Summer Reading: On the Great Lakes and Gibson Guitars

The blog has been on hiatus for the summer. Most of the department faculty have been away on research trips or vacation, or buried deep in research. Summer is also a good time to catch up on reading, though; over the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring brief recommendations on great books and articles that we’ve recently enjoyed. 

book coverThe Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas by Jerry Dennis

Recommended by Bruce Berglund: I binge-read this book while on vacation at the Lake Michigan shore last summer. The main thread of the book is the author’s journey, as a deck-hand, on a small schooner making its way from Traverse City to Maine, via the Great Lakes, the Erie Canal, and Hudson River. The ship’s voyage makes for a great sea story, with tensions between crew members, tense battles against storms, and near-misses with larger ships playing the seaway. Interspersed in this story are other episodes from Dennis’ life on the Great Lakes: his childhood visits to the Leelanau Peninsula, his first outing as a deck-hand on the Chicago-to-Mackinac sailing race, and a trip aboard a voyageurs’ canoe along the northern shore of Lake Superior. These anecdotes are openings to lessons about the geography and history of the Great Lakes. Having grown up on the shores of Lake Superior, I knew something about the maritime history of the lakes and its unique climate (the phrase “colder by the lake” is a fact of life in Duluth). But in reading Dennis’ book, the Great Lakes opened up in a whole new way. Yes, there are accounts of shipwrecks, but I also learned about water chemistry, fish life, pollution, weather patterns, history and folklore. The book was engaging throughout, and I reacted audibly is several places at some new nugget I discovered.


book coverKalamazoo Gals: A Story of Extraordinary Women & Gibson’s “Banner” Guitars of WWII by John Thomas

Recommended by William Van Vugt: This is an amazing book about Gibson acoustic guitars made during WWII by women. When the men went off to fight, women replaced them as the luthiers, and made all the guitars (25,000) from 1942 to 1945 (the famous “Banner” J45s–I now have one from 1943, and it blows me away–maybe the finest guitar I have ever played. It’s enough to make a serious guitar player like me weep for joy.) Gibson later said they stopped making guitars from 1942-1945; they disavowed the Banners made by women–said they made no guitars during those years! They said this never happened! And now I’m learning from this new book that the women made the guitars differently, “more refined”, better, more delicate, responsive….And when the troops returned after the war, and shoved out the women from Gibson, the men started to make them different again–and not nearly as good: they lost what the women luthiers had accomplished. Women were superior luthiers. This book is just incredible–not just about American guitars, which is more important than anything, with the possible exception of cats–but of American women’s history. This is far more interesting than Rosie the Riveter.


Check back in two weeks for our next summer reading installment. What are you reading right now? Drop us a line in the comments to recommend.

One thought on “Summer Reading: On the Great Lakes and Gibson Guitars

  1. Pingback: New Books!

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