Saving Mona Lisa: The Battle to Protect the Louvre and its Treasures from the Nazis

Saving Mona Lisa: The Battle to Protect the Louvre and its Treasures from the NazisSaving Mona Lisa: The Battle to Protect the Louvre and its Treasures from the Nazis
by Gerri Chanel
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781785784163
Publication Date: September 1, 2018
Pages: 377
Genre: History, Non-fiction
Publisher: Icon Books

In August 1939, curators at the Louvre nestled the world's most famous painting into a special red velvet-lined case and spirited her away to the Loire Valley. So began the biggest evacuation of art and antiquities in history. As the Germans neared Paris in 1940, the French raced to move the masterpieces still further south, then again and again during the war, crisscrossing the southwest of France. Throughout the German occupation, the museum staff fought to keep the priceless treasures out of the hands of Hitler and his henchmen, often risking their lives to protect the country's artistic heritage.

Thus a story that features as a vignette in the George Clooney film The Monuments Men is given the full-length treatment it demands. The recipient of several independent publishing awards in the United States, and illustrated throughout with nearly 100 photographs, Saving Mona Lisa is a compelling true story of art and beauty, intrigue and ingenuity, and remarkable moral courage in the darkest of times.


The copyediting in my hardcover edition is total crap, and the narrative dragged a wee bit in the middle – although I doubt nearly as much as the same point in the actual war felt like it did for those that had to go through it – but otherwise, and excellent book about exactly what it says on the wrapper.  Concise, focused, and written to be easily read (if not for the bad copyediting), Chanel does a masterful job at juggling an enormous number of French and German players, and the unbelievable efforts curators, guards and volunteers went through to protect the art of Louvre.   The fact that she does this without deviating into politics or resistance efforts that don’t directly pertain to the protection and conservation of the art made me appreciate the read even more.

Though I’ve been to France, I’ve not been to Paris; I knew, of course, that the Louvre isn’t a po-dunk museum, but until I read this book and saw the photos included (alas, all black and white but better than none), I really hadn’t comprehended the sheer vastness of their collections.  And of course, having been to other world museums, I know that ‘art’ comprises many different mediums, but when I first imagined the evacuation of the ‘art’ prior to the outbreak of war in France, my mind’s eye thought, of course, ‘paintings’.  Nevermind the Winged Victory of Samotrace, a sculpture coming in at just around 3.5 tons.  And I never considered the paintings that were huge that had to be rolled up on giant oak poles, or Raft of the Medusa, that couldn’t be rolled because the artist used bitumen for the black, which never dries but remains sticky.  Evacuating that piece alone was a tale.  And the Bayeux Tapestry?  That tale is one that can only be marvelled at in retrospect; in the moment it must have been … I don’t know, but I image the three meant who lived it got very, very drunk afterwards.

An engaging read.

Histories of the Unexpected: How Everything has a History

Histories of the UnexpectedHistories of the Unexpected
by James Daybell, Sam Willis
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9781786494122
Publication Date: October 1, 2018
Pages: 467
Genre: History, Non-fiction
Publisher: Atlantic Books

In this fascinating and original new book, Sam Willis and James Daybell lead us on a journey of historical discovery that tackles some of the greatest historical themes - from the Tudors to the Second World War, from the Roman Empire to the Victorians - but via entirely unexpected subjects.

You will find out here how the history of the beard is connected to the Crimean War; how the history of paperclips is all about the Stasi; how the history of bubbles is all about the French Revolution. And who knew that Heinrich Himmler, Tutankhamun and the history of needlework are linked to napalm and Victorian orphans?

Taking the reader on an enthralling and extraordinary journey through thirty different topics that are ingeniously linked together, Histories of the Unexpected not only presents a new way of thinking about the past, but also reveals the everyday world around us as never before.


This was a weird one.  The book focuses on the premise that everything has a history beyond the obvious, including things like bubbles, clouds and itching, and it’s written in a stream-of-consciousness style, so that the history of hands leads to gloves, leads to perfume, etc.  The authors host a podcast by the same name, so I’m guessing this book is the result of the podcast’s success.

It sort of works.  I genuinely enjoy reading history from any viewpoint that doesn’t include wars, battles, skirmishes, politics, genocides or religious persecutions, and for the most part this book delivered on that.  At times the authors slipped into their true historian selves and some of the above made an appearance.  I skimmed those sections, and skipped sections that included histories involving animal cruelty, but there was very little of both.

The writing was good enough to hold a reader’s attention, but the structure of the book lends itself to limited attention spans, or for dipping into a chapter at a time.  Since it’s designed to bounce around, it’s difficult to get absorbed in the reading of it.

Possibly a good choice for a young adult reluctant to see the point of history.

The Madman’s Library: The Strangest Books, Manuscripts and Other Literary Curiosities from History

The Madman's LibraryThe Madman's Library
by Edward Brooke-Hitching
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781471166914
Publication Date: October 7, 2020
Pages: 255
Genre: Books and Reading, History, Non-fiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

This is a madman’s library of eccentric and extraordinary volumes from around the world, many of which have been completely forgotten. Books written in blood and books that kill, books of the insane and books that hoaxed the globe, books invisible to the naked eye and books so long they could destroy the Universe, books worn into battle, books of code and cypher whose secrets remain undiscovered… and a few others that are just plain weird.

From the 605-page Qur'an written in the blood of Saddam Hussein, through the gorgeously decorated 15th-century lawsuit filed by the Devil against Jesus, to the lost art of binding books with human skin, every strand of strangeness imaginable (and many inconceivable) has been unearthed and bound together for a unique and richly illustrated collection ideal for every book-lover.


I knew I wanted this book as soon as I saw it; gorgeously illustrated in full colour, and really well written, this is exactly what is purports to be.  Broken into categorical chapters that include “Books that aren’t Books”; “Books Made of Flesh and Blood”; “Literary Hoaxes”, etc., the book covers a comprehensive span of the beautiful, the frightful and the unusual.

I enjoyed Brooke-Hitching’s writing style, appreciating his small infusions of humour as well as the information he imparted about each category and specific books. It was easy to read, but not easy reading; I found reading a chapter at a time worked well for my comprehension and enjoyment – the one time I tried to read more in one sitting, I found my eyes glazing over.

All in all, an enjoyable book and one that I’m happy to have on my bookshelves.

Einstein’s War: How Relativity Triumphed Amid the Vicious Nationalism of WWI

Einstein's War: How Relativity Triumphed Amid the Vicious Nationalism of World War IEinstein's War: How Relativity Triumphed Amid the Vicious Nationalism of World War I
by Matthew Stanley
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781524745417
Publication Date: May 21, 2019
Pages: 391
Genre: History, Science
Publisher: Dutton

Few recognize how the Great War, the industrialized slaughter that bled Europe from 1914 to 1918, shaped Einstein&;s life and work. While Einstein never held a rifle, he formulated general relativity blockaded in Berlin, literally starving. He lost fifty pounds in three months, unable to communicate with his most important colleagues. Some of those colleagues fought against rabid nationalism; others were busy inventing chemical warfare&;being a scientist trapped you in the power plays of empire. Meanwhile, Einstein struggled to craft relativity and persuade the world that it was correct. This was, after all, the first complete revision of our conception of the universe since Isaac Newton, and its victory was far from sure.

Scientists seeking to confirm Einstein&;s ideas were arrested as spies. Technical journals were banned as enemy propaganda. Colleagues died in the trenches. Einstein was separated from his most crucial ally by barbed wire and U-boats. This ally was the Quaker astronomer and Cambridge don A. S. Eddington, who would go on to convince the world of the truth of relativity and the greatness of Einstein.

In May of 1919, when Europe was still in chaos from the war, Eddington led a globe-spanning expedition to catch a fleeting solar eclipse for a rare opportunity to confirm Einstein&;s bold prediction that light has weight. It was the result of this expedition&;the proof of relativity, as many saw it&;that put Einstein on front pages around the world. Matthew Stanley&;s epic tale is a celebration of how bigotry and nationalism can be defeated and of what science can offer when they are.


As I mentioned in an earlier reading status post, I was both drawn to this book and apprehensive about reading it.  I wanted it for the bits about Einstein and relativity, but I’ve had it up to my eyeballs in the hypocrisy and vicious hate that’s the order of our days (unless I’m at the hydrotherapy pool, and then I’m all about the hate, because seriously, parents need to learn, and then teach their unruly monsters, some damn common courtesy – especially when they share the pool with frail, injured and/or elderly tax-payers.  But I digress.)

I decided to read the prologue and was immediately sucked in, and I figured I could skim the war bits if they started dragging me down.  The war bits did drag me down, but I didn’t skim, because this book was so much more than I expected it to be in a lot of unexpected ways.

This book is not only the story of how Einstein became Einstein, it’s the story about how his theory came into this world, bit by bit, painful mistake after painful fruitless searching, with duct-tape slapped on and removed, rationalisations made, and the whole thing scrapped and started over again.  I found this part enlightening because modern tellings tend to make people think the general theory of relativity just sprouted fully formed one day from Einstein’s pencil.  I also enjoyed his small attempts, with illustrations, to describe aspects of relativity, and that he included details about some of the thought experiments that Einstein used.

This book is also about A.S. Eddington, a brilliant British mathematician turned astronomer, a Quaker, and a conscientious objector during WWI.  It’s about how his faith informed every part of his life, and his refusal to divorce his religious beliefs from his work when the British government tried to demand it of him.  It’s about how his religion guided his efforts to repair the integrity of international science when it was thought to be irreconcilably broken, and how his choice for this international bridge building – proving a calculation that verified Einstein’s theory of relativity, via the 1919 solar eclipse – and how he went about doing it, was largely responsible for turning Einstein into science’s first and only genuine superstar.  It’s about one man’s efforts to quietly and modestly fight the vicious hate and anger that permeated every part of the UK at the time.

I loved this book.  I took half a star off because the author’s fast and loose, zig-zagging time lines during the war years drove me crazy.  I know it’s difficult to be linear about complex historical events that happened in tandem, but I’d be reading about events in 1918, thinking we were getting to the end of the war, and suddenly the author had me back in 1917 without the appropriate signage.  This happened a few times and left me lost on every occasion.

But putting that aside, I loved this book.  I wasn’t expecting the respect the author showed towards Eddington’s religious integrity.  I wasn’t expecting the author’s objectivity when acknowledging Einstein’s controversies, small though they might seem in the grand scheme of things.  (I’m completely icked out by the fact that he told Elsa and her daughter that it made no difference to him which one of them he married.)

I liked that Stanley addressed and discussed the question of how much Einstein’s ex-wife Mileva may have contributed to his work, and I really liked how the author included the female scientists throughout the years that touched on Einstein’s work or life.  I loved that when he did so, it was casually, in the same narrative tone and voice he used for everything else in the book, like women working in science wasn’t special, or unique.  He was honest about their chances of advancement, or of even getting paid, but he didn’t treat them like they were some rare exotic or token.

Where the author really earned my respect though, was at the end.  Up until that last chapter, I thought the book insightful, thoughtful, well-written and engaging, but the last chapter really brought home the author’s sense of balance.  I can do no better than to quote him.  Warning, this quote is long.

Everyone wants a simple explanation for why things turn out as
they do. Popper thought the expeditions were extraordinary and made
them exemplars of good science. Everitt thought the expeditions were
biased and made them exemplars of bad science. Collins and Pinch
thought the expeditions were shaped by politics and authority, and
made them exemplars of socially constructed science

Einstein’s War has been a story about how none of those are enough.
Einstein and relativity’s victory involved good science, bad science,
politics, and personal authority. Any episode in science does. None of
those mean relativity is wrong (it has been confirmed many, many
times since then) or that Eddington fudged the numbers (there were
good reasons to trust the 1919 results). Science is done by people. That
means it will be inherently complicated and often confusing. People
will make mistakes, equipment will break, poor decisions will be made
because of political or personal bias.

Note that you could replace “science” and “scientist” in this last paragraph with any profession in the world today and it would be just as apt, and just as relevant.

We do not have to be forced into extremes. The presence of human
scientists does not make science unreliable. We need to understand,
though, what science-done-by-people actually looks like and how it
works. That means leaving behind some comforting myths about the
dispassionate, purely rational, always-objective nature of science. The
deeply human, sometimes chaotic story of relativity is not an excep-
tion. It is an exemplar. Science is messy, it is also a powerful way to
learn about the real world around us.

By the end of this book I was wanting to yell “Preach it!”  Given that I’ve never uttered those two words, never-mind thought them, in the whole of my modestly repressed life, they’re probably the best summation for just how much this book resonated with me.  Overall, it as just a really excellent read.

Reading Status: Einstein’s War: How Relativity Triumphed Amid the Vicious Nationalism of World War I

Einstein's War: How Relativity Triumphed Amid the Vicious Nationalism of World War IEinstein's War: How Relativity Triumphed Amid the Vicious Nationalism of World War I
by Matthew Stanley
isbn: 9781524745417
Publication Date: May 21, 2019
Pages: 391
Genre: History, Science
Publisher: Dutton

Few recognize how the Great War, the industrialized slaughter that bled Europe from 1914 to 1918, shaped Einstein&;s life and work. While Einstein never held a rifle, he formulated general relativity blockaded in Berlin, literally starving. He lost fifty pounds in three months, unable to communicate with his most important colleagues. Some of those colleagues fought against rabid nationalism; others were busy inventing chemical warfare&;being a scientist trapped you in the power plays of empire. Meanwhile, Einstein struggled to craft relativity and persuade the world that it was correct. This was, after all, the first complete revision of our conception of the universe since Isaac Newton, and its victory was far from sure.

Scientists seeking to confirm Einstein&;s ideas were arrested as spies. Technical journals were banned as enemy propaganda. Colleagues died in the trenches. Einstein was separated from his most crucial ally by barbed wire and U-boats. This ally was the Quaker astronomer and Cambridge don A. S. Eddington, who would go on to convince the world of the truth of relativity and the greatness of Einstein.

In May of 1919, when Europe was still in chaos from the war, Eddington led a globe-spanning expedition to catch a fleeting solar eclipse for a rare opportunity to confirm Einstein&;s bold prediction that light has weight. It was the result of this expedition&;the proof of relativity, as many saw it&;that put Einstein on front pages around the world. Matthew Stanley&;s epic tale is a celebration of how bigotry and nationalism can be defeated and of what science can offer when they are.


I picked this off the TBR shelves yesterday because Einstein!  I almost put it back because Nationalism! War! and I’m in the mood for neither.  I decided to read the prologue, and got completely sucked in.

I’m only 60 pages in, so Einstein and Eddington are still relative newbies to the science scene and WWI is only a gleam in Kaiser Wilhelm II’s eye, but I’m thoroughly sucked it.  I’m really enjoying the author’s way of leading the reader through all  of Einstein’s papers, so it’s apparent that the general theory of relativity was a process that was built upon, layer by layer, instead of something that sprouted fully formed one day.  I’m also appreciating the graphs and illustrations, even if the mathematical formulas are way over my pay-grade.

I’m really hoping my zeal for the book will withstand WWI.

One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America

One Day: The Extraordinary Story Of An Ordinary 24 Hours In AmericaOne Day: The Extraordinary Story Of An Ordinary 24 Hours In America
by Gene Weingarten
Rating: ★★★★★
isbn: 9780399166662
Publication Date: October 22, 2019
Pages: 375
Genre: History
Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Two-time Pulitzer Prize–winner Gene Weingarten explores the events of a random day in U.S. history, offering a diorama of American life that illuminates all that has changed—and all that hasn’t—in the past three decades.

On New Year’s Day 2013, two-time Pulitzer Prize–winner Gene Weingarten asked three strangers to, literally, pluck a day, month, and year from a hat. That day—chosen completely at random—turned out to be Sunday, December 28, 1986, by any conventional measure a most ordinary day. Weingarten spent the next six years proving that there is no such thing.

That Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s turned out to be filled with comedy, tragedy, implausible irony, cosmic comeuppances, kindness, cruelty, heroism, cowardice, genius, idiocy, prejudice, selflessness, coincidence, and startling moments of human connection, along with evocative foreshadowing of momentous events yet to come. Lives were lost. Lives were saved. Lives were altered in overwhelming ways. Many of these events never made it into the news; they were private dramas in the lives of private people. They were utterly compelling.

One Day asks and answers the question of whether there is even such a thing as “ordinary” when we are talking about how we all lurch and stumble our way through the daily, daunting challenge of being human.


The subtitle of this book should have been The Extraordinary Stories of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America; it would have better encapsulated what this book is about, in a way.

A day was chosen at random – December 28, 1986 – and Weingarten digs into the stories and events that happened in that 24 hours, fleshing out their backstories and, in some cases, providing epilogues (I appreciated this; it always annoys me that news outlets rarely follow up on stories).  Some of them are beyond tragic; events that were catalysts for change both at home and around the world.  Some of the stories are terrible and shocking on a more personal level, and many are hopeful, a few inspiring, and a couple are downright cheerful.

I remember being drawn to this book by the striking cover, and thinking that I’d enjoyed Bill Bryson’s One Summer, so I grabbed it on impulse when it first came out.  It languished on my TBR for the last 3 years, give or take, until I finally grabbed it last weekend, and it grabbed me right back. Weingarten is a journalist, so the narrative voice is unapologetically journalistic, but he’s a 2 time Pulitzer winning journalist, so the writing is excellent.  I found myself deeply involved in each and every story – even the ones I’d really rather have been more detached from.  I was both reading parts out to MT, and telling him you really need to read this yourself.  The stories are American, but very few of them are uniquely American; they’re stories of the human experience and for the most part could be the experiences of anyone, anyplace.

Weingarten didn’t quite stick the landing; the wrap up was a tiny bit messy and might have been tighter, neater, had he ended it a page sooner, but it’s a negligible niggle and really didn’t detract from a fascinating read.

Conan Doyle for the Defence

Conan Doyle for the DefenceConan Doyle for the Defence
by Margalit Fox
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781781253564
Publication Date: July 25, 2018
Pages: 318
Genre: Non-fiction
Publisher: Profile Books

Just before Christmas 1908, Marion Gilchrist, a wealthy 82-year-old spinster, was found bludgeoned to death in her Glasgow home. A valuable diamond brooch was missing, and police soon fastened on a suspect - Oscar Slater, a Jewish immigrant who was rumoured to have a disreputable character. Slater had an alibi, but was nonetheless convicted and sentenced to death, later commuted to life imprisonment in the notorious Peterhead Prison.

Seventeen years later, a convict called William Gordon was released from Peterhead. Concealed in a false tooth was a message, addressed to the only man Slater thought could help him - Arthur Conan Doyle. Always a champion of the downtrodden, Conan Doyle turned his formidable talents to freeing Slater, deploying a forensic mind worthy of Sherlock Holmes.

Drawing from original sources including Oscar Slater's prison letters, this is Margalit Fox's vivid and compelling account of one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in Scottish history.


 

4 stars for the writing, but I bumped it up .5 star because I learned a lot I didn’t know before I started.

The title is something of a misnomer, as it implies that Conan Doyle was an active participant in the defence of Oscar Slater, and he wasn’t – he didn’t involve himself until several years after Slater’s conviction and incarceration.  Once he did, however, he did it to devastating effect, but to no avail; it wasn’t until he renewed his efforts some 15 years later, in partnership with an investigative journalist, William Park, that the gears of justice finally started to grind.

As much as this book is about the gross injustice served upon Oscar Slater (it was indeed Scotland’s Dreyfus affair), it’s also a revealing look into Scotland at the turn of the century, when science was just beginning to gain its capital “S” but society still stood firmly in the class and morality rigid past.  The level of anti-Semitism was profound, something I would never have associated with Scotland, such is my ignorance of history.

In my status update, I had gotten just to the point in the book where it looked like the author was going to make an argument for pre-meditation on behalf of the Glasgow police, in framing Slater for the crime, while at the same time detailing the force’s stupidity.  Her argument didn’t proceed quite along the lines it looked to be headed, but she did, in the end, paint the force as being results-oriented to the point of gross injustice.  It’s clear that the only concern was not only an arrest and conviction, but an arrest and conviction of somebody deemed undesirable; an effort to kill two birds with one stone.  That they were willing to forge documents and browbeat witnesses into perjury is clearly documented and the only greater injustice than the one done to Slater is that those most guilty were all dead before they could be held to account for their own crimes.

Because the story of just Conan Doyle’s participation in releasing Slater would have been more a pamphlet than a book, the text is liberally padded with small biographies of Slater, Conan Doyle, and Joseph Bell, as well as chapters detailing the types of reasoning used for investigation, and previous cases where Conan Doyle’s assistance prevailed in either convicting the right man, or releasing the one wrongly convicted.  A small detour towards the end is made into Conan Doyle’s foray into the paranormal, and the author tried to tie it into the book by speculating that it might have negated his influence with the Scottish authorities, a justification that I don’t think she really established.

I feel like this book is one packs enough into a seemingly straightforward narrative as to offer almost endless avenues for discussions covering a wide variety of topics.  As I said at the start, I learned a lot (granted I wasn’t starting from a very learned position); I found the narrative easy to read and much more engrossing than I originally expected and I came away with an even deeper respect for Conan Doyle than I started with.

Darjeeling: A History of the World’s Greatest Tea

Darjeeling: A History of the World's Greatest TeaDarjeeling: A History of the World's Greatest Tea
by Jeff Koehler
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781408845929
Publication Date: January 1, 2015
Pages: 291
Genre: History, Non-fiction, Plants / Agriculture
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

Set against the backdrop of the looming Himalayas and drenching monsoons, this is the story of how Darjeeling developed its tea industry under Imperial British rule and eventually came to produce the world's finest leaves. But today the industry is battling dropping production ,a violent struggle for independent statehood, labour unrest and the devastating effect of climate change. It's the story, too, of the measures being taken to counter these challenges and save India's most exclusive and iconic brew that are nothing short of radical.

A fascinating portrait of the region and a story rich in intrigue and empire, full of adventurers and romance, it illuminates the historic, arcane and changing world of this celebrated tea.

Winner of the 2016 IACP Award: Literary Food Writing


Finished this last night and it was a solid 4 star read for me.  It might have been 4.5 save for a dull chapter or two on the colonial history between India and Great Britain.  Lots of names, dates, and skirmishes, with back-and-forths between time periods that just made my eyes glaze over.  But at 19 chapters, the book had plenty of chapters to make it up to me, and it mostly did.

Written in a ‘feature article’ style, the author frames the book and its chapters within the tea-picking seasons, called flushes.  Spring flush, second flush, monsoon flush and autumn flush, tying the trajectory Darjeeling tea finds itself into the advancement of the seasons. These ‘preludes’ to the chapters are written in a flowery, evocative style that mostly works, although at times seems to try a tiny bit too hard.

In general terms the book set out what it meant to do: educate me about tea.  As someone whose circulatory system is, at any given time, roughly 75% tea, I was shockingly ignorant about my life’s blood, so the book was destined to succeed.  I knew nothing about CTC vs. orthodox teas (CTC is the mechanical process of cut, tear, curl, while orthodox tea is still almost entirely hand processes) and while I’d heard of Darjeeling tea, of course, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you it’s considered the world’s best tea, or that the vast majority of it is certified organic.  The importance when it’s picked has on its taste is also going to make it easier for me to find my go-to black teas; I’m pretty sure I’m a solid spring-flush kind of girl.

But what the author really succeeded in, was convincing me of the inherent romance surrounding the growing of teas in spite of all the challenges and barriers: the climate changes, labor issues and a fraught political climate in West Bengal. He touches on all of them in some depth, describing the ways owners are tackling the first two issues and trying to survive the fall out of the third, but still, it’s almost impossible not to imagine these tea gardens as romantic.

If nothing else, the book succeeded as a marketing tool: midway through I found myself online ordering 100g of a tea called “Gold Darjeeling” described by the Tao of Tea as a Light Black Tea, with a smooth, buttery, honey texture. Full-bodied brew with pleasant rose, muscatel grape-like aroma.  I’m off two minds about my hopes for this tea: of course I want to like it, but given that you can only buy it by the gram, not so much that it ruins me for all the other black teas out there.  Although, as long as I drink iced tea, I doubt I’m in any real danger of becoming the tea snob.

The Haunting of America – DNF @ pg. 105

The Haunting of AmericaThe Haunting of America
by Joel Martin, William J. Birnes
Rating: ★★
Publication Date: September 15, 2009
Pages: 400
Genre: History, Non-fiction
Publisher: Forge

In the tradition of their Haunting of the Presidents, national bestselling authors Joel Martin and William J. Birnes write The Haunting of America: From The Salem Witch Trials to Harry Houdini, the only book to tell the story of how paranormal events influenced and sometimes even drove political events. In a narrative retelling of American history that begins with the Salem Witch Trials of the seventeenth century, Martin and Birnes unearth the roots of America's fascination with the ghosts, goblins, and demons that possess our imaginations and nightmares. The authors examine the political history of the United States through the lens of the paranormal and investigate the spiritual events that inspired public policy: channelers and meduims who have advised presidents, UFOs that frightened the nation's military into launching nuclear bomber squadrons toward the Soviet Union, out-of-body experiencers deployed to gather sensitive intelligence on other countries, and even spirits summoned to communicate with living politicians.

The Haunting of America is a thrilling exploration of the often unexpected influences of the paranormal on science, medicine, law, government, the military, psychology, theology, death and dying, spirituality, and pop culture.


 

How do you ruin a book with a name like that?  Wrap a textbook in it.

It might not actually be a bad book if one is looking for an anthropological view of superstition and paranormal belief and their effect on the American political system, but I was just looking for some fun and slightly spooky stories about haunting in America.  You know, what it says on the tin.

Ah well, another one off the TBR; progress is progress.

Nature’s Explorers: Adventurers Who Recorded the Wonders of the Natural World

Nature’s Explorers: Adventurers Who Recorded the Wonders of the Natural WorldNature’s Explorers: Adventurers Who Recorded the Wonders of the Natural World
by Andrea Hart, Ann Datta, David Williams, Hans Walter Lack, Judith Magee, Sandra Knapp, Simon Werrett
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780565094645
Publication Date: September 1, 2019
Pages: 240
Publisher: Natural History Museum

Almost a year this book took me to read.  I just checked my start date, and if I’d known I was so close, I’d probably have put off finishing it just for the nice, round number.  Then again, probably not: the passive guilt of this book sitting on my ‘reading’ pile was wearing me down.

None of that is meant to be a condemnation of the book, so much as a result of the nature of the book itself.  Nature’s Explorers is a collection of essays written by a selection of contributors who all either work for the Museum of Natural History, or are closely associated with it.  Each essay covers one of history’s great natural explorers and their contribution to science and the arts.

All of the expected players are included: Darwin, Humboldt, Hook, Gould, Audubon, Banks, etc. but there are quite a few lesser known naturalists and explorers too.  Two women get essays, including Margaret Elizabeth Fountaine, the late-1800’s lepidopterist who inspired Deanna Raybourne’s character, Veronica Speedwell, in her latest historical mystery series.

As always in a collection of essays written by a variety of people, some are better than others.  All are detailed snapshots of the subject’s life and accomplishments, encapsulated in 3-5 pages and surrounded by gorgeous, richly coloured illustrations and reproductions of their work.

A gorgeous book worth owning, but not one to be rushed through.