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Cornelius Ryan and the origins of the New Journalism, a new branch of Vietnam Voices, and some of Motown’s one-hit wonders: newsletter, June 19, 2020

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,5xx) on Friday, June 19, 2020. We started something a couple of weeks ago called the Tennessee Vietnam War Roundtable. It’s explained more fully below. I wanted to take this space this week to urge you to join the roundtable. You don’t have to be from Tennessee, and […]

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Olof Palme’s murder put to rest, maybe

It wasn’t the crime of the century — that was the Kennedy assassination — but the 1986 murder of Swedish prime minister Olof Palme ranks as one of the great unsolved murders of the 1900s. Now it has been officially put to rest, at least for the time being. Palme was shot on a cold evening in […]

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The name we should know besides Stradivarius, the fascination of the garden, “tartan noir,” and more: newsletter, June 12, 2020

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,569) on Friday, June 12, 2020.   We are well into the garden season, and tomatoes are appearing on the vines and blooms on the bean plants. Potatoes, sometimes, produce a single, beautiful blossom late in the life of the plant. I say “sometimes” because […]

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The coming crisis for libraries

What will libraries be when we are rebuilding our society and social structures after the pandemic? “Essential” is one of the words that Anthony Marx, president of the New York Public Library, uses. Marx, in a recent New York Times article, writes: . . . it clear to us that libraries must invest — or […]

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The Four Tops: polished performances and fierce loyalty

After years of pursuing them, Berry Gordy in 1965 had finally signed the Four Tops. The Detroit group had been together for a decade, had recorded singles and albums, and had developed a stage presence that was slick, professional, and appealing. But Gordy knew that they could be much better — and more lucrative — […]

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Daniel Defoe tells us about an earlier pandemic

Since the pandemic happened upon us in March, many references have been made to Daniel Defoe’s “non-fiction novel,” A Journal of the Plague Year. Rightly so. The book was published in 1722 and concerns the plague that hit London in 1665, when Defoe himself was only about six years old. The book does not recount […]

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Defoe’s chronicle of an earlier plague, the Four Tops, and the coming crisis for libraries: newsletter, June 5, 2020

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,5xx) on Friday, June 5, 2020.   One of the great thrills for a beekeeper is to capture a swarm. A swarm occurs when a hive develops a new queen, and the old queen leaves and takes part of the hive (maybe 25 to 50 […]

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Who killed the truth? Find out in Jill Lapore’s podcast The Last Archive

Truth, these days, seems to lie dead as a doornail, half-hidden in the weeds like those bodies you see at the beginning of television murder mysteries. It’s obviously been assaulted, and since its demise, wild animals have been feeding on it. Not a pretty sight. For nearly two centuries now, truth was healthy and robust, […]

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The Supremes: the best girl group ever

They were the best girl group ever, and they’ve got the numbers to prove it: 12 top-ranked pop hits, Grammy nominations, membership in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, packed concert halls, numerous television appearances, and always and everywhere the stars of the show. The numbers and the facts don’t lie. The Supremes in […]

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A novel writer’s obligation to the facts?

In March we shared a post about the writer William Styron and the controversy he stirred in the 1960s with his novel The Confessions of Nat Turner. The post referred to an article by Styron’s daughter Alexandra and discussed her father’s intentions in writing the book and the difficulties he had in defending himself against […]

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Attorney-author Michael Kahn argues for his favorite legal thrillers

Trial attorney and author Michael Kahn used to respond to his wife Margi the same way every time she asked about the book he was reading. I could write a better one, he would say. Finally, she had had enough. “Then write one,” she finally said, “or please shut up.” So he shut up-no easy task for […]

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StevieWonder 2

Stevie Wonder: the most talented Motowner of them all

Of all of the super-talented, hardworking musicians who walked through the doors of Motown’s headquarters in the 1960s, an argument could be made that the most talented — and the one who took his music far beyond most others — was Stevie Wonder. His real name is Stevland Hardaway Morris (né Judkins), and he was born in 1950 in […]

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Marguerite Higgins and “no place for a woman”

When Communist forces crossed the border into South Korea in 1950, Marguerite Higgins got on a plane in Tokyo, where she was head of the New York Herald Tribune bureau, along with three other reporters, all of them male. One of them told her not to go. At the last moment, G– tried to dissuade me from going along, […]

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Damon Runyon: from baseball to Broadway

The Guardian has an interesting series in which their writers fill in the blank to  “I wish more people would read . . . ” Sam Leith’s blank-filler is Damon Runyan, and he could not have made a better choice. Runyan was a New York City newspaperman in the first decades of the 20th century […]

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Smokey Robinson, Motown’s founding brother

Berry Gordy is undoubtedly Motown’s founding father, but Gordy would not have achieved his spectacular success without Motown’s founding brother, Smokey Robinson. To those of us who were fans of Motown, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles was simply part of the astonishing lineup of artists that Motown produced during the 1960s and 1970s. Behind the […]

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A stay-at-home presidential campaign is nothing new to American politics

Joe Biden is stuck in his basement. Donald Trump is stuck in the White House or in Mar-A-Largo. Neither of the presidential nominees-to-be is out “on the hustings” or “pressing the flesh,” as would be happening in normal quadrennial years. No big rallies, no $1,000-a-plate fundraising dinners, not even conference rooms with staffers to plan […]

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Temptations: soulful voices, close harmonies, and choreography that made you want to dance

No group that Motown produced exemplified the Motown sound better than the Temptations. Throughout the decade of the 1960s, the Temptations dominated the charts with their deep, soulful rhythms, the near-perfect blend of their harmonies, and most of all their mesmerizing choreography. Those guys could dance, and if you saw them either live or on television, […]

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Martha and the Vandellas: Heat Waves, Quicksand, and but always Dancing in the Street

At the very beginnings, there was no heat wave or dancing in the streets. There was no Martha, and they called themselves something other than the Vandellas. In 1957 Rosalind Ashford, Gloria Williams, and Annette Beard — plus a couple of others — were simply teenagers in Detroit, singing in different clubs in the area. They called […]

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Berry Gordy began Motown with an $800 loan from his family

Not quite 30 years old in 1959, Berry Gordy needed money. Gordy was from a solid, hard-working African-American family in Detroit —  a family that emphasized discipline and education — but Berry, the seventh of eight children, had not accomplished much in his first three decades. He had been in the Army, which he didn’t […]

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The Marvelettes

Please, Mr. Postman

The Marvels needed an original song. It was 1961, and the group of five girls — Georgia Dobbins, Gladys Horton, Georgeanna Tillman, Wyanetta (“Juanita”) Cowart, and Katherine Anderson – from Inkster High School near Detroit had gotten an audition with the fledgling Motown Records. Dobbins knew a blues songwriter named William Garrett who had a half-finished tune […]

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