J.C. Hallman had only a passing awareness of writer Nicholson Baker when he quite impulsively became obsessed with the man and his work. He not only had erroneously thought that Baker was British, but considered him a “nonessential” writer. That indifference changed into fixation nearly overnight. Hallman plunged into all of Baker’s fiction and nonfiction, a project that morphed into the deeper contemplation of literature and life that he chronicles with candor, humor and insight in B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal.
The most notable assassination in history, of probably the single most influential man in European history, occurred in 44 B.C. The event changed the world, but not as the assassins had planned. Why and how did it happen? In The Death of Caesar, history and classics professor Barry Strauss offers both excellent historical detective work and riveting prose.
The Spanish Civil War, fought between 1936 and 1939, was the first struggle against fascism in Europe as the powers of Germany and Italy, for their own purposes, joined with General Francisco Franco’s Nationalist (rebel) forces to oust the elected government. Although the Western democracies adopted a policy of nonintervention, volunteers came from many countries to assist the Republican government in the hope that fascism could be stopped. Unfortunately, five months after the Spanish war ended, World War II began in Europe. As Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb and Dark Sun) shows in his fast-paced, often moving and revealing new book Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and the World It Made, the earlier war served in numerous ways as a laboratory for the larger war.
If Elena Gorokhova’s splendid second memoir merely conveyed to readers a vivid, almost visceral understanding of the sometimes paralyzing sense of dislocation she experienced arriving in the United States in 1980 from the Soviet Union, that alone would be reason enough to read it. On her first day in the U.S., for instance, she visits the air-conditioned Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum with the American husband she barely knows, and wonders, “Why are there no smells? Russia assaults you in your nostrils: milk always on the verge of turning sour, the wet wool of winter coats we wear everyday for five months, rubber phone booth tiles buckled with urine. . . .”
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.