Category Archives: History

Discussion Questions and Relevant Material for Mark Adams’: Turn Right at Machu Picchu:


This book cover is incredibly beautiful and designed by Nancy Resnick

Published by Penguin in 2011.

Book Review from 5 Minutes for

One hundred years ago on July 24, 1911, explorer and Yale lecturer Hiram Bingham excitedly cabled the US from Peru about his discovery of an ancient site, potentially the “lost city of the Incas.” That site was Machu Picchu, or “the old peak” in the local language of Quechua, a city of architectural grandeur and ancient temples. Now in 2011, his claim is disputed, and he is accused of stealing historical artifacts and trumpeting up a “discovery” of something that was never actually lost. But there’s no question that he turned the world’s attention to South America and Inca history, and that he may have done even more—inspired the Indiana Jones stories.

Mark Adams, working a desk job editing adventure travel stories, decided to find out the truth for himself, at least as much as possible. He set out to the Andes to retrace the famous explorer’s steps and in the process to study Bingham’s life and writings as well as Inca history. The result is Turn Right at Machu Picchu, a fascinating read which combines a history of Inca-Spainard clashes in Peru, Bingham’s adventures in exploring, and a travelogue of Adams’ own adventures in Peru, with an Australian guide right out of Crocodile Dundee and Indiana Jones.


(Hiram Bingham in 1916)

Some articles on NPR regarding the book including a interview with the author:


NY Times Review


Excellent slide show of the Inca Trail from the NY Times:


Mark Adams’ Book Site with some photos and more

A video by a Photographer with John Leivers on the Inca Trail:

Discussion Questions for now: 

1. Have you traveled to Peru? Machu Picchu?

2. Discuss the guide, John Leivers, and his role and how he impacts the author’s trip.

3. Discuss the similarities and differences between Bingham I, II and III.

4. On page 52, John says to Mark regarding hiking and that it will get easier as his body adapts, “ There’s a general law in life. The body and mind only get stronger when they’re traumatized.” Do you agree with this law of John’s? Have you experienced this yourself or not?

5. Discuss the author’s transition from desk editor to adventurer/explorer and how it changes his life.

6. Why does the Inca culture and civilization hold so much fascination for us today?

7. Why was the longer traditional second trip to Machu Picchu more meaningful that the author’s first trip there?

8. Discuss the role and interrelatedness of the different Inca sites and paths.

9. Discuss the Spanish encounters with the Inca civilization and how its effect are evident today.

10. Does this book inspire you to visit Peru? Machu Picchu? If so, why and if not, why?

Map of the Inca Trail from NY Times: 26maccu-map-popup-v2


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Dearest Friend, A Life of Abigail Adams: Overview, Review, Letters read aloud and Discussion Questions


Overview:  This is the life of Abigail Adams, wife of patriot John Adams, who became the most influential woman in Revolutionary America. Rich with excerpts from her personal letters, Dearest Friend captures the public and private sides of this fascinating woman, who was both an advocate of slave emancipation and a burgeoning feminist, urging her husband to “Remember the Ladies” as he framed the laws of their new country. John and Abigail Adams married for love. While John traveled in America and abroad to help forge a new nation, Abigail remained at home, raising four children, managing their estate, and writing letters to her beloved husband. Chronicling their remarkable fifty-four-year marriage, her blossoming feminism, her battles with loneliness, and her friendships with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Dearest Friend paints a portrait of Abigail Adams as an intelligent, resourceful, and outspoken woman. (


NY Times Book Review:

John and Abigail’s Letters are read aloud by members of the Mass. Historical Society, including Ted Kennedy and others:


Letter contents:

Miss Adorable

By the same Token that the Bearer hereof satt up with you last night I hereby order you to give him, as many Kisses, and as many Hours of your Company after 9 O’Clock as he shall please to Demand and charge them to my Account: This Order, or Requisition call it which you will is in Consideration of a similar order Upon Aurelia for the like favour, and I presume I have good Right to draw upon you for the Kisses as I have given two or three Millions at least, when one has been received, and of Consequence the Account between us is immensely in favour of yours,

John Adams
Octr. 4th. 1762

Discussion Questions created by John:

1. What made the situation in Boston so much more severe before and at the beginning of the revolution than for the rest of the country?

2. How did this play a role in making Abigail and John among the more fervent advocates for the independence?

3. How did John’s role in politics affect Abigail as mother, wife and provider?

4. How did this in turn affect the children and how they developed and the choices they made for careers and the adults they became?

5. Discuss the complicated relationships between the Adams, Franklin and Jefferson.

6. Why has history not treated the Adams better until recently?

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Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War

On December 6th, we will be discussing Philbrick’s Mayflower, lead by Mike. Roger will be offering some wine tasting tips. We hope you can join us.

Discussion questions can be viewed directly on the author’s site:

Here are some websites to explore, regarding the book:

These short interviews with the author on NPR are worth a moment to listen to:


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More Photos for Thubron’s Shadow of the Silk Road

Here are some more photos to accompany Thubron’s, Shadow of the Silk Road:

Uzbekistan, Samarkand: (p. 184-)

Shah-i-Zinda (p. 206): “Their colours are turqoise and kingfisher blue, often on a dark blue field,  . . .”

Margilan, Silk capital of the Soviet Union  (p. 189) –

Tamerlane, the Conqueror of the World of the mid 1300s: (p. 197-)

Bukhara (p. 209-)

Tea house of Bukhara: (p. 209)

Friendship Bridge from Termez into Afghanistan:

Mazar-e-Sharif (p. 221) – ”  . . Outside, the few street lights flickered out, until only the twin domes of the Hazrat Ali Shrine – legendary tomb of the caliph Ali – went on shining in a necklace of amber lights.”

 Same shrine during the day:

“But the domes were white with pigeons. Pigeons misted the whole sanctuary like a snowdrift.” (p. 223)

Grim fort of Qala-i-Jangi, north of Mazar – regional headquarters of Dostum, (p. 228-

Abdul Rashid Dostum, leader of NIMA (p. 228-)

Tehran, Iran: (p. 284) – 15 million live here in this not so tourist friendly place:

Gawhar Shad Mosque in Herat, where Shah Rukh’s queen was buried: (p. 254)

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Shadows of the Silk Road – Photos

Colin Thubron beautifully describes his journey along the Silk Road, but I still was curious about what things actually looked like, so here are some photos I found online to accompany the reading:

Xian, The Capital:

“Yongchang: The Last Gate Under Heaven”, pp. 69-; A statue includes a Roman soldier, where it is believed that Roman soldiers settled this area 2000 years earlier – perhaps those who were marched away after Crassus and his Roman army  were defeated in 53 BC – (click on photo for more information):

Traces of Roman Ancestry – see accompanying article by clicking on photo:

The oasis of Dunhuang, p. 87:

Xinjiang – at the edge of the great Taklamakan, one of the largest deserts in the world (p. 100):

p. 102 – ” the earth would smooth to a savannah of bleached grass . . .” (click on the photo for more photos)

Kyrgyzstan: (p.154) – Click on photo for more . . .

Caravanserai of Tash Rabat: P. 155:

This is just a start.

Check back later for more.

Feel free to add some of your own finds!

Hope to see you soon!

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Discussion Points for Shadow of the Silk Road by C. Thubron

Here are some themes for us to discuss at the next meeting:

1. Religions found along the way; Christians, Nestorians, Taoism, Muslims, etc.

2. SARS virus and impact on the author’s journey, p. 84, 86, 104

3. Inventions dispersed east and west, p.15,  78, 103

4. Behaviors and values of the Chinese people, p. 46, 109

5. The Sogdian Trader evoked by the author

6. Caves and objects at Dunhuang, p. 87-

7. Relationship between the Tibetans and Chinese

8. Characters met along the way, p. 58, 115, 124

9. The Tocharians, p. 110

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Pearl S. Buck International

Here is some great information about Pearl S. Buck International:

One Woman. One Vision. Over 2 million lives changed.

Click here to Discover the Legacy on an inspiring free 60-minute tour

Pearl S. Buck International is a nonprofit organization continuing the legacy and dreams of our founder, author, activist, and humanitarian, Pearl S. Buck. For more information, visit our website at

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Brief Summaries of Rudolf Habsburg’s Contemporaries/Family Members for the Book Discussion of Morton’s: A Nervous Splendor

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) (wife, Martha, and daughter Mathilde) : Neurologist, struggled for years and founded the discipline of psychoanalysis movement, and theories about repression, dreams and the unconscious mind; born to a poor Jewish family in the area of Czech Republic today. Had an apartment on Maria Theresienstrasse 8, where the Ring Theatre stood, burned and 100s were killed. (88)

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)-Composer and conductor, “sloppy, harrying, satanically intense, stormed in and out of opera houses”  (30-31) – Totenfeier:

Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)Austrian composer, wrote many Lieder and wrote music to accompany Goethe’s poetry (146), most productive period was 1888-89; Works:

Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) – Father of modern Zionism ; born in Best Hungary; Paris correspondent for Neue Freie Presse

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)Austrian Symbolist painter, works including paintings, sketches and murals; received Golden Order of Merit from Emperor for his murals at the Burgtheatre in 1888. (91-92)

Sarah Bernhardt (1844- 1923) famous well respected French actress, performs in Vienna (151-56)

Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931) Austrian author and dramatist, works known for strong sexual material and strong stand against anti-semitism; Keeps track of his relations with Jeanette (94. . .)

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)Austrian composer, Lived in the building facing Freud; teacher at Vienna Conservatory and wrote many symphonies and masses. Caresses Beethoven’s head when exhumed and was present for Franz Schubert’s but restrains himself (97) Works:

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)-German composer and pianist, originally from Hamburg, calm, easy going, well established and admired during lifetime, spent professional life in Vienna and a leader of the musical scene there (161-163). He’s one of the 3 greats – Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. He worked with Clara Schumann and Joseph Joachim. Listen to some of his works here:

Jack the Ripper – unidentified serial killer in London actively killing women in 1888 in Whitechapel district of London

Crazy Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886) – good friend of Wagner’s ; Mysterious death – ruled drowning suicide

Edward, Prince of Wales (1841-1910) –good friend of Rudolf, introduced him originally to Mary

Wilhelm II, German Emperor (1859-1941)- grandson of Queen Victoria, crowned in 1888; visits Russia first then Austria (102-110); attacks Rudolf in papers (177) asked not to attend Rudolf’s funeral

Crown Prince Rudolf Habsburg (1858-1889) arch-duke of Austria and Crown Prince of Austria, Hungary and Bohemia and heir apparent of Emperor Franz Joseph

Stephanie of Belgiummarried 1881 was loved by Rudolf but Empress considered her a “clumsy oaf”; grew apart

daughter Elisabeth (born 1883)

Mistresses of Rudolf:

Countess Marie Larisch – mistress who introduces Rudolf to Mary

Baroness Marie Vetseracalled herself Mary, fashionista, began affair with Rudolf when she was 17; created a suicide pact with Rudolf, he killed her first and then himself in 1889 at Mayerling Lodge

Mitzi Caspar – his “Sweet girl” ; commoner and actress; Rudolf asked to create a suicide pact with her but she didn’t take him seriously. He spent last night of his life with her. (115-117)

Emperor Franz Joseph Habsburg (1830-1916) “Franz Joseph was born in the Schönbrunn palace in Vienna, the oldest son of Archduke Franz Karl (the younger son of Holy Roman Emperor Francis II), and his wife Princess Sophie of Bavaria. Because his uncle, from 1835 the Emperor Ferdinand, was weak-minded, and his father un-ambitious and retiring, the young Archduke “Franzl” was brought up by his mother as a future Emperor with emphasis on devotion, responsibility and diligence. Franzl came to idolize his grandfather, der Gute Kaiser Franz, who had died shortly before the former’s fifth birthday, as the ideal monarch. At the age of 13, young Archduke Franz started a career as a colonel in the Austrian army. From that point onward, his fashion was dictated by army style and for the rest of his life he normally wore the uniform of a junior officer.

Following the resignation of the Chancellor Prince Metternich during the Revolutions of 1848, the young Archduke, who it was widely expected would soon succeed his uncle on the throne, was appointed Governor of Bohemia on 6 April, but never took up the post. Instead, Franz was sent to the front in Italy, joining Field Marshal Radetzky on campaign on 29 April, receiving his baptism of fire on 5 May at Santa Lucia. By all accounts he handled his first military experience calmly and with dignity. Around the same time, the Imperial Family was fleeing revolutionary Vienna for the calmer setting of Innsbruck, in Tyrol. Soon, the Archduke was called back from Italy, joining the rest of his family at Innsbruck by mid-June. It was at Innsbruck at this time that Franz Joseph first met his cousin Elisabeth, his future bride, then a girl of ten, but apparently the meeting made little impact.

Following victory over the Italians at Custoza in late July, the court felt safe to return to Vienna, and Franz Joseph travelled with them. But within a few months Vienna again appeared unsafe, and in September the court left again, this time for Olmütz in Moravia. By now, Alfred I, Prince of Windisch-Grätz, the influential military commander in Bohemia, was determined to see the young Archduke soon put onto the throne. It was thought that a new ruler would not be bound by the oaths to respect constitutional government to which Ferdinand had been forced to agree, and that it was necessary to find a young, energetic emperor to replace the kindly, but mentally unfit Emperor.

It was thus at Olmütz on 2 December that, by the abdication of his uncle Ferdinand and the renunciation of his father, the mild-mannered Franz Karl, Franz Joseph succeeded as Emperor of Austria. It was at this time that he first became known by his second as well as his first Christian name. The name “Franz Joseph” was chosen deliberately to bring back memories of the new Emperor’s great-granduncle, Emperor Joseph II, remembered as a modernising reformer. “(Wikipedia)

Empress Elisabeth(Sisi)non-conformist, free spirited, murdered in 1898, considered a great beauty of Europe, tall and very slender, very long beautiful hair; she married in 1853 at the age of 16 to Franz Joseph

Katarina Schratt – Franz Joseph’s mistress, recognized officially by his wife

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Discussion Points for Frederic Morton’s: A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888/1889

1. Explore the similarities and differences between the Crown Prince Rudolf and the several ingenious young men of Vienna who were his contemporaries. Why was Rudolf’s situation more difficult? They were all frustrated in 1888 but they achieved success ultimately. Could Rudolf have, if he hadn’t died?

2. Why were there so many suicides in Vienna at this time particularly among the bourgeois? (64)

3. Discuss the relationship between Rudolf and Wilhelm (102-112)

4. Discuss the love interests of Rudolf (127-130)

5. Discuss Rudolf’s double suicide and the events that led to it and afterwards(215-264)

6. Discuss the foresights of Rudolf, including, the political tensions that led to WWI and could he have made a difference, if he lived.(15, 34-39, 54 . . )

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Linda offers several Reading Choices by or about Pearl Buck

By Pearl Buck:

The Good Earth (her Pulitzer Prize winner/historical novel about Chinese peasant life, turn of the twentieth century)

My Several Worlds (her autobiography)

The Fighting Angel (biography of her missionary father)

The Exile (biography of her missionary mother)

The Child Who Never Grew (about her severely mentally handicapped daughter)

The Townsman – under the pseudonym John Sedges (She wrote several historical novels about turn of the century Kansas under this name, to prove her worth to the literary community at the time.)

There are, of course, many other novels about China.  The Good Earth is actually a trilogy.  The second is Sons; the third is A House Divided.

About Pearl Buck:

Pearl S. Buck:  A Cultural Biography – Peter Conn

A Woman in Conflict – Nora Stirling

Pearl Buck in China – Hilary Spurling

Pearl of China – Anchee Min (this is actually historical fiction, but follows Pearl Buck’s life growing up in China very closely)

Just some ideas.  Feel free to choose anything you’d like.  Many of these books are out of print, but are available on Amazon.  Linda also has some, and is happy to lend them.

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