April 18, 2023
The objective of any author should be to hold the reader’s interest. To want the reader to turn the page and keep on turning until the end, and this is what Searching for Charles: The Untold Legacy of an Immigrant’s American Adventure does.
Measured in his prose, Stephen Watts gives us a dense, intricate read but unlike many historical biographies which are sketchy in the way they deal with the world beyond their principal character, Watts adds a compelling element of social texture with the inclusion of Charles Watts’ many letters. In doing this he has made the wise editorial decision not to update, revise, or parenthetically correct the quirky and often fascinating prose of Charles’ letters which are rich with period speech and convey a compelling element of commentary.
But to explore the life of Charles Watts without exploring the wider-reaching machinations of cultural and geopolitical influences that shaped early nineteenth-century America would have given us a far less revelatory history of U.S. immigration, and through Watts’ introductory narratives to Charles’ letters he not only frames them against historical events but adds an element of observation that is by turn illuminating and insightful.
Searching for Charles: The Untold Legacy of an Immigrant’s American might be an “account of the hidden life of an unhistorical man” but this in no way detracts from its historical significance. Indeed, it is refreshing to read about the lesser-known and often obscure aspects of an Illinois prairie pioneer whose contribution to successive generations of the Watts family and beyond should never be underestimated. In fact, a great deal of the pleasure of reading Stephen Watts’ book comes from his ability to align generations of historical significance with a touching concern for familial factuality.
An exceptional biographical read underpinned by extensive research, Searching for Charles: The Untold Legacy of an Immigrant’s American Adventure is unreservedly recommended. ★★★★★