More Lessons from Reading Tuchman

I don’t want to seem as though I’m beating a dead horse, but in today’s post I’d like to share some more quotations from Barbara Tuchman’s book Practicing History. Her insights provide good principles for writing by not only historians but also all other writers.

I’m categorizing the quotations into four groups: (1) the definition of history, (2) the qualifications of historians, (3) the task of historians, and (4) general writing principles from which all of us writers can benefit.

What History Is: People

“[H]istory is human behavior, not arithmetic.” (Focus on the human element; don’t get bogged down in statistics.)

“Human beings are always and finally the subject of history. History is the record of human behavior. . . .” (So focus on the people!)

“[W]e can no more escape the past than we can escape our own genes.” (So embrace the past, share it, and learn from it.)

What Historians’ Qualifications Are

“[T]his quality of being in love with your subject . . . is indispensable for writing good history–or good anything, for that matter.” (Love it, and you’ll never want to leave it!)

“[C]oupled with compulsion to write must go desire to be read.” (Envision who your readers are, and write to and for them.)

“A historian needs, I think, a perspective of at least twenty-five years, and preferably fifty, to form an opinion of any value. . . .” (This reminds me of one of my college professors, who said that he didn’t think anyone should write a book until he or she was at least 50 years old. I guess I was a late bloomer since my first book wasn’t published until I was much older!)

“Perspective changes every view.” (So work to maintain perspective.)

What Historians’ Tasks Are

“[S]tay within the evidence.” (Or as Sgt. Joe Friday said, “Just the facts, ma’am.”)

“There is no such thing as a neutral or purely objective historian.” (But fight the urge to pursue an agenda. Present the evidence so well that the readers will, by themselves and based on those facts, reach the same conclusions you reached .)

“The historian’s task is . . . to tell what happened within the discipline of the facts.” (Remember what Joe Friday said!)

“Selection is everything; it is the test of the historian.” (Focus on presenting the truly important facts, not the peripheral details.)

“A historian cannot pick and choose his facts; he must deal with all the evidence.” (Don’t give in to the temptation to cherry pick, proof text, or pull things out of context.)

What All Writers Need to Learn and Remember

“Historians can–though not all do–make themselves understood in everyday English. . . . Let us beware of the plight of . . . the behavioral scientists, who by use of a proliferating jargon have painted themselves into a corner–or isolation ward–of unintelligibility.” (Write so that everyone can understand you!)

“To a historian libraries are food, shelter, and even muse.” (Get away from your computer search engines and into a repository of real, tangible books!)

“[A]n imitator can never feel himself the equal of an originator.” (Be yourself; develop your own voice and style.)

“The will to do the impossible, the spirit of can-do. . . .” (Dream big! Attempt the difficult!)

“Great endeavor requires vision and some kind of compelling impulse. . . .” (Act on that impulse! Risk rejection!)

“[T]rouble in writing clearly invariably reflects troubled thinking, usually an incomplete grasp of the facts or of their meaning.” (Get your thinking right, and the writing will be good, too.)

These quotations from Tuchman helped me. Maybe you’ll find them helpful,



Learning from the Best

One of our daughters recently asked my wife and me to accompany her to a library book sale. She was looking specifically for good children’s books for her two daughters, both of whom are learning to enjoy reading early. One is in first grade, the other in second. I tagged along, vowing not to buy anything. I was there merely to lend my approval and encouragement to my granddaughters’ growing addiction to reading.

While my wife and daughter rummaged through the stacks of books, I roamed the crowded room and kept an eye on my granddaughters. At some point while I was being tugged along by a tiny hand hanging onto my finger, my eye glimpsed a sign indicating a small stack of books labeled “History” amid the mass of fiction titles. I couldn’t resist the siren call. I paused to flip hurriedly through the uninteresting (to me) titles, until one book caught my eye, not because of its title but because I recognized the author’s name: Barbara Tuchman.

Because much of my reading involves military history, her name was already familiar to me. Her Pulitzer Prize-winning The Guns of August is an oft-quoted classic about the runup to and first month of World War I. I haven’t read the book because it doesn’t deal with my eras of interest, but I readily recognized her much-respected name.

The title of the book by Tuchman that caught my eye, however, wasn’t The Guns of August but Practicing History. Resisting the energetic and impatient tuggings of my granddaughter, I flipped through the pages of the book, reading the chapter titles. They convinced me that I had to have that book.

Spying a chair on one side of the room, almost in the corner and out of way of what Thomas Gray famously referred to as “the madding crowd” of bibliophiles, I convinced my granddaughter that we needed to sit quietly for a few moments while I took a closer look at the book. Those fleeting moments convinced me that I had found a pearl of great price–and at only a dollar. Reading it later only confirmed my initial valuation.

In Practicing History, Tuchman first told and then showed, through examples of her own writing, how to “do history.” It all begins with a love of what one is studying. She wrote that “it is this quality of being in love with your subject that is indispensable for writing good history–or good anything, for that matter.” There must be in the would-be historian a “compulsion to write,” and not only that but also a “desire to be read.”

Tuchman then described the process that one must follow in one’s writing of history. “The first [step] is to distill,” doing “the preliminary work” of gathering the information, analyzing it, selecting what information to include and what to leave out (because one simply can’t include it all), arranging the essential information, and then creating “a dramatic narrative.” While doing all this, the historian must “stay within the evidence.” Going beyond the information is merely fiction writing, and that’s not history.

But the most impressive thing I learned about Tuchman and her “doing” of history was not so much her process of writing, her erudition, or the many awards her writing has won her. It was the fact that she did not have any advanced degree in history. She was a non-academic historian.

That fact set me to reflecting upon the fact that many of my favorite writers of history were, in fact, not professionally trained to be historians. Neither did they hold exalted tenured positions in universities. They were, however, great writers who loved and wrote well about history.

Take, for example, a man I’ve written about before in this blog (see–David McCullough. His degree was in English, not history. He had no special training in history. Yet, he wrote riveting history. He won two Pulitzer Prizes, one for his book Truman and another for his biography John Adams. He wrote for the average reader who had an interest in history, not for academics. Time and space do not permit me to enumerate his many other prizes and awards. Suffice it to say he was a good writer and a good historian, and yet a non-academic.

And then there’s Winston Churchill. He is known as an icon of history for his role as prime minister of England in World War II and a prophet of the Cold War that followed on the heels of that conflict. But he was also a master writer of history, authoring numerous volumes, including The Gathering Storm, Their Finest Hour, The Grand Alliance, The Hinge of Fate, Closing the Ring, and Triumph and Tragedy.

And, of course, Tuchman herself, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, one for the aforementioned The Guns of August and another for Stillwell and the American Experience in China. She averaged a new book every four years. And she did not have an advanced degree in history.

But all of these authors had several things in common. They loved their subjects. They enjoyed doing research and discovering facts. And they were compelled to share those discoveries in writing so that others could enjoy them too. Moreover, they stayed within the evidence. And the prizes they won attest to the fact that others acknowledged them as true historians although none was an academic. Perhaps that is why so many academics were jealous of their publishing successes and consequent fame and looked down upon them because of their lack of academic credentials.

I have no illusions of being as great a writer as those historians. But their example can inspire and encourage me and every other non-academic, independent historian to keep on “practicing history” as it was meant to be done. If they could do it, I–and you–with effort and determination, can, too!

Special Holiday Announcement!

McFarland Publishing, the publisher of my book Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries, just announced a great holiday deal! You can save 40 percent on all of their titles during the holidays! That includes my book!

They announced, “This year, instead of waiting around for Black Friday, we’re opening up early access to you, our loyal readers and followers, as a way of saying ‘thank you!’ for celebrating with us all year round. From now through Cyber Monday, November 28, get a Santa-sized 40% off ALL titles with coupon code HOLIDAY22! Don’t delay, because when early access ends, the discount will drop to the standard 25%.”

Here’s the link to their announcement: .

If you know of someone on your gift list who might enjoy my book–or if you haven’t yet purchased your own copy of Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries–now would be a great time to check off that on your list. But remember the deadline for getting 40 percent off is November 28.

Guest Post: She Published Her First Book at Age 75!

I’m excited today to present a guest post by Joy Neal Kidney, who published her first book at age 75. Since that time, she’s published two sequels to that first title, and she’s working on more to come. Her example is proof that age and physical problems need not be a hindrance to those who have a compelling story to tell.

Joy is the chronicler of her family’s history. Her first book, Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family during World War II, told of five of her uncles who served during World War II. But only two of those men lived to return home. (Since today is Veteran’s Day, this would be a good book to read now!)

Joy’s other two books tell the stories of the family before World War II, pioneering stories and stories of perseverance during the Great Depression.

In the following post, Joy tells us how she, starting at the young age of 75, did it. And continues to turn out those books. Her experience and example remove many of our own excuses for not writing our stories.

Enjoy her post. Learn from it. Then act upon it by writing your own stories!


Those of us who have garnered several decades of living and gained perspective are valuable carriers of family stories and history. It’s never too late to begin sharing them.

If you have something that needs to be written and shared, you can do it. Age doesn’t matter.

Until I had a story that needed telling, I didn’t get serious about writing, but I knew that my writing technique needed an overhaul. I began taking Writer’s Digest magazine, reading books about writing, and attending the Summer Writing Festival at the University of Iowa several summers.

Meanwhile, I was researching World War II. Five brothers, uncles of mine, served. Only two came home. When their mother, my Grandma Leora, died, I didn’t even realize that two of the brothers aren’t buried in the family plot at Perry, Iowa. I didn’t know what New Guinea had to do with the war. I didn’t know the difference between a B-25 and a B-29.

I joined reunion groups in order to correspond with men who knew one of the brothers, or at least had served in the same unit. During the 1990s, I began writing essays for newspapers and magazines. When I was paid for them, I knew I was on the right track!

I’ve dealt with fibromyalgia for two decades. The worst was when I couldn’t write because of the brain fog. As it began to lift, I started a website and attended writing conferences, still with the goal of eventually telling the World War II story of the five brothers. A website is a wonderful way to begin to share one’s stories. My early posts usually started with an old photo.

I also joined an online writers’ group where I could “meet” people and ask questions. That’s how I met Robin Grunder, who became my coauthor on the first book, Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family during World War II. By then, I could afford to hire an editor and someone to design the cover and do the formatting.

I didn’t publish that first book until I was 75 years old. That was three years ago. The third one came out this fall. [Joy’s other two books are Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression and Leora’s Early Years: Guthrie County Roots.]

Leora Wilson was an ordinary woman who became remarkable because of the tragedies she survived and who flourished as an older woman. I’ve been so blessed by working with her stories and am thankful to be able to share them.

Agewise, I’m an older woman, too. I grew up among the family members, not thinking about their elderliness. Grandma Leora, my mother, and her sister all lived to the age of 97!

But something in me is not old. The writer in me still flourishes. My fourth book is under way, with notebooks for three or four more others started, as God allows me to keep at this writing thing.

If you write, you’re a writer. Tenacity trumps talent. If you have a story that needs telling, get busy with it. Regardless of your age or physical difficulties.

* * * * *

Thank you, Joy, for this inspiring post! Now we readers need to act on it by writing our own families’ stories.

You can learn more about Joy and her books by visiting her website at

How a Book Series Influenced Young Readers

An article I was reading recently mentioned the U.S. amphibious landings near Casablanca in North Africa, and immediately I recalled the title of a book I had read as a preteen: From Casablanca to Berlin. That set me to thinking about the greatest influences on my interest in and reading and, ultimately, teaching and writing of history.

I didn’t have to think long about my answer to that question: (1) Mrs. George and (2) Random House’s Landmark Books series.

Mrs. George, my fifth-grade teacher, organized a reading contest. She distributed a small envelope and several 3×5 index cards to each student. We wrote our names on the envelopes, and she thumbtacked them to a bulletin board. She took us to the library every week, where we chose books to read. Every time we finished reading a book, we wrote the title on the index cards. (We were on the honor system about our actually having read the book.) Whoever read the most books got a prize.

I don’t remember what the prize was or who eventually won it. It wasn’t me. But I do know that I came out a wi9nner because I learned to enjoy reading, especially history. It was during that contest that I first encountered the Landmark Books.

The Landmark imprint was born when publisher Bennett Cerf had trouble finding a book on the pilgrims for his preteen son in 1948. (Some of you who are old enough might recall Cerf from the CBS TV game show “What’s My Line?” on which he and a variety of other famous guests, including Arlene Francis, Dorothy Kilgallen, and Steve Allen starred.)

Cerf decided to fill the gap in the preteen history market by publishing books written by celebrated, award-winning authors. None of the authors he approached was an academic, but they were all skilled writers who were passionate about their subjects and knew how to write in a way that connected with young people.

MacKinlay Kantor was a Pulitzer prize winner. Robert Penn Warren had won two of the coveted prizes. Pearl S. Buck had won a Nobel Prize. Other accomplished authors who wrote for the series included Shirley Jackson, C.S. Forester, and war correspondents Richard Tregaskis, Quentin Reynolds, William Shirer, and Don Whitehead. Thirty-five of the 114 authors were women, unusual for that time.

My recollection of From Casablanca to Berlin by Bruce Blevin Jr., one of Cerf’s stable of writers, had started my thinking about the Landmark Series, but it didn’t stop with that title. I began to recall many others I had read, and each one led to another and another.

  • Peter Stuyvesant of Old New York
  • Paul Revere and the Minutemen
  • Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys
  • The Swamp Fox of the Revolution
  • Sam Houston, the Tallest Texan
  • Remember the Alamo
  • Stonewall Jackson
  • The Pony Express

But it was the books on World War II, which dominated the series during the early to mid-1960s, that really turned me on to history.

  • The Flying Tigers
  • Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo
  • Guadalcanal Diary
  • John F. Kennedy and PT-109
  • The Story of D-Day: June 6, 1944
  • The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler

The books were all almost 200 pages long and were lavishly illustrated with line drawings that captured the reader’s attention. (During the 1960s, they added photographs.) The dust jackets featured colorful and exciting cover illustrations. Inside, the cover flap listed other titles in the series, guaranteeing that readers would be searching the library’s shelves for more Landmark Books in the series. Ultimately, readers had about 180 of the books from which to choose. I think our school’s librarian ordered almost all of them.

The Landmark Books introduced an entire generation of young readers to the adventure of history, and many of those youngsters pursued its study or the teaching of it as careers. I was one of them, first teaching history and now writing about it.

While I was teaching, I ran across a used book sale that included a large number of the Landmark Books. I bought the whole lot of them to use in my junior high history classes. They proved great tools for helping slow readers and unmotivated students who thought that they hated history. Later, when I left the classroom to pursue editing and writing, I donated most of them to a Christian school’s library. For some reason, I retained a dozen or so of them.

My wife recently discovered those books in a dusty box in our attic. The sight of them flooded my mind with memories–of Mrs. George, of the tiny Halls Elementary School library, of hours spent glued to the exciting stories of historic events and people, of gradually weakened eyes that resulted from so much reading, much of it by flashlight under the covers after I was supposed to be asleep.

Thank you, Mrs. George, for encouraging me to love reading. And thank you, Bennett Cerf, for publishing the Landmark Books that opened my eyes to the enjoyment and lessons of history. The weakened eyes weren’t a bad tradeoff for such great returns!

The Bible influenced me even more than the Landmark series, but I didn’t learn the value of that sacred text until college and afterward. But that’s a topic for another post.

What books have influenced your life more than any others? Do you have the equivalent of a Landmark Books series that motivated your reading and/or writing? If so, share it with others, so that they, too, can benefit from it. You never know what it might lead to!

Writing Despite All Obstacles

I wanted to share the following short (~7 min.) YouTube video that provides some much-needed motivation for those of us who sometimes reach a point at which we think we can no longer continue writing because of varied and sundry obstacles. It discusses Ernest Hemingway and the “disaster” that almost made him quit writing. He didn’t. When you feel like giving up, maybe his example will spur you on to continue doing what you’ve been called to do as a writer–write! Here’s the link:

“Doing History” by Reading Minds

Often, I’ve regretted not having access to a plethora of private documents–letters, journals, photos, etc.–on which to base my study of and writing about my family’s history. Unlike Joy Neal Kidney, who has uncovered scads of such documents for the basis of her three books (to date, with another in the works).

Sometimes, however, we can fail to see the forest for the trees. We can fail to see the obvious right under our nose.

This fact suddenly occurred to me several weeks ago as I was engaged in my daily Bible reading. I was using a Bible that I had given as a Christmas gift to my parents while I was a student in college. My mother had written her name at the top of the first page, but it was Daddy’s infrequent underlinings of verses and his scribbled notes in the margin that attracted my attention.

Daddy was a laboring man, a brick mason, and he had large, rough, calloused hands. His handwriting never came close to resembling the Palmer or Zaner-Bloser styles taught when he was in school. Unlike my mother’s neat, always legible handwriting. Even her hurriedly jotted grocery and to-do lists were the epitome of handwriting correctness. Daddy’s handwriting, on the other had, was seldom neat, even when he concentrated on it. It was, at best, a scrawl.

But whenever I encountered his underlining or writing in the margin of that Bible, I began to go back and reread the verse or passage or read his notations, trying to determine what he was thinking at the moment he read the verse or passage. I began asking myself questions. (Much of “doing good history” involves asking good questions.)

  • What prompted that particular verse or passage to strike a chord for him at that moment?
  • What was happening–or had happened–to give it special meaning for him?
  • Why did he write that particular note? What–or who–was influencing his thinking at that moment?

Daddy didn’t keep a journal. He wasn’t a writer. So I have nothing by which I can reach definitive answers to such questions. But if I know certain other facts, I often can surmise answers that might help me better understand him and his thinking at the moment he underlined or wrote a cryptic note in the margin.

Consider, for example, this one instance. When he was reading Psalm 37, he underlined verses 1 and 7 out of the total of 40 verses in the psalm. Why had those specific verses captured his attention so clearly as to prompt him to underline them?

By the way, I knew that Daddy, not Mother or anyone else, had underlined those verses because he had a “style” of underlining unique to himself. He didn’t underline a whole unbroken line of text; his underlining was erratic. He would underline perhaps the first word, leave a gap, underline the next two words, then leave a gap, skip a word, underline one or two more, etc. It was unpredictable and seemingly random. Sometimes, even only part of a word would be underlined.

But I digress.

Both verses say “fret not.” Don’t worry. Don’t let yourself get all wrought up. About what?

“Because of evil doers . . . those who work unrighteousness” (v. 1).

“Because of him who prospers in his way . . . who brings evil devices to pass” (v. 7).

Now what motivated Daddy to focus on those particular verses?

On a December Sunday night, about a week before Christmas, Daddy, Mother, and Gina, my sister, were on their way to the evening church service for the Christmas cantata. My parents were in the choir. My sister possibly was playing the piano or the organ. They were all anticipating a joyous Christmas holiday together.

As they topped a hill, a car coming the opposite direction hit them head on. Mother was thrown into the windshield. She died a few days later. Daddy, on the passenger side, and Gina, who was driving, were injured. Gina returned to college (at Daddy’s insistence) after the first of the year to graduate, but Daddy remained in the hospital for several weeks and then, even after being released, was unable to return to work for months.

The driver of the other car had been drinking and had a blood alcohol count far above the legal limit. He was not seriously injured. He was never charged. Neither the sheriff nor the detectives in his office pursued an investigation. A judge refused to issue an arrest warrant for the drunk driver. Justice was never executed. Everyone involved seemed to go about their lives as normal, not in the least affected by their actions–or inaction. Except Daddy.

Naturally, Daddy was dismayed by this miscarriage of justice. He lobbied numerous public officials at many levels, begging them to do their jobs or to encourage others to do what they were pledged by oath to do in their positions, and to bring justice to bear–and to gain closure for him. But no one did anything.

Daddy had a “right” to worry and be angry, right?

He was. But one day, he read those verses in Psalm 37 and apparently made the choice to stop fretting and just to leave the matter in God’s hands.

In the end, over time, justice was served. Not in the way Daddy expected and wanted, but in God’s way and in His time.

The drunk driver, apparently unable to deal with his guilt, committed suicide. The detective who refused to investigate and the judge who refused to issue a warrant were removed from their positions. The sheriff was himself later arrested, convicted, and imprisoned for operating a “chop shop,” dealing in stolen cars. He was replaced by a new sheriff who had campaigned primarily on getting tough on drunk drivers.

All of this without any action–or fretting–by Daddy.

Perhaps these things were in Daddy’s mind when he read those verses. They taught him to “let go and let God.”

I had to do the same kind of “mind reading” when I was trying to determine why Daddy dropped out of Lincoln Memorial University before he ever recorded a grade on his transcript. Lack of money? Academic problems? The need for him, an only son, to work on his father’s dairy farm? Homesickness for the love of his life, his future bride and my future mother?

In doing your own research, especially if you don’t have written records, try to ask questions about what motivated your subjects’ actions. What were they thinking? What influences affected their actions? In effect, try to read their minds and come up with plausible back stories to round out your family history.

Joy Neal Kidney, Keeper of Family Stories, Shares More

Genealogies can sometimes seem boring, especially if you don’t know the families whose lineages are being charted. Sometimes even that of one’s own family can be tedious and interminable. Even the Bible refers to “endless genealogies” (1 Tim. 1:4).

But hidden among such genealogies, begging to be discovered, are fascinating and inspiring stories awaiting a storyteller to share them. That also is the case with the genealogies in the Bible. And, thanks to the Holy Spirit-inspired writers of that sacred text, we have the accounts of many of those “heroes of the faith” to profit from today.

Joy Neal Kidney is the self-styled keeper of her family’s stories. She has realized the value and importance of not only preserving but also sharing those stories so that even strangers to her family can enjoy them and get to know the subjects as though they were part of their own families. The result is three volumes, each going deeper into her family’s history.

The first book was Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II, which tells of five members of her family who served our country during World War II. Three of them never came home. Her story is of a family that made the ultimate sacrifice–times three.

Next came Leora’s Dexter Stories: The Scarcity Years of the Great Depression, which recounts the family’s perseverance through the trials of that difficult time. The family was again making sacrifices, economically that time. Making do. Doing without. Without complaint.

Now Joy has reached even deeper into the well of her family history and pulled up still more stories that define and describe the roots of the family’s character and resilience. These are the stories that explain why the family could survive–even thrive–through the deprivation of the Depression years and deal with the losses of war. Leora’s Early Years: Guthrie County Roots traces the family saga from 1892 to 1926. In this installment of the larger story, one finds the Wilson family, so prominently featured in the two previous books, merging with the Goffs.

The stories in this book have often been compared to those told in the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Indians. Pioneer settlers. Drought and dust storms. Disease. Murder. Death in so many ways.

But it also tells of happier and less trying times, such as circuses, school activities, sledding, state fairs, weddings, and the myriad joys of agrarian life.

The stories are short, quick reads presented by a master storyteller. More importantly, however, they are interesting. Although readers might not know the people about whom they are reading, they don’t have to. Besides, by the time they’ve finished reading this book, they’ll feel as though they know the entire family.

Perhaps the greatest endorsement this book could have received is that of Lee Habeeb, the founder and host of the Our American Stories radio program. Habeeb knows good stories when he sees them, and he thought that those told in Joy Neal Kidney’s books are so good that he awarded her the first Great American Storyteller Award–and then named the annual award in her honor. Kidney is a regular contributor to Habeeb’s program. Habeeb also wrote the foreword to Leora’s Early Years because he enjoyed Kidney’s stories so much.

I think you’ll enjoy them, too!

Read more about Joy and her writings at or listen to them at .

A Matter of Perspective

Three storms in three distinct places in the past two weeks gave me lessons in comparative meteorology–and life.

The first storm was Hurricane Ian. Such a storm normally would have done little to attract my attention beyond a passing curiosity. But this one was different in that it was projected to hit along Florida’s Gulf Coast, where my father-in-law lives. The projected paths shown by the various models gained my undivided attention before the storm even hit the western end of Cuba.

As Ian crossed Cuba, brushed past Key West, and entered the waters of the Gulf, it gained strength. Forecasters began saying it would strike Southwest Florida near Tampa as a Category 4 hurricane. But over the next several hours, they modified the projected landfall farther south. What prompted me to virtually 24/7 storm monitoring was when they began saying that it was taking the same track and showing the same characteristics as Hurricane Charley, which had hit the Punta Gorda-Port Charlotte area dead center in 2004.

My second-born daughter, fresh from earning her B.S. in nursing, had just moved to the area the month before and was working at the local hospital at the mouth of the Peace River at Charlotte Harbor. She had called us just as Charley hit them. We were able to maintain contact with her off and on throughout that catastrophic storm and their cleanup efforts and lack of power. Thank God for cell phones! Several months later, we visited there, and signs of the destructive power of nature were still visible everywhere. Thankfully, all of our loved ones escaped uninjured but wiser for the harrowing experience.

I was thinking about Charley as Ian moved ever closer to Punta Gorda. Appeals for prayer went out. And those prayers were answered. Again, everyone in the family–my 95 year-old father-in-law, his 97 year-old sister, and my sister-in-law–all came through unscathed. Thanks to strengthened building codes instituted after Charley, material damage was minimal in contrast to the 2004 storm. Relative to the damages suffered farther south of them in Naples and Fort Myers, it was much less. Material damages can be repaired. Material losses can be restored. Lives cannot be replaced.

The next storm was again Ian and occurred a couple of days later, but this time it was in the Atlantic, heading toward Myrtle Beach. Again, our daughter, the same one who had weathered Charley, was in the target area. She and her family had just arrived in the area on vacation. The kids were out of school thanks to a teachers convention, also being held in Myrtle Beach.

Again I was glued to coverage by WeatherNation with a stake in the outcome. Again my daughter maintained contact with us via cell phone. But this time, she sent photos and videos in real time, and we could “live” the event vicariously along with her, watching debris fly past her hotel room window, the storm surge rise, and the angry waves lash the beach.

By the time Ian hit Myrtle Beach, it was “only” a Category 1. Again, however, every loved one escaped unscathed but surely aware of the power of God’s forces of nature.

The third storm was an old fashioned nor’easter that hit the Outer Banks of North Carolina the day after my first-born daughter and her family, my wife, and I arrived in Kitty Hawk for an early Christmas present–a week in the sun and sand at the edge of “the graveyard of the Atlantic.” We arrived in sunshine and warm temperatures Saturday afternoon and witnessed a beautiful sunrise on Sunday morning. But we didn’t see the sun or get onto the beach for the next three days.

We went to bed Sunday night to the sound of winds howling all around, trying to get through the windows and doors, and rains lashing the windows, roof, and siding. The waves pounded the sand berm that separated the ocean from NC 12, the Virginia Dare Highway, and our house. The temperature dropped from the 70s to the 50s with wind chills in the 40s. When you come dressed and mentally prepared for the mid-70s, the true conditions are quite a shock. As on our trip to the Grand Canyon three years earlier, I was forced to buy an unplanned souvenir–a sweatshirt.

Built on stilts and rising to three stories, the house reserved for us vibrated and shuddered with each blast of wind. For the next three days, the horizon was obscured by rain, fog, and mist.

When the rains subsided, we ventured out to visit shops and lighthouses, the Currituck Maritime Museum, and the Wright Brothers Memorial. Weather conditions made the interpretive displays of the U.S. Live-Saving Service, the predecessor of the Coast Guard, much more realistic than they might have been in calmer weather. We fully understood the stiff winds that the pioneering flight brothers had used to give their flights success. But whereas we were freezing in coats and sweatshirts in October, the Wrights, the historic photo shows, were braving the bone-chilling winds in only suit jackets in December.

Three storms. Three locations. Three sets of circumstances. How one perceives them is all a matter of perspective. (For another perspective of additional storms, see Dr. Gerald Carlson’s post at )

By the way, the sun did come out the last two days of our vacation. The seas were calm. And commercial fishing vessels plied the fishing areas up and down the coast in front of our house throughout the days and nights.

As the bard put it so succinctly, “All’s well that ends well.” And I’m sure that the events have provided fodder for more writing projects!

Digging for (and Sharing) the Gold

Undoubtedly, the most enjoyable aspect of my work writing about historical subjects is doing the research. It isn’t getting the idea or doing the writing or slogging through the editing or proofreading; it’s the researching.

It usually begins with a question I need to have answered or a particular curiosity about something that gets me started. For my upcoming book Dillon’s War, it was the urge to discover what my Uncle Dillon had experienced as a driver for artillery forward observers during World War II. Having learned that he had won two Bronze Stars, I got a new motivation for my search: finding out what he had done to earn them.

My enjoyable experience researching for Dillon’s War led to a similar desire concerning the wartime experiences of my wife’s uncle, who had been a tail gunner aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress in Europe during the same war. What I learned spurred my motivation to research further. Imagine my excitement when I learned that my wife’s uncle had been in the air with the Eighth Air Force on the very day it bombed the German lines through which my uncle would drive his tank just about an hour later in Operation Cobra!

In all such cases, it seems, I experience “Eureka moments,” instances when I discover hidden gems of information that excite, satisfy, and motivate further research.

For example, I got excited when, during my research for Dillon’s War, I stumbled across a document titled Combat History of the 391st Armored Field Artillery Battalion, my uncle’s unit. As I eagerly read through it, I ran into a mention of my uncle by name, a description of the action during which his tank was hit by the enemy and set ablaze and telling how he escaped and the wounds he received. Later in the same source, he was named as having received two Bronze Stars and one wound, qualifying him for a furlough. Both of these sentences officially confirmed stories I had long heard told when I was a kid.

Similarly, while doing research for Bagosy’s War, I ran across a photo of my wife’s uncle being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. I had seen that very medal displayed in a glass-enclosed case on his wall.

Such serendipitous discoveries are what makes all the work of researching worth it. I imagine that such discoveries were what Solomon meant when he wrote, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter” (Pro. 25:2).

God has “hidden” things everywhere around us–in history (the past), in nature and science (the present), and in prophecy (the future)–not to keep us from learning about them but, much like an Easter egg hunt, to motivate us to find or discover them by looking for them and digging them out. He knows the enjoyment, the pleasure, and the excitement such discoveries can be for us. And they should motivate us to dig even deeper for more such discoveries.

It’s sort of like when a prospector finds a tiny gold nugget in his digging or panning. That tiny specimen gives him the energy and motivation to dig more, to persevere in spite of the hard work involved. And all in the hope of finding “the big one.”

Such nuggets also are to be found in God’s Word. Regardless of how many times we read it through, “panning for its gold,” we invariably discover more hidden truths, and each successive discovery motivates us to seek more and to apply to our daily lives those nuggets of wisdom we find among our diggings. Sometimes, it might be only a flake; in an occasional instance, it will be a big nugget. And in a few rare instances, it might be a whole vein, the Mother Lode!

Regardless of the size of the discovery, keep digging!

But this encouragement to dig comes with an important caveat. It can be tempting in all of our researching to forget why we’re doing it in the first place. We can get so busy gathering information or chasing interesting rabbit trails that we don’t write or submit our writing for publication. Excuses for such negligence are readily available, but the whole purpose of our digging is to share what we’re learning with others so they, too, can be helped in some way. Don’t be so busy digging that you forget your larger purpose.

We sometimes think we don’t have enough information. We’ll never have enough. There will always be more to discover. After all, as Will Rogers quipped, “We’re all ignorant, just on different subjects.” We must share what we do have. So write and submit!

Then we can resume our research–and write a sequel!