Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Holds Alert:
BLOOD IN THE WATER

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.

AMERICAN HEIRESS On The Rise

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.

BOYS OF 36 on PBS
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.

Casting News: THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

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:

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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.

WHITE TRASH Rising

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

9780670785971_39370Rising dramatically on Amazon, leapfrogging over nearly 1500 titles ahead of it to move from #1,494 to #45 is White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, Nancy Isenberg (PRH/Viking; Tantor Audio; OverDrive Sample).

The jump coincides with a rave NYT daily review, running today on the front page of section C and also online. In it Dwight Garner calls the book “formidable and truth-dealing” and says Isenberg:

“has written an eloquent volume that is more discomforting and more necessary than a semitrailer filled with new biographies of the founding fathers and the most beloved presidents … This estimable book rides into the summer doldrums like rural electrification … It deals in the truths that matter, which is to say, the uncomfortable ones.”

The book is receiving attention from a wide range of media, including Slate, the WSJ‘s SpeakEasy podcast, and LitHub, which calls it one of “Five Books Making News This Week.” On the trade side, it has received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, both of which call it “riveting.”

Holds so far are low in libraries we checked but like Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond and A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn, it seems destined to be a title that will spark discussion for months to come and appear on end-of-the year best lists.

True Life Western Takes Off

Sunday, May 29th, 2016

9781250069986_6446aSoaring on Amazon’s sales rankings due to a glowing review in The Wall Street Journal is Texas Ranger: The Epic Life of Frank Hamer, the Man Who Killed Bonnie and Clyde, John Boessenecker (Macmillan/Thomas Dunne Books; OverDrive Sample), which jumped from #5,403 to just outside the Top 100.

Writing for the paper, author Bryan Burrough (Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence), a frequent reader of “biographies of American lawmen and detectives” says that “in terms of sheer action and violence, from close-quarters gunfights to Mexican-border ambushes to face-offs with lynch mobs, I’m hard-pressed to think of one that rivals John Boessenecker’s excellent” account.

He goes on to say:

“What makes Texas Ranger a notable achievement is how thoroughly Hamer has eluded so many would-be biographers. Though he took part in 52 known gunfights and killed at least 27 men—and probably more—he was humble and tight-lipped about his achievements. He left no diaries and granted few interviews. But Mr. Boessenecker, after years mining state archives and yellowed newspapers, finally captures the full life of a man whose exploits could easily pack a dozen Hollywood movies.”

The book is getting a range of local press coverage as well as a vividly illustrated feature in Garden & Gun. The NYT, which is not as glowing, features it as part of their “Adventurers Shortlist” in last week’s Sunday Book Review.

Holds are thus far light on light ordering but this is the kind of book that can take off if there is word of mouth.

Hitler’s Race for the Bomb

Sunday, May 29th, 2016

9780544368057_6a653Amid the current unease about nuclear proliferation, Neal Bascomb’s historical account of Hitler’s efforts to create atomic weapons, The Winter Fortress: The Epic Mission to Sabotage Hitler’s Atomic Bomb (HMH; OverDrive Sample), is rising on Amazon, on the strength of a riveting review in The Wall Street Journal.

Detailing the efforts and sacrifice of Norwegian, British, and Americans seeking to stop Hitler’s plans, the paper calls the book a “riveting and poignant” account that “metamorphoses from engrossing history into a smashing thriller.”

Holds are mixed at libraries we checked, with some locations showing ratios over 4:1, others showing strong circ on moderate ordering, and others with copies on the shelf. Right now the book is mainly benefiting from local press, but books such as these are perennially popular and Bascomb’s is regarded as the definitive account of an overlooked part of WWII history, making it a core title for many collections.

Presidential Memories

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

9781476794136_20f2fFollowing a feature on the Today show, Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford, Clint Hill with Lisa McCubbin (S&S/Gallery Books; S&S Audio; OverDrive Sample) has risen on Amazon sales rankings to #16.

The memoir, written by the former secret service agent who was assigned to Mrs. Kennedy and threw his body across the President’s on the day of the assassination, offers anecdotes and reflections on his time working with five Presidents and the historical and personal moments he witnessed.

People has been running anecdotes from the book online. One focuses on Elvis’s meeting with Nixon, another on the effect of the death of the Kennedys’ infant son on JFK, and a final feature on JFK’s efforts to protect Jackie’s public image.

Hill’s previous two books were NYT best sellers. Five Days in November spent two weeks on the Hardcover Nonfiction in 2013, debuting at #3. Mrs. Kennedy and Me, 2012, was on for six weeks, hitting a high of #2.

ROOTS World Premiere

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

9780306824852_69a4a9781137279606_f0867The upcoming new adaptation of Roots debuted during the MipTV conference in Cannes yesterday, television’s version of the more famous Cannes film festival, where producers make deals, show off their latest projects, and troll for international distribution.

Roots is already set for U.S. release, scheduled to air on the History Chanel, and simulcast on A&E and Lifetime, over four consecutive nights beginning May 30.

The premiere was highly successful and emotional, according to Deadline, with stars from the 1977 original mixing with the new series’ actors in a panel discussion on the meaning of both adaptations.

The new version seeks to make the seminal TV event, based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Alex Haley, relevant to a new generation of viewers, many of whom were not alive when the first adaptation aired.

The 70’s version was a sensation, opening the eyes of many white American to the horrors of slavery and encouraging African Americans to research their family histories, but executive producer Mark Wolper, the son of the original’s EP David L Wolper, realized he had to re-imagine his father’s efforts when his own son refused to watch the 1977 series, saying, “like your music, it doesn’t speak to me.”

The series remake stars Malachi Kirby, Forest Whitaker, Anna Paquin, Laurence Fishburne, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

A tie-in edition comes out on May 3: Roots [miniseries tie-in]: The Saga of an American Family, Alex Haley, (Perseus/Da Capo Press).

A biography of the author was published late last year, Alex Haley: And the Books That Changed a Nation by Robert J. Morrell, picked by Essence magazine last month as one of “6 Must-Read Books for Black History Month.”

LOST CITY OF Z, First Trailer

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

lostcityzAfter years in development, the first trailer for
the movie adaptation of The Lost City of Z (RH/Doubleday;2009; OverDrive Sample) by David Grann has just been released. It stars Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland and Sienna Miller.

No release date has yet been announced, but it is expected to hit screens some time in this fall.

The book (Doubleday, Feb, 2009), grew out of a New Yorker article by David Grann, about British explorer Percy Fawcett, who disappeared 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 Amazon 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 … it reads with all the pace and excitement of a movie thriller and all the verisimilitude and detail of firsthand reportage.” It topped most of the year’s best books lists.

Grann made Hollywood news recently for his upcoming book Killers Of The Flower Moon: An American Crime And The Birth Of The FBI (PRH/ Doubleday; 4/18/17; 9780385534246) which is currently the subject of a major auction. Grann described the book two years ago in a Reddit AMA:

It’s about the Osage Indians in Oklahoma. In the 1920s they became the richest people in the world after oil was discovered under their reservation. Then they began to be mysteriously murdered off—poisoned, shot, bombed–in one of the most sinister crimes in American history.

In The News: IMBECILES

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

The headline of this post may seem odd, but it refers to the title of a book featured on NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday, an historical account of what author Adam Cohen considers “one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in American history,” Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck (PRH/Penguin; OverDrive Sample).

9781594204180_aebe8

It recounts the 1927 case in which the Supreme Court voted 8-1 to uphold a state’s right to forcibly sterilize a citizen deemed “unfit” to procreate. The case grew out of the eugenics movement, which Cohen details as well.

Holds are light thus far but the title zoomed up the Amazon sales rankings to #72 after Fresh Air, making it a candidate to hit best seller lists next week.

If so, it won’t be Cohen’s first best seller. He is the author of Nothing to Fear: FDR’s Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America which hit the NYT‘s Nonfiction Hardcover list in 2009.

In the News: Edgy History

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

9781594206566_44459Head of the National Security Agency and the CIA during some of the most tense and controversial years of American history, Michael V. Hayden surveys his tenure in the Bush administration, detailing what occurred and why from his point of view, in Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror (PRH/Penguin; Penguin Audio; BOT; OverDrive Sample – embargoed until yesterday’s pub date).

The book is currently #10 on Amazon’s Top Sellers. Library holds thus far are in keeping with fairly low level of ordering. Holds may still grow, as word about this embargoed title spreads.

Author Mark Bowden (Black Hawk Down) reviewing the book for The New York Times is not impressed:

“Mr. Hayden seems oblivious … He has written an occasionally engaging book about matters — moral, legal and technological — that are very complex, but he shows little interest in examining them. Throughout he is breezy and unapologetic. And why not? At the same time his efforts were being met by public criticism, they led to steady praise and promotion. He ended his Air Force career a four-star general.”

While not passing judgment on the book itself, NPR’s Robert Siegel conducted a probing interview with Hayden for All Things Considered earlier this week. In one key moment Siegel asks: “What did you tell Leon Panetta, your successor as CIA director, to say about waterboarding?”

Hayden replies:

“Do not use the word ‘torture’ and ‘CIA’ in the same sentence ever again. You can object to some of the enhanced interrogation techniques. You can, in your heart of hearts, believe they meet some legal definition of torture. But Leon, you’re taking over a workforce that did these things in good faith. They did these things with the assurance of the attorney general that they indeed were not torture. Do not accuse them of felonies.”

He also says that it was the US intelligence agencies that got the facts about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction wrong, not the Bush administration. “We were wrong. It was a clean swing and a miss. It was our fault.”

MSNBC’s Morning Joe featured Hayden in a long segment yesterday.