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.
When we think about technology and innovation, the names that come to mind immediately are Bill Gates and Steve Jobs—maybe Steve Wozniak or Paul Allen for the more hard-core geeks among us.
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.
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.
The 1970s were a tumultuous time in the U.S, defined by such events as the Vietnam War; the Watergate scandal; the Arab oil boycott; serious economic problems; and shocking revelations about illegal activities by our intelligence agencies. At one point, a Gallup poll found that 68 percent of Americans believed the government lied to them. All of this happened as the nation, somewhat dispirited, celebrated its bicentennial. Drawing on a vast array of sources, Rick Perlstein captures all of this and more in his sweeping, insightful and richly rewarding The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.
Miles J. Unger’s magisterial new biography, Michelangelo: A Life in Six Masterpieces, tells its subject’s life story through the lens of his art—appropriately so, given Michelangelo’s willful transmutation of the role of the Renaissance artist. When Michelangelo began his apprenticeship, artists were seen as little more than craftsmen, churning out statuary and paintings to decorate the villas and churches of the wealthy nobility. Michelangelo’s greatest achievement—in Unger’s portrayal—is not to be found in his artwork (the statue of David or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel) but rather in his creation of the artist himself as secular genius.
While teaching a group of volunteers about marine stewardship one morning, researcher Ken Balcomb was confronted with a crisis the likes of which he'd never seen: an inexplicable mass stranding of beaked whales. While racing up and down the Bahamas coastline, trying to save lives or at least preserve specimens for autopsy, he struggled to comprehend what could have caused the whales such trauma. When the U.S. Navy's sonar program was implicated, Balcomb was torn; proud of his own service record, he nonetheless broke confidentiality about Navy practices to try and save the lives of whales. Joining forces with environmental lawyer Joel Reynolds, the two face off against a government in the throes of a national security panic in War of the Whales.
Fond looks back at profound dysfunction have become so commonplace, it’s a wonder there’s not a “crazy parenting” section in bookstores to help the next generation of memoirists get a leg up. At this point, crazy itself is not sufficient reason to publish. In Take This Man, Brando Skyhorse, who won a PEN/Hemingway Award for his first novel (The Madonnas of Echo Park), captures the details of his dysfunctional upbringing with note-perfect language and does so in pursuit of the truth about his family.
If you want a gut-level understanding of why preservation of the Earth’s biodiversity is vital to the survival of our own species, Edward O. Wilson’s new book, A Window on Eternity, is an excellent place to start.
Rob Lowe is dishing, again. Three years after the publication of his surprisingly engaging memoir, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, the former Brat Packer-turned-TV veteran has penned Love Life, a collection of essay-type ruminations that are a mix of the surreal and the serious.