In mid-19th-century America, newspapers were the primary sources of information and opinion. Most newspaper publishers and editors were closely aligned with politicians and, with few exceptions, opinions were emphasized more than news and loyalty to political parties more than the public interest. It was a time of significant change for the newspaper industry with technological innovations such as steam-driven printing presses and, most importantly, the telegraph, making delivery of the news much faster.
While we all know George Washington as our first president and leader of American forces in the Revolutionary War, in The Return of George Washington: 1783-1789, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Edward J. Larson illuminates another key role he played: leading the Constitutional Convention.
In 2010, the world watched the dramatic rescue of 33 Chilean miners who had endured 69 days buried a half-mile underground. The men, who agreed in advance that they would only tell their story collectively, talked to Héctor Tobar, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who had exclusive access to the miners. They were generous and unsparing as they shared their experiences with him, resulting in a narrative that’s both harrowing and deeply moving.
In our media-saturated Age of Celebrity, it can be hard to fathom that there was once a time when people were not famous merely for being famous. While today we think of Oscar Wilde as an eminent playwright and novelist, he was one of the first self-made public figures, who crafted his persona and gained widespread renown long before he had done anything of much note. An early impetus behind his fame was a lecture tour he made to the United States in 1882, when he was only 27 years old and the author of one tepidly reviewed, self-published volume of verse.
On April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr., stepped into the pulpit of Riverside Church in New York City and delivered a thunderous sermon opposing the war in Vietnam. In that now-famous moment, King denounced the strident militarism of the American government—describing it as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today"— and outlined what he saw as the connections between the war effort, racism and poverty.
At the time Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, he did not have a definite plan for dealing with the postwar South. Although 360,000 Union troops had died during the Civil War, the North had not suffered the widespread devastation of the Southern states. The nine million white citizens and four million former slaves who lived in the former Confederacy faced a grim future.
You can get away with quite a lot if no one takes you very seriously. Like carrying military intelligence about the Union army through enemy lines to deliver it to the Confederates. Or hiding Union POW escapees in your attic while Confederate officers are boarding downstairs at your home.
When 43-year-old John F. Kennedy assumed the U.S. presidency in January 1961, he appeared to have little in common with 66-year-old British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. The latter, son of an American mother and a British father, was a publisher, conservative politician and statesman and a wounded hero of World War I. Despite many personal differences, the two leaders shared a love of books and reading. Christopher Sandford writes engagingly of their close relationship during some of the most important years of the Cold War in Harold and Jack: The Remarkable Friendship of Prime Minister Macmillan and President Kennedy, a fascinating glimpse into the role of personal relationships in diplomacy.
On July 8, 1879, cheering throngs watched as the USS Jeannette set out from San Francisco and sailed off like a “long dark pencil of shadow standing straight up against the vivid sunset.” Under the command of officer George Washington De Long, the steamer and its crew were attempting to reach the North Pole and confirm a then--popular theory that the polar sea remained ice-free and open north of the Bering Strait. The expedition was funded by James Gordon Bennett Jr., the wealthy and eccentric owner of the New York Herald, who had also financed Stanley’s mission to Africa to find Dr. Livingstone.
Leonardo da Vinci was an outlier in so many ways: a peripatetic polymath, handsome, unmarried, an innovator, unquestionably an artistic genius. He doesn’t typify his era any more than geniuses ever do. Leonardo was a party of one.