The cloakroom of the fashionable Sulgrave Club in Washington, D.C., on the night of December 13, 1950, showed no evidence that it was the season of good cheer. Instead, a burly ex-boxer, the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy, was pounding, kicking, and choking a smaller man 20 years his senior, the equally infamous — in the […]
Political debates and a few thoughts about the election, Harold Bloom on reading, and a century of Christie: newsletter, October 23, 2020
This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,5xx) on Friday, October 23, 2020. Political debates in this country have never been especially uplifting affairs. Even the iconic Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858 (see below) are remembered because they introduced Abraham Lincoln to the nation rather than for their soaring rhetoric and sweeping […]
Several years ago I found myself in the mystery/thriller section of a local bookstore, standing next to a man who was looking intently at a shelf of Lee Child’s books. “I’m trying to see if they have the latest Jack Reacher novel,” he said, unnecessarily explaining himself. “If you haven’t read any of them, you […]
Washington’s biggest Big Foot, the origins of Jack Reacher, more Bach and more baseball Hall of Fame deaths: newsletter, October 16, 2020
This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,510) on Friday, October 16, 2020. “Zoom,” unlike “google,” has been in use for a long while as a legitimate verb with a specific, well-established meaning. At the beginning of this year, we all knew what it meant, especially if there were children around who had […]
Why Pearl Harbor was bombed (part 2), Ian Rankin, reporting on the infirm who hold power: newsletter, October 9, 2020
This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,515) on Friday, October 9, 2020. This week’s point of gratitude came early in the week when we opened our beehives for the first time in three months and found lots of bees abiding there. The major challenge for a beekeeper these days is keeping […]
The birth of the selfie, why Japan bombed Pearl Harbor (part 1), and reader reactions: newsletter, October 2, 2020
This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,519) on Friday, October 2, 2020. Johann Sebastian Bach is on my list of “things to be thankful for” this week. In fact, he’s not far from the top. Bach lived from 1685 to 1750 and was a composer of baroque-era music. He was also deeply spiritual, […]
The writing of Hans Brinker, Gayle Lynd’s long journey, and a Walter Mosley short story: newsletter, September 25, 2020
This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,521) on Friday, September 25, 2020. The year continues to bring its oddities. Major League Baseball is finishing its shortened season this week and will begin playoffs next week. The configuration is like no other, and I won’t try to explain it. I’m not […]
Gordon Parks bought his first camera in 1938 when he was 25 years old and living in Seattle, Washington. Up to that time, Parks did not have much of a life. Born in Kansas in 1912, Parks was one of 15 children and experienced the cruelties of racism when some white kids pitched him into […]
Noted: this from the Washington Post: Walter Mosley has been named winner of the 2020 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation. He is the first Black man to win the foundation’s $10,000 lifetime achievement award, which was first awarded in 1988. The author of more than 60 books, Mosley […]
Those Americans of us who watch a lot of British-produced television — from Upstairs, Downstairs to Downton Abbey to Belgravia and many more besides — are often impressed, if not horrified, by the number of servants required to help the British upper-classes get through the day. Butlers, cooks, scullery maids, chambermaids — the list of […]
The publishers of The Century Magazine, in 1872, had given Mary Mapes Dodge a golden opportunity — a “blank check,” as we would say today. She was determined to make the most of it. They wanted her to create a magazine for children, and they were convinced that Dodge was the right person for the […]
Mary Mapes Dodge, suffering from the disappearance and then death of her husband in 1857 and facing the need to support herself and her two sons, wrote one of the most beloved children’s novels of all time — Hans Brinkler or The Silver Skates. For that, she will always be remembered. But what she did beyond the […]
More on Mary Mapes Dodge, Josephine Tey and paranoia, and a couple of podcast recommendations: newsletter, September 18, 2020
This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,529) on Friday, September 18, 2020. Getting a book that you have anticipated for a while and then having it live up to your expectations is a particular delight. That happened to me with the arrival of Ian Toll‘s Twilight of the Gods: War in the Western […]
Mary Mapes Dodge, Robert Louis Stevenson, and thoughts on forgiveness: newsletter, September 11, 2020
This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,5xx) on Friday, September 11, 2020. Nearly two decades after the infamous 9/11, I am struck by how far it feels from that awful event. For those of us who lived through it, the day was one of those we will always remember. Yet, […]
Gordon Parks’ “Atmosphere of Crime” photos, the war in Iraq, a look back at William Manchester, and reader reactions: newsletter, Sept. 4, 2020
This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,531) on Friday, September 4, 2020. The idea rattling through in my head for the last few days has been “gentleness.” Our modern human world doesn’t put much stock in the idea of gentleness, but nature does. I’m lucky in that I get to […]
William Manchester was a magnificent writer and historian whose subjects were amazingly interesting. He made them more so. Manchester is the author of the three-volume biography of Winston Churchill (referred to in a number of previous posts including here and here), The Last Lion. Manchester reached the peak of prominence in the 1960s when he […]
Despite the fact that one of America’s great accomplishments of the 19th century was the ultimate abolition of slavery, racial attitudes did not advance toward accepting racial equality at all. By the end of the century, the nation had wrapped itself into the knots of Jim Crow laws that embedded segregation into just about every […]
If you are a James Lee Burke or Dave Robicheaux fan, you will want to take a look this retrospective on Burke’s writing career by David Masciotra on CrimeReads.com. Although Burke has written much that does not include the flawed detective Robicheaux, this character is by far his most popular and most developed creation. Throughout his […]
America needed to see suffrage. By 1913 suffrage veteran Alice Paul and her friend Lucy Burns had decided that this was what the women’s suffrage movement needed was a national strategy, not the state-by-state plans that had been followed by the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) for so many years. Americans — particularly journalists […]
Mary King Ward is remembered because of the way in which she died. She should be remembered for the way in which she and for the accomplishments she achieved as a 19-century female scientist. Ward died in 1869, thought to be the first automobile traffic fatality. That fact overshadows the many aspects of her life […]
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