Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Holds Alert: WEST OF EDEN

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

When reviewers differ, how do readers decide? It can all depend on how the book is positioned.

9780812998405_08179A case in point is Jean Stein’s newest oral history, about the Golden Age of Hollywood glitterati, West of Eden: An American Place (Random House; BOT; OverDrive Sample).

Janet Maslin clearly did not like it. She writes in her cutting NYT review that is its, “strangely unfocused … chopped into a few chapters about seemingly arbitrarily chosen families.”

However, the review in the LA Times by author Judith Freeman is far more compelling, saying that reading the book is:

“like being at an insider’s cocktail party where the most delicious gossip about the rich and powerful is being dished by smart people, such as Gore Vidal, Joan Didion, Arthur Miller and Dennis Hopper. The result is a mesmerizing book … compulsively readable, capturing not just a vibrant part of the history of Los Angeles … but also the real drama of this town, as reflected in the lives of some of its most powerful players.”

Those players include the Dohenys, the Warners, Jane Garland, Jennifer Jones, and the Steins (big figures in movies, money, and real estate), each with a seemingly more grand, outrageous, tragic, or dysfunctional story to tell than the next.

Readers are clearly weighing in on the side of the cocktail party take. Strong demand is driving holds over a 3:1 ratio at nearly every library we checked, which has resulted in several systems ordering extra copies after buying very low.

Holds Alert: THE RISE AND FALL OF AMERICAN GROWTH

Monday, February 1st, 2016

9780691147727_f2647Paul Krugman’s cover review for this week’s New York Times Sunday Book Review, available online since Monday, is fueling demand for a university press title about how America has changed, and failed to change, since the last age of great invention. The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War by Robert J. Gordon (Princeton University Press) is racking up holds and causing some libraries to add more copies to shore up initial low buys.

Krugman says the book is “a magisterial combination of deep technological history, vivid portraits of daily life over the past six generations and careful economic analysis” and goes on to say it “will challenge your views about the future; it will definitely transform how you see the past.”

From the Set of
THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015

zookeepersActress Jessica Chastain, currently working in Prague on the film version of The Zookeeper’s Wife (Norton, 2007), reveals just how male-dominated the movie business is.

In an essay in The Hollywood Reporter‘s special “Women in Entertainment” issue, Chastain notes 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.

“There are female producers (Diane Levin, Kim Zubick and Katie McNeill), a female screenwriter (Angela Workman), a female novelist (Diane Ackerman), a female protagonist and a female director. I’ve never seen a female camera operator like Rachael Levine on one of my films. And I’ve never, ever seen a female stunt coordinator like Antje ‘Angie’ Rau..”

As a result, she says, “You don’t feel a hierarchy; you don’t have anyone feeling like they are being left out or bullied or humiliated.”

The Zookeeper’s Wife is 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). The shoot wrapped at the end of last month. The movie is expected in theaters some time on 2016,

Movie Deal for
THE WITCH OF LIME STREET

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015

9780307451064_1e451At one point, Johnny Depp was in talks to play famous magician Harry Houdini in a film based on the 2007 biography, The Secret Life of Harry Houdine.

Another film based on a different book that features Houdini may make it to the screen first. STX Entertainment has acquired film rights to David Jaher’s first book, The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World (PRH/Crown; BOT; OverDrive Sample).

About Houdini’s showdowns with a famous Boston medium of the time, it got a glowing review from NPR calling it “spellbinding” and saying that “Jaher writes with a novelist’s panache,” has a wonderful “poetic sympathy and journalistic distance,” and “exhibits a what-the-hell candor that makes [the book] a page-turner.” The Wall Street Journal was also enthusiastic.

Echoing the reviewers’ assessments, the president of STX says in a press release quoted by The Hollywood Reporter, “Quite a few producers and studios were pursuing rights to this book for very good reason … this is a spellbinding and exciting true story.”

 

Doris Kearns Goodwin
On Donald Trump

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin made quite an entrance on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Monday, carried on a litter by several hunks wearing little more than beards and top hats, a goof on her having called Abraham Lincoln, the subject of her book, Team of Rivals (S&S), “sexy.”

She explains that comment, then turns more serious on the subject of Donald Trump, describing him as a “demagogue.”

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.”

WITCHES Rising

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.”

HBO’s LEWIS & CLARK
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

Filming: LOST CITY OF Z

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
THE WHITE CITY

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.

AMERICAN SNIPER’s Footsteps

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).

Tie-ins:

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.