Non-mainstream Books

Recently, a young man, who I will call Chapman, a twenty-something who is on his way to becoming a lawyer, described my books as being “non-mainstream” and concluded that I may be strange, for picking such subjects I suppose. While I may be strange, especially to a young person, there is nothing strange about the topics of my books. Perhaps someday he will come to learn that being “non-mainstream” is a good thing. The world doesn’t need another book on Lincoln; it doesn’t even need another one on Jim Thorpe. What is needed are books on people whose contributions should be remembered but won’t if someone doesn’t capture their life stories before they are lost to posterity. I only wish I had undertaken this earlier, while more of them were still alive.

My hat is off to Bob Wheeler for having the vision as a young grad student with no money to first convince his advisor that an aural history of Jim Thorpe was a worthwhile undertaking and then to hitchhike across the country to interview anyone still alive who knew Thorpe. I wish that I had had the vision to interview my grandparents, uncles and aunts when they were still alive, but I didn’t. Not only is part of my family’s history lost, but since few others had the vision to capture their families’ histories, we have lost much of our history collectively.

There are rewards to researching and writing these books, albeit not financial. This enterprise is akin to what the Iowa farmer alluded to when, after winning an $8M lottery and asked what he intended to do, he responded, “Keep on farming as long as the money holds out.” The real rewards come from the satisfaction of having played a small part in helping a families learn more of their own history or, occasionally, helping long-lost family members reconnect. Chapman, if you think Carlisle Indian School football players are an obscure topic, you should watch Book TV on CSPAN2 some weekend. There you will find some really obscure book topics but, if you’re lucky, you’ll also see Robert Caro and come to value his work which is at such a high level that the rest of us can only aspire to reach.

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