December 18, 2008

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Hidden History of New Hampshire, by D. Quincy Whitney, History Press, 2008, 152 pages
ByDan Szczesny dszczesny@hippopress.com

Among the impressive feats accomplished by D. Quincy Whitney in her new book on New Hampshire history is an unwavering resistance to folksy yarns. This is a good thing. Honestly, I am tired of New Hampshire history being related in Yankee Magazine-style front porch talk farmer slang. Yee-up, I ’member the day the ol’ man a came down. There’s none of that in Hidden History of New Hampshire for two reasons: first, Whitney is a reporter. The former Boston Globe New Hampshire Weekly arts writer knows how to write about local history in ways that are both engaging and non-condescending. Second, it turns out that New Hampshire is a pretty interesting place that has more going for it than stone walls and maple syrup.

The book is broken into seven sections such as “Home, Towns, Community” and “Government, Politics and War.” Each section includes a number of short, arts-section-style stories on a number of topics such as the Shaker Meeting House in Canterbury, the state’s first bird club or the newspaper published on top of Mount Washington.

The book’s title must be a publisher idea since some of the stories are hardly hidden: I doubt even those most clueless about New Hampshire history would fail to recognize the name Robert Frost. Still, there’s plenty in the book to interest both the casual history buff as well as the longtime New Englander. And Whitney’s style is breezy enough to be accessible, but informed enough to be authoritative.

Some examples? Did you know that when Admiral Richard Byrd began putting together his South Pole expedition team, New Hampshire native Arthur Walden trained his sled dogs? When the admiral returned a hero, his first stop was Tamworth. Also, who knew that the birthplace of the Republican Party may well have been in Exeter when in 1853 a fed-up congressman named Amos Tuck convinced a group of disgruntled party leaders to give up their party and began calling themselves Republicans? Or that the largest unaltered mill building in the state does not reside in Manchester, but rather is the 1823 Belknap Mill in Laconia?

Whether a gift for an out-of-town relative or a great addition to your own New Hampshire history collection, Whitney’s compilation will make you appreciate the Granite State and its colorful characters even more.

D. Quincy Whitney will be giving book signings / readings this weekend at Toadstool Books in Milford on Saturday, Dec. 20, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; at Fox Tale Books in New Durham on Sunday, Dec. 21, from noon to 2 p.m.; and at the Strawbery Banke Candlelight Stroll in Portsmouth on Sunday, Dec. 21, from 4 to 9 p.m. ADan J. Szczesny