Wednesday, May 16, 2012

[Book Review] MEMPHIS CHRONICLES by John E. Harkins

Nonfiction/Memphis History

Wayne reviews MEMPHIS CHRONICLES: BITS OF HISTORY FROM THE BEST TIMES by John E. Harkins (History Press, 2009)

Memphis Chronicles is a compilation of columns which originally appeared in The Best Times magazine and, according to the author, were designed “to personalize history in a way that confirms that we are all historians to one extent or another.” In order to accomplish this, the author groups his columns into six sections which are entitled: “Sources for Memphis-area history,” “Frontier days and nineteenth-century social history,” “Local schools and some of their products,” “Places to find portions of our shared past,” “Twentieth-century politics and government,” and “Cultural aspects of Memphis history.”

Within these broad topics are many fascinating people and stories. For example, in his essay “A Pioneer’s Perceptions of Shelby County and its Indians in the 1820s,” Harkins quotes extensively from the writings of trader, J. J. Rawlings, who described in detail his experiences living and working with the Chickasaw Indians in the early nineteenth century. Rawlings wrote that “There were among them some very ingenious workmen in brass and silver. Large ear-rings were worn in the ears and nose and silver bands around their wrists.” As Harkins recognizes, these primary sources are invaluable to readers interested in local history and he does an excellent job of making these records available in his book.

In another essay the author states that “Most Memphians don’t know nearly enough about their community’s history to function as good citizens.” Fortunately for these ill-informed Memphians Harkins has collected some of that history into a readable volume that contributes much to our understanding of local history.

G. Wayne Dowdy, Central Library

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