A Negro Explorer at the North Pole by Matthew A. Henson (1912)

I’ll be honest. I don’t know much about the North Pole. Ever since I was little my parents filled me with lies about Santa Claus. For a while I thought that the North Pole was a real place, an identifiable landmark. Reality is more complicated than my seven year old self could have understood or imagined. It turns out that there is no landmass known as the North Pole. The South Pole, or Antarctica, is a continent covered with ice and snow; the North Pole is just a floating mass of ice and snow which connects with the northernmost parts of Scandinavia, Greenland, Russia, Canada, and Alaska. The actual point known as the North Pole is up for debate. Is it related to magnetic north? Nope. When people refer to the North Pole they usually mean the geographic North Pole. A quick wikipedia search reveals that the geographic North Pole is the position opposite the South Pole. The North and South Poles are the axis’s that the Earth rotates upon. Since, the North Pole lies in the middle of the ocean between the northernmost points of multiple continents it can be hard to pin down where the North Pole lies at any one time. Either way it is clear that Matthew A. Henson and The Explorers Club, under the command of Robert Peary, sailed up past New England and traversed northward through Greenland to reach if not the true geographic North Pole close enough to gain the credit.

Matthew A. Henson has got a spot on my A-Team. Not only did he and Peary reach the North Pole first but he did this as a black man in America during the early 1900’s. This was a difficult time for black people in America caught in limbo between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. Slavery had been abolished but lynchings were still common and segregation was in full force. Henson had to grow up quickly because many of his family members passed away when he was young. He joined a trade ship as a cabin boy at the age of 12. Through his travels he met Peary who took him on as an associate when Henson was in his early 20’s. Henson proved a reliable companion on the harsh northern expeditions. He learned to live like the Inuit people. After living with the Inuit people, he gained great respect for them, their customs, and their fortitude in the harsh conditions. This story is a memoir recording the final expedition in 1909 about A Negro Explorer at the North Pole.


free audiobook download: https://librivox.org/a-negro-explorer-at-the-north-pole-by-matthew-a-henson/

free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/20923


Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself by Harriett A. Jacobs (1861)

Originally written under a pseudonym, Linda Brent, and coincidentally published immediately before the American Civil War this book occupies an awkward point in history. The struggles that Harriett endured from birth to the age of twenty seven would soon be outlawed. Chattel slavery would cease within five years of this books publication but looking farther ahead we realize that the institutions of slavery would not be entirely demolished after this war. One wonders how upsetting it was for Harriett to see the initial hope and joy at the North’s victory give way to a general attitude of ambivalence towards the rights of black people throughout the United States. To think it would take close to another hundred years for major federal legislation to pass congress that protected the rights of black people as equal citizens. This book does not completely depress me. Instead, I take solace in those people who were willing to risk a helping hand for Harriett in her time of need.

Harriett Jacobs is born a slave and writes of the unique challenges that black women in slavery face. She describes the physical and mental abuse that slave women endure while at work in the house. Leaning heavily upon her family and friends she braves each new horror as if pushed along by an unseen hand. Read her words in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself.


free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/11030

free audiobook download: https://librivox.org/incidents-in-the-life-of-a-slave-girl-by-harriet-jacobs/

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup(1853)

I expected this book to be heart wrenchingly depressing and it was at points. But at other times Solomon Northup’s life reads like some 1850’s MacGuyver series. He spends his limited personal time attempting to outwit his dire circumstances. Multiple times his personal ingenuity saves the day. When his daily food allowance is eaten by worms, he rigs together an impromptu fish trap so he can eat fish when he arrives home after hours of cotton picking in the fields. When his master puts him in charge of whipping the other slaves, he gains a special accuracy with the whip so that he can fake it without actually hurting his friends. When his master attempts to take his life, Solomon engages in hand to axe combat and comes away unscathed. Each improbable escape builds up Solomon as some sort of slave era superhero. I’m left with the feeling that I want to be like Solomon Northup.

Solomon Northup has lives his whole life as a free man in the state of New York. Through a series of increasingly horrible circumstances he is kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana under another name. He spends the next twelve years trying to get notice to his family back in New York that he has been enslaved so they will rescue him from this cruelty and injustice. The laws are stacked against him. Slaves are not allowed free movement or allowed to send letters without a note from their master. Pick up this book and read about Solomon’s escape from slave country in Twelve Years a Slave.


free audiobook download: https://librivox.org/twelve-years-a-slave-by-solomon-northup/

free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/45631

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (1903)

This book was as refreshing as a trip to the beach after months cramped in a tiny office tapping repetitively on the keyboard. In Helen Keller I find the kindred spirit of an avid reader. She saw the world through raised type on the printed page and found books intoxicating. Through books you can go almost anywhere. Another point of interest is her negative experience with copyright and the fallacy of human memory. I have always believed, as she does, that every thought in my mind could be a regurgitation of someone else’s beliefs or opinions that I absorbed at some earlier date. The inability to fully trust ones own memories can be disconcerting. Someday in the distant future human beings might be capable of relinquishing ownership of ideas and instead focus on applying those ideas. Just a thought.

Helen Keller narrates her life as she grows from a child to a young woman. This fascinating journey bridges the difficulties of living without sight and hearing. Losing these two senses before the age of two she forgets all about how the world looked and sounded. For the next four years she communicates with her family using rudimentary signs and continues her happy childhood. At the age of seven, Helen meets her teacher for the first time. Anne Sullivan goes on to teach Helen how to read, write and communicate with others. This flash of insight ignites the great intellect of Helen Keller. See the world through her eyes by reading The Story of My Life.


free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2397

free audiobook download: https://librivox.org/the-story-of-my-life-by-helen-keller-2/

History of Julius Caesar by Jacob Abbott (1849)

I’ll admit that I didn’t have high hopes for this book. Instead, I expected it to be dry and overly academic. After a few chapters, this book really becomes exciting. Julius led a very active and dangerous life filled with many adventures so excitement should have been no surprise. Previously ignorant of Julius Caesar’s life, I enjoyed learning the meaning to common phrases like “the Ides of March” and “crossing the Rubicon”. Its funny how language retains meaning while losing its origin. Also, the political institutions in Rome during his reign look so absurd by today’s standards. Deadly squabbling all those years ago in Rome make our current political atmosphere seem boring and mundane by comparison.

Julius Caesar slowly rose to power. He first had to prove intellectual importance by training to be a great orator. Then, he showed his military prowess by quelling Roman foes and invading unknown lands. Finally, he was forced to show his political might by winning election to higher and higher offices in Rome. His flaws along the way become striking even with an author who is clearly on his soft side. The man was single minded and vicious. Learn the ways of a powerful man by reading the History of Julius Caesar.


free ebook download: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/11688

free audiobook download: https://librivox.org/history-of-julius-caesar-by-jacob-abbott/