Contemporary views of the Mormon Church have been shaped by influences as disparate as the Broadway hit The Book of Mormon, the HBO series “Big Love” and the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney. Suffice it to say that most Americans have a shallow understanding of Mormonism. Some view Mormons as squeaky-clean apostles doing door-to-door missionary work. Others label Mormons as hedonistic polygamists, even though multiple marriages have been prohibited for more than a century by the official Mormon Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
On the heels of her death in February comes an intriguing new book examining the legacy of Shirley Temple. Author John F. Kasson confines his study to the child star’s impact on popular culture at a time when escapist entertainment was both luxury and dire necessity. The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression may sound like hyperbole, but Temple’s impact on the nation’s self-image proves unimpeachable.
Pedestrianism is the biggest American sport craze you’ve never heard of. Imagine thousands of rowdy fans, drinking and smoking, packed into Madison Square Garden for days on end. What is this event they are watching and betting on, that’s making headlines in all the newspapers? Men in tights are walking around a track. For six days.
In August 1891, a young physician named Arthur Conan Doyle made an impulsive decision to travel to Berlin to attend a much-anticipated lecture on tuberculosis by the renowned scientist Robert Koch. The two men had much in common, as author Thomas Goetz points out in his fascinating new book, The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis.
No burning bushes need apply, nor any partings of the sea, and definitely not any tablets of the Law given to Moses at Mount Sinai, written (as the Torah reports) by the finger of God Himself. For historian Simon Schama, The Story of the Jews belongs only and literally—splendidly and literately—to what can be found written down in Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic or any other of the languages spoken and written by Jews over millennia of wandering.
Michael Rockefeller, the 23-year-old son of then New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, disappeared in 1961 while on an art-collecting trip in the Asmat region along the coast of southwest New Guinea. His boat capsized in rough waters, and, after he and a companion had waited overnight for rescue, Rockefeller decided to swim to shore, buoyed by two empty gasoline cans. He was never seen again—at least not by any witnesses who’ve been willing to come forward.
The damp practically floats off the pages in Astoria, the sweeping tale of John Jacob Astor’s attempt to settle the remote Pacific Northwest coast in 1810. Astor’s vast wealth enabled him to send two expeditions: one over land and one by ship. His plan was to set up a fur trade, the first on this particularly harsh stretch of the West Coast. Whoever could settle the area would lay claim to a vast area rich with sea otter and beaver fur, salmon and other seafood.
Dreaming of April in Paris? In How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City, astute cultural observer Joan DeJean argues that Paris has been a modern, alluring city far longer than we usually imagine. Although we tend to think of 19th-century Paris as the bustling epitome of “la vie moderne,” the roots of all we know and love about Paris today actually came into being in the 17th century.
On July 21, 1999, a crane lowered experienced construction diver DJ Gillis and four other men down a 420-foot shaft to the opening of an almost 10-mile tunnel beneath Deer Island in Boston Harbor. At the end of the day, only three men would return alive.
At the time of his death, Abraham Lincoln was immensely popular with the Northern public. The country’s political elite, however, regarded him as a good country lawyer ill-suited to deal with the heavy responsibilities of a wartime presidency. Influential writers and politicians of all stripes blamed him for a series of political blunders.