The renowned author of African literature, Chinua Achebe, has died in Boston at the age of 82. He is best-known for his seminal 1958 novel Things Fall Apart, read by millions worldwide, and featured in the curriculum and reading lists of countless high schools and universities. This novel follows the life of Okonkwo, a proud Igbo man living in turn of the 19th century Nigeria, and the cultural changes that he must face and accept as British colonialism takes hold of the area and the only life he knows. Achebe also wrote a number of follow-up novels to this groundbreaking story. Confined to a wheelchair for the past twenty years following a car accident, he lived in the United States for the last two decades of his life, and was a professor of African Studies at Brown University in Providence.
Achebe also was a strong proponent of the rights of the people living in the once-breakaway Nigerian state of Biafra. His book There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra was published last year. Explaining the Nigerian civil war that took place in the late 1960s, this mélange of memoir and history reminded the world of an oft-forgotten war. Achebe also wrote an allegorical folktale which was republished last year with Mary GrandPré's illustrations. How the Leopard Got His Claws tells the story of a short-lived coup and the resulting return of the original power players, in terms that are understandable for all ages.
We often think that modern rock stars and actors have the market cornered when it comes to bad behavior, but the list of authors who achieved notoriety is long and distinguished. Andrew Shaffer reveals their stories in Literary Rogues: A Scandalous History of Wayward Authors. From the Marquis de Sade to James Frey, Shaffer brings us true stories of the vices, scandals, and exploits of well-known authors from Western literature.
At the height of his addiction, Thomas De Quincey, author of Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, took 8,000 drops (80 teaspoons worth!) of laudanum a day. Lord Byron was known to drink wine from his ancestors’ skulls to help ease his depression. He also had a love affair with his half-sister Augusta Leigh. Although she began as a teetotaler, Dorothy Parker eventually became an alcoholic. She smoked three packs of Chesterfield cigarettes a day and used tuberose perfume to mask the smell of the scotch that she habitually drank. When she was warned that her behavior would send her to an early grave, Parker replied, “Promises, promises!” While entertaining friends, Joan Vollmer, common-law wife of William S. Burroughs, challenged him to prove his marksmanship by shooting a highball glass off the top of her head. Both were drunk. Burroughs obliged but missed, killing her instantly. In 1969, Hunter S. Thompson ran for sheriff in Aspen, Colorado, on the Freak Power Party ticket, a high-profile stunt that Thompson hoped would gain attention for his “freak power” message.
Shaffer brings us all of the outrageous details and salacious gossip in this compilation of the bad boys and bad girls of literature. Chapters are separated by literary period, and discuss the authors from that era. Readers will be struck by the interconnectedness of these great authors’ lives. Infused with Shaffer’s dark humor, Literary Rogues amuses, saddens, and sometimes shocks.
Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award-nominated film Lincoln has created renewed interest in our 16th President, and author Daniel Stashower’s The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln before the Civil War brings to light a little-known episode from Lincoln’s life. In 1861, President-elect Lincoln made the 13-day journey from Illinois to his inauguration in Washington, D.C., by train, stopping to make appearances along the way. The nation was on the brink of civil war, and emotions ran high. Lincoln, a symbol for the Union, was an obvious target. Famed detective Allan Pinkerton was asked to help ensure Lincoln’s safety on the journey. A credible plot to assassinate Lincoln, led by an outspoken Italian barber in Baltimore named Cypriano Ferrandini, came to light. They planned to kill Lincoln when his train made its stop at the Calvert Street Station. As the train drew closer to Baltimore, Pinkerton and several of his agents raced to save Lincoln, and the assassination conspiracy, which is now known as The Baltimore Plot, was foiled.
Stashower, who lives in Bethesda, Maryland, skillfully weaves elements of true crime and history together in a story that author Harlan Coben calls “history that reads like a race-against-the-clock thriller.” The political turmoil of that time is palpable, and Stashower makes historical figures come alive in this character-driven story. Readers who enjoy narrative nonfiction like Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America or Candice Millard’s Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President will want to read The Hour of Peril.
Abraham Lincoln was an inexperienced president in 1862 when he faced his troubled country's most daunting crises to date. With the new year came the inescapable truth of a nation divided, broken, and at war. To realize his vision for the union would take patience, even-keeled fortitude, and the ability to draw in friend and foe alike. In David Von Drehle's terrific and highly readable book, Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Year, the historian reconstructs in a dramatic but disciplined tone the year's greatest challenges for the self-schooled Illinois lawyer. Unfolding month by month, Lincoln's growth as a leader is as transformative for the 16th president as it is for the state and stabilization of the union.
There is no doubt that issues were burning for Lincoln and the country. Aside from a civil war and unabated "secession fever,” the president was facing a government overwhelmed, a treasury without money, and a war department reported in shambles. Europe was exhibiting impatient leanings toward the south. At home, Lincoln's domestic situation presented its own challenges and heartache. The moral crisis of slavery, which would eventually catapult Lincoln to greatness, was looming.
Von Drehle's careful chronology of this tumultuous year begins with New Year's Day and concludes a year later with the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation. In captivating narrative guided by hefty research, layers of political, military and diplomatic maneuvering are peeled away as Von Drehle attempts to define the man Lincoln became as a result of the year's high stakes. Micro-biographies of the usual players add color, as do the plethora of Lincoln quotes, many poignant. Readers of Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough will recognize here the republic at a crossroads and the bellwether of a nation who saw beyond.
What do frying pans, spit-jacks, and molecular gastronomy have in common? They are all kitchen technologies that have affected how humans accomplish the very basic task of feeding themselves. Some are ancient, like the wooden spoon, which has been around for thousands of years. Some are complex, like the SousVide SVK-00001 Supreme Water Oven, which can hold a vacuum-sealed package of chicken breast at a constant temperature of 137 degrees Fahrenheit until the meat becomes succulent, juicy, and somehow safe enough to eat. And some, like the basic cooking pot, are more influential than others. They all have a place in Bee Wilson’s insightful and entertaining new history, Consider the Fork: A history of how we cook and eat.
In a work that spans time from before the development of agriculture through today’s high-tech kitchen gadgetry, it is impossible to be comprehensive. Wilson, instead, focuses on certain culinary implements that have had an impact on what we eat and how we go about preparing to eat it. Each chapter explores a different kitchen tool or concept, with charming hand-drawn illustrations of the various equipment sprinkled throughout the text. Wilson also includes short spotlights on particularly useful, unique, and interesting examples of kitchen technology that punctuate the end of the every chapter.
Witty and filled with wonderful obscure facts about famous and long-forgotten kitchen equipment, Consider the Fork is perfect for anyone who has ever looked in their kitchen drawers and wondered, “Where did all this stuff come from?” Food history enthusiasts and fans of Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A world history will devour this delightful read.
Care for a stroll down memory lane? How about a local history lesson? Check out this trio of books focusing on Bawlmer and its ‘burbs. Baltimore Beer: A Satisfying History of Charm City Brewing joins Days Remembered: Iconic Photography of the Baltimore Sun and Baltimore County: Historical Reflections and Favorite Scenes in a remembrance of things past.
Local author, former Sun food columnist, and founder of Baltimore Beer Week, Rob Kasper knows his food and drink. In Baltimore Beer, he traces the growth of the brewing industry beginning with the influence of the German immigrants who brought their craft with them from Europe. Loaded with anecdotes and moving from early biergartens to modern brewpubs, Kasper explores the breweries’ social and economic influence on the Baltimore area. “Ain’t the beer cold?”
Baltimore residents Barton and Elizabeth Cockey teamed up to produce a charming look at ye olde suburbia in their book Baltimore County. Divided into sections such as Transportation, Public Buildings and Schools, and Wars, this book takes the reader on a tour of county peoples and places and offers an informative narrative laced with personal recollections. Instead of photographs, the book is illustrated with artist Elizabeth’s paintings of the area.
2012 marked the 175th year anniversary of the Baltimore Sun. While no longer a “penny paper,” the power of its photographs to inform and inspire remains a constant. Days Remembered is a collection of images from the Sun spanning from the 1901 debut portrait photograph of Judge Sherry of the Maryland Court of Appeals to the Blue Angels flight over Fort McHenry this past summer. Grouped by decade and including pictures of Babe Ruth, marble step-scrubbing, Blaze Starr, the Berrigan brothers, and the integration of Southern High, this visual history perfectly captures the past one hundred-plus years of Maryland living.
True crime readers usually think of tales ripped from recent headlines, but some of the most intriguing crime writing is based on historical crimes. These two stories are sure to keep readers on the edge of their seats until all is revealed. The Damnation of John Donellan: A Mysterious Case of Death and Scandal in Georgian England takes on the shocking death of Theodosius Boughton, the 20-year-old heir to a fortune and baronetcy, in August 1780. Within an hour of taking a physic prescribed by his doctor, Boughton suffered convulsions and died. Could he have died of natural causes or accidentally died of poisoning from his medical treatments? Was he truly murdered? Although there could have been many natural causes of his death or many suspects if he was indeed murdered, Boughton’s brother-in-law John Donellan was tried and executed for murdering Boughton based largely on the fact that he rinsed out the medicine bottle shortly after Boughton’s collapse. Author Elizabeth Cooke breaks down the evidence from the case and the ensuing trial. Readers will see that that Donellan did not receive a fair trial and may have actually died an innocent man.
Readers who might enjoy this title should also try Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective. When three-year-old Saville Kent was found with his throat slit in June of 1860, the case became a national obsession, dominating English newspapers. People were horrified at the brutality of the crime and stunned by the idea that someone from within the Kent household was believed to have taken the life of an innocent child. Summerscale frames the story as an English murder mystery and keeps the reader engaged until the conclusion of this story that electrified a nation and fed the English obsession with mysteries.
Countless books have been written about Abraham Lincoln, some of which cover his mental health issues. In The Hypo: the Melancholic Young Lincoln, Noah van Sciver portrays Honest Abe’s depression in a way rarely seen so clearly. Starting from the point of Lincoln’s arrival in Springfield, Illinois, in 1837, van Sciver’s words and pictures bring to life the world of this place and time in American history. Lincoln comes to work as a lawyer with John Stuart, while also serving with the Illinois state legislature. Soon after getting to Springfield, he meets the philandering but good-hearted Joshua Speed with whom he shares an apartment and who becomes his closest confidant. Working at their two-person law firm, Lincoln meets Stuart’s cousin, Mary Todd, and is introduced to society life. Although Abe and Mary Todd quickly fall in love, her family disapproves of his low social standing, and each of their mental health issues hasten the dissolution of their engagement. Lincoln has a total breakdown, and is “nursed” back to health by a doctor using methods such as bloodletting and mercury treatments. Mary Todd’s own undiagnosed issues are manifested in debilitating migraines. With the help of Speed and other friends, they are eventually reunited, engaged again and married.
Completely rendered in black and white, Van Sciver’s pen-and-ink, crosshatch style is perfect in telling the story of our beloved sixteenth president’s pre-wedlock years. He captures Lincoln as often ill-at-ease, bumbling, and very much prone to sadness, but who is also occasionally able to command a room with amusing tales, poetic language, and political finesse. The frontier, with all its grime, poverty, and its class divide is also intensely illustrated, placing the reader directly into the setting. Readers of David Herbert Donald’s biography Lincoln, Joshua Shenk’s Lincoln’s Melancholy, and those interested in the biopic of the legendary president (starring Daniel Day-Lewis) will find much to appreciate in this graphic presentation.
Anyone who has ever played Milton Bradley's The Game of Life knows that, whether you are winning or losing, players inexorably move in one direction. Fresh faced college graduates turn into employees who become parents and eventually, if all goes well, age gracefully into retirement. But real life doesn't really end (or start) that way. Jill Lepore, Pultizer Prize finalist and frequent essayist for The New Yorker, challenges our understanding of the origins and rules of the modern game of life in her recent book, The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death.
Lepore uses Bradley's game and its antecedents (one which carries the name of the book) to frame her humorous and often biting discourse on such disparate topics as abortion, cryogenics, time management, and children's libraries. Each chapter explores an aspect of a different stage of life, starting with before birth and ending after death along with nearly everything in between. In every section, Lepore features an eccentric, influential, and often morally ambiguous cast of characters who have all shaped how we view our lives and our society. She draws these wide-ranging people and subjects into a fluid and accessible narrative that is, though not historically comprehensive, certainly thought provoking and resonant for a modern audience. And for those who are especially inquisitive Lepore provides a wealth of footnotes and a well-developed index, which the more casual reader can safely avoid. Like many of the best histories, The Mansion of Happiness uncovers insights into our twenty-first century lives in the decisions, coincidences, and consequences of the past. Fans of American history and the intellectually curious will both be satisfied with this engaging and compelling journey through the game of life.
History abounds with innovators, leaders, peacemakers and visionaries, men and women who have performed great deeds in the world and have earned their respective chapters in the history books. Chris Mikul’s latest work is no such history book. Instead, The Eccentropedia: The Most Unusual People Who Have Ever Lived is a delightful hodgepodge of 226 of history’s most unusual characters – charmers, madmen and ne’er-do-wells who are worthy of an amusing footnote, if not a chapter in the hallowed halls of history.
One such is Edward William Cole, who rose to become the most successful bookseller in Australia. Born in 1832, the son of a laborer, Cole possessed an extraordinary flair for advertising, which he utilized to found increasingly successful book arcades and even to find a wife. More than an excellent businessman, Cole was a generous spirit, who would allow patrons to read in his arcades all day without purchase. He also vehemently opposed racism and published pamphlets expounding its absurdity.
Mikul’s book is peppered with similarly curious histories. He reveals the darker side of Bobby Fischer, the genius widely considered to be history’s finest chess player. He also delves into the history of Hetty Green, one of Wall Street’s savviest and wealthiest investors, whose investment acumen was matched only by her obsessive stinginess, a predilection which ultimately cost her son his leg. Mikul offers the compelling tale of Moondog, the blind street dweller with an extraordinary gift for music whose Norse-inspired apparel earned him the moniker “Viking of 6th Avenue.” A celebration of nonconformists, mavericks, and the just plain bizarre, Mikul’s collection of character vignettes is broadly recommended for readers who seek to be immediately engaged by their reading material.