Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

Building Little Italy: Philadelphia’s Italians Before Mass Migration

by Richard N. Juliani
Pennsylvania State Univer­sity Press, 1998 (398 pages, paper, $19.95)

The study of ethnicity in Amer­ica has been popular for years. Ethnic groups in cities small and large, in remote villages, and in rural farming areas have been ana­lyzed and researched; in several urban areas institutions devoted ex­clusively to ethnicity have been established. Building Little Italy: Philadelphia’s Italians Before Mass Mi­gration is a welcome addition to this fecund pool of scholarship. It tells the story of early Italians in the city, why they chose Philadelphia, what their lives were like, where they lived, and how they interacted. The book examines Italian settlement from the pre-Revolutionary period up to the eve of the mass immigra­tion of the 1870s, and illustrates how the pioneers created the basic structure of the community that would continue into the twentieth century. A fact known by relatively few, the first Italians arrived in Philadelphia in the mid-eigh­teenth century. Artists and scholars, tradesmen and entrepreneurs, they established a new community – one of the first of “Little Italies” in America – that would provide not just a home but a sense of belonging for later arrivals. Despite the ex­istence of a large body of records from this period, Philadelphia’s early Italian community has never before been seriously studied. Building Little Italy clearly shows that Italians exerted a much greater influence on the city than has been sup­posed and provides a rare opportunity to witness the origins of an ethnic community. By presenting a meticulously detailed profile of the Italian immigrant experience through its stages of development, the book captures – in words and pictures – a piece of local history that has been long ignored.

 

The Enlightenment of Joseph Priest­ley: A Study of His Life and Work from 1733-1773

by Robert E. Schofield
Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997 (305 pages, cloth, $45.00)

Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) was a major figure of the Eng­lish Enlightenment. A contemporary and friend of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, he was at least their equal in talent and range of interests. Even so, no all-inclusive biogra­phy of Priestley has been attempted until now. This volume covers the life and works of Priestley in England, during his critical first forty years – years of preparation and trial during which the foundation for his later achievements was estab­lished. Not content to gloss over any detail, the author has scrupulously applied scholarship to every phase of Priestley’s broad career and interests, from his early years at the Daventry Academy, to his call at the Dissenting Chapel of Needham Market, Suffolk; his publication of the Doctrine of Remission in which he argues that “Scripture shows pardon for sin and ulti­mate salvation to depend upon sincere repentance, moral character, and the good works of the sinner.” By the author’s account, Priestley possessed a “genius for friendship. All his life Priestley was to disarm even his critics with sincerity and charm and the friends he made he kept.” The author further details the development of Priestley’s interest in language, rhetoric, and the principles of a liberal education. Priestley is best known for his work in isolating gases and discovering oxygen, and the later chapters of The Enlightenment of Joseph Priestley concentrate on his development as a scientist. Throughout this book, Priestley is analyzed within the social, political, and intellectual context of his day. A brief epilogue looks ahead to the next thirty years when Joseph Priestley was forced out of England and settled in Northumberland County in north-central Pennsylvania in 1794 (the subject of Schofield’s next book). But this volume stands alone as the definitive study of the making of an intellectual giant.

 

Being Red in Philadelphia: A Memoir of the McCarthy Era

by Sherman Labovitz
Camino Books, 1997 (165 pages, cloth, $22.00)

On a muggy night in July 1953, the City of Brotherly Love found itself immersed in an ordeal that tested the very princi­ples upon which it – and the nation – were founded. The test began when Sherman Labovitz was awakened in the middle of the night by FBI agents who arrested and imprisoned him on charges of conspiring to overthrow the United States govern­ment. At the height of the McCarthy era, even Philadelphia­ – with its deep-rooted heritage of freedom and individual rights – was not immune to the air of suspicion and distrust permeating the country. Labovitz, along with eight others rounded up in the FBI sweep, was a leader of the Communist Party in Philadelphia and a prime target for the attacks of Mc­Carthyism. The nine men were charged with violating the Smith Act (known formally as the Alien Registration Act of 1940), which prohibited unregistered aliens from holding posi­tions considered essential to the federal government. Communists in several states had already been charged on the basis of this legislation, but it was the first such case for a federal court in Philadelphia. During the period beginning with the arrest of the nine defendants until August 1954, when testimony in this trial concluded, the city of Philadelphia churned in turmoil because of the huge ramifications of the landmark case. By the end of the trial, the tide of McCarthyism had begun to turn. The author is the first of the nine defen­dants to tell his version of the dramatic events of what is now called the Philadelphia Smith Act trial. The book recounts, among many fascinating revelations, how the nine individuals arrested were first denied legal representation but ultimately obtained the counsel of the city’s top lawyers. Readers who re­member the days of the Red Scare of the 1950s will be fascinated, as will those who are shown for the first time what many consider to be one of the most frightening periods in America’s last one hundred years.

 

Pennsylvania in the Spanish-Ameri­can War

by Richard A. Sauers
Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee, 1998 (106 pages, paper, $12.95)

Pennsylvania’s role in what is probably the most overlooked war in American history is recounted, step-by-step, in this highly illustrated volume subtitled A Commemorative Look Back. In late April 1898, the United States officially declared war on Spain and thousands of Pennsylvanians responded to the call to arms. Regiments served in the Philippines and Puerto Rico. Seventeen Keystone Staters earned the Congressional Medal of Honor, and leading war correspondents raced from the Com­monwealth to the front to write firsthand reports. Pennsylvania in the Spanish-American War traces the action, beginning with the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana’s harbor on February 15, 1898. It continues with descriptions not only of battles but of camp life as well, and concludes with mention of the death in 1992 of the one-hundred-and-six-year-old Nathan Cook, the last surviving veteran. Life in camp was particularly difficult; days were long and monotonous (leading some to alcohol abuse and gambling); provisions were scarce, food was poor; and water was polluted. Those who saw action, fought enemy forces, as well as heat, exhaustion, and malaria. Lasting a scant one hundred days, the brief war “imprinted itself on thousands of young men who left their homes, their jobs, their sweet­hearts, and their world to join the armed forces in hopes of participating in a grand adventure.” The author contends that many historians have previously “looked upon the Spanish­-American War as a comic opera. America won the war … because our armed forces made fewer mistakes than the Span­ish did.” Most soldiers did their duty and returned home with little – if any – fanfare. The Spanish-American War was exten­sively photographed not only by journalists but by soldiers, who documented daily life on the home front and on the battle line, and this book features dozens of telling images.

 

Pittsburgh’s Landmark Architecture

by Walter C. Kidney
Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Founda­tion, 1997 (717 pages, cloth, $60.00)

Subtitled The Historic Buildings of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, this landmark tome – weighing in at six pounds – is a visual feast of the architecture of western Pennsylvania. This weighty book is also the most comprehensive account of the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County published to date. Divided into two main sections, Pittsburgh’s Landmark Architec­ture opens with “The Poplar and the Ailanthus,” an essay on the county’s architectural history. The title alludes to an image found in the essay: the contrast between the Lombardy poplar, an “architectural” tree, elegant and orderly, and the awkward ailanthus, which grows with rude vigor wherever it has a chance. The ailanthus, indeed, can symbolize much of what has come to be in and around Pittsburgh: rough industrial and resi­dential settlements on the river plains and hilltops. Poplars have been planted, too: handsome buildings, elegant engineer­ing, and good places to show off or in which to live, such as the Oakland Civic Center, Edgeworth, Aspinwall, Evergreen Hamlet, Thornburg, or Chatham Village. This essay is illus­trated with sixty-three color photographs of the region and more than two hundred duotone images, many of them archival prints of buildings and landscapes long gone. The sec­ond segment, “A Guide to the Landmark Architecture of Allegheny County,” based on a county-wide survey conducted by the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation (PH&LF), discusses pre-1950 buildings, structures, neighborhoods, and engineering works the PH&LF wants preserved. More than thirteen hundred photographs illustrate this section. Through­out the book students of architecture and design will find many familiar names, among them Theophilus Parsons Chan­dler, Frank Furness, Henry Hornbostel, Benno Janssen, Henry Hobson Richardson, Frederick J. Osterling, and Joseph Urban. Pittsburgh’s Landmark Architecture: The Historic Buildings of Pitts­burgh and Allegheny County includes an exhaustive biblio­graphy, maps, and index.