In decluttering my home retreat and bookshelves a couple weekends ago, I noticed a number of books that have been with me since I was a college undergraduate some 30 years ago. Perhaps that is not uncommon and the fact several deal with history may make them more likely to be kept. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder why these particular books have stayed with me over the years compared to others. So, in order of when I acquired them, here’s a look at the college texts that still live with me (excluding a handful of science fiction paperbacks from an English course on the topic). I also was surprised to see the prices I paid are still on the books so I’ve also included that.
A Study of Jazz, Paul O. Tanner and Maurice Gerow (Fall 1975, $4.45, used) — While it doesn’t deal with the last 30+ years of jazz, the original history of the genre and its forms haven’t changed. Purchased for a class called “Music in American Society,” it remains a handy reference.
Richard E. Neustadt’s Presidential Power: With Reflections on Johnson and Nixon (Spring 1977, $4.95) — Neustadt’s seminal work still ranks sixth on the list of books most frequently assigned in college courses on the American presidency. I am surprised how much my copy has been underlined but I was taking the class in the wake of Watergate and Nixon’s resignation. I think I’ve kept it for the same reasons I still have the White House transcripts published during the Watergate investigation.
George Reedy, Twilight of the Presidency (Spring 1977, $1.25) — Purchased for the same American presidency class, Reedy’s book warned of the unchecked power of and the importance of character in the office. A former assistant to LBJ, Reedy’s observations were pertinent then and now.
The Russians, Hedrick Smith (Spring 1977, $2.50) — Published the year before the class I took on the USSR, this was the closest a reader of that era would come to a view of life in the Soviet Union. I admit, though, that I’ve never read Smith’s follow-up, The New Russians, about the years leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
A History of American Foreign Policy, Alexander DeConde (Fall 1977, $8.95) — It’s doubtful I will read this book again but I keep it for a couple reasons. First,”American Diplomatic History” was one of the most challenging — and rewarding — classes I took as an undergrad (and I took both semesters of it). The main reason, though, is the man who taught the class, Jerry Sweeney. By chance, he taught a world history class I took in the summer of 1976. Not only did he instill a deep love of history in me, that enticed me into American Diplomatic History, which helped teach me examination and analysis of issues. He is undoubtedly one of teachers who had the greatest influence on my life.
The Burden of Guilt, Hannah Vogt (Spring 1978, $4.00) — Purchased for a history class on “Modern Germany,” Vogt’s book is a unique look at Germany from 1914 to 1945. It was originally published in Germany in the early 1960s to provide the post-World War II German generation with an objective, short history of their country because, as she wrote in the preface, “it does no good to close our eyes to the disagreeable facts of [the] past.”
They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45, Milton Mayer (Spring 1978, $3.45) — Purchased for the same history class, this was an type of inside look at life in Nazi Germany. Mayer located 10 men in Germany after the war and conducted lengthy interviews to try and determine how and why “decent men” were caught up in the rush of the Nazi movement.
Black Elk Speaks, John Neihardt (Fall 1978, $2.50) — I wonder how many “Intro to Philosophy” classes require a book on Lakota spirituality. I’m glad mine did.
For those who don’t have their calculator handy, the total cost of the book, all paperbacks, was $32.05. Apparently, just five remain in print today — the jazz history, now in an 11th edition and retitled, Jazz; Neustadt’s work, updated through the Reagan presidency; Vogt, Mayer and Neihardt. Their comparative cost then and today through Amazon? $19.35 and $170.99, a 784 percent increase.
Behold this day, for it is yours to make.