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I Wish I'd Been There    edited by Byron Hollinshead order for
I Wish I'd Been There
by Byron Hollinshead
Order:  USA  Can
Anchor, 2007 (2006)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Kerrily Sapet

'What scene or incident in American history would you most like to have witnessed - and why?' This intriguing question is the premise of the book I Wish I'd Been There, edited by Byron Hollinshead. Studying a historical event can only take a person so far, and then educated guesswork takes over. Despite books, interviews, and journals, that moment in time is truly lost. For a historian studying a specific incident, the chance to actually observe the event would be the opportunity of a lifetime and a key to unanswered questions. In I Wish I'd Been There, twenty historians take that leap of imagination.

Each one of the historians writes a chapter of the book about the point in history he or she would most like to see. The events range from the serious, such as the Salem Witch Trials in 1692, to the entertaining, like Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind's American debut in 1850. Chapters are devoted to early moments in U.S. history, from spending a day in Cahokia in 1030, to more modern moments such as the Kennedys discussing Vietnam in 1962. Many of the events are well known, such as the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, but the historians include lesser known ones too, which have been equally formative in the nation's history.

Each chapter illuminates the moment differently. The essays are crammed with knowledge, but are thought provoking and entertaining. Lincoln's assassination, for example, is no mere recitation of facts, but rather an intimate peek into the president's final day, culminating in witnessing the deathbed scene. The historians also evaluate their ability to attend an event without feeling the need to interrupt, such as yelling to Lincoln that he needs more security. Each essay, however, vividly recreates a moment in history.

Even those who are bored by history will find this book fascinating. For those who love history, I Wish I'd Been There takes a captivating look at historical moments that can never be fully recaptured, despite our desperate longing to know just exactly what happened.

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