We asked History Colorado staff and volunteers to tell us what they are reading—or hoping to read soon—to help you find the perfect gift this season.
In the holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey—the main character played by James Stewart—declares that the most exciting sounds in the world are anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles. While we don’t disagree, there are plenty more auditory moments we’d add to the list, including the sound of a book being pulled off a shelf to read.
And, at this time of year when we’re gifting books and setting goals for the new year (personally, I’m aiming to read 30 books in 2022), we can all use a little help finding the perfect book. To do just that, we solicited recommendations from History Colorado staff and volunteers. Here are some of their top picks to inspire you.
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser: I loved the Little House books as a kid—dressed up as Laura for Halloween and everything. I was a bit afraid of reading the real history behind them in fear that I'd lose part of the stories that made me so happy as a kid, but this is one of the best books I read this last year. It really leans into the harsh realities of homesteading, which while I'm aware of given all the archaeological homesteads we record, my mind tends to gloss over. —Michelle Phair, Cultural Resource Information & GIS Specialist II, Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation
Sherry Turkle has spent decades studying people’s relationships to technology. Revisiting her book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (2015) seems timely now that so many of us feel an urge to stay “connected” at all times. Studies show how having a phone within sight (even when it’s turned off) affects the way we talk. We keep conversations light, argues Turkle, and we shy away from vulnerability. Her book makes a case to rediscover the power and the pleasure of listening and being heard. Family conversation, when done properly, can “inoculate children against bullying,” she says. With the holidays around the corner, this book is a nudge to tuck away our gadgets and give our loved ones, our friends, and colleagues our undivided attention. —María José Maddox, Assistant Producer of Lost Highways
Currently, I’m reading Something Like Treason by William Sonn, which is the fascinating true story of traitors at Camp Hale during World War II who tried to undercut the US war effort through domestic espionage. I’d never heard the story before, and even though I’m pretty sure I can guess how it ends, the writing is compelling enough to keep me turning pages at night. —Jason Hanson, Chief Creative Officer & Director of Interpretation & Research
Where the Deer and the Antelope Play: The Pastoral Observations of One Ignorant American Who Loves to Walk Outside by Nick Offerman: In this book, Offerman waxes poetically (most of the time) about his love of hiking, RVing, America, and it’s people. I would recommend getting your hands on the audiobook for this one as it’s read by the author and who doesn’t love the docile tones of Nick Offerman. —Cody Robinson, Research Service Assistant
I am very excited to read the latest from Tiya Miles, one of my favorite public history authors. Her book, All That She Carried, just won the 2021 National Book Award for nonfiction. The book explores the journey of one Black family’s keepsake—a cotton sack an enslaved woman named Rose gave to her nine-year-old daughter Ashley just before Ashley was sold and separated from her family. Ashley’s granddaughter Ruth embroidered the story onto the sack, including Rose’s words, may “It be filled with my Love always.” Miles uses this one family heirloom to explore multiple generations of Black women’s lives during and immediately after enslavement, and reveals the challenge of telling such stories using traditional archives. Sometimes faint traces of thread on fabric are all that we have to recall a history, and Miles shows just how powerful that can be. —Julie Peterson, Public Historian & Exhibit Developer
I’m readingDune by Frank Herbert for about the fiftieth time because the movie came out. I still get new details out of it, and the depth of Herbert's philosophies have always inspired my own. —Chris Bowles, Director of Preservation Incentives Program
In the Shadow of the Moon by Anthony Aveni: This book explores the history and culture surrounding solar eclipses from ancient to modern times, from fear and superstition to wonder and curiosity. I enjoyed learning about people’s reactions to solar eclipses throughout history, as well as the book’s interdisciplinary approach. —Katie Bates, Contract Specialist
I enjoyed Westering Women by Sandra Dallas. It’s a good, light read for those looking to relax for the holidays without needing focused time. As we cozy up in our warm homes during this season, this book is a good reminder of how hard it could be to cross the Plains, especially for single women. Westering Women tells a compelling story of resilience and acceptance during trying times. —Kimberly Kronwall, Exhibits and Loan Registrar
One book I would highly recommend is the Barbara Sudler Award winner: Bitterroot: A Salish Memoir of Transracial Adoption by Susan Devan Harness. It is an amazing story of a Native American woman who was adopted by a white couple and how she tried to find her roots. The struggles she went through trying to fit into both worlds and her journey to discovering her birth family. I found the story very enlightening and emotional. —Leslie Karnauskas, Volunteer
Infinite Country by Patricia Engel: A story about a family emigrating from Columbia to the United States. The book highlights the difficulties each family member faces as they struggle to reunite, something many immigrants face today! —Marisa Lopez, Education Coordinator
I am halfway through a book titled Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Having participated in numerous tribal consultations over the course of years that I’ve worked at History Colorado, it has always been the custom to present visiting Tribal representatives with braids of sweetgrass and bags of tobacco. Recently, we’ve added bags of beef jerky to the offerings. These symbolic gestures mimic the ancestral customs of our Indigenous partners and communicate the gratitude we feel for the insight they share with us about their culture and their history. During our visits this past summer to the Northern Cheyenne, Northern Arapaho, and Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho reservations, we were repeatedly told about the sacredness of various plants to the Cheyenne and Arapaho people. It was therefore a given that when I stumbled upon this book with a thick, healthy braid of sweetgrass gracing the cover, I would read it. —James S. Peterson, Assistant Curator for Artifacts