Archive for the ‘History’ Category

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.


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.

9/11 Book Soars

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

9781594206771_9a73cThe Red Bandanna: Welles Crowther, 9/11, and the Path to Purpose by Tom Rinaldi (PRH/Penguin; Penguin Audio/BOT; OverDrive Sample) is rising on Amazon’s sales rankings, leaping over thousands of other titles to move from #6,305 to #15.

The dramatic jump coincides with a feature on Good Morning America.

The book recounts the heroic actions of Welles Crowther who worked for an investment banking firm at the World Trade Center. Crowther had planned to leave the firm to join the fire department, finally fulfilling a life long dream.

He was still working for the bank on 9/11, 2001 and he sacrificed his life to save at least five others, leading people out of the tower and then returning to help more. He was identified by the red bandanna he wore as a mask against the smoke.

His body was found, reports the New York Post, six months into the cleanup efforts. He was with a group of firemen who also perished working to save others.

President Obama honored Crowther during his  remarks at the dedication of the National September 11 Memorial Museum in 2014.

Libraries we checked are showing modest holds on light orders but given the approaching anniversary, this is a book that could take off.

Riding High

Sunday, September 4th, 2016

9780345544803_79f84Elizabeth Letts’s The Perfect Horse: The Daring U.S. Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped by the Nazis (Random House/Ballantine; RH Audio/BOT; OverDrive Sample) has landed at #17 on the NYT extended hardcover nonfiction list.

The NYT highlights Lett’s in the “Inside the List” feature, noting that while WWII is a perennially popular subject, recently it seems books on the “quirky corners of the war” are particularly gaining ground. Like The Monuments Men before it, Lett’s book recounts a little-known mission during the waning days of the war, to save prized Lipizzaner stallions. The Nazis had abducted the horses, stockpiling them as part of a plan to create a super breed. With the war ending, supplies short, and the Russian army closing in, the horses were in danger of being slaughtered for food. No less a figure than General Patton ordered the rescue.

Letts is the author of a previous best seller about a horse, The Eighty-Dollar Champion (2011).

Check your holds. Several libraries show spikes on modest ordering.

MARCH Continues

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

9781603093958_0e365Congressman John Lewis appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last night and talked about his graphic memoir March, set for release next week as a three-volume boxed set, March (Trilogy Slipcase Set), John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (Top Shelf Productions).

He told Colbert that the ten-cent comic Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story served for him as a road map into the Civil Rights movement.

He hopes that March will become the road map for another generation, making history and civil action plain and real, so it “jumps off the pages and sings and dances” for readers.

The pair also talked about the sit-in recently held in Congress to draw attention to gun violence and how it is an example of finding a way to get into what Congressman Lewis calls “good and necessary trouble.”

Be sure to watch the segment to the end — it’s not to be missed.

Holds Alert:

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

9780375423222_1e3b7Check your orders, a new nonfiction account of the 1971 Attica Prison rebellion that led to a multi-day standoff, dozens of deaths, and a tense, politically charged aftermath, is making news and building a strong holds list.

Heather Ann Thompson’s Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy (PRH/Pantheon; OverDrive Sample) published this week is getting attention because, unlike previous authors and some news organizations, she names the officers she believes shot and killed inmates and, in friendly fire, the prison guards taken hostage during the standoff. CBS News reported the story, also highlighting Thompson’s discussion of then Gov. Nelson Rockefeller’s “secret efforts afterward to establish an acceptable narrative of what happened.”

Calling it “remarkable” and “superb,” the NYT says “Not all works of history have something to say so directly to the present, but [this book] which deals with racial conflict, mass incarceration, police brutality and dissembling politicians, reads like it was special-ordered for the sweltering summer of 2016.”

Thompson’s account is also catching Hollywood’s attention. Variety reports it will make its way to movie theaters as TriStar Pictures just won a “heated bidding war” for film rights, with a production crew already named.

Libraries that bought it, ordered very few copies. Some are showing holds topping 5:1.

A Frontier Memoir Resurfaces

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

9780316341394_cdcc0A circuitous publishing path has brought new attention to a frontier memoir, recounting the hardscrabble life in Arkansas and on the Mississippi Delta during the late 1800s and early 1900s, Trials of the Earth: The True Story of a Pioneer Woman, Mary Mann Hamilton (Hachette/Little, Brown; Hachette Audio; OverDrive Sample).

Featured on NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday, the book is rising on Amazon, leapfrogging over a thousand other books to move from #1,170 to #76.

Hamilton’s life story first saw the light of day when a neighbor urged her to enter her journal into a writing competition sponsored by publisher Little, Brown in 1933. It did not win and languished in a box kept under a bed, until the University Press of Mississippi published it to little fanfare in 1992 (although it was reviewed by the New York Times). Coming full circle, Little, Brown, has just  published a new edition.

NPR reviewer Maureen Corrigan calls it a “standout,” with a “blunt voice” that makes vivid the world Hamilton occupied. Highlighting a racist passage, she warns some of the “sections are ugly and tough to read” but that ultimately the book is rewarding, revealing the wildness of that world and “just how easy it was to vanish in an earlier America.”

USA Today gave it three out of four stars, writing it “underscores the huge power of unvarnished storytelling.”

The Chicago Tribune writes vividly about the “backbreaking labor” and wilderness Hamilton existed within, offering a picture of a woman tough as nails. In an especially intense example: soon after Hamilton gave birth, her home was cut off by flood waters, she “shelters with her daughter and three-month-old baby on a tree stump while bears swim past in the flood, not knowing whether her husband is dead or alive.”

Similar to the unexpected success of another frontier memoir, Pioneer Girl, holds are growing and inventory is low. In libraries we checked some systems are showing hold figures as high as 6:1.


Thursday, August 4th, 2016

9780385536714_ed035Jeffrey Toobin wrote the definitive book about one of the highest profile crime of the 1990’s, The Run of His Life, about O. J. Simpson. The popularity of two recent TV series on the case, one of which is based on that book, demonstrate there is a strong interest in revisiting such stories.

Going back even further in his latest book, Toobin takes a new look at the story of the 1974 kidnapping and arrest of Patty Hearst: American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst, (PRH/Doubleday; OverDrive Sample).

Following in the footsteps of Toobin’s O.J. title, Deadline Hollywood reports film rights were acquired prior to publication.

Libraries ordered the book modestly and holds are growing as a result of media attention. In an almost hour long conversation on NPR’s Fresh Air, Toobin talks to an enthralled Terry Gross about the case.

Hearst was the 19-year-old granddaughter of the famous newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst and while her case was a sensation at the time, Toobin found that nothing new had been written about the case in decades and decided to investigate it again.

Placing the story in its time, Toobin calls the period a “toxic, dangerous, scary time in America. … During the early and mid ’70s, there were 1,000 — 1,000!— bombings a year in the United States … [due to] a violent political culture.”

In this environment “the Symbionese Liberation Army, a small, armed revolutionary group with an incoherent ideology and unclear goals” kidnapped Hearst – at a point in her life where she was at “a particularly vulnerable and restless moment in her life … uniquely receptive to new influences.”

Against the standard story line that Hearst was brainwashed or suffering from Stockholm syndrome, Toobin argues that she “responded rationally to the circumstances she was confronted with at each stage of the process” and joined her kidnappers in their crimes.

Under her own power, says Toobin, she committed real harm, “She robbed three banks. She shot up a street in Los Angeles. She helped plant bombs in several places in northern California.”

Toobin says she “had multiple opportunities to escape over a year and a half. She went to the hospital for poison oak and she could’ve told the doctor, ‘Oh by the way, I’m Patty Hearst.’ She was caught in an inaccessible place while hiking and the forest rangers helped her out, and she could’ve said, ‘Oh by the way, I’m Patty Hearst.’ She didn’t escape because she didn’t want to escape.”

She was eventually captured and sent to prison for 7 years, but only served 22 months before President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence. President Bill Clinton pardoned her years later. Toobin calls both actions “the purest example of privilege on display that frankly I have ever seen in the criminal justice system.”

In her advanced NYT review, Janet Maslin writes, “As Mr. Toobin sees it, Patty — now Patricia again — was always an adroit opportunist, never a deep thinker, and remained an artful pragmatist under any circumstances.”

The Washington Post calls it “terrific” and “riveting” book, a “lurid crime story with its own toxic mix of race, class, celebrity and sex.”

CBS This Morning featured Toobin yesterday.

American Experience

Monday, August 1st, 2016

Boys in the BoatPremiering tomorrow night, August 2,  on PBS American Experience is a documentary titled The Boys of ’36, based on the bestseller The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown (Penguin/Viking; Penguin Audio; Thorndike).

A feature film based on the book’s proposal was announced in 2011, with Kenneth Branagh attached to direct. In 2014, a new director was announced, Peter Berg (Lone Survivor), but there’s been no further news since.


Monday, July 18th, 2016

9781400052172_1e7daRose Byrne (Damages) will play Rebecca Skloot, starring opposite Oprah Winfrey in HBO Films production of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, reports Deadline Hollywood.

As we noted earlier,  Oprah will play Deborah Lacks, Henrietta’s daughter and the character through whom the story is told.

Skloot is the author of the bestselling nonfiction account and her character in the book forms what Deadline calls “a close bond” with the character Oprah plays.

George C. Wolfe (Angels In America) wrote the adaptation and will direct, also reports Deadline. With these critical roles filled, the film is moving closer to full production.

TARZAN And George?

Friday, July 1st, 2016

MV5BMzY3OTI0OTcyMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjkxNTAwOTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_Amid mixed to downright terrible reviews, and questions about whether it’s possible to make a non-racist version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan, the latest incarnation, The Legend of Tarzan is bringing new attention to a fascinating real-life character, 19th C black human rights advocate, George Washington Williams. Played by Samuel L. Jackson in the movie, which opens on Friday, he travels with Tarzan to Africa.

Williams actually did travel to the Congo in 1890 (but did not encounter the fictional Tarzan). Appalled by what he saw there, he tried to shame King Leopold of Belgium in a long open letter about the horrors the Congolese were suffering under Belgian rule (more on Williams from MoviePilot).

Both Jackson and director David Yates tell Variety that Williams deserves a film of his own. Unfortunately, however, this movie may not make the best case for it. The LA Times writes, “Part comic relief, part valued ally, Williams is an altogether puzzling script component, and Jackson’s habit of sounding like he just stepped out of Pulp Fiction does not help things.”

For more about Williams and this period, two backlist titles are available:

GWW  9780618001903

George Washington Williams: A Biography, written by the Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient John Hope Franklin (Duke UP, 1998)

King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Adam Hochschild (HMH/Mariner; OverDrive Sample)

An award-winning best seller, it was the basis for a 2006 documentary.

Houston, We Have A Winner

Friday, July 1st, 2016

9780316338929_25c22PBS Newshour just launched Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars, Nathalia Holt (Hachette/Little, Brown; OverDrive Sample) into book sales orbit, helping it soar on Amazon from a sales rank of #6,540 to 146.

The dramatic move is due to a segment of the show’s special summer reading series that offers author interviews conducted at book shows around the country. The Newshour‘s Jeffrey Brown sat down with Holt at the Los Angeles Book Festival and the pair talked about women in science during the early years of the space program and today.

Holt says that in the early days of the Jet Propulsion Lab a group of women called “computers” figured out the calculations of the space program, doing math with pencil and paper and some very bulky calculators.

Once computers were introduced, these women became the first programmers.

Her book traces their history and accomplishments and recounts how both NASA and JPL overlooked their achievements as time went by. Case in point, none were invited to the 2008 gala held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Explorer 1 (America’s first satellite), an oversight that is particularly galling since one of the Rocket Girls, Barbara Paulson, figured out the trajectory on the night Explorer 1 launched, working in the control room. Holt says “when the first American satellite is a success, its because of her. She is the one that found out it’s actually in orbit.”

Holt also talks about how 2016 is a “desperate time for women in technology,” largely due to a lack of role models. In 1984, she says “37 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences were awarded to women. And today that number is 18 percent.” While female astronauts are doing astoundingly well, making up half of the current class at NASA, female engineers are seeing their lowest numbers in decades.

Holt hopes reading the stories of the pioneering Rocket Girls and learning what they achieved and overcame, will help change that.