Archive for the ‘History’ Category

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.


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.


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).


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.


HBO’s Lewis And Clark Off Track

Thursday, February 18th, 2016


Beset by a slew of delays, including wildfires on location and the departures of both the director and director of photography over creative differences, the HBO series, Lewis And Clark, based on the book Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose, (S&S, 1996), may be shut down entirely.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, “it’s unclear whether production will ever start up again. Sources say that the series’ props and costumes are being held in storage in Canada, where the first iteration was shot.”

ROOTS Remake, Trailer

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

9780306824852_b49ce 9781137279606_f0867

In 1977, the TV series Roots, based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Alex Haley was a sensation, opening the eyes of many white American to the horrors of slavery and encouraging African Americans to research their family histories.

The series has been remade, starring Forest Whitaker, Anna Paquin, Laurence Fishburne, Jonathan Rhys Meyers. In the lead role of Kunte Kinte is the “up-and-coming British actor” Malachi Kirby.

Set to premiere on the History Channel on Memorial Day, May 30, the first trailer was recently released.

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

The recent biography, Alex Haley: And the Books That Changed a Nation by Robert J. Norrell was picked by Essence magazine as one of “6 Must-Read Books for Black History Month.”

Kirby is known in the U.K. for his role in the TV series East Enders. He also starred as the younger brother in the 2013 British film Gone Too Far. As we noted in an earlier story, and can’t resist mentioning agin, the trailer, below, includes an eerie foreshadowing of his future role.

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.


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

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

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.”