Usually if an author gets tears in her eyes reading a review of her book, that’s a sign that things aren’t going well. Usually. So today an intern at LSU Press forwarded me a PDF excerpt from the August 2012 Virginia Magazine of History and Biography in which they reviewed my book. I just sat at the table under the lamp and stared at it for a while.
Here’s a bit of what reviewer Cynthia Kierner–a historian of the Early Republic and writer I happen to respect immensely–had to say about The Richmond Theater Fire:
“The theater fire has never been the subject of a book-length study. Baker’s well-informed and impressively researched book fills that gap, telling an engaging story in the process.”
“Baker has written a smart and responsible popular history. Readers who want a good story and detailed descriptions will find both here. Her discussions of contemporary medical techniques and of the physical and psychological damage sustained by burn victims…are especially vivid and insightful, as are her accounts of the financial hardships suffered by families who lost their main breadwinners in the conflagration. Because Baker is also demonstrably aware of the broader historical context in which these stories unfolded, however, her narrative yields insights into issues ranging from the evolution of print culture to the history of urban infrastructures and building codes (or lack thereof). Exhaustively researched and thoughtfully contextualized, this book is a welcome contribution.”
I’ll admit to getting a tad emotional when I read this one. (And not only because that’s the book review I would have made up if I had made one up.) This is why: two years ago when I was writing this book as an independent historian and staying up until ungodly hours of the night deciphering old script after I put babies to sleep, I scribbled down on a piece of paper, “I sure hope this book measures up.” I just found the paper today. For real. A review like Kierner’s in a journal like the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography goes some way toward validating all those years of late-night and after-hours work. So thank you, Dr. Kierner, for your thoughtful review. And now that the kids are asleep, I think a glass of wine might be in order.