One of the most useful series of books to see publication in recent years is “Images of America” from Arcadia Publishing. This is a huge series of book and quality cannot be guaranteed across all volumes but I have been generally well pleased with all the books I’ve purchased. Currently running to several hundred titles the volumes in this series are generally written by local authors with a serious interest in the area they are discussing. With such a level of passion about the subject the writer collects period photographs and connects these well captioned pictures with useful text. These books give a great introductory view on the subject matter. With a series as wide ranging as this there is something for everyone with an interest in American history. There are titles on US army posts and forts, naval bases and ship yards, cities, towns, amusement parks and fire departments. The photos are generally well selected and often have artistic merit on their own.
As a concrete example of the usefulness of these books to a writer of historical fiction or gaming material I’ll just mention three volumes I’ve used to help flesh out St Louis and the activities of James Eads’ aerolyth flyer construction company there. Eads historically was linked to Carondelet Missouri, which was a town just south of St Louis City proper. His Union Iron Works built ironclad river gunboats for the United States Navy during the Civil War. The Carondelet book by John and Silvia Wright had numerous pictures and maps from this period well into the 1950s. I selected Carondelet as the seat of Eads growing airship yards and this volume provided all the information I needed for that aspect of my research.
The United States Army is one of Eads’ customers and there was an arsenal in St Louis at that time, St. Louis Arsenal: Armory of the West by Randy McGuire supplied all the information I needed to integrate the operations at that facility with those of Eads to detail the shops and operations the Army would provide to complete their military fliers. On a personal note my father was an employee at the Arsenal site during its period as the U. S. Air Force’s cartographic center and was dean of the cartography school there. He often spoke of the sites history and I believe he would have been well pleased with this book. The author of the volume is the site historian at the Arsenal
Just to add a bit of whimsy to the setting I included a flying fire boat, built by Eads and given to the City of St Louis Fire Department in the 1870s (just in time for the Great Chicago Fire). Frank C. Schaper, Betty Burnett book The St Louis Fire Department gave me a quick but effective look into the service at that time period and supplied a historical figure for which the boat would be named. On an additional personal note it was my pleasure to work with Chief Schaper after he retired from the St Louis Fire Department.
These three books give a good idea of the level of passion the writers exhibit. In at least two of the three books I used the authors had direct experience with the areas they were describing. They were able to bring that passion to the pages effectively. If you using a historical locale in the US for your setting I recommend finding titles from this series written about that area. They are inexpensive, offer good graphic content in the form of maps and pictures and are generally written by people with a deep interest in the subject. For the money these volumes are hard to beat.