Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Review-- True Bluegrass Stories

Title: True Bluegrass Stories: History from the Heart of Kentucky
Author: Tom Stephens
ISBN: 9781596295452/ The History Press, 2008
Genre: US History
Rating: B

First Line: Pristine and primeval in the mid-1700s, Kentucky first entered the consciousness of American colonists as an "Eden" or "El Dorado of the West," the next place an energetic young man could enter penniless and see his dreams come true.

It was at about this time that several of my own ancestors packed their wagons and moved to Kentucky. They did quite well there for about a century before the next itchy-footed generation picked up sticks and moved to Illinois, which is where I was born.

I've been to Kentucky many times and have to admit that one of my favorite parts of the state is indeed the Bluegrass, so I picked up this book fully expecting to (1) enjoy it and (2) learn something. Both my expectations were met.

This is a collection of stories from Stephens' Looking Back column in Kentucky Monthly magazine. I can certainly see why the column is popular. He covers a lot of history in these short articles, and he does so in an entertaining and informative manner. As many times as I've been to the Bluegrass, I still learned several things such as: why there are so many Shelbyvilles and Shelby Counties in the United States, just what makes bourbon different from whiskey, and the life of the woman "Hot Lips" Houlihan in M*A*S*H was based upon. I also got to revisit some favorite places such as Pleasant Hill ("Shakertown"), outside of Harrodsburg.

Anyone who's interested in United States history, and in particular the history of Kentucky, should add this book to their reading.


  1. This book sounds quite fascinating.
    I will have to brush up my American history during the next two months; in one of my classes we are going to take a look at American "Pilgrims and Pioneers".
    I plan to read some poetry (Whitman perhaps) and Hawthorne´s story "The Minister´s Black Veil".
    If you have brilliant suggestions, please let me know :)
    - my students are c 17-19 years old.

  2. This really sounds interesting. I like that the book is essays. The kind of thing you can read in bits if you want to.

  3. This sounds like a good one. I enjoy reading about Appalachian history and cultures.

  4. Dorte--I'll see if I can come up with a suggestion or two. :)

    Beth--Yes, the essay format made it very easy to read, although I was so interested that I read it in one sitting.

    Corey--another shared interest. Do you know about this excellent Appalachian history blog?

  5. Cathy, it is just if something springs to your mind - I would certainly appreciate it, but you have probably enough to do without taking on my work :)

  6. I love history, it was my minor. I really enjoy this period in US history as well. So many fun things happening!

    I like how you described those that wanted to keep moving west as itchy-footed :) It is perfect.

  7. Cathy, thanks for the link to that terrific site. I know about some of the stuff on there (Mamie Thurman, Battle of Blair Mountain, etc.), but there's so much more. A real treasure trove.

  8. Dorte--I understand, but if something does come to mind, I'll certainly email you about it!

    Bethany--History is a love of mine which was enhanced by the hours my mother and grandmother spent tracing our family tree. Knowing how your own family figured into historical events make them come to life. My family, like a lot of others, seemed to get itchy feet every 100-150 years. (I belong to the latest "itchy foot generation"!)

    Corey, I'm so glad you came back and got the link. I was going to email it to you because I'm always finding something fascinating there.

  9. Cathy & Corey: Thanks for your generous comments on the Appalachian History blog. It's a lot of work to put that thing together, but seeing feedback like this just fires me up to sit back down to the keyword and keep it going!

  10. Dave, I'm looking forward to the day when I see one of my ancestors on your blog, the notorious Marshall Benton Taylor. :-) In the meantime, you have plenty of good reading out there. Shoot, any one state in Appalachia would have provided writing fodder for a lifetime, but all of Appalachia? Wow, the amount of work you do is staggering.

  11. Dave, the amount of work you do is indeed staggering, and it is sooooo much appreciated!


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