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Cellist Pablo Casals, at 93, told us how to stay ‘young’

If you feel that you are piling up the birthdays and that you are “growing old” — a phrase that has become part of our natural conversation these days — consider the words of Pablo Casals, the famous cellist: On my last birthday I was ninety-three years old. That is not young, of course. In […]

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Robert Caro’s interviewing trick; something new in Nashville; and reader recommendations for the cold winter: newsletter, Feb. 1, 2019

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (x) on Friday, February 1, 2019.   Despite snow interruptions in East Tennessee (and much, much worse elsewhere), this has been a busy week of discoveries and revelations. Another volume in the Baseball Joe series has been uploaded — see the list below […]

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Lyndon Johnson biographer Caro reveals a secret weapon of interviewing

Robert Caro’s magisterial four volumes on Lyndon Johnson is, in my view, one of the great works of nonfiction of the 20th and 21st centuries. They will stand for many decades as an amazing work of prose and scholarship. Volume 4, which covers Johnson’s vice presidency and his taking over the presidency after the assassination […]

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The many origins of English, gathered into a British Library exhibit

Those interested in the deep history of the English language will want to take a look at this article on the BBC website: BBC – Culture – What the earliest fragments of English reveal. And if you’re in London anytime soon will want to view the exhibit it describes at the British Library. The exhibit, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, […]

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Benjamin Disraeli, another dream-come-true for the caricaturist

Some years ago, the BBC produced a 90-minute documentary on the parallel lives and careers of Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone titled  Gladstone and Disraeli: Clash of the Titans. (You can watch it on YouTube, irritatingly divided into six 15-minute segments with the first here: When it comes to 19th-century British politics, the title is […]

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The unfair fate of Bulwer-Lytton; Margaret Drabble and Benjamin Disraeli; the week of the Brits: newsletter, January 25, 2019

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,918) on Friday, January 25, 2019.   The newsletter this week has a decidedly British flavor to it. That was not deliberate, but I’m pretty pleased with the way that things have turned out. How can you go wrong with Margaret Drabble, J.K. […]

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Nazis burned books, certainly, but they stole even more

The images are indelible: large bonfires fueled by books with Nazi soldiers and citizens tossing them into the flames. Flames, of course, do not destroy information or ideas, and the Nazis understood this as well as anyone. That’s why the Nazis stole far more books than they burned. Libraries of Jewish families who fell under […]

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Capt. Mayne Reid and the beginnings of the modern idea of the American West

“Go West!” has been the clarion call for Americans since the days of the early Republic. West across the Alleghenies, west across the Mississippi River, west across Texas and the Great Plains — whatever is west of where we are has represented openness, wonder, opportunity, and adventure. In more modern times, writers like Zane Grey […]

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Ulm, Beisetzung Rommel

Erwin Rommel, the Desert Myth

One of the luckiest men of the 20th century in terms of having a continuing and positive public image is Erwin Rommel. Rommel was “Adolph Hilter’s favorite general.” He was the Desert Fox, a moniker applied to him by British journalists. He was a chivalrous soldier who fought a “clean” war and refused Hitler’s orders […]

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Fighting poets, the public domain, the genius behind what you read as a kid, and the American cult of ignorance: newsletter, January 4, 2019

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,940) on Friday, January 4, 2019.   For me, the new year has seen the completion of at least one project, the continuation of several others, and the beginning of a new one. Here I’ll just talk about what’s been completed. Several years […]

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Don vs. Joe: the fight over Anonymous

When the novel Primary Colors was published in 1996, it caused a sensation inside the core of political and journalistic elites from Washington to New York. The novel was a thinly veiled recounting of the 1992 presidential campaign of Bill Clinton, and it was none too flattering to its protagonists, Bill and Hillary. The novel […]

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A description of Artemus Ward for the caricaturist

If ever there was a description that demanded a caricature, it is this one of Charles Farrar Brown, aka Artemus Ward. His fellow editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, George Hoyt, wrote: His desk was a rickety table which had been whittled and gashed until it looked as if it had been the victim of […]

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Becoming George Eliot (part 2): the progress of Mary Anne Evans

When Mary Anne Evans published her first work under the pen name of George Eliot in 1856, there is no evidence that she ever planned to reveal her identity. She was successfully hiding behind the general rumor that George Eliot must be some country parson because the next of her writings, Scenes from a Clerical Life, […]

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Edward Stratemeyer, the genius behind the series you probably read as a kid

If you were a child in the 20th century, chances are that you owe a great deal to Edward Stratemeyer. Chances are, too, that you have never heard of Edward Stratemeyer. But as a young person, you probably did read books like the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, the Rover Boys, Baseball Joe, the […]

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Thousands of copyrighted works set to enter the public domain today

The intellectual property dam that has withheld thousands of copyrighted works — books, art, plays, films, etc. — from the public domain is about to burst. It’s about time. Copyright is a useful concept that helps protect an author or artist from having others benefit unduly from the work he or she has created. But […]

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Back on the road, in a literary sort of way; libraries; and writing advice from Elmore Leonard: newsletter, Dec. 21, 2018

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,962) on Friday, Dec. 21, 2018.     The Christmas holiday season, Hannukah, the winter solstice, the beginning of the college football bowl season — they all collide for the next couple of weeks, provoking an increase in shopping, singing, television watching, and […]

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Josephine Herrick: her World War II legacy for veterans continues today

When it comes to paying a lasting tribute to veterans, few people can match the work of Josephine Herrick. Herrick was a professional photographer in the 1930s and 40s with a successful studio in New York City when the United States went to war in 1941. She organized a group of 35 fellow-photographers to take […]

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Patience, or how to suffer fools lightly

You’ve heard the expression, “He/She doesn’t suffer fools lightly.” It is almost always said as a compliment. But I wonder: Is it really a compliment? Is it a trait that we should want to develop? If you were a teacher, as I was for four decades, you had to put up with lots of fools. […]

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Kim Jung Gi, pen and ink artist extraordinary

If you don’t know about this guy or have never seen him in action, you should probably take a few minutes to watch. His name is Kim Jung Hi, and he is famous in the art world for his drawing performances. That’s right, performances. In front of an audience, he produces large, highly detailed, realistic […]

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The writer and the empire: who wins? The words win.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, during the 1970s, was a hero in the West because as a Russian writer, he chose to stand against the Soviet empire and expose its corruption and inhumanity. His weapon was a short novel titledA Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which recounted the experiences of a Russian man sentenced to a Soviet […]

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