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Notes on the pandemic: American Samoa escaped the Spanish flu with no deaths

The last pandemic to sweep the world was that known as the Spanish flu, which killed people everywhere from 1918 through 1920 — everywhere except American Samoa. That’s because of its governor, John Martin Poyer, a Naval officer who had retired because of ill health but was called back to service in 1915 to serve […]

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Podcast recommendations: My Favorite Murder, The Murder Squad, and My Death Row Pen Pal

My Favorite Murder is hosted by a couple of young women, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, whose language may not be suitable for your grandchildren (or you). That stuff gets old pretty quick, but they may mature into a style that is more in keeping with the seriousness of their subjects. On the other hand, they […]

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William Styron and cultural appropriation

Amid all the other overwhelming news, the controversy over Jeanine Cummins’ novel American Dirt seems to be dying down, but the issue still exists: can an author cross ethnic or cultural lines (and maybe gender and age lines — as well as others) to tell a story. My answer was contained in a post I […]

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IdaTarbell

Ida Tarbell: Madame Roland, Napoleon, and Abraham Lincoln (part 2)

Ida Tarbell might have stayed in France for a very long time if it hadn’t been for Abraham Lincoln. Tarbell had moved to Paris in 1891 when she was 34 years old. She gave up a secure job as an editor of The Chatauguan in New York and went to France with the idea of […]

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Ida Tarbell — the sharp, powerful arrow of her words (part 1)

When Ida Tarbell fired an arrow of words at a target, she aimed with the accuracy and power of a book full of facts. John D. Rockefeller, probably the richest man in the world at the time, was “the oldest man in the world — a living mummy,” a “hypocrite” who was “money-mad.” She concluded, […]

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Whither Woody Allen, his family, his publisher, his reputation, etc.

In the case of Woody Allen, what are we to think? Hachette Book Group recently announced that it is canceling a contract with film director Woody Allen to publish his autobiography. In the last few years, Allen’s reputation has gone from amusing to benign to toxic because of allegations that he molested his daughter, Dylan […]

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Good advice for editors from Jane Friedman

One of my favorite people from the world of independent publishing is Jane Friedman, a wide-ranging consultant and author of the weekly newsletter Electric Speed, which is consistently full of good tips and advice. The introduction to her newsletter this week struck me as especially enlightening. It’s a special message to those who would be […]

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Dorothy Thompson’s spectacular climb to the top of European journalism

Dorothy Thompson knew from a fairly early age that she wanted to do something significant. In her early twenties, she realized that journalism was the tool to do just that. Born in 1893 to a Methodist minister and his wife in upstate New York, Thompson’s mother died at a fairly early age, and her father […]

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Dorothy Thompson, America’s leading voice denouncing Nazism in the 1930s

Winston Churchill is rightly remembered as the lonely voice of 1930s Britain who recognized the dangers of Nazism and loudly and regularly denounced Adolph Hitler and his thugs while his nation was sleepwalking through the decade. America had a similar voice, but unfortunately, we hardly have any memory of her. The voice was that of […]

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March literary madness: Hilary Mantel and Erik Larson

Two major literary events of the season are occurring this month: the release of new books by Hilary Mantel (The Mirror and the Light, due out March 10) and Erik Larson (The Splendid and the Vile, available now). Mantel caused a sensation with her Wolf Hall, the first of a trilogy of historical novels that […]

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The 20th-century’s top female journalist, good advice to editors, and more fodder for the spy novelist: newsletter, February 28, 2020

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,604) on Friday, February 28, 2020.     As February rolls into March, I am impressed by three items of “too much” during the last two months: too much warm weather (I know, but it is winter), too much rain (just like last year), and too much political news (with much of it uniformly awful). If […]

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ChesterHimes

Chester Himes and the burden of being an African-American author

By the time he was 35 years old, Chester Himes had experienced enough tragedy and hardship for the lives of several people. He had grown up in a middle-class black family that valued books and education, but that family was disrupted by the sudden blinding of a brother who was refused medical treatment because of his race. […]

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WalterMosley

Walter Mosley on the ability to speak freely

Sometime in the middle of 2019, Walter Mosley joined the writers room of the third season of Star Trek: Discovery. It was quite a coup for the producers of the show. Mosley is a well known, much-published author who has won numerous awards, particularly in the mystery genre. He is a giant among mystery writers […]

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Walter Mosley’s freedom of speech, Carl Hiaasen’s South Florida, and a podcast recommendation: newsletter, February 21, 2020

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,610) on Friday, February 21, 2020.     Update on reading: I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was in the process of reading five different novels. I finished one (see below), got so lost in the story of another that I gave […]

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The mysteries of Eleanor Taylor Bland, the firing of Dorothy Parker, and reader reactions: newsletter, February 14, 2020

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,617) on Friday, February 14, 2020. Two forces overwhelmed me at the end of last week. The good one was a higher-than-usual number of emails from you readers that I always find enlightening, fascinating, and thoughtful. Some of them were fairly lengthy, and that’s a good […]

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Irish mystery writers, plus an excellent website

In thinking about putting together a March display on Irish mystery writers for the local library, I asked my good friend and reference librarian/researcher extraordinaire Brennan L. — also proud Irish descendant — for a starter list. Here’s what she provided: Here is a handful of Irish/Northern Irish crime writers I have read.  Sorry, but […]

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New York City’s subway and its map 

Have you ever been to New York City and ridden on its subway system? If so, did you use the official subway system map? The map has been under constant development for the past 40 years. The New York Times has a graphic presentation explaining the map and how it got to be the way […]

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Winston Churchill and the Second Boer War: A celeb journalist becomes a hero

When the Second Boer War between the British Empire and the Boer states in southern-most Africa broke out in the fall of 1899, the British newspaper reading public could be sure of one thing: the newspapers in London would spare no expense in their efforts to cover the war and to bring home exciting stories […]

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GeorgeSmith

George Smith and the Epic of Gilgamesh

Previously: — Writing: It started with the Sumerians  — The library of Ashurbanipal: its discovery changed our view of history — Henry Rawlinson on the Behistun inscription: key to the translations of Ashurbanipal’s library When George Smith stood up before London’s most important people at the British Museum in late 1872, he was within walking distance of […]

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HilaryMantel

Science fiction’s first Hugo, assassinating the PM Mantel-style, Stephen Fry’s podcast, and reader reaction: newsletter, January 31, 2020

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,617) on Friday, January 31, 2020.     Death, unfortunately, is much in mind this week as we hear the tragic news of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and the others who perished in a helicopter accident earlier this week. I knew who Kobe Bryant was […]

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