From Local History to Stories of the Race Track Phenoms, Fiction, Music and Kids Books
John Morrissey was an Irish-born prizefighter and gambler—and eventual U.S. Congressman—who brought Thoroughbred racing to Saratoga Springs during the Civil War after recognizing the profit potential of gambling in the health resort. His fascinating story gets new examination in Bare Knuckles & Saratoga Racing: The Remarkable Life of John Morrissey (History Press) by Brien Bouyea, director of communications for the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and a Saratoga Living scribe.
Over 33 tense and violent days, the Battle of Saratoga changed the course of history. Dean Snow’s hourby- hour account, 1777: Tipping Point at Saratoga (Oxford University Press), combed through letters, journals and memoirs from soldiers in both camps, as well as archaeological remains from the local battlefield, to provide a richly detailed account of the famous battle that handed the British a stunning defeat and served as the turning point of the Revolutionary War.
Also noted: Nathaniel Philbrick’s Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution (Viking), an account of the middle years of the American Revolution and the complex relationship between George Washington and Benedict Arnold.
Saratoga Performing Arts Center has achieved a longevity noteworthy in the arts world. SPAC 50, a glossy, image filled book released by the arts institution in honor of its fifth decade, captures the hard work and dedication of the local citizens and political champions like Governor Nelson Rockefeller who built the place into a powerhouse for the arts every summer with the resident companies of New York City Ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra. A timeline recaps highlights of every season since 1966, and includes photos of many of the jazz, rock and pop artists who have performed there as well, from the Doors to Dave Matthews.
Also noted: The Kindle-only Haunted Saratoga: The Stories Behind Saratoga’s Most Infamous Spirits by local ghost tour guide Joe Haedrich looks at the lore behind the many spirits said to be still making their presence felt around the Spa City.
An estimated 15,000 people turned out to watch Triple-Crown-winning race horse American Pharoah gallop in a practice run on Saratoga Race Course the day before he raced in the Travers, Saratoga’s signature race. Sadly, for some, American Pharoah lost, joining Man o’ War and Secretariat—two of racing’s all-time greats—as a loser at the track known as the Graveyard of Favorites. But the horse, known for his sweet disposition as well as his running prowess, remains a favorite of many racing fans, who will learn much about the history-making horse in this comprehensive account of his ascension to greatness: American Pharoah: The Untold Story of the Triple Crown Winner’s Legendary Rise (Hachette Books) by award-winning sports writer Joe Drape.
Also noted: A work of fiction, The Sport of Kings (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by C.E. Morgan depicts a Kentucky family’s race horsing dynasty as their endeavor to breed the next Secretariat spirals into a mythic tale of wealth and poverty, racism and rage.
Hattie’s Restaurant has been a Saratoga institution since Louisiana native Hattie Gray, then a household cook, saved up enough money to start Hattie’s Chicken Shack. Chef and co-owner Jasper Alexander— who once beat celebrity chef Bobby Flay in a chicken-frying contest—gives up some of the Phila Street restaurant’s secrets to delicious Southern cooking in The Hattie’s Restaurant Cookbook: Classic Southern and Louisiana Recipes (Countryman Press) with recipes for everything from sweet potato pie to the standard-bearing fried chicken.
September saw the release of Born to Run (Simon & Schuster), Bruce Springsteen’s rock and roll memoir that runs long—over 500 pages—like his epic three (and lately four) hour gangbuster performances. It’s worth the commitment, as Springsteen eloquently describes his Catholic childhood in Freehold, New Jersey, leading up to the pivotal moment when he saw Elvis Presley’s debut on The Ed Sullivan Show and became determined to become a musician.
Also noted: Bob Dylan: The Lyrics: 1961-2012 (Simon & Schuster) is a beautiful and comprehensive volume of lyrics from the recent Nobel Prize winner.
The Underground Railroad (Doubleday) by celebrated author Colson Whitehead is a compelling tour de force that follows a third-generation slave girl as she escapes the Georgia cotton plantation that is the only home she’s ever known, making a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. In Whitehead’s ingenious twist, the Underground Railroad is no metaphor for people opening their homes—rather, engineers and conductors actually operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the ground.
Also noted: Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel, is a page-turner that follows the descendants of two 18th-century Ghanaian half-sisters as they experience life in distinct ways.
Author Eugenie Doyle and her family operate The Last Resort Farm, an organic berry, vegetable and hay farm in Vermont. Her Sleep Tight Farm: A Farm Prepares for Winter (Chronicle Books) with illustrator Becca Stadtlander for ages two to five helps young readers understand how one family puts the farm to bed in winter: from chopping wood to selling the last of the bounty at the farm stand.
Also noted: Trombone Shorty has been a fan favorite at several Saratoga Jazz Festivals, bringing the house down with his New Orleans jazz funk. Trombone Shorty (Harry N. Abrams), an illustrated picture book for ages four to eight tells his story and was a 2016 Caldecott Honor Book winner.
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