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These History Books Made Me Uncomfortable (But I'm Glad I Read Them)

Buckle up for an emotional ride

These History Books Made Me Uncomfortable (But I'm Glad I Read Them)

No one knows what happened in the past.

But, we can try to piece together the incidents throughout history. This can be done through the testimony of the people who lived through those events, surviving manuscripts, news reports, and the trail left behind by physical elements.

The retelling of history sometimes leaves us with hope and wonder. Other times it leaves a hole in our hearts.

Today’s booklist is going to show you the grim side of history.

These History Books Made Me Uncomfortable (But I'm Glad I Read Them)

Rubber, ivory, and slavery…

King Leopold II was King of Belgium From 1885 and 1908, he exploited Free Congo for its ivory and rubber.

People were enslaved and tortured and the country was bled dry of its wealth.

“Most striking about the traditional societies of the Congo was their remarkable artwork: baskets, mats, pottery, copper and ironwork, and, above all, woodcarving.”

This is what the book shines the light on.

Local people were enslaved and made to work for the rubber and ivory trade. Rape and sexual exploitation were also part of the atrocities committed by Leopold’s administration.

Later, King Leopold annexed Free Congo as a Belgian colony.

“It is always tempting to believe that a bad system is the fault of one bad man.”

Ivory was depleted. Due to the commercialization of rubber, the importance of wild rubber trees diminished. Ultimately, Congo was able to gain independence in 1960.

This book will make your stomach churn.

These History Books Made Me Uncomfortable (But I'm Glad I Read Them)

How did ordinary men become killing machines?

We think of ourselves as moral ones.

We think that we wouldn’t kill someone even if ordered to. This book will make you doubt your own goodness.

This book is about the German police battalion who despite not having extreme Nazi views killed many Jews in Poland.

“Explaining is not excusing; understanding is not forgiving.”

This battalion was ordered to round up Jews and take men for work in camps. It was ordered to shoot the old, women, and children.

Initially, the commander of the battalion was himself unhappy with the orders. He allowed the members to not participate in the killing. But through propaganda, peer pressure, and creating distance between perpetrators and victims, the authorities were able to reduce the opposition.

“…one comes away from the story of Reserve Police Battalion 101 with great unease.”

Most of the men participated in the inhuman killing. Afterward, they numbed themselves with drinking. One of the major killings was the Erntefest massacre in which all the Jews held in camps were killed at the hands of Battalion 101.

Less than 500 men are responsible for the death of 83,000 people.

These History Books Made Me Uncomfortable (But I'm Glad I Read Them)

A shameful spot in Japan’s past.

The Rape of Nanking also known as Nanking Massacre was the mass murder and rape of Chinese citizens committed by the Japanese army.

This happened during the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. The book estimated the number of Chinese people killed at 300,000.

“…history have noted that the sheer concentration of power in government is lethal — that only a sense of absolute unchecked power can make atrocities like the Rape of Nanking possible.”

The author discusses the events leading up to this tragedy. She also describes the attacks on Chinese people.

The book also touches on the refusal of the Japanese government to acknowledge that such a thing ever took place.

The following quote from the book made me reflect a lot:

“Looking back upon millennia of history, it appears clear that no race or culture has monopoly on wartime cruelty.”

If you and I look at our ancestral history, we will find horrible stuff committed by our ancestors in times of war. It makes us realize the innate evil that exists in all humans.

This book is a heartbreaking account of people brutally wronged.

These History Books Made Me Uncomfortable (But I'm Glad I Read Them)

Was Hitler on drugs?

This book discusses the pharmaceutical production of various drugs in Germany.

The writer tells us that Hitler himself took drugs and kept them with him. This is based on the diary kept by Hitler’s physician.

“In specialist circles Eukodal was the queen of remedies: a wonder drug.”

A drug named Pervitin was commonly given to German soldiers in order to maintain focus and energy. The use of drugs was not only prevalent in the military but throughout German society.

Here is an example of how heroin was marketed:

“…the directors of Bayer … advertised the substance as a remedy for headaches, for general indisposition, and also as a cough syrup for children. It was even recommended to babies for colic or sleeping problems.”

The author alleges that Hitler’s aggression and war decisions were in part due to his drug habit.

This book puts forth a very interesting discussion on what prevalent drug use can do to a society and its authorities.

These History Books Made Me Uncomfortable (But I'm Glad I Read Them)

Settlers vs Natives, an American West conflict.

In this book, the author explores the conflict between Native Americans and the US government in the late 19th century.

The book starts by tracing the history of American discovery and the European settlers.

Initially, the Indians were welcoming. But when the whites started encroaching and capturing their land, the conflict started.

“To the Indians it seemed that these Europeans hated everything in nature — the living forests and their birds and beasts, the grassy grades, the water, the soil, the air itself.”

Throughout the book, the author mentions multiple Native American tribes and their role in the clashes that took place.

This book discusses colonization, its impact on the natives, and racism. It also discusses the eradication of Native tribes that happened after 1860.

The book will make you think. Do we have the right to this land?

These History Books Made Me Uncomfortable (But I'm Glad I Read Them)

They glowed but paid with their lives.

Radium is a radioactive material that glows. Its glow made it an important part of watch dials so time can be read in the dark.

“With a half-life of 1,600 years, radium could take its time to make itself known.”

In the early 1900s, many girls took up work at Radium factories. Two of those were Radium Luminous Materials Corporation and Radium Dial. There, they had to paint watch dials with Radium.

Slowly, literature started coming out on how injurious radium is for humans. But corporations ignored it.

“They glowed like ghosts as they walked home through the streets of Orange.”

Due to the exposure to radium, many of the girls who worked at the factories died. It is estimated that in 6 years, the radium reduces a person’s strength to half. It eats away at bones as well.

In a landmark lawsuit, a group of women won against the radium companies.

These History Books Made Me Uncomfortable (But I'm Glad I Read Them)

The bloody end to the 300-year-long monarchy.

The Russian Imperial family was killed in a basement in 1918. It consisted of Nicholas, Alexandria, and their 4 daughters and 1 son.

Before their killing, the family was imprisoned and placed under house arrest. Helen Rappaport, a historian, tells us their story.

“In Ekaterinburg, as in many other Russian cities, the sharp and unavoidable disparity between Bolshevik rhetoric and Bolshevik practice was now becoming only too painfully clear.”

The killing of the Imperial family ended the 300-year-long rule of the Romanovs.

The earlier versions of this incident blame a group of Ekaterinburg Bolsheviks for the killings. The author, however, ties the killings to Lenin through the chain of command.

Rappaport does a great job of discussing the political climate and the various forces at work during 1917 and 1918.

In the aftermath of these murders, a new political climate arose and the Soviet Union regime came into being.

The most shocking thing is that the truth of what happened came out decades after the murder. In 1998, the family got the proper burial.

These History Books Made Me Uncomfortable (But I'm Glad I Read Them)

She died but her cells still live.

Henrietta Lacks was a black woman whose cancer cells were cultured in a laboratory.

She passed away due to cancer.

“Only cells that had been transformed by a virus or a genetic mutation had the potential to become immortal.”

Her cells are known as HeLa cells. Being immortal, they have played a part in various groundbreaking medical research. As a result, millions of lives have been saved.

But, the family of the woman knew nothing about it.

John Hopkins Institute used the cells without the knowledge of the Lacks family and gave them ahead. Soon enough Lacks’ cells were being cultured and sold for profit.

“People got rich off my mother without us even knowin about them takin her cells, now we don’t get a dime.”

Only around 1975, the family discovered this reality when a journalist contacted them.

Rebecca Skloot tells us this whole story in her book. She wonders what would have Henrietta thought of it if she was alive.

Skloot also remained in close touch with Henrietta’s daughter Deborah throughout the writing and research of this book.

This remarkable story raises ethical concerns for medical practices. It also discusses the treatment of black people at the hands of medical personnel.

These History Books Made Me Uncomfortable (But I'm Glad I Read Them)

Story of a silent town.

The author takes us to a Tibetan town called Ngaba, which is situated 11 thousand feet above sea level. Although difficult to reach, this town has an important history to tell.

It is where the Tibetan and Chinese communists interacted.

In 1950 China took over Tibet. However, the crackdown on the unique Tibetan culture and practices started in 1959. This caused the Dalai Lama to seek asylum in India.

“It is impossible to fathom current Tibetan attitudes toward the Chinese government without grasping the enormity of what befell them in the 1950s and early 1960s.”

The author tells us that in the early 2000s, many young Tibetans died after setting themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule.

The author interviews many Tibetans who have to decide whether they want to resist or join the Chinese.

“An aspired state of mind: to be free of attachment, anger, stupidity, jealousy and arrogance.”

This book is an account of the clash of cultures and ideas.

These History Books Made Me Uncomfortable (But I'm Glad I Read Them)

An eyewitness account of the Rwandan civil war.

The author grew up as a French-speaking Canadian in Montreal.

He was sent to Rwanda as a commander in the UN peacekeeping mission. It was called the United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda (UNAMIR).

“The people of Rwanda were not an insignificant black mass living in abject poverty in a place of no consequence.”

The Rwandan Civil War happened in the early 1990s. The clashes happened between Rwandan Government Forces (RGF) and the rebels, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

Initially, RPF was victorious.

The UN Peacekeeping mission’s aim was to form a multi-ethnic and democratic government in Rwanda.

But the peace negotiations broke down and the war broke out again. Dallaire shares his experience as UNAMIR was caught in the crossfire.

The author touches on the hindrance posed to humanitarian aid by the lack of international support.

“The concept of human rights assumes that all human life is of equal value. Risk-free warfare presumes that our lives matter more than those we are intervening to save.”

This book provides an eye-opening account of the role of the International community and organizations in the Rwandan civil war.


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If you enjoyed these book recommendations, check out the rest of my book lists on my blog-

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