Primary sources are the best way to learn about history and culture. Oftentimes they need to be put into context, and that’s where secondary sources come in. I believe the best secondary sources also include the primary sources that they are writing about.
Letters of Note: Volume 2: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience is a prime example of my favorite kind of secondary source.
Following in the steps of his earlier compilations, Letters of Note and Lists of Note, Shaun Usher continues to bring us letters from famous and not-so-famous, but all important, people. Sometimes the letters themselves are important because of who wrote or received them. Sometimes they are notable because of the events they cover, or the time periods they represent. Sometimes, just sometimes, they are fictional (e.g., letters from the Harry Potter universe…). This book holds more than 125 of such letters, some short and sweet, some spanning several pages, some part of a series of letters. Here are just a mere few of my favorites:
- A letter from Abraham Lincoln to the daughter of a friend who had been killed in the Civil War, trying to show her that her deep sorrow will eventually improve.
- A telegram from Sylvia Plath to her family after she had a skiing accident.
- A letter from Aldus Huxley to George Orwell, comparing the outlooks on the future of Brave New World and 1984.
- A long, illustrated letter from a young Beatrix Potter to a friend’s son, including very well-known characters, years before they would be turned into a book.
- A letter describing the first partial skeleton found of the T. rex.
Look through the book and you’ll discover your own favorites.
The content isn’t the only thing that’s quality about this book. It’s an attractive, large hardback book with dust jacket, it includes a ribbon bookmark so you don’t lose your place (or to mark your favorite letter), and it includes a fold-out entry of an intricate embroidered letter in the middle. Many letters in the book include the original images, and everything that needs it is transcribed for ease of reading. My impression is that slightly fewer entries seem to contain original letter images than in the first Letters of Note book, which takes a little bit away from the historic immersion, but the meaningfulness of the letters remain. Still, there are plenty of images and photographs included with the letters, and each entry has an introduction that puts the letter into context.
Read some of the wonderful letters, and even watch a few of the letters being performed live by the likes of Gillian Anderson and Benedict Cumberbatch, on the Chronicle Books website.
The books in this series are always of the highest quality, both in content and in production and materials. These are the kinds of books that will live on your bookshelf for the rest of your life, and get passed down to your history- and culture-loving heirs. They are some of the most approachable ways to learn about history and culture, and really pull at your emotions, lifting your spirits, making you laugh, or creating a somber tone.
Letters of Note: Volume 2: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience is a wonderful addition to any personal library.
Note: A copy of the book was provided for review purposes.