of four chaplains from different religions who collectively made the ultimate sacrifice in World War II. We also talk a little bit about his newest book, Praying with the Enemy.

Check out Steven’s website
Buy all his books here 

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Under the Banner of Heaven:

Multiple spouses just sounds exhausting.

Quick synopsis:

A book focused on Mormon Fundamentalism and a horrific double murder.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

In the fundamentalist stronghold of Colorado City, 78% of the population receives food stamps.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

An actual sentence in this book ends with, “she unwittingly became a stepmother to her stepmother, and thus a stepgrandmother to herself.” Ew.

My Take on Under the Banner of Heaven:

This book is gross on so many levels. Jon Krakauer is doing two things in this book. First, he tells the story of a double murder in Utah where a woman and her baby are killed by her brothers-in-law. There is no big mystery, and you know precisely what happened very early on. The second part of the book is the unraveling of the fundamentalist Mormon teachings which led to the two men becoming radicalized.

If you just want a straight true crime book, then this will not really be for you. This book is more about the fundamentalist faith and what it does to the societies it touches. This also includes a look at the basic foundations of the Mormon faith and its history.

Krakauer is not trying to criticize the Mormon faith, but at the same time he doesn’t pull any punches, either. There are some really unsettling revelations about the founds of the church.

Also, this book recently became a miniseries on TV. The miniseries is much more about the double murder and takes some liberties but is also excellent, like this book.

Verdict:

A great book. Read it. Buy it here!

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Lincoln (History Channel)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Lincoln:

In case you don’t want to watch the movie.

Quick synopsis:

The life of Abraham Lincoln who you may have heard of before.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

Lincoln was a pretty damn good wrestler. Not in a WWE type of way, but actually wrestling dudes in the street. Yes, it used to be a thing.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

Lincoln grew up in a one room log cabin. History class usually omits the “one room” part because it raises many questions. Privacy was not a thing back then.

My Take on Lincoln:

I’m not going to belabor the point on this. Lincoln is very well known and there is no need to dive too deeply on this one.

This is a good documentary because it dives deep into Lincoln’s life. I liked episode 1 the best because Lincoln’s early life is often relegated to, “he grew up really poor.” Yes, that is true, but this show goes the extra step to explain what we mean by poor. The relationships with his family are also explored and it is very interesting.

Like the other history documentaries, I do feel it borders on hero worship a bit. He was no saint even if he did saintly things at times. It doesn’t ruin the series, but it is something to keep in mind if you want a balanced view.

Verdict:

A very good and in-depth biography. Watch it here!

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The Black Joke by A. E. Rooks

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for The Black Joke:

If you can’t beat them, steal their ship and then beat them.

Quick synopsis:

A story of a slave ship turned freedom ship off the coast of Africa in the 1800s.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

A quarter of all the freed enslaved people were courtesy of The Black Joke during its time period.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

It used to require an act of Parliament in England to get divorced. Only 325 were granted over 150 years. There is a Henry VIII joke here, but I am not going to bother.

My Take on The Black Joke:

It is always enjoyable to read something in depth about a time period I know little about. The Black Joke by A. E. Rooks is one of those books. In the 1800s, England had done away with the slave trade but needed to back up this prohibition. They created what was called the West African Squadron (WAS) to track slavers and free their people. One of the slavers they caught was rechristened The Black Joke and sent after its fellow slavers. It was remarkably successful in reasons Rooks documents.

It is worth pointing out a few things about the narrative, though. This book is just as much about the WAS as it is The Black Joke. This is not a bad thing, but if you are looking for a straight maritime adventure, you will find this a bit too scholarly. Also, Rooks does not write like a normal scholarly historian. Rooks uses more modern vernacular at times and uses very complex sentences. I personally like simpler sentences and less tangents, but the book is a still a good read, nonetheless.

Verdict:

A good book on a little-known topic. Buy it here!

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I’d Like to Play Alone, Please by Tom Segura

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for I’d Like to Play Alone, Please:

Same.

Quick synopsis:

Various essays on life by comedian, Tom Segura.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

It’s not that kind of book.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

Again, not that kind of book.

My Take on I’d Like to Play Alone, Please:

Full disclosure up front: I love Tom Segura and know enough of his stuff that I read it in his voice and cadence. As with any comedian who writes something, I suggest listening to their comedy first and see if it’s for you.

If you don’t like Segura’s comedy, then this book will not change your mind. Admittedly, Segura makes it pretty clear he has no intention to. This is a collection of random essays which are mostly hilarious and sometimes heartfelt. A few are stories you have heard in any one of his specials. I loved it and will probably now rewatch a special or two.

Verdict:

A really fun book if you like Tom’s humor. Buy it here!

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We Carry Their Bones by Erin Kimmerle

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for We Carry Their Bones:

Florida. Always Florida.

Quick synopsis:

The story of the Dozier School in Florida where basically children had been tortured and killed for 100 years.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

In 1865, Florida governor John Milton was so upset about the Union winning the Civil War that he went home and shot himself.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

By 1910, 14% of American farms were Black owned.

My Take on We Carry Their Bones:

Leave it to Florida to once again give us something to talk about. Unfortunately, this story is not funny in the least.

We Carry Their Bones by Erin Kimmerle is an important book with some riveting information. The book tells the story of the Dozier School in Florida where numerous children were sent to be tortured and killed some mostly minor offenses. Kimmerle and her team are ultimately called upon to investigate the unmarked graves at the school to bring closure to numerous families over the 100 years the school was open.

The good parts are very good. I liked hearing about Kimmerle’s own experience before this episode in her life which gives a lot of context around who she is. I absolutely loved the science and the process of excavating the school. It showed an extreme measure of care and illuminates the parts shows TV shows cut out. The stories of the boys and what happened to them are heartbreaking.

Unfortunately, there are a few missteps in the narrative which I feel really hamper the book’s flow. It certainly seems Kimmerle intended to settle some scores. Specifically, a blogger is mentioned multiple times as a hindrance in her work. While he certainly seems like a pain and devoid of empathy, he also seems mostly tangential. The book doesn’t explain how much of a problem he really ended up being. If he was so easily swept aside, then it would have been prudent to just ignore him entirely. There are also strange asides which seem out of nowhere. A crack about a relative makes about Catholics makes it into the book without a clear link. There is also a section in the end of the book with a rant on mansplaining. Kimmerle and her team did righteous work in the face of some strong opposition. These examples seem beneath her.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the book for the most part and am happy people like Kimmerle and her team exist to bring the closure these families needed.

Verdict:

It’s an interesting book about an event which was not well covered. Buy it here!

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Liar Temptress Soldier Spy by Karen Abbott

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Liar Temptress Soldier Spy:

Don’t judge a book by their cover. Or forget to suspect a woman as a spy.

Quick synopsis:

The story of four women during the Civil War and how they gave to their respective causes.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

As many as 400 women served in the Civil War dressed as men.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

There were an estimated 15,000 sex workers in D.C. during the Civil War.

My Take on Liar Temptress Soldier Spy:

It is an overused cliché to say something “reads like a novel.”

Anyway, this book reads like a novel! And it’s not!

Karen Abbott follows the lives of 4 women during the Civil War. Two are secretly helping the Union (including one in uniform as a man) and two are Confederates (and I hated them). I don’t want to give too much away as to their adventures or their fates, but I guarantee you will not guess what happens to any of them. Abbott found four amazing stories at the same time, and she wrote it in the best way possible.

Abbott jumps between each woman as they go about their espionage activities. This can often be kind of confusing when reading a book but each woman is so markedly different that it never becomes an issue. Their personalities are entertaining to say the least and the fact this is all true makes it even more amazing.

Another overused cliché. “I couldn’t put it down.”

Well….yeah, I couldn’t! It’s a cliche for a reason.

Verdict:

Amazing book. Read it. Buy it here!

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