The Six-Point Inspection

The Frontier, Freud, and the Philosopher

In The Six-Point Inspection, Zócalo takes a quick look at new books that are changing the way we see our world.

The Gods of Prophetstown: The Battle of Tippecanoe and the Holy War for the American Frontier by Adam Jortner

The nutshell: Two hundred years after the Battle of Tippecanoe (November 7, 1811), Auburn University historian Jortner examines the conflict between American deism and Native American spiritual beliefs that led up to this contest between William Henry Harrison and Shawnee leader Tenskwatawa. The battle helped make Harrison president.

Literary lovechild of: Frederick Jackson Turner and Dee Brown.

You’ll find it on your bookshelf if: You recite “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” with fondness.

Cocktail party fodder: In 1810, the second-largest city in America west of the Appalachians-bigger than Pittsburgh or Cincinnati-was the Native American settlement Prophetstown, founded by Tenskwatawa and conquered by Harrison at Tippecanoe.

For optimal benefit: Read with a glass of whiskey (the beverage that both the American soldiers and Native American warriors consumed with gusto) and the sun setting in the West over the frontier.

Snap judgment: More than dual biography or military history but encompassing both, this is a detailed narrative of the cultural and ideological clash between whites bent on conquest and Native Americans bent on survival.


Freud’s Couch, Scott’s Buttocks, Brontë’s Grave by Simon Goldhill

The nutshell: Cambridge classicist Goldhill pulls a stunt-a pilgrimage of four Jews to the homes and workplaces of great British writers and thinkers (Wordsworth and Walter Scott among them)-that becomes a meditation on tourism, fame, and literature.

Literary lovechild of: A.J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically and Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence.

You’ll find it on your bookshelf if:
You never miss an episode of Masterpiece Theater.

Cocktail party fodder: As a young radical, Wordsworth traveled to France to join the revolution-and had a child there with a French girl.

For optimal benefit: Read between Ivanhoe and Don Juan.

Snap judgment: A fun and funny journey through literary England with a slightly obsessed and highly knowledgeable guide.



Socrates: A Man for Our Times by Paul Johnson

The nutshell: Socrates didn’t leave a single written word behind, but historian and journalist Johnson’s slim biography places Socrates’ philosophical beliefs and teachings in the context of his life and times.

Literary lovechild of:
Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life and Antonia Fraser’s Marie Antoinette.

You’ll find it on your bookshelf if: You dig philosophy-up to a point.

Cocktail party fodder: Socrates had a great sense of humor.

For optimal benefit: Use as a cheat sheet and diversion if you’ve maxed out on Plato.

Snap judgment: This snappy biography goes down easy while offering a full portrait of Socrates-the man, the thinker, the celebrity-and the world he lived in.