"A Grizzly in the Mail and Other Adventures in American History"

Bill Schwab is our newest MO Books reviewer. Bill was a minister for 47 years—24 years at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Washington.

Bill’s a member of the Wednesday Evening Book Club at Washington Public Library. At the library, he also leads a “Great Decisions” discussion group. He enjoys non-fiction, especially biographies “to learn how other people have made sense out of life.”

Sure you’ll enjoy Bill’s review of “A Grizzly in the Mail and Other Adventures in American History,” by Tim Grove.

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“What? Betsy Ross did not sew the first Stars and Stripes? And Eli Whitney was not the inventor of the Cotton Gin?” Debunking many popularly held traditions of American history is just one of the highlights of museum educator Tim Grove’s satisfying volume of essays.

In demythologizing many commonly held “truths” about American heritage, Grove argues for a more accurate recording of history. Much of our history is nothing more than “gossip on a grand scale,” he contends, and he opts for setting the record straight.

Grove is one of those rare persons who not only achieved one dream job, but three. His first position was museum educator in the Hands on History Room at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. His job was to bring fixed displays to life for museum observers.

His second position began in 2001 prior to the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial celebration (2004-2006). Grove was challenged by the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis to design a traveling exhibition that would tell the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

The project he managed challenged many of the popular stories associated with this unparalleled journey and cleared up some misconceptions. He embarked on a study tour to gather data for the exhibit and recorded his visits with Native Americans, or, as he learned many of them liked to be called, American Indians.

The contemporary Native American perspective on the Lewis and Clark expedition makes for insightful reading. The book’s title refers to a humorous incident that occurred in Grove’s effort to develop the celebratory exhibit.

The author is now back at the Smithsonian, this time at the National Air and Space Museum where he is chief of learning. As with the Lewis and Clark project, there is a St. Louis connection: Grove has written a superb chapter on Charles and Anne Lindbergh. Grove’s essay on their extensive lifelong adventures broadens the reader’s perspective on their importance to aviation history.

Tim Grove is clearly an innovative educator. His compilations of American history stories carry readers back to earlier times to not only take a look at the facts, but also to feel some of the emotions of the moment.

The book is suitable for all ages and is especially appropriate as a model for amateur historians in historical societies who want to tell local stories in stimulating and challenging ways.

Grove urges scholarship over gossip, hands-on experiences over static displays and surprise revelations over the expected. As exemplified in this volume, his approach makes for an engaging, entertaining and educational read.