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5 recommendations for your Labor Day weekend
John Micek

With Labor Day weekend closing in with more speed than I’d like to really acknowledge, I can’t turn around these days without someone reminding me of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous admonishment that “life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

Before too long, we’ll be trading those summer clothes for sweaters and long sleeves. And those languid afternoon hours on the back porch, book in one hand, frosty beverage in the other, will be replaced by nights by the fireplace and afternoons of college football.

And more books, of course.

So now seems as good a time as any to run down a sampling of my own summer reading list, along with some of the other pop culture odds-and-ends that have been holding my attention during these warmer months. 

Here we go.

1. “The Tides of History” podcast, hosted by historian Peter Wyman

The biweekly, mostly monthly, podcast looks for the interconnecting threads in our past. Whether he’s explaining how the 100 Years’ War (actually longer than 100 years) shaped the long-term map of western Europe or delving into how early Atlantic exploration changed the world’s economic future, Wyman is never anything less than engaging and thought-provoking. So until the puck drops on a new season of “Puck Soup,” the weekly hockey podcast hosted by ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski and Jeff Lozo of Vice Sports, “The Tides of History” remains in heavy rotation.

2. “The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, an American Legend,” by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin  

I found it impossible to put down this biography of the Oglala Sioux war chief, who was the only Native American leader to ever defeat the United States military in a war. Still, he’s been largely overshadowed by other Plains Indian legends such as Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. Drury’s and Clavin’s prose jumps off the page, vividly capturing the duplicity of the American government and its dealing with native tribes. It also sheds new light on the United States’ inability to comprehend the culture and fighting style of a formidable opponent. But it is also unsparing in its detail of the atrocities that Plains Indians committed against American soldiers and settlers who wandered into their territory.

3. “Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History,” by S.C. Gwynne

Like Red Cloud, the Comanche chief Quannah Parker fought the American advance on the Great Plains tooth and nail for decades. And like Drury’s and Clavin’s book, Gwynne, a former editor of Texas Monthly, presents a lavishly researched book that spares no detail, no matter how small. That includes Parker’s explanation to a friend of how white settlers had pushed his people off their land by having his friend sit down next to him on a log: “Quanah sat down close to him and said ‘Move over.’ Miller moved. Parker moved with him, and again sat down close to him. ‘Move over,’ he repeated. This continued until Miller had fallen off the log. ‘Like that,’ said Quanah.” 

4. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”   

Yes, the second installment of the adventures Marvel’s Star-Spangled Avenger was released in 2014. But, for my money, it has the best opening three minutes of any film in the Marvel cinematic universe. The exchange between Captain America and The Falcon on the forces that have propelled them from their beds for an early morning run around the National Mall should resonate with anyone who’s ever laced on a pair of running shoes in pursuit of a dose of sanity and peace.

5. Don Letts’ “Culture Clash Radio” on BBC6  

The two-hour program, which airs 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. (East Coast time) on Sunday nights on BBC6 Radio is my favorite way to close out the weekend. Letts, who’s a veteran of the original 1977 punk scene, a filmmaker, one time member of the band Big Audio Dynamite, and a longtime reggae DJ, is also an ace raconteur and storyteller. The eclectic mix of soul, reggae, dance music and picks from Letts’ voluminous record collection keeps the weekend rolling. And it’ll almost make you forget that you have to go back to work on Monday.

I’m always on the lookout for new reading and listening recommendations. And if I can turn you on to a book or publication you might have overlooked, that won’t be half-bad either. Send me your picks by email at or hit me up on Twitter at @ByJohnLMicek.

An award-winning political journalist, Micek is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at