Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Holds Alert: SPQR

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

9780871404237_71430Featured on the cover of the NYT’s Sunday Book Review, Mary Beard’s SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (Norton/Liveright; OverDrive Sample) is racing ahead of copies ordered, with holds ratios raging from 6:1 on the low end to over 16:1 on the high end in libraries we checked.

Beard, perhaps better known in the UK where she is a classics professor at Cambridge University, is similar to Neil deGrasse Tyson here – a noted expert in a field many people are interested in but don’t know as much about as they would like.

Beard does for ancient Rome what Tyson does for space, offering an accessible and fascinating history that grips readers through stories, arguments, and contrary opinions (Cleopatra likely did not commit suicide via snake bite).

In the NYT’s author Ferdinand Mount heaps praise on Beard and explains the title, saying:

In SPQR, her wonderful concise history, Mary Beard unpacks the secrets of the city’s success with a crisp and merciless clarity that I have not seen equaled anywhere else. (The title comes from the Roman catchphrase Senatus Populusque Romanus — the Senate and People of Rome.)

The Guardian reviews it as well, under a headline that calls it “vastly engaging,” and The Atlantic says it is “magisterial.” Dwight Garner, reviewing for the daily NYT‘s said Beard is “charming company” and suggested this book might be her breakout moment in the US.

Both Time and Smithsonian offer interviews. Beard, rather a gadfly in the UK, answers a question from Time about in which era she would most like to live throughout history with this:

“I would not pick any. I’m a woman! It’s just about conceivable to me that a man might be able to find someplace, but it would all be a hell! There’s no political rights, death in childbirth, and no aspirin! Never. I like now.”


Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

9780316387743_64715Moving up the Amazon sales charts with holds growing in many libraries is Stacy Schiff’s newest history.

The jump in holds and interest is likely due to Schiff’s appearance on NPR’s Morning Edition yesterday. She discussed the events of the Salem witch trials and described the courtroom testimony as sounding like “a low grade acid trip.”

Witches: Salem, 1692 (Hachette/Little, Brown; Little, Brown Audio; OverDrive Sample) offers a detailed account of the hysteria and fear that swept through Salem town and Salem village, highlighting the key figures of the trial and describing the unfolding terror and its aftermath.

Likely to increase demand, it is the November Costco pick with Pennie Clark Ianniciello saying Schiff, “trains her skills on this dark period and shines a light on it as no one has.”

The NYT Sunday Review was posted online today and will be in the upcoming print issue.

In her review Jane Kamensky, Pforzheimer Foundation director of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America and a professor of history at Harvard, reads like an academic’s discomfort with history written for a non-academic audience:

“Schiff’s glib, compendious and often maddening account of the events of that fateful year, does a great deal to punch up the story, but little to explore and still less to understand its significance. An acclaimed biographer of subjects as diverse as Cleopatra and Véra Nabokov, Schiff here broadens her lens, like an artist turning from portraits to teeming allegories: Rembrandt taking up the work of Bosch. But a crowded canvas does not a probing history make, as The Witches powerfully demonstrates.”

Kamensky softens the blow by pointing out just how vividly and well Schiff writes history: “Schiff sets scenes brilliantly … The book crackles with sonic detail… Schiff is what the Germans call a Menschenkenner: a knower of human nature, and her book is a tightly plotted character study.”


Svetlana Alexievich Wins Nobel Prize in Literature

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

Voices from Chernobyl  Zinky Boys
Svetlana Alexievich, a Belarussian journalist and oral historian, won the Nobel Prize in Literature today for what the Swedish Academy describes as  “her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.”

The New York Times reports Alexievich is “best known for giving voice to women and men who had lived through World War II, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan that lasted from 1979 to 1989, and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986.” She is the 14th woman to win the prize.

Breaking recent precedent, Alexievich is a nonfiction writer, not a novelist or poet. However, Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, quoted in the NYT‘, says she has created “a history of emotions — a history of the soul, if you wish.”

Of her books in English translations, two are currently available,  Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War (Norton; 9780393336863; 1992) and  Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster  (hardcover, Dalkey Archive Press; trade pbk Macmillan/Picador, 2006), which won the 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award.

Her website lists a few other titles translated in English, likely to soon be released in the U.S.

Proving the bookies right for the first time in years, Alexievich was the odds on favorite to win the prize, beating out Haruki Murakami, Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates, and John Banville who were all rumored to be in the running as well.

KILLING REAGAN Moves To TV Even As It Gets Panned

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 11.51.02 AMUSA Today bestows one of its rare negative reviews on the just-released Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault That Changed a Presidency by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard (Macmillan/Henry Holt; Macmillan Audio; OverDrive Sample), calling it a “misfire for franchise.”

Reviewer Ray Locker points out that, although it is part of O’Reilly’s Killing series no one is actually killed in this one and points to Del Quentin Wilber’s Rawhide Down as a more detailed account of the assassination attempt.

Locker says that Killing Reagan:

… deals more with Reagan’s gradual descent into dementia … the authors contend, contrary to the claims by Reagan loyalists, that Reagan exhibited signs of the illness during his presidency … [they] delve into his extramarital affairs in Hollywood, indifferent parenting, disputes with his second wife, Nancy, and the multiple instances in which Reagan appeared to be not quite there.

The negative review aside, The National Geographic Channel and Ridely Scott’s Scott Free Productions are partnering once again on the TV adaptation.

According to Variety, “The Scott Free-produced versions of the three previous books in the series — Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy and Killing Jesus — were the network’s three most-watched programs in history. Both “Kennedy” and “Jesus” received Emmy nominations for outstanding TV movie.”

Moving Ahead

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

9780684826974The HBO series, Lewis And Clark, based on the book Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose, (S&S, 1996) has faced some challenges, including wildfires on location and the firing of both the director and director of photography over creative differences three weeks into the production.

But HBO is still “undaunted,” declaring that filming will resume in the spring, according to Deadline, starring Casey Affleck as Meriwether Lewis and Matthias Schoenaerts as William Clark. The series is being produced by Tom Hanks’s company, Playtone, along with Brad Pitt’s Plan B. Entertainment.

On the Screen: Organized Crime, British Style

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 12.07.45 PMLegend starring Tom Hardy (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises) is set to hit theaters in early October, based on The Profession of Violence by John Pearson, a 1972 nonfiction account of the Kray twins who ran the organized crime scene of London’s East End during the 50s and 60s.

The two also owned a nightclub in the swanky West End and hobnobbed with celebrities and politicians, by all accounts living a glittering existence, enjoying the money they raked in through extortion, robbery, arson, assault, and murder. They were arrested and jailed in 1969 and sentenced to life in prison.

Brian Helgeland, a director (42, A Knight’s Tale) and screenwriter (Mystic River, L.A. Confidential) directs. Hardy plays both twins. The cast also includes Emily Browning and Paul Bettany. A movie-tie in edition is due on Sept. 8.

For our full list of upcoming adaptations, download our Books to Movies and TV spreadsheet and link to our listing of tie-ins.

John Pearson
HarperCollins/William Collins; September 8, 2015; Paperback
9780008150280, 0008150281
$14.99 USD, $17.99 CAD


Thursday, August 20th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 3.42.21 PMThe convoluted path The Lost City of Z (RH/Doubleday;2009; OverDrive Sample) has taken to the big screen is finally set to deliver.

As we reported in 2013, the on-again/off-again movie adaptation has been bumpy, with everyone from Brad Pitt to Benedict Cumberbatch cited as possible stars but the project ended up shelved multiple times.

Now Deadline reports that the next actor to play Spider-Man, Tom Holland, will join the cast that already includes Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, and Charlie Hunnam. Flming has begun in Belfast and will continue in Colombia in the fall.

The book grew out of a New Yorker article by David Grann, (Doubleday, Feb, 2009), about British explorer, Percy Fawcett, who disappeared int the Amazon in 1935, during an attempt to prove his claim that a highly sophisticated city, which he called the City of Z, was hidden in the jungle. At the time it was published, the NYT critic Michiko Kakutani gave it a rare rave, “at once a biography, a detective story and a wonderfully vivid piece of travel writing that combines Bruce Chatwinesque powers of observation with a Waugh-like sense of the absurd,” adding, “it reads with all the pace and excitement of a movie thriller and all the verisimilitude and detail of firsthand reportage.” It ended up topping most of the year’s best books lists.

As originally planned, James Gray (We Own the Night) is directing and Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B is overseeing the project.

Closer to Screen: THE DEVIL IN

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

9780375725609After years in development, the adaptation of Eric Larson’s true crime title, The Devil in the White City (RH/Crown, 2003) is set to be directed by Martin Scorsese, with Leonardo DiCaprio starring as the serial killer H.H. Holmes who preyed on single young women drawn to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. This will be the actor and director’s sixth project together.

Paramount won the film rights in a major auction after Warner Bros. let the them lapse last month (DiCaprio bought the rights back in 2010, with plans to star in it. Before that, in 2003, Tom Cruise acquired the rights, also planning to star).

Those who have read the book will agree with Deadline‘s assessment it presents a screen writing challenge because it  “interlac[es] the two main characters, the producer/architect of the World’s Fair and the man who works for him and turns out to be a mass murderer.” However, reports Deadline, the new script writer “[Billy] Ray cracked that, and the town flipped for it.” They don’t explain exactly what they flipped for, however.

Scorsese  is currently wrapping production on Silence, based on the 1996 novel by Japanese writer Shûsaku Endô, expected to release some time next year.

As usual, the director has several other balls in the air. In June, another of his favorite actors, Al Pacino said he’s hoping they will work together on The Irishman, based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brand (Steerforth, 2005).  Late last year, Mark Wahlberg was urging him to do a Boardwalk Empire movie. He has also announced plans direct Sinatra about the singer and to produce The Snowman based on the book by Jo Nesbø. It’s not known which project he will turn to first.

DiCaprio will next be seen in The Revenant, directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu and based on the book by Michael Punke, set for release in December.


Thursday, July 30th, 2015

9781455582297_3f737  American Sniper

Following the success of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, Hollywood is mad for military movies based on books. Underscoring that, a film based on 13 Hours: The Inside Account Of What Really Happened In Benghazi by Mitchell Zuckoff (Hachette/Twelve,2014) opens on January 15, 2016, the same weekend that its predecessor opened last year.

Retitled 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, it is directed by Michael Bay and stars John Krasinski and James Badge Dale,

The release of the trailer was enough to send the book moving up Amazon’s sales rankings (currently at #88).


13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi
MItchell Zuckoff
Hachette/Twelve: November 24, 2015
Trade Paperback
Mass market

Congressman As Superhero

Monday, July 27th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 9.21.24 AM  Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 9.21.39 AM

Highlighting Congressman John Lewis’s leadership in the Civil Rights movement, CBS Sunday Morning profiled the Representative and his award-winning graphic memoirs March: Book One and March: Book Two (both from Top Shelf).

Fittingly, the profile includes clips of Rep. Lewis at ComicCon, wearing, as tradition dictates, his own superhero outfit: a coat and backpack similar to those he wore as he crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the Selma March in 1965.

A third March volume is expected early next year.


Thursday, June 18th, 2015

Astronaut Wives Club  AWC_Key_Art_Embed

The 10-episode series The Astronaut Wives Club, debuts on ABC tonight. Based on Lily Koppel’s book of the same title about the wives of of the first U.S. astronauts (Hachette/Grand Central; Hachette Audio and Large Print), unfortunately, it does not seem to have lift-off.

The New York Times review dismisses it saying it does the women a “disservice by sugarcoating them almost as much as NASA did some 50 years ago.” The L.A. Times damns it with faint praise, “it is not the worst way to spend an idle hour on a summer night.”

The cover of the book, above left, features the actual wives. They were profiled on CBS Sunday Morning when the book was published in 2013. Next to it, the poster for the series, featuring the wives as portrayed by JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Yvonne Strahovski, Dominique McElligott, Odette Annable, Erin Cummings, Azure Parsons and Zoe Boyle.

Extended sneak peek, below.


Thursday, June 4th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 11.23.25 AMHolds are growing on Janice P. Nimura’s Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey From East to West and Back (Norton. 5/4/15) with ratios well over 3:1 in many libraries we checked.

The nonfiction account has gotten steady coverage in papers such as The Seattle Times and The Wall Street Journal‘s “Speakeasy” blog.

About a group of young Japanese girls, each the daughter of a samurai, sent to America to live, study and  try to figure out what makes America so strong and forward thinking, The New York Times Sunday Book Review calls the book “beautifully written” and says it “begins like a fairy tale, with three clueless children charged with an impossible task by an empress: They must go to the United States and return with the knowledge needed to educate the women of Japan in the ways of the modern world.”

Nimura describes the story in the book trailer.

Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J. Simpson

Monday, May 25th, 2015

9780307829160Publicists are already in high gear, promoting the currently filming FX mini-series American Crime Story: The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson, based on the book by Jeffrey Toobin, (Random House, 1996). Publicity stills of various characters in their roles have appeared in many publications as well as on Entertainment Tonight.

Catch glimpses in the ET video of Sarah Paulson as prosecuting attorney Marcia Clark, Cuba Gooding Jr. as Simspon, John Travolta as Simpson’s lawyer, Robert Shapiro, David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian, Courtney B. Vance as Simpson co-counsel Johnnie Cochran, and Billy Magnussen as Kato Kaelin.

No boadcast date yet, but the tie-in is scheduled for 9/29/15.


Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 8.18.35 AMSteve Inskeep’s Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross and a Great American Land Grab (Penguin; Penguin Audio; OverDrive Sample) rises to #51 on Amazon’s sales rankings as a result of the author’s appearances on Morning Edition (where he is the co-host) and on PBS NewsHour.

Inskeep’s history explores Jackson’s role in the forced relocation of the Cherokee Nation as well as the brilliant efforts of Chief John Ross to stop him, using the tools of democracy and politics to protect Cherokee land. He sought white allies, brought suit in the United States Supreme Court (and won), and published stories in newspapers. Nothing, however, could stop the relentless expansion Jackson and white farmers sought.

In recognition of this history, Inskeep argues in an OpEd piece in the New York Times, that Chief Ross’s image should replace Jackson’s  on the $20 bill.

Inskeep discusses his book with NewsHour co-host Judy Woodruff at Busboys and Poets, a local restaurant/bookstore in Washington D.C.


Monday, May 4th, 2015

Causing the book ro rise to #7 on Amazon sales rankings and holds to grow, The Wright Brothers by David McCullough (S&S; S&S Audio; Thorndike; OverDrive Sample), was featured on CBS Sunday Morning.

The book, which come out tomorrow, is also reviewed by Janet Maslin in today’s New York Times.