A collection of 35 essays by members of the Society of American Historians that help to restore the heroic figure's just...


FORGOTTEN HEROES: Inspiring American Portraits from Our Leading Historians

A collection of 35 essays by members of the Society of American Historians that help to restore the heroic figure's just proportions for the benefit of our too-cynical age. Ware (History/Radcliffe Coll., Still Missing: Amelia Earhart and the Search for Modern Feminism, 1993) defines a hero as anyone who leads by courageous example. For instance, we read in Tom Wicker's contribution, ""Henry Knox's Wilderness Epic,"" about the incredible 1775-76 journey of Knox, who dragged tons of captured British artillery overland and across rivers, exhorted his worn men from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston, and eventually caused the British army to evacuate the city. Also chronicled are the doings of religious martyrs and former slaves, suffragists, publishers, and other reformers. Of equal note are the seemingly much less zingy backroom labors of librarian J.C.M. Hanson, who standardized cataloguing practices at the Library of Congress and the University of Chicago library. Observes his present-day champion, contributing essayist Neil Harris, who teaches history at Chicago, ""Librarians of the day regarded issues like the proper entry of a British nobleman's name or the capitalization of common nouns in German 'as something on which their consciences would permit no compromise.' But Hanson was able to encourage harmony."" Also unexpected is Stephen Jay Gould's account of the extraordinary Ohio-born deaf baseball player William Ellsworth ""Dummy"" Hoy (1862-961): though no more than five feet five inches tall, Hoy was a great center-fielder who slipped into the game by chance after a brief career as a cobbler. One of Hoy's more minor yet still ingenious accomplishments: the invention of a ""'unique doorbell arrangement"" involving a knob, pulled by the caller, that ""released a lead ball which rolled down a wooden chute and then fell off onto the floor with a thud. When it hit the floor [inside, Hoy and his wife] felt vibrations through their feet, and they knew somebody was at the door."" Unlikely heroes may be the best kind.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 1998


Page Count: 384

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1998

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