An amusing and insightful memoir about the wacky world of historical reenactments.
Living in Los Angeles, the past was never a subject that writer, radio producer and actor Schroeder spent much time thinking about, preferring to immerse himself in the never-ending stream of current events and activities of modern life. However, his perspective changed after attending the “largest multicultural living history event west of the Mississippi,” which featured 75 groups including Romans, Vikings and Civil War and Revolutionary War soldiers. “I found it fascinating to learn about history in a three-dimensional, interactive way,” writes Schroeder. “To ask questions of people who loved a time period so much they felt compelled to dress like one of its inhabitants.” The author’s curiosity extended to the “vibrant, eccentric subculture” of the reenactment world and feeling what participants describe as the “period rush”—the “sensation that you’ve traveled back in time.” During his travels, Schroeder lit a canon at an old fort during a reenactment of a French and Indian War battle; helped row a large wooden boat down the St. Lawrence River in an attempt to experience life in the 1700s; dressed up like a Nazi; volunteered to be a radio operator in a Vietnam war game;and reenacted the Civil War in Florida.After traveling thousands of miles, reenacting more than 10 time periods and reading dozens of books on the subject—he even staged his own historical reenactment in Los Angeles—Schroeder realized he knew less about war but more about history and contemporary America.
An entertaining read. The companionable author’s gimlet eye rarely misses the absurd or touching incidents he encountered during his explorations.
Schroeder’s charming and hilarious memoir opens with a doozy—the writer and actor has chosen the Battle of Stalingrad as his first foray into the world of war reenactment. In the Colorado plains. In winter. On the Nazi side. Schroeder is as dedicated (period dress includes haircuts after all) as he is unprepared, but he soldiers on through reenactments spanning centuries, including a Roman siege, a civil war battle, a rowboat trip down the Hudson , and a slightly disturbing Vietnam War game. He even attempts to create his own historical reenactment, which involves a 26-mile walk through Los Angeles and a stuffed cat. In between his madcap accounts of working a real cannon and wearing a wool uniform in July, Schroeder still manages to portray the idiosyncratic participants of this niche culture in a sympathetic, even flattering way. From participating in a colonial-era funeral for the real death of reenactor, to gracefully bowing out of a nineteenth-century-style baptism, Schroeder chronicles his fellow war reenactors and their battles with respect and open-mindedness, despite an occasional grumble. Sarah Hunter
Historian David Blight recently estimated that 750,000 Americans lost their lives in the Civil War. The previous agreed upon number was 620,000. The new figure marks a 21% increase. Most died from disease. Read the full article here.
Join me and fellow first-time author Ashley Ream on Saturday, April 21st, when we’ll be entertaining passengers aboard Bus #2 en route from Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena to the LA Times Festival of Books. Rumor has it there will be bagels, cookies and goodie bags. And my mother.
I’m happy to announce that I’ve gotten four very generous blurbs for Man of War. Here they are in alphabetical order:
“The wonderfully funny and humane Charlie Schroeder has served his country valiantly, and now we should all honor him by buying his book. The best way to spread the word? A period-authentic confetti cannon.”-Henry Alford, author of Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That?
“Man of War is an unexpected treat! I was enamored of Charlie Schroeder’s travelogue through the subculture of reenactment and fascinated by his modern take on ancient warfare. (Who knew the proper buttons were so important?) They say war is Hell, yet this book is a heck of a lot of fun.”—Jen Lancaster, New York Times bestselling author of Jeneration X, If You Were Here, and Bitter is the New Black
“A hilarious romp through 2,000 years of history, one forced march at a time.”—J. Maarten Troost, author of The Sex Lives of Cannibals
“Charlie Schroeder has produced a rollicking good ride in this compulsively scintillating book. From first page to last, it is an often surprising delight.”— Jay Winik, author of the New York Times bestsellers, April 1865 and The Great Upheaval
Here’s something interesting I read the other night in a book called The Celebrated Pedestrian. This thin “toilet read” is a compilation of questions posed by readers of BBC History Magazine. (I prefer to read it in bed not on the potty, just in case you were wondering.)
In the chapter on language, one of the questions was, “how far back in history could we [English speakers] go and still be understood?” Great question.
The answer is a bit complicated and there’s still some debate going on about it, but one of the authors focuses on a very significant change that occurred in England sometime between 1390 and 1420. This change was called the “Great Vowel Shift,” and it came about after “the abandonment of French as the language at court.” (You see, when the Normans conquered England in 1066, they naturally brought their language along with them, and in doing so demoted the local Saxon tongue to second class status. Some Brits have argued that this is where their obsession with hierarchy started.) When the French language left court, it changed the way people pronounced their vowels. For example, the word mouse had once been pronounced moose.
Moose trap anyone?
Factoring in the vowel shift with a loss of inflection (before 1100 English was an inflected language like German), the author states that present-day English speakers “would seriously struggle to understand the spoken word around 1300.” Or rather, Fectoing in da voowel shiift…well, you get the picture and I don’t want to try to write like that for one second more.
Did this vowel shift occur only once? Hardly. In fact, it’s happening right now…in America.