Reading List – History, Memory, Narrative, War

I’ve accumulated quite a number of books that I need to read or review in the wake of the summer 2017 Columbia Oral History Institute. It will probably keep me occupied till the end of the year. Even before the institute, I was thinking quite a bit about interdisciplinarity, and how that relates to oral history, public history, and aging. The concept of interdisciplinarity was only further reinforced during the institute. I think this list reflects that.

A few of the titles appearing below I have read, but many of them I have not. So these are not necessarily recommendations as much as they are simply a “to read” list. Outside of the thematic groupings, there is no order to the list.

Please feel free to add more suggestions or comment on any of the books that you have read in the “Comments” field at the end of this post.

Note: Links to Amazon appear through their Affiliate Program, in which I receive a few cents from any purchases made through the Amazon website. Links here are provided primarily for convenience, as a way to read reviews, view table of contents and use many of the other functions available through Amazon. Some publications are out of print; these links are directed to Worldcat, where you can see if your local or nearby library has a copy.

Historiography & Memory

Robert Eric Frykenberg. History and Belief: The Foundations of Historical Understanding. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996).

Joan Tumblety, ed. Memory and History: Understanding Memory as Source and Subject. (London: Routledge, 2013).

Charles Fernyhough. Pieces of Light: How the New Science of Memory Illuminates the Stories We Tell about Our Pasts. (NY: Harper Collins, 2012).


Writing and Memoir

Stephen J. Lepore and Joshua M. Smyth. The Writing Cure: How Expressive Writing Promotes Health and Emotional Well-Being. (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2002).

Mary Karr. The Art of Memoir. (NY: Harper Perennial, 2015).

Rebecca Solnit. The Far Away Nearby. (NY: Penguin, 2013).

Rebecca Solnit. A Field Guide to Getting Lost. (NY: Viking, 2005).

Louise DeSalvo. Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999).

Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson. Reading Autobiography: A Guide for Interpreting Life Narratives. 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2010).

Sven Birkerts. The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again. (St. Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2008). [and probably other titles in the Art Of series ed. by Charles Baxter.]


Literature, Literary Theory, and Narrative

H. Porter Abbott. The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative. 2d ed. (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2008).

Daniel Taylor. The Healing Power of Stories: Creating Yourself through the Stories of Your Life. (NY: Doubleday, 1996). Republished in paperback as: Tell Me A Story (Bog Walk Press, 2001).

Arthur W. Frank. Letting Stories Breathe: A Socio-Narratology. (Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2010). This is by the author of

Richard Stone. The Healing Art of Storytelling: A Sacred Journey of Personal Discovery. (NY: Hyperion, 1996).

Seymour Chatman. Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film. (Cornell Univ. Press, 1980).

Jean Aitchison. Words in the Mind: An Introduction to the Mental Lexicon. 4th ed. (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

T. S. Eliot Four Quartets. (Various publishers)

William Faulkner. Absalom, Absalom. (Various publishers)


Veterans, War, PTSD, and Trauma

Edward Tick. War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation’s Veterans from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 2005).

Patience H.C. Mason. Recovering from the War: A Guide for All Veterans, Family Members, Friends and Therapists. (High Springs, Fla.: Patience Press, 1998). Now rather dated, but still useful content, with many excerpts of an oral history nature from Vietnam veterans.

Tian Dayton. Trauma and Addiction: Ending the Cycle of Pain through Emotional Literacy. (Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 2000).

Jonathan Shay. Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character. (NY: Scribner, 2003).

Jonathan Shay. Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming. (NY: Scribner, 2002).

Tim O’Brien. The Things They Carried. (Various publishers.) A work of fiction, but relevant for insights about narrative, memory, and trauma. See particularly the chapter, “How to Tell a True War Story.”

Barbara Sommer. Doing Veterans Oral History. (Oral History Association, 2015).

Donald H. Whitfield, ed. Standing Down: From Warrior to Civilian. (Chicago: Great Books Foundation, 2013).

Cathy Caruth. Listening to Trauma: Conversations with Leaders in the Theory and Treatment of Catastrophic Experience. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2014).

Victor Frankl. Man’s Search for Meaning. (Various publishers).

J. Martin Daughtry. Listening to War: Sound, Trauma, Music and Survival in Wartime Iraq. (Oxford University Press, 2015).


Family History and Family Stories

Karen Branan. The Family Tree: A Lynching in Georgia, A Legacy of Secrets, and My Search for the Truth. (NY: Atria Books, 2016).

Thulani Davis. My Confederate Kinfolk: A Twenty-first Century Freedwoman Discovers Her Roots. (NY: Basic Books, 2006).

James Carl Nelson. The Remains of Company D: A Story of the Great War. (NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2009).


Still to come:

Reading List on Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and Caregiving

Memorial Day: Remembering Oscar Pinney

Today, I briefly visited Stones River National Battlefield, and while in Murfreesboro, also paid a visit to the Healing Field. Sponsored by the Exchange Club, the field is full of probably 200+ flags. It was a windy day, and they were all highly visible. People can “sponsor” a flag, and dedicate it to someone in the military. It was a moving tribute, and as I walked among the flags and noted some of those that were being honored, I felt as if I were among ghosts. All of those who had Gone Before. From all of America’s wars. Even some of them, only a few years ago.


I thought about who I might honor. Corydon Heath, whom I came to know through the story of Milliken’s Bend, and George Conn, another officer who died with Heath, were first to mind. But then, there was absolutely no local connection to Stones River or Murfreesboro at all. It didn’t seem appropriate.

So I thought, “Who do I ‘know’ from Stones River?” And I thought immediately of Capt. Oscar Pinney, of the 5th Wisconsin Battery. I learned of his story probably 20 years ago. And I remember reading his letters. And his last (extant) letter home, written a few days before Christmas – where he tells his wife that he just received a furlough – “to start tomorrow morning” – only to inform her that it has been countermanded.

Detail of Stones River battlefield, 9am, showing Confederate onslaught. Map drawn by Ed Bearss, National Park Service

Detail of Stones River battlefield, 9am, showing Confederate onslaught. Map drawn by Ed Bearss, National Park Service

Pinney’s battery was engulfed in the early morning of Dec. 31, 1862, in the opening hours of the battle. Posted on the far Union right, and firing canister, they were nevertheless overpowered and had to withdraw their guns. Pinney was shot, and his cannoneers were forced to leave him behind. After the battle, and when the Confederates had left the field, he was still alive, but died on February 17, 1863. Several of his comrades are buried at Stones River, but Pinney’s body was sent home.

This Memorial Day, please remember his family’s sacrifice, and those of so many, many others. They did not die that you might eat more hot dogs or have an extra day off work or shop at sale. They died that we might become a stronger, more secure nation. They died because they were willing to make sacrifices that many of us are not. They died to ensure our freedom, that we so often take for granted.


These men died too. Honor their sacrifice, say a prayer for their families, and shake a vets’ hand who made it back. Thank you. We are forever in your debt.

More about Oscar Pinney and the 5th Wisconsin Battery at Stones River:

Read his last letter (page 19)

A memoir by Charles C. Cunningham

More resources about Wisconsin units, including the 5th Battery, at Stones River.

Vets today:

Help those who’ve come home: Wounded Warrior Project