Learning From Other Biographies

I awaited the publication of Karin Sveen’s  The Immigrant and the University: Pedar Sather and Gold Rush California with great anticipation because it is set in Gold Rush California and follows the life of Pedar Sather, for whom Sather Gate, the Campanile, two professorships, and the Sather Center at the University of California at Berkeley are named.  Sveen’s book boasts a preface by Kevin Starr and has been beautifully translated from Norwegian by Barbara J. Havelund – beautifully because the author’s voice clearly shines through with dreamy passages such as this from page 20. “I picture him in his cabin, head bowed over his grammar book and dictionary, in calm weather and when storms tore at the sails and tugged at the rigging. I...

A most dangerous book: Tacitus’s Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich

When I was in my early college days, rather than wasting time on boys, I spent my time in libraries immersing (you’ll get the pun shortly) myself in tomes on the bog people – iron age corpses beautifully mummified in peat bogs throughout northern Europe. If you’ve known me for any length of time I’m sure you’re aware of my connoisseurship in mummies. Anyway, in my research I was referred to Tacitus’ short and entertaining ethnography Germania about the ancient tribes inhabiting the region “east of the Rhine, roaming an area enclosed by the Baltic Sea to the north, the Alps to the south, and the Vistula River to the east”. Christopher Krebs’ volume A Most Dangerous Book: Tactitus’ Germania From the Roman Empire to the Third Reich analyses the use and abuse...

Librarian Horace Wilson

It was a typical day at work last March when a young librarian from Japan’s Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum knocked on the door of the 3rd floor of the Mechanics’ Institute. “Have you heard of Horace Wilson?” he asked. “Of course I have,” I replied in astonishment, “How do YOU know about him?” Taku Chinone, a librarian himself, was here to see the place where his hero, Hall of Famer Horace Wilson, worked for sixteen years. Never heard of Horace Wilson? Well, Horace Wilson was responsible for bringing the sport of baseball to Japan.  What brought Mr. Chinone to San Francisco was the World Baseball Classic Championship. As baseball is a national obsession, Wilson was inducted into the Tokyo Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003. This experience so dazzled my...