Hard as it might be to imagine, readers of Ben Mezrich’s Once Upon a Time in Russia could find themselves feeling a certain sympathy for Vladimir Putin. Sure, the new Russian president was trying to seize control of the news media in 2000 when he forced television magnate Boris Berezovsky to sell his business. But Berezovsky was, to put it mildly, a handful.
In his early Cold War novels, John le Carré referred to something called “Moscow Rules”: the tradecraft used by spies in a hostile city when they had to be super-cautious to avoid getting caught. If you want to learn the 21st-century equivalent of those rules, The Spy’s Son is a great place to start—although in real life, they don’t always work as smoothly as in fiction.
What with all the CSI television dramas, books by FBI profilers and frightening news stories about serial killers, we’ve become quite familiar with the concept of the criminal psychopath, a person without remorse. But even now, most of us are shocked when a child is a murderer. In 1874, when our current ideas about mental illness were still in their infancy, 14-year-old Jesse Pomeroy seemed to many like a demon from hell.
If you’re an author with a family ghost, it would seem almost obligatory to write about it. Hannah Nordhaus’ “paternal grandfather’s maternal grandmother,” Julia -Staab, haunts La Posada hotel in Santa Fe (or so lots of people believe). In American Ghost, Nordhaus offers a fascinating and nuanced account of her ancestral ghost story and her complicated clan.
“I could’ve been a judge, but I never ’ad the Latin. . . . And so I become a miner instead.” So starts the bitterly funny “Miner’s Sketch” from the 1960s revue Beyond the Fringe, which gave Americans a sense of the long, brutal class war in Britain between coal miners and the ruling class. Neither emerged intact.
To imagine what life was like growing up in a French village in the early 15th century, don’t think of A Year in Provence. Think of modern-day Syria.
Most non-poetry-reading Americans first encountered Richard Blanco in 2013, when he was the presidential inauguration poet. On that occasion, his moving poem “One Today” made passing reference to his Spanish-speaking mother who rang up groceries for 20 years and his father who cut sugarcane so Richard could move ahead in the family’s new country.
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.
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.
Historian Catherine Bailey was all set to write a book about the impact of World War I on the people who lived on the Duke of Rutland’s huge estate in the Midlands of England. As part of her research, she delved into the family archives at the duke’s stately home, Belvoir Castle—and found another story that makes the fictional shenanigans at Downton Abbey look like a tea...