Chesapeake: Delectable, accessible history

James A. Michener can be relied on to give readers their money’s worth and Chesapeake is one of his best bestsellers for contemporary readers.

on cover of James A Michener's novel Chesapeake geese fly over the bay
Geese always drew people to the Chesapeake Bay area.

As he did in Hawaii and Centennial, Michener immerses readers in landscape and history. This time his focus is a roughly 10-mile square area of Maryland’s Eastern Shore marsh lands where the Choptank River flows into Chesapeake Bay.

Michener begins his tale in 1583 when a Susquehannock Indian ostracized for counseling peace finds a welcome with the Choptank tribe and becomes its chief.

After that, Catholics and Quakers come to escape religious persecution, criminals come to escape hanging, slaves come because they are forced to, Irish come to escape starvation.

As the population grows, the intertwined and overlapping interests of these fascinating characters—historical as well as fictional ones—bring them into contact and sometimes into conflict with one another.

Michener displays his usual facility at turning well-researched technical information into spell-binding narrative. Readers will be entertained and informed by Michener’s descriptions of how a crab sheds its shell, boat building, and recipes for crab cakes.

More importantly, they’ll see how race, immigration policies, environmental protection, and education have been turned over the years into political issues that still divide America.

Chesapeake by James A. Michener
Random House, ©1978. 865 p.
1978 bestseller #1. My grade: A

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Richard Carvel: Memoir of Macaroni Era

Winston Churchill’s Richard Carvel purports to be the memoir of a colonial Marylander. It’s really a formula romance decked in the manners and fashions of the 18th century “macaronis.”

Richard lives with his grandfather, a devout Tory, but imbibes the rebellious spirit growing in the colonies. He also falls for the girl next door. Dorothy’s father whisks the family “home” to London hoping the girl’s looks will win her a rich, titled husband.

Richard’s devious, greedy Uncle Grafton has him kidnapped and sold to a slaver. Richard meets a ex-patriot Scot and accompanies him to London. The two make friends of politicians who later will plead the American cause in Parliament.

When the colonies declare independence, Richard goes to sea under his pal John Paul Jones.

Richard wins fame, fortune, and fair lady.

Churchill tells only those things that Richard was likely to note. His singlemindedness would be welcome if the characters and plot were not stock items from the romance shelf.

Three days after you close the cover, you’ll have forgotten Richard Carvel entirely.

Richard Carvel
by Winston Churchill
Illus. Carlton T. Chapman and Malcolm Fraser
Macmillan, 1899
538 pages
1900 bestseller #8
Project Gutenberg Ebook #5373
My grade: C

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni