Readers Scene

Carol Hockett

Carol I. Hockett looks at the horrors of World War I and the era of artistic upheaval that gave birth to Dada, an anarchical art movement that turned upside down conventional Edwardian ideas of beauty.

Robert Dallek

Many of us entertain the fantasy of being President of the United States. Historian Robert Dallek reminds us to be careful what we wish for. Even the revered Thomas Jefferson described the presidency as “a splendid misery,” Dallek observes.

Our Supreme Task book cover

If you’re going to write about Winston Churchill – the subject of more history books than almost any other 20th century figure – it’s best to explore a tiny slice of his story. Maybe by looking closely you’ll find something other historians have overlooked.

Philip White has discovered lots of overlooked history in his book Our Supreme Task: How Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech Defined the Cold War Alliance, which he discusses on Wednesday, March 7, 2012, at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library.

“When it comes to broad strokes, most everything has already been written about Churchill,” says White, 30, who was born in Dorset in England and now lectures at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe.

“But in my case I narrowed it down to one event – the famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech he gave in Fulton, Missouri, in March, 1946 – and that opened up lots of possibilities.

Vaughan's Diamonds : Missouri Valley Special Collections

From barbecue and fountains to the mafia and racial divides, the entries in our Infinite KC Mapmaking Contest spanned the spectrum of culture, history, and geography.

It was an appropriately diverse spread, in fact, given that the contest’s grand prize is a signed copy of Rebecca Solnit’s colorful and variegated book of maps and essays, Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas.

When Solnit discusses InfiniteCity tonight at the Central Library at 6:30 p.m., we will present a signed copy of the book and a freshly printed 1911 map of Kansas City from the Gallup Map Co. to the winner of our contest (which we’ll get to in a minute).

The Contest

Over the past week, we’ve been asking our fans on Facebook and Twitter to use Solnit’s book as a jumping-off point to come up with their own ideas of themed maps of Kansas City. It could be maps featuring favorite haunts of today, ghosts of the past, maps showing KC’s demographic diversity, or … whatever folks could dream up. The guidelines were pretty open.

Calvin Coolidge

Politicians seem to love the sound of their own voices. Calvin Coolidge, who became President after the sudden death of Warren Harding in 1923, didn’t have that problem. He made silence a hugely effective tool.

Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit’s interests are all over the map: art, landscape, public and collective life, ecology, politics, hope. But Solnit’s Infinite City is more than all over the map. It’s literally filled with maps of her native San Francisco.

Infinite City book cover

What makes Kansas City Kansas City? To celebrate the arrival of Rebecca Solnit, author of the spellbinding book Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas, we’re giving away a signed book and a vintage map to the best idea for a new, unconventional map of KC.

Donald A. Ritchie

What's it like to be the in-house historian for the United States Senate? Before he visits the Library on Monday, February 20, Donald A. Ritchie told us about how Congress has changed – and how it hasn't – in the past 200 years.

Zakes Mda by Jim Shirey

As a boy in South Africa, Zakes Mda saw his father dragged off by police in the middle of the night. His crime was criticizing the racist white government.

He saw family friend Nelson Mandela thrown into prison for his opposition to apartheid.

And while still a teen he followed his father into exile in the British Protectorate of Basutoland (now Lesotho) – all because of the belief that black Africans should control their own destinies.

That would seem more than enough reason for Mda (pronounced mmmm-DAH) to nurse a case of anger and bitterness.

And yet those negative emotions are nowhere to be found in his new memoir, Sometimes There Is A Void.

Mda, 63, says it’s because of Ubuntu, an African philosophy that embraces brotherhood, charity and interconnectedness.

It’s a bit like the American concept of “forgive and forget,” Mda explained in a recent phone conversation from Athens, Ohio, where he teaches creative writing at the University of Ohio.

“The forgive part is very important. But not the forget part. We don’t want to forget. What happened in the past is part of who we are, part of our identity. We remember so that the lessons of the past can be used in the future.”

Jennifer Phegley

Way before online personals were a twinkle in Craig Newmark’s eye, our Victorian forebears had their own version of dating services to assist them in the search for a mate.

“The were called matrimonial advertisements, though we’d think of them as Victorian personal ads,” says Jennifer Phegley, chair of the UMKC English Department and author of the new book Courtship and Marriage in Victorian England.

“It turns out that in the 1850s Victorians began regularly advertising for love. That wasn’t something I’d ever read about in the canonical novels of the period.”

Phegley discusses the Victorian road to love in a free presentation on Thursday, February 9 at 6:30 p.m. in the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.

Admission is free. A 6 p.m. reception precedes the event. RSVP online or call 816.701.3407. Free parking is available at the Library District Parking Garage at 10th and Baltimore.

Marriage and Courtship

In honor of Valentine’s Day, the Kansas City Public Library is inviting its online fans to write personal ads for their favorite characters from Victorian literature. The writer of the best ad will receive a box of Christopher Elbow chocolates and a free copy of Jennifer Phegley’s book Courtship and Marriage in Victorian England.

Phegley, who is a professor of English at UMKC, is discussing her book at the Central Library on Thursday, February 9, at 6:30 p.m. The event is free; RSVP here to attend.

SWF, 18, seeks wealthy, stylish husband…

Despite the images of chivalrous lads and chaste ladies, the Victorians were an amorous bunch. For evidence, one need only pick up a newspaper from the era … and flip to the back.

That’s right. Ladies and gents in the mid-19th century found love through the advent of a new medium – one that isn’t so far off from today’s online social media sites like OKCupid and

“In the 1850s, Victorians began regularly advertising for love,” Phegley says. “They were called ‘matrimonial advertisements,’ though we’d think of them as Victorian personal ads.”

Army Navy 1944 program cover

There are lots of college football rivalries. But the annual collision of Army and Navy is in a league of its own. Even for people who don’t follow either team during the fall, the season-capping Army-Navy game is a big deal.

Part of that is tradition. In the pre-Super Bowl era, the Army-Navy game was widely considered the most important football contest of the year.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that these are true amateurs playing for the love of the sport. Few graduates of Annapolis or West Point will go on to play professional football after completion of their military service.

Instead they’re playing for tradition and honor and inter-service bragging rights – and the fans appreciate that.

Meet the Past Edgar Snow

What does Star Trek have to do with Kansas City journalist Edgar Snow, let alone Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit to the People’s Republic of China to meet with Mao Tse-Tung?

Randy Roberts A Team for America

In his new book A Team for America: The Army-Navy Game that Rallied a Nation, historian Randy Roberts talks about the pivotal 1944 football game that came to symbolize national pride in a time of war.

Wendell Potter portrait

Wendell Potter has good news and bad news. The bad news, according to him, is that health care in America is sick. Life expectancy and infant mortality rates here are lower than in some Third World countries. People die because they can’t get insurance – upwards of 45,000 a year.