Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Netflix: FIVE CAME BACK

Thursday, March 30th, 2017

9780143126836_b6312A three-part documentary based on the book Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War, Mark Harris (PRH/Penguin; OverDrive Sample), premieres on Netflix tomorrow, March 31.

The book portrays how Hollywood fought a propaganda war agains fascism, through the voluntary efforts of directors John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler, and Frank Capra.

To tell the story in film, Harris has turned to five contemporary directors, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo del Toro, Paul Greengrass, and Lawrence Kasdan, to provide context and insight and the entire series is supported with narration by Meryl Streep.

Netfilx will also air 13 of the films discussed in the series, reports Deadline Hollywood, “including Ford’s The Battle of Midway, Wyler’s The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress, Huston’s Report from the Aleutians, Capra’s The Battle of Russia, Stevens’ Nazi Concentration Camps, and Stuart Heisler’s The Negro Soldier.”

Harris’s book got rave reviews when it was published. Slate calls it “one of the great works of film history of the decade.” The NYT says it is “a tough-minded, information-packed and irresistibly readable work of movie-minded cultural criticism.” The Guardian calls it “excellent” and The Washington Post says it “has all the elements of a good movie: fascinating characters, challenges, conflicts and intense action.”

The film version is also getting strong reviews. Entertainment Weekly gives it a B+, calling it “devastating and profound. And absorbing …well worth a binge.” Time says “The three episodes of Five Came Back run a little over three hours total, but the time goes by like a shot.” The Hollywood Reporter says it is “is intimately in tune with its subjects and the work they did.”

Franklin Fascination

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

9780393249385_b3036Rising on Amazon is a nonfiction account of a fabled sea-faring mystery, Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition by Paul Watson (Norton; Blackstone Audio; OverDrive Sample), about the sad fate of Sir John Franklin and his crew aboard the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. The book not only details the doomed Arctic expedition seeking the Northwest Passage, but also the historic search for the lost ships and the modern discovery of their find. It leaped to #79 on Amazon’s sales rankings after the author appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.

In a brief, but wide ranging conversation, Watson details some of the search, telling NPR that Franklin’s wife, Lady Jane, was “extraordinarily assertive” and forced the Royal Navy to search for her husband and even lured the United States into looking for him.

The book is also getting newspaper coverage.

The Seattle Times calls it eloquent and “more valuable than most of what comes from the cottage industry of Franklin books.”

In an illustrated story, the Dallas News says that Watson “handles the complexity of the search admirably well.”

Watson has a much longer segment on Think, a program on the public radio station KERA in North Texas. Below is the Morning Edition segment:

 

First Trailer: THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

HBO’s adaptation of Rebecca Skloot’s long-running bestseller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, will begin airing on Sunday, April 22 at 8 p.m. The first trailer was released yesterday.

Expected to be a major show for the cable network, the release is being heavily covered by the entertainment media. Jezebel says “it looks like it might do Henrietta’s story justice.” Elle says it “is certain to be compelling.” Slate, Entertainment Weekly, and RollingStone (which was the first to report Lacks’s story, in 1976) also covered the news.

Oprah Winfrey stars as Deborah Lacks, Henrietta’s daughter. Rose Byrne (Damages) plays Skloot. Renée Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton) plays Henrietta and Courtney B. Vance (The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story) plays con artist Sir Lord Keenan Kester Cofield. The Broadway superstar and Tony winning George C. Wolfe (Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk) wrote the screenplay and directs.

A tie-in comes out at the end of the month: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Movie Tie-In Edition), Rebecca Skloot (PRH/Broadway Books; RH Audio/BOT; OverDrive Sample; March 28, 2017).

 

Under the Influence

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

9781328663795_8e391A book that gives a unique look at Hitler is rising on Amazon after author Norman Ohler discussed the Nazi leader’s drug use on NPR’s Fresh Air.

In his book Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich (HMH; Blackstone Audio; OverDrive Sample), Ohler says Hitler became increasingly dependent on drugs from high power vitamin and hormone injections to opioids, cocaine, and more, “to substitute [for] his natural charisma, which … he had lost in the course of the war.”

Further, the drugs enabled much of the long war effort. “For him it was important to be able to function at all times, to never have a day off, because he distrusted anyone in his surroundings, especially the generals. He had to make all the military decisions,” Ohler says. His drug-induced and manufactured optimism tricked the generals and made them wonder “if he had a secret weapon up his sleeve.”

Ohler also reports that German soldiers were given meth. It was considered a perfect drug for the fighters because it reduced fear levels and the need to sleep. “Thirty-five million tablets of methamphetamine” were given out just as the invasion of France took place. “It actually worked. The Germans reached Sedan after an amazingly short period of time … while the French and British [armies] were still in northern Belgium, where they had actually expected the German attack.”

The book rose to #31 on Amazon, from #2,736. Holds are high in libraries, where few systems have yet to receive copies. In some locations ratios are topping 5:1.

The War Memoirs FDR
Did Not Get to Write

Monday, February 27th, 2017

9780547775241_120749780544279117_196a7Soaring on Amazon’s sales rankings are two books by Nigel Hamilton, the first titles in an expected three book series on Franklin Roosevelt and WWII.

Hamilton appeared on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS on Sunday to talk about FDR’s role in creating the current world order, which say Zakaria, is what’s  “been keeping the peace in the world for 70 years … it’s that world order, of course, that Trump sometimes seems intent to disassemble.” His appearance caused the first book in the set, The Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941–1942 (HMH/Mariner; Tantor Audio; OverDrive Sample), to leap to #58 and the second, Commander in Chief: FDR’s Battle with Churchill, 1943 (HMH; OverDrive Sample) to rise to #16.

Hamilton tells Zakaria that because FDR died prematurely he never got to write his account of WWII, leaving the field clear for Winston Churchill to publish his own six volume set that went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The story Churchill told paints a different picture from historical fact says Hamilton, who tells Zakaria he hopes to change our perception of history by showing that it was FDR, not Churchill, who was directed the war’s military strategy and its global reordering.

Hamilton says that FDR had a vision of how the world order could be changed for the better. He was an idealist who was against imperialism and colonialism. Churchill, on the other hand, was leading a country highly invested in both.

Writing for the NYT BR, historian Evan Thomas calls Mantel of Command “fast-paced, smartly observed … Hamilton writes with brio and narrative drive. On the whole, The Mantle of Command is splendid: It’s the memoir Roosevelt didn’t get to write.”

HENRIETTA LACKS, Premiere Date

Friday, February 17th, 2017

9781400052172_1e7daHBO just announced that their adaptation of Rebecca Skloot’s long-running bestseller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, will begin airing on Sunday, April 22 at 8 p.m.

Oprah Winfrey stars as Deborah Lacks, Henrietta’s daughter and the character through whom the story is told. Rose Byrne (Damages) plays Skloot. Others in the cast include Renée Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton) and Courtney B. Vance (The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story). George C. Wolfe (Angels In America) wrote the adaptation and will direct.

The book recounts the sad but fascinating story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman from Baltimore who died in 1951. Johns Hopkins Hospital removed cancer cells from her body without her permission  They were the first cells to live outside a human body, making them invaluable for medical research. They continue to be used today.

The story is in the news again for reasons other than the HBO series. The Lacks family is suing Johns Hopkins. Lacks’s  grandson explains to The Baltimore Sun “Everyone else is making funds off of Henrietta’s cells … I am sure my grandmother is up in heaven saying, ‘Well, what about my family?‘”

A fixture on best seller lists, the book spent a year on the NYT Hardcover Nonfiction list and over four on the Paperback Nonfiction list, falling off that list just a couple of weeks ago. 

9780804190107_07eacTie-in: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Movie Tie-In Edition), Rebecca Skloot (PRH/Broadway Books; March 28, 2017; OverDrive Sample).

Hamilton, Meet Grant

Friday, February 10th, 2017

455px-presidents_ulysses_s_grant_by_houseworthHistorian Ron Chernow is moving from the Revolutionary War era to the Civil War era with a biography of Ulysses S. Grant (PRH/Penguin; ISBN 9781594204876) coming October 17, 2017. The book will be massive, running 928 pages.

The Associated Press reports that it will be “the most high-profile effort yet to change the reputation of the country’s 18th president” from what was, as described by the publisher, that of “a chronic loser and inept businessman … whose tenure came to symbolize the worst excesses of the Gilded Age” to being regarded by Ta-Nehisi Coates as a literary hero.

Chernow has had some luck in refurbishing historical figures. His 2004 biography of Alexander Hamilton (PRH/Penguin) was the basis for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning sensation. Chernow attributed its success to spurring him on to finish the new book.

A Real Life Indiana Jones

Sunday, January 8th, 2017

9781455540006_1130dCBS Sunday Morning features Douglas Preston and his new book The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story (Hachette/Grand Central; Hachette Audio; OverDrive Sample).

The book relates his adventures while searching for a legendary lost city in the rain forests of Mosquitia, which spans Honduras and Nicaragua. Preston tells reporter Lee Cowan that on that trip, he picked up  a parasite that requires a painful therapy.

The White City, or, as some call it, the City of the Monkey God, is a sacred place fabled to hold boundless treasure. “The legend is there was a great city in the mountains that was struck by a series of catastrophes, and the inhabitants thought the gods were angry at them, and [they] left, leaving all their belongings behind,” Preston says.

Using advances in laser mapping technology, explorer Steve Elkins and his team, which included Preston, found the city, braving pit vipers, mud, and foliage so thick they could not even see the site once they were upon it.

The team was jubilant, however, after they discovered rare artifacts, including carved figures left by a 16th-century citizenry who, as CBS notes, “fled the city in a desperate attempt to escape European disease and slavery.”

A National Geographic documentary about the expedition is also in the works.

HIDDEN FIGURES Goes To The White House

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

9780062363602_4650aThe cast and director of the upcoming film Hidden Figures will be hosted tonight by First Lady Michelle Obama at a special White House screening.

In addition to several cast members, 97-year-old Katherine G. Johnson, played by Taraji P. Henson in the film, is also expected to attend. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year. NASA profiles her as “The Girl Who Loved to Count.”

Below is the ceremony. Johnson’s award begins at 30:24.

9780062662385_6084fHidden Figures is based on a book that is #5 on Time magazine’s list of the best nonfiction of the year, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly, released as a tie-in last month, (HC/William Morrow Paperbacks; HarperAudio; OverDrive Sample). 

It is one of the hot films of the season and debuts in a limited, Oscar-qualifying run, on Christmas Day. It will open in wide release on January 6.

Early reviews are strong. The Wrap says the movie:

“not only stirringly celebrates intelligent women of color (and the very idea of science itself), but it also offers a more realistic-seeming portrayal of racism than we generally get in American movies … Hidden Figures is feel-good history, but it works, and it works on behalf of heroes from a cinematically under-served community. These smart, accomplished women had the right stuff, and so does this movie.”

First Trailer for
ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

The film adaptation of The Zookeeper’s Wife the true story of the valiant couple who rescued 300 Jews from the Nazis by hiding them in the bombed Warsaw Zoo (see the NYT review of the book here), is set for release on March 31, 2017.

The first trailer was released today.

It stars Jessica Chastain who wrote in an essay in The Hollywood Reporter‘s special “Women in Entertainment” issue, that although women make up only 20% of the crew of The Zookeeper’s Wife, that’s “way more” than any film she’s ever worked on. As a result, she said, “You don’t feel a hierarchy; you don’t have anyone feeling like they are being left out or bullied or humiliated.”

A trade paperback tie-in will be released in February

The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story
Diane Ackerman
(Norton;  February 7, 2017)

The Nightmare Behind TRUEVINE

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

9780316337540_bff94Journalist Beth Macy talked about her new book, Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South (Hachette/Little, Brown; Hachette Audio; OverDrive Sample) on NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday.

Already listed as a finalist for the Carnegie Medal and the Kirkus Prize and an October Indie Next selection, Variety reports that negotiations are underway to acquire screen rights as “a potential starring vehicle for Leonardo DiCaprio.” The NYT and USA Today offer recent reviews, with Janet Maslin of the NYT‘s calling it an “expert work of nonfiction” and USA Today writing “Macy’s conscientious reporting … and her vigorous storytelling make the saga … even more enthralling than fiction.” The Washingtonian has an illustrated excerpt.

Fresh Air host Terry Gross says the book, which follows the true story of two young black albino brothers, who were exhibited in a traveling freak show, helps explore “a larger story about race, class and entertainment in the first half of the 20th century.”

Macy’s previous book, Factory Man, was also admired by Maslin who said it is “in a class with other runaway debuts like Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit and Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers … Ms. Macy writes so vigorously that she hooks you instantly. You won’t be putting this book down.” The book was not quite as popular as the comparisons. It debuted at #10 on the New York Times Hardcover Non-fiction Best Sellers list during its first week on sale, remained on the main list for 3 weeks, and continued on the extended list for 4 more weeks.

As we reported earlier, Tom Hanks’s production company, Playtone, had plans to adapt Factory Man for an HBO mini-series, but there has been no news on the project since.

Closer To Screen: THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

9780060839789_2a833An all-star cast is set to bring one of Simon Winchester’s most beloved nonfiction accounts to the the screen, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (HC/Harper Perennial, 1998; OverDrive Sample).

Mel Gibson and Sean Penn will star in the film about James Murray, the 19th century professor who compiled the OED.

Deadline Hollywood reports that Gibson will play Murray and that the project is a passion of his. He has been working on getting the adaptation made for “nearly two decades.” Penn will play Dr. W.C. Minor, the “madman” who contributed thousands of entries to the dictionary.

Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four) is set to join the cast and Entertainment Weekly reports that Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) will also feature in the film.

This is another turn in what may count as a comeback for Gibson. He is “fresh off the back of Venice Film Festival hit Hacksaw Ridge, a World War II drama” says Deadline, and he got strong reviews for this year’s Blood Father.

A premiere date has not been announced.

Churchill Comes of Age

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

9780385535731_c653bA string of high profile coverage has brought attention and sales to Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill, Candice Millard (PRH/Doubleday; RH Audio/BOT), causing the book to leap to #61 on Amazon’s sales rankings.

The NYT‘s Jennifer Senior, in a review that appeared in the paper yesterday, says the book’s mix of biography, history, war, and adventure is “as involving as a popcorn thriller.”

Summarizing Millard’s career, Senior continues “Over the years Millard has made a stylish niche for herself, zooming in on a brief, pivotal chapter in the life of a historical figure and turning it into a legitimate feature-length production.”

Other reviews similarly emphasize the author’s ability to make history come alive, USA Today calls it a “a slam-bang study of Churchill’s wit and wile as he navigates the Boer War like some porto-james Bond” and The Washington Post cites her formidable storytelling skills,

In addition, the Wall Street Journal interviews the author about her “distinctive approach to writing about historical giants” by focusing “tightly on a forgotten yet riveting episode in an extremely well-documented life.”

Food Savvy

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

9780871406804_675a7Rising on Amazon’s sales rankings is Ten Restaurants That Changed America, Paul Freedman (Norton/Liveright; Blackstone Audio; OverDrive Sample), moving from #303 to just outside the Top 100.

The jump is a result of media attention including features by NPR’s All Things Considered, The New York Times (with a separate list of the ten, a magnet for foodies to test their knowledge), and The New Yorker.

Yale professor Paul Freedman explores how the history of where we choose to eat reflects the history of America, what restaurants mean to society, and how they shape culture.

While some other of the eateries Freedman cites are now closed, Tasting Table offers an overview of how Freeman’s work connects to modern dining.

Some libraries we checked have yet to order the book while others are showing multiple holds on a modest number of copies.

USA TODAY Takes Down O’Reilly

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

9781627790628_5824fYou don’t expect snark from USA Today, which makes their headline, “It’s time to stop O’Reilly’s literary ‘Killing’ spree” particularly amusing.

The review about the latest book in his series, Killing the Rising Sun (Macmillan/Holt; Macmillan Audio; OverDrive Sample) begins, “Please, Bill O’Reilly, stop the killing.”

The book is granted 2 of 4 stars, low for USA Today, but after reading the review, you wonder why the reviewer bothered to give it any stars.

We doubt that O’Reilly cares. The book, which was released today, is currently at #1 on Amazon sales rankings and libraries are showing holds queues.