28 December, 2009

An Early Review!

A Marvelous Hundred Square Miles: Black Hills Tourism, 1880-1941

Suzanne Barta Julin

This is the one thousandth book i have read and recorded since i started writing these reviews almost eleven years ago. In some ways that is quite an impressive milestone; in others, it really doesn't seem to mean much at all, in that it is less than a hundred books a year, and i would have guessed i read more than that, and the writing is of a patchy quality and quantity; of course, it is designed to please no one but myself, and originally planned just to provide an aide-memoire since i kept on forgetting if i had read something previously. That being said, what about this book, which i must write a review for, as it was a gift from the publisher under Librarything’s Early Reviewers programme, and one of the (very loose) conditions for that is that a review be written.

The book has a very limited scope, being focussed solely on the Black Hills area of South Dakota before the USA’s entrance into the Second World War; with such a narrow focus it is curious that there is a simple assumption that the reader knows about the area of interest, many of the personalities, the specialised knowledge that ought to be explained before beginning the history. To that end, a map of the Black Hills would have been useful, locating them within the United States; there is a small and not terribly good map showing the location within South Dakota and Wyoming, and placing some of the points of interest within the Hills, the eponymous hundred square mile, but i found it curiously unuseful as a reference, being little more than blobs of colour with a few circles and squiggles as towns and roads. One may argue, saying that any map could be described that way; i merely point to the difference between these two and any production of the Ordnance Survey.

Unfortunately, the quality of writing seems to be of a similar calibre, giving the information promised in the subtitle, but with little of the flair or style which a skilled historical author might have brought to it. (Disclosure: The book may be suffering by comparison, as i am also currently reading Frank Stenton’s volume of the Oxford History of England, Anglo-Saxon England, which is brilliant.) The truth is that Julin gives information, and quite a lot of it, but seems to find it difficult to put that information into any context, other than that she went on holiday in the Black Hills as a child and vowed to write about them one day. Perhaps the most interesting part of the book to me was the recounting of Calvin Coolidge’s holiday in South Dakota in 1927; but that oughtn’t have been the case.

No comments: