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Diedrich Knickerbocker

The father of American illustration – F.O.C. Darley

Illustrators deserve a more prominent place in the history of American art — and in our own minds — than they have been given. This is especially true in America, where we have a rich cadre of great artists who have made their living, and their fame, by being illustrators. Chances are, with just a […]

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Romance readers, take heart: you have a history

Anyone who knows anything about book publishing knows that the genre of the romance novel is one of the most lucrative in the industry. Thousands of titles are published each year, and these books sell in the millions of copies. The reputation of these books is not, well, high-minded or intellectual, to say the least. I doubt […]

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Joseph Campbell, a scholar whose work was made famous by the movies

Joseph Campbell, a scholar of comparative literature, had been studying the history, development, and functions of “myth” since his young adulthood in the 1920s, but outside of academic and intellectual circles, he remained relatively unknown. That all changed in 1977. Campbell noted how stories — myths — developed in ancient and modern societies, as well […]

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Dragging Canoe1

The Hero’s Journey, romance has a history, and the “Father of American illustration”; newsletter, September 13, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,671) on Friday, September 13, 2019. ​ My email bag was delightfully full last week with readers commenting on a variety of items that they had seen in the newsletter. I try to range around the web to find interesting things, and I am always glad […]

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Joseph Emerson Worcester1

A better lexicographer than Webster, tools of the fiction writer, and what we think we see: newsletter, September 6, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,674) on Friday, September 6, 2019. Summer has drifted into September in East Tennessee with the temperatures unduly hot and the land remaining dry. Despite that, the bees seem to be thriving. We have been feeding them since July when we took our share of […]

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Joseph Emerson Worcester1

Joseph Emerson Worcester produced a better dictionary than Noah Webster

If any American name is associated with dictionaries, it is Noah Webster. The name we should remember, however, is Joseph Emerson Worcester. Webster, whom I wrote about last year, made a fortune by producing the Blue Back Speller and by his determination, in the early days of the Republic, to produce a dictionary that put […]

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The Grapes of Wrath, written in 100 days, by a man with a mission

It took John Steinbeck less than 100 days in 1937 to write one of the 20th century’s great novels, The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck was a writer and resident of Salinas, California, at the time. It was a town located near a migrant worker camp, and Steinbeck had witnessed the poverty, degradation, and oppression of those […]

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Women and true crime: a new book examines the archetypes

True crime fascinates many of us, but are women more drawn to it than men? Yes, says journalist Rachel Monroe, who has recently authored a book examining in-depth case studies of four archetypes: Detective, Victim, Defender, and Killer. The book is Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession. Monroe was recently interviewed […]

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Robert Sherwood, wordman for FDR

When Franklin Roosevelt was president during World War II, the words he spoke publicly took on a heightened importance and had to be weighed carefully. When he had to give a speech or a radio address, he turned to the people he trusted the most to help him weigh those words. One of the people […]

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Henry Timberlake, his adventure and his sad end (part 1)

Henry Timberlake‘s short life came to a sad end. He died in 1765 in debtor’s prison in London, there because of some unfortunate but well-meaning decisions and some truly bad luck. He was somewhere between 30 and 35 years. We’re not exactly sure when he was born. We probably wouldn’t remember Timberlake at all except […]

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FDR’s wordman, an adventure into Cherokee territory, and a Mozart myth: newsletter, Aug. 30, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,680) on Friday, August 30, 2019.   My comments last week about the difficulties of traveling brought reactions from some of you, and I appreciate your responses. Many people still enjoy traveling despite the hassles. If you’ve been someplace interesting in the last few weeks, let […]

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Ken Burns, Klaus Fuchs, Wesley on money, and the time it took to write Grapes of Wrath: newsletter, Aug. 23, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,689) on Friday, August 23, 2019. Summer is the traditional time for travel and vacations, and many of the people we know have taken flight, either literally or figuratively. But traveling seems to be more difficult than it has been in a long time. Airline […]

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John Wesley, the history of Methodism, and the clash of biographies

Most of what happened to Methodism after John Wesley‘s death in 1791 was highly predictable. Wesley had created Methodism, a religious movement within the Anglican Church, in the 1740s by his interpretative theology, his going outside the church walls to preach to those neglected by the church, and by forming “classes” of his followers who […]

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Teddy Roosevelt: "I am DEE-lighted."

Nigel Hamilton’s FDR, where Joseph Campbell began, John Wesley, and banana peels: newsletter, Aug. 16, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,696) on Friday, August 16, 2019. Two big events this week: the publication of two books that we had been working on for the Friends of the Blount County Library. One is Loyal Mountaineers: The Civil War Memoirs of Will A. McTeer, which we mentioned in the newsletter several […]

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Newsman Bob Considine, the semicolon, the demise of Mad, and another Longfellow poem:newsletter, Aug. 9, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,707) on Friday, August 9, 2019.   Thanks much to those who signed up for a free subscription to American Watercolor magazine on my behalf. I reached the appropriate number and have been offered the possibility of an “ambassadorship,” which means my stuff will be […]

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On the line with Bob Considine

Bob Considine, who achieved international fame for his World War II reporting was the consummate journalist: he loved traveling, he loved talking to people, he loved finding information, and — most of all — he loved writing. In his late 60s, he was still working and still writing — mostly on a nationally syndicated column […]

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Walking, Arthur Ashe, and a new video: newsletter, Aug. 2, 2018

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,716) on Friday, August 9, 2019. ​ Living well, as any sensible person knows, is not just a matter of diet and exercise. It’s a whole range of behaviors, attitudes, habits, and choices. Susan Saunders and Annabel Streets, two women who have looked deeply into the science […]

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Seeing Suffrage

The practical, victorious, but less-than-glorious fight for women’s suffrage

We are entering a period when, for the next year or so, many Americans will be celebrating the centennial of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote nationwide. The history of the ratification fight is often presented as glorious and ultimately victorious, a great confirmation that sometimes our political […]

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Bouton’s ‘Ball Four,’ mystery recommendations, and Mark Twain’s delight: newsletter, July 26, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,7xx) on Friday, July 26, 2019.   Three weeks ago when we extracted the honey from our beehives, the last part of the process was putting the “wet” frames back onto the hives. These are frames that contain honey, but the amounts are too small […]

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Bouton’s ‘Ball Four’: a book that afflicted the rich and comfortable of the baseball world

When someone writes a book that thoroughly offends and discomfits people who are well off, in positions of influence, rich, and comfortable, it should merit our attention. That was the case when Jim Bouton, briefly a star pitcher for the New York Yankees, wrote his tell-all memoir Ball Four that centered on stories from inside […]

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