Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Bill Gates, Bookseller

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

Bill Gates took to Twitter on Monday and sent Steven Pinker’s 2010 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (PRH/Penguin; RH Audio; OverDrive Sample), soaring to the top of the Amazon sales charts, where it is currently the best selling book across the site.

In a series of tweets offering advice to graduates, Gates says “If I could give each of you a graduation present, it would be this — the most inspiring book I’ve ever read.” The story has caught the attention of the new media. Both the Washington Post and Entertainment Weekly covered it. It’s also a favorite of fellow tech billionaire, Mark Zuckerberg who gave it a bump in early 2015, when he picked it for his Facebook book club.

In the book Pinker insists that, despite what many think, the world is actually becoming a better place.

The impact on holds is mixed. Some libraries have copies on the shelf while others are seeing holds topping 10:1.


Monday, May 8th, 2017

9781492649359_ebafaKate Moore’s The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women (Sourcebooks; HighBridge Audio; OverDrive Sample) is catching on.

Holds are topping 7:1 ratios and spiking as high as 34:1. Bases on that, and Amazon’s sales rankings, it is headed for bestseller lists.

Already a hit with librarians, it is a LibraryReads selection for May and a GalleyChat title. Booksellers are on board as well, making it an Indie Next pick.

Catherine Coyne, Mansfield Public Library, Mansfield, CT provided the LibraryReads annotation:

This is the story of hundreds of young, vibrant women who were sentenced to death by their employers. The so-called “Radium Girls” painted luminescent faces on clock and watch dials using a paint mixture that contained radium. Instructed to “lip-point” their brushes as they painted, they absorbed high doses of radium into their bodies. When the effects of the radium led to horrific disfigurement and pain, the company refused to take responsibility. This heartrending book was one I could not put down.”

For GalleyChat, library director Nicole Steeves, Fox River Grove (IL), said the elements are perfect for readers’ advisory (readable non-fiction, women’s stories, and science writing) and would also recommend it to teens. She added, “It is also is a timely example of good research and careful attribution, relevant to librarians’ concerns about news literacy.”

Coverage is wide ranging. The Spectator introduces the book with the creepy headline, “The Radium Girls — still glowing in their coffins.” BuzzFeed runs an illustrated feature written by Moore, NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday has an interview, as do the NYT and Jezebel. Bustle, The Atlantic, the NY Post, and Nature offer stories, with Nature calling the book “harrowing.”


Friday, May 5th, 2017

9780609608449_5e627The great-great grandchildren of Henry H. Holmes, the serial killer featured in the best seller, The Devil in the White City, have received permission to exhume his body to confirm whether he was indeed hanged in Philadelphia in 1896.

The investigation aims to determine the truth of the legend that he faked his own death, reports the Chicago Tribune, by bribing “jail guards to hang a cadaver in his place.”

Meanwhile, the film version of Eric Larson’s true crime title, The Devil in the White City (RH/Crown, 2003), has been in the works ever since it was published. As recently as last month, Deadline Hollywood wrote that Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio are still developing the project.

Scorsese told the Toronto Sun in December, “Right now, there is a script being worked on … One of the things that I had to stop for the past six months [to complete Silence] was my meetings on that script. They want me to start again in January and see if we can find a way because it’s an extraordinary story.”

Finding a way has proved difficult thus far. Tom Cruise acquired the rights in 2003 but the project stalled. We wrote about the last wave of hopes for it in April 2016. Even earlier, in 2015, we posted about the film’s long gestation period. DiCaprio has owned the rights since 2010.

Inside The Ruins of Camelot

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

9781501158940_b4279A forthcoming book by Jackie Kennedy’s longtime assistant is getting wide media coverage, Jackie’s Girl: My Life with the Kennedy Family by Kathy McKeon (S&S/Gallery; S&S Audio; out May 9). The book’s title is how Rose Kennedy referred to her. The book arrives next week.

McKeon lived in Kennedy’s Fifth Avenue apartment from 1964 to 1977 and had a front row seat to history, caring for both children and helping Mrs. Kennedy. People says “McKeon’s position gave her a close-up view of the real lives behind the headlines — from Jackie’s romance with Greek shipping billionaire Aristotle Onassis and their controversial marriage, to the shattering news of RFK’s assassination in 1968.”

She was interviewed on the Today Show yesterday:

The family clearly loved her. Refinery29 says “McKeon, an Irish immigrant, began working for Kennedy at the young age of 19 … [when she left] to get married and start her own family, Kennedy and her children, Caroline and John Jr., attended the wedding. McKeon and her children were invited to Kennedy’s summer home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, every year.”

People ran an excerpt and the news media is doing their best to mine it for unknown details. The most “salacious” is that John John once had a play date with “Robert Chambers, who went on to become the infamous ‘Preppy Killer.'” Others have to do with fashion: Jackie wore a quarter-inch lift in one of her shoes to make up for a slight difference in leg length and liked her closet arranged by color. Other insider details reveal that Carolyn Bessette Kennedy was terrified of the paparazzi and John F. Kennedy Jr. “was a ‘scrawny kid’ who shied away from ‘rough-and-tumble sports.’”

The book is selling well, and holds are high, on generally cautious ordering.


Thursday, April 27th, 2017

9780385534246_0b8dcKillers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (PRH/Doubleday; RH Large Print; RH Audio/BOT; OverDrive Sample) debuts on the USA Today Bestseller list at #7, a ranking that far outdistances Grann’s first book, The Lost City of Z, which hit a high of #68.

There is more good news for the journalist turned author. Deadline Hollywood reports that a dream team might join forces for the film version, consisting of Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Robert De Niro. The trio, who have never worked together on one film, are said to be seriously considering the project.

Flower Moon is a rich story for them to dig their teeth into, a true crime tale of high murder counts, conspiracies, the FBI’s young director, J. Edgar Hoover, and a former Texas Ranger named Tom White. The Independent speculates on who will play which historical figure, “DiCaprio [who previously played Hoover in Clint Eastwood’s 2011 film J. Edgar] may take up the role again, with De Niro probably the pick to play Tom White.”

The film rights were sold in a hot auction for 5 million, roughly a year before the book hit shelves. Variety says it “was one of the highest prices paid for movie rights in recent memory.”

It might prove a sound buy. The Lost City of Z is more than held its own in very limited release. However, it did not perform as well when it expanded to more theaters this past weekend.  Critics are mad for it, with the A.V. Club asking “Is this the best movie of the year so far?

The book was featured on the 4/30 CBS Sunday Morning.


Wednesday, April 12th, 2017

9781476763828_13cfbIn the 1970s over 900 people died because they followed the religious figure turned cult leader, Jim Jones, to the jungles of Guyana where they, voluntarily or not, drank poison in a final act of devotion.

Jeff Guinn, known for his true crime bestsellers, investigates the history of Jones and his doomed followers in The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple (S&S; S&S Audio).

It has been covered by two high-profile outlets. Terry Gross interviews Guinn today on NPR’s Fresh Air and the Today show used the story last week to launch a “series examining some of the biggest crimes and cults of the 20th century.”

Guinn tells Gross that Jones was a “tremendous performer” who displayed “the classic tendencies of the demagogue … [he] would take current events and exaggerate them to create a sense of fear and urgency. He drew his followers to Guyana by convincing them that America was facing imminent threats of martial law, concentration camps and nuclear war … [he] epitomizes the worst that can happen when we let one person dictate what we hear [and] what we believe.”

The aftermath was so horrifying that the Guyanese army, coming to confront Jones, start screaming as they arrive on site, “because there are bodies everywhere, almost more than they can count, and they’re so horrified.”

Today details the event that triggered the final mass suicide, Jones’s order to open fire on a Congressman there to investigate, a trip filmed by NBC news in which three NBC staff were also murdered.

Newspapers such as The San Francisco Chronicle, the Star-Telegram (Texas), and The Dallas Morning News review it. USA Today names it one of their “New and noteworthy” titles. Salon headlines their coverage with “Jim Jones was who Charlie Manson wanted to be.” Men’s Journal names it one of “The 7 Best Books of April.” Vice offers an interview with Guinn.

Library holds are light at this point, but keep your eye on it.


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:



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.”


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.”