Wednesday, February 18, 2009

New Tolkien Book

Some favorite Norse myths - Sigurd the Gram-wielding, dragon-slaying Volsung and the Fall of the Niflungs - will be retold by J.R.R. Tolkien in the forthcoming The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun (May, 2009). Tolkien wrote the previously unpublished manuscript in Oxford in the 1920s and 1930s. His son, Christopher Tolkien, will provide commentary in the edition by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HarperCollinsUK for the British). Christopher has a good edition, by the way, of the Hervararsaga, the Norse saga that Olof Rudbeck drew a map for in Verelius' 1672 edition - the very map that would eventually lead him on his life-long quest for Atlantis.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Party that Changed the World

Wouldn't it be nice to have a clock that would slow down in times of pleasure and speed up in times of trial? That was once a wish of Austrian Emperor Francis I, who could certainly have used such a device in the autumn of 1814 when he opened his palace to a veritable royal mob who would never seem to agree, or leave. The occasion was the Congress of Vienna, a glittering peace conference at the end of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

For a time, Vienna became the capital of Europe, the site of a massive victory celebration, and home to the most glamorous gathering since the fall of the Roman Empire. Never before have more kings, queens, and princes lived in the same place for such a long period of time.

Catering to the whims of these houseguests would sometimes be exasperating. Vienna wits soon poked fun at the early impressions made by the crowned heads who would so readily accept Emperor Francis's generosity:

The Emperor of Russia: He makes love for everyone.
The King of Prussia: He thinks for everyone.
The King of Denmark: He speaks for everyone.
The King of Bavaria: He eats for everyone.
The King of Württemberg: He eats for everyone.
The Emperor of Austria: He pays for everyone.

In the end, after nine months of negotiations, celebrations, and intrigues, the Congress of Vienna would finally wrap up, drastically reconfiguring the balance of power and ushering in a modern age.

For more, see my book Vienna 1814: How the Conquerors of Napoleon Made Love, War, and Peace at the Congress of Vienna. I originally posted this on Wonders and Marvels, a fascinating new blog by Holly A. Tucker, Professor at the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society at Vanderbilt University.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The White House Album Collection

The Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, Ramones' Rocket to Russia, Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica, Kinks' Arthur, and Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run are some of the 2,200 albums that once stood in a hallway of the third floor of the White House. Under Ronald Reagan, however, the lps were packed off to the basement, where they apparently remain. David Browne, author of the well-received Sonic Youth biography (Goodbye 20th Century) writes more on the collection in the latest issue of Rolling Stone.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Hunt for the Blue Baron

Divers are on the trail for what some believe might well turn out to be the "richest wreck" in history - a 2.6 billion treasure just waiting some 800 feet below sea, 40 miles off Guyana. The ship, which carried ten tons of gold and seventy tons of platinum among other things, was allegedly sunk by U-Boat U-87 on way to Great Britain in June 1942. Look forward to a complicated legal battle. Read more here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On King's Road

King's Road was, at its height, a vibrant urban catwalk that showcased everything from the fashionable to the freaky, the bohemian to the punk. The Rolling Stones had their first rehearsal at No. 500, where Bill Wyman auditioned as the band's bass player; at No. 430, Johnny Lydon would join the Sex Pistols. Eric Clapton lived briefly at No. 152, often jamming at the Six Bells (No. 197). Many other artists lived here for a time from Bob Marley to Joe Strummer. It was here that Peter Sellers faked an injury to avoid playing Major T. J. "King" Kong in Dr. Strangelove, and the Rocky Horror Show, after opening in the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, moved to the Classic Cinema at No. 148.

King's Road boutiques, meanwhile, dressed the stars and their creations from Sgt Pepper to Major Tom. Another icon, no surprise, would be closely associated with the scene: James Bond, who, as Ian Fleming imagined it, lived in a trendy unnamed square just off King's Road. By the 1980s, however, this legendary thoroughfare had lost its edge, degenerating into what many critics summed up as just another bland high street and tame tourist trap. The Chelsea Drug Store at 49 King's Road had become a McDonald's.

This blog is named in honor of a street that for a time symbolized innovation, nonconformity, and youthful exuberance - with the hope that none of these forces disappear anytime soon from the world of creativity.

As for books on this mythic patch of pavement, I recommend Max Décharné's King's Road: The Rise and Fall of the Hippest Street in the World. Décharné also sings for the garage punk band The Flaming Stars.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Vera and the Ambassador

Vera and her husband Donald Blinken, Ambassador to Hungary under Bill Clinton (1994-1998), will publish a dual memoir that will offer "a behind-the-scenes look at diplomacy and international relations in post-Communist Eastern Europe." It will also tell the story of Vera Blinken's return to Budapest fifty years after her escape in 1944.

In addition meeting everyone from Madonna to The Pope, the Blinkens played an important role in Budapest politics and society of the mid-1990s. Donald, for instance, negotiated Hungary's entry into NATO, and helped establish the NATO base at Taszár, the first in a former Warsaw Pact country and a strategic location for the Balkan wars and the airlift, while Vera created mobile breast cancer screening units that saved many lives. Hopefully there will be more on the Hungarian Refugee interviews following the 1956 revolution, which were digitalized here with their support and on their work lobbying the Hungarian government on behalf of Holocaust survivors.

By the way, their son Antony, a prominent foreign policy writer under Clinton, has just been named national security advisor to Vice President Joseph Biden.

Biden will blurb the book “President Clinton made a wise choice in sending Donald and Vera Blinken to Hungary. This book serves as a reminder of the critical role that ambassadors can play in advancing the interests of our country at the pivot points of history. Their teamwork was good for Hungary, good for our country, and it also makes for a great story.”

Vera and the Ambassador: Escape and Return will be published by SUNY Press in early February 2009.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

George W. Bush Read My Book

In 2008, according to Karl Rove in the Wall Street Journal, George W. Bush read "a heavy dose of history -- including David Halberstam's "The Coldest Winter," Rick Atkinson's "Day of Battle," Hugh Thomas's "Spanish Civil War," Stephen W. Sears's "Gettysburg" and David King's "Vienna 1814."

Friday, November 14, 2008

From Nashville to Philadelphia

A few weeks ago, I gave a talk on Vienna 1814 in the Senate Chambers of the State Capitol in Nashville. We had a wonderful crowd - thanks to all the people who packed the room, I enjoyed meeting everyone! Ed McClanahan and I decided to ride down to the Southern Festival of Books together. If you do not know Ed's books, do yourself a favor and get one now. What was it Bob Edwards said of him? "Most people who have had as much fun as Ed are dead."

Ed kindly indulged my curiosity about his adventures on the west coast in the sixties, not least with his friend Ken Kesey, the iconic psychedelic bus Further, and life in general as a Merry Prankster. The conversation spilled over, after arrival at the capitol, into the afternoon and late into the evening over an excellent dinner with Ed and Mark at Mambu's. The chefs, Anita and Corey, are fabulous. I look forward to reading Ed's latest book, O the Clear Moment, which has just come out. Here's a review in Newsday.

After Nashville, I headed north to give a talk on Vienna 1814 at the Napoleonic Historical Society Conference at the Union League in Philadelphia. What a wonderful weekend that was! The conference was outstanding in every sense, except for one: On Saturday, during a concert featuring music of the Grand Armée, news arrived that the Napoleonic scholar Ben Weider had died. If you don't know him, Weider was the author of several books on Napoleon, including Assassination at St. Helena Revisited with Sten Forshufvud and most recently Wars Against Napoleon with General Michel Franceschi. Just a few weeks before his death, Weider had donated about one hundred Napoleonic paintings, statues, snuffboxes, and other antiques from his personal collection to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. This included, among other things, one of Napoleon's hats from the Russian campaign, one of shirts, and a couple locks of his hair.

Weider was president of the International Napoleonic Society and also served the International Federation of Bodybuilders (Mr. Olympia, Ms. International, etc.,.), which he co-established. So, in addition to having his books in my library, I have some of his weights in my gym. It was Ben and his brother Joe who brought an obscure Austrian bodybuilder named Arnold Schwarzenegger to the States in the late sixties and launched his career. J. David Markham gave a touching toast. The Napoleonic world has lost a champion. My condolences to his family and friends all over the world.

This weekend, I'll be doing a book signing for Finding Atlantis and Vienna 1814 at the Kentucky Book Fair. If you are in the area, stop by.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hitchhiker Typewriter

After the summer break, I'll be hitting the road again with Vienna 1814 for talks in Philadelphia, Nashville, Miami, and other places, including an evening at the Carnegie Center here in Lexington. Details on these and other events will follow in the upcoming months.

In the meantime, you can still snag a first edition of Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, along with the typewriter that he used to hammer out the novel. It's a Hermes Standard 8, complete with a well-worn "x" key and an End Apartheid sticker on the side. The machine will come in its carrying case, that is, a cardboard box that originally held copies of Starship Titanic, which he wrote with Terry Jones, Monty Python performer and medieval historian extraordinaire.

The seller, N V Books in Great Wolford in Warwickshire, is asking $25,084.74, down about $100 from last week.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Morris Book Shop

For readers in Lexington, my friends Wyn and Hap have just opened a cool new book store called The Morris Book Shop. The Grand Opening will be Saturday, July 12. Robert Schneider of Apples in Stereo will perform. Jeffrey Scott Holland will be there with Weird Kentucky - I haven't seen Jeffrey in years! It should be a great day. The store has excellent taste: Wyn is currently reading, among other things, Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, "a worthy successor to Orwell's 1984," and Hap a certain book about "the Napoleonic 'after-party' that shaped modern Europe."

Friday, May 16, 2008

Bluegrass Festival

Vienna 1814 has been made a store or staff pick at other book stores around the country, most recently by Joan Gray at Diane’s Books in Greenwich CT, while also continuing to hit bestseller lists, like the one this week at Reagan Washington National Airport. Thanks again to everyone for all your comments and support! Also, by the way, check out the latest issue of Harper’s for an essay by fellow Kentuckian, Wendell Berry, “Faustian Economics: Hell hath no limits” (and also an ad for Vienna 1814, the “Party that Changed the World”). Tomorrow, I’ll be at the Bluegrass Festival of Books at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington. These events are a lot of fun, so if you happen to be in the area, come by and say hello.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

FreeKY Fest

All last week, my old college radio station celebrated its twentieth anniversary with a series of concerts and events that culminated in a twelve hour “FreeKY fest” on top of a building in downtown Lexington. The headliners were Apples in Stereo, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Do they ever? The band’s lead singer, Robert Schneider, is better known to my three-year old daughter as “Robbert Bobbert” – he is one of a handful of people she will give a real spirited high five. Cheers to all the organizers, performers, and everybody else who made the day such fun.

Another highlight (for me) was doing a two-hour music show on the station again for the first time in many years. I played some tracks from my late sixties British psychedelia collection, including Tintern Abbey and the Orange Machine. I also brought out a number of bands from the thriving Dunedin, New Zealand scene of eighties and nineties, as well as some exciting new bands that I really like, such as Ideal Free Distribution, whose 2007 debut features some wonderful material. Of course, I couldn't resist playing "Vienna" by Ultravox or, for my kids, "Rainbow Connection" by Kermit the Frog.

Speaking of college radio, I’ll be on WHRW-FM, Radio Free Binghamton early tomorrow evening to talk about other subjects I love to discuss, that is, Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Thank You

So much to say, time just flies by . . . let me begin by thanking everyone for packing into Joseph-Beth in Lexington for my talk the other day – what a great crowd and what fun to see everyone! A big thank you, too, goes to all the booksellers who have made Vienna 1814 a store or staff pick around the country, like at Rainy Day Books and Schuler Books; thanks, too, to all the readers who have already sent Vienna 1814 to some bestseller lists, such as Harvard University Book Store, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, and, in mp3 format, the top five nonfiction audiobooks on Amazon.

As I wrote earlier, I’m still enjoying being on the radio – today, I was on WKCT in Bowling Green and WEKU in Richmond. Actually it has been such a fun experience that I’ve agreed to go behind the mike in a different capacity, that is, as a disc jockey to host a two-hour music show, as part of a celebration of the station’s twenty years on the air. It’ll be my first time attempting to dj a radio show since my college days. Expect sheer chaos.

On Saturday, I’ll be at the Southern Kentucky Book Fest at Sloan Convention Center in Bowling Green, where I’ll talk about Vienna 1814 and be on a history panel with some fascinating people, including Tasha Alexander, author of Elizabeth: The Golden Age, which starred Cate Blanchett and picked up an Academy Award for costume design earlier this year. Historians on another "golden age" - late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth century piracy - Benerson Little and Robert A. Prather, will also be there, as well as Robert McCammon, Mitch Albom, and Harlan Coben. If you are in the area, come out and say hello.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Screen Plays and A Mutiny in the Baltic

I haven't had much free time for pleasure reading the last few weeks, with the book launch and everything, but here's a new book that I wanted to mention right away for the many writers and readers who come by this site: Screen Plays: How 25 Scripts Made it to a Theater Near You - For Better or Worse. Among the films are Gladiator, Troy, American Beauty, Lost in Translation, Monsters Ball, Aviator, and Black Hawk Dawn. Cohen, who also conducted technical research for the film version of Tom Clancy's The Sum of All Fears, discusses the hits, misses, and explains why, uncovering the "alchemy of the movie business." Cohen's site is here.

Speaking of Tom Clancy, David Hagberg and Boris Gindin will soon publish their book telling the true story behind the 1984 novel, The Hunt for Red October. It's called The Mutiny, the title referring to an incident in the fall of 1975 on board the FFG Storozhevoy in the Baltic. Co-author Boris Gindin was on board the antisubmarine warship when Brezhnev ordered it destroyed. The Mutiny: The True Events That Inspired 'The Hunt for Red October is set for release in May. Hagberg's site is here, and Boris Gindin, here.

Amazon's New and Notable Books

Good news . . . Vienna, 1814: How the Conquerors of Napoleon Made Love, War, and Peace at the Congress of Vienna has just been selected as one of's "New and Notable" books in history. The other selection is Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, The End of Civilization.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

In The New York Review of Books

Here is an excerpt from an ad for Vienna, 1814 that my publisher placed in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books:

"The Party that Changed the World . . . The Congress of Vienna was the most audacious and extravagant peace conference in modern European history. What began as a series of debauched parties changed with word of Napoleon's escape - and led to agreements that drastically reconfigured Europe's balance of power, ushering in the modern age." Some reviews of my book are also cited.

By the way, too, I just heard about a new charity organization that is trying to create book collections for cancer patients in hospitals and clinics around the state. It's called the Kentucky Books for Patients Project, and it's sponsored by James Graham Brown Cancer Center, Louisville University Hospital, and Spalding University's MFA program. For more information about donating books, check out the project's blog.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

On the Air

Years ago, I had a blast hosting a college radio show. But I have to say that I had forgotten how much I enjoyed that until I found myself behind the mic again for Finding Atlantis. In the next few days, I’ll be happily on the air again talking about Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna on five or six radio stations, beginning Monday morning with WTKF-FM in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina. I can’t wait. I love radio. And I love talking about Napoleon and that glittering Vanity Fair known as the Congress of Vienna.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Happy Book Day

These were the words I woke up to this morning, which my three-year old daughter proceeded to sing to the tune of "Happy Birthday" (and then "Happy Birthday" itself followed for good measure). What a wonderful opening to a wonderful day. Here's a picture given to me earlier today.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Congress of Vienna

Here’s a description of my new book from my publisher:

Vienna, 1814 is an evocative and brilliantly researched account of the most audacious and extravagant peace conference in modern European history. With the feared Napoleon Bonaparte presumably defeated and exiled to the small island of Elba, heads of some 216 states gathered in Vienna to begin piecing together the ruins of his toppled empire. Major questions loomed: What would be done with France? How were the newly liberated territories to be divided? What type of restitution would be offered to families of the deceased? But this unprecedented gathering of kings, dignitaries, and diplomatic leaders unfurled a seemingly endless stream of personal vendettas, long-simmering feuds, and romantic entanglements that threatened to undermine the crucial work at hand, even as their hard-fought policy decisions shaped the destiny of Europe and led to the longest sustained peace the continent would ever see.

Beyond the diplomatic wrangling, however, the Congress of Vienna served as a backdrop for the most spectacular Vanity Fair of its time. Highlighted by such celebrated figures as the elegant but incredibly vain Prince Metternich of Austria, the unflappable and devious Prince Talleyrand of France, and the volatile Tsar Alexander of Russia, as well as appearances by Ludwig van Beethoven and Emilia Bigottini, the sheer star power of the Vienna Congress outshone nearly everything else in the public eye.

An early incarnation of the cult of celebrity, the congress devolved into a series of debauched parties that continually delayed the progress of peace, until word arrived that Napoleon had escaped, abruptly halting the revelry and shrouding the continent in panic once again.

Vienna, 1814 beautifully illuminates the intricate social and political intrigue of this history-defining congress–a glorified party that seemingly valued frivolity over substance but nonetheless managed to drastically reconfigure Europe’s balance of power and usher in the modern age.”

This book was an absolute joy to write, and I have been thrilled with its reception so far – I hope you enjoy it too! Vienna, 1814 will be published next week in hardback, ebook, mp3, and cd, and it will be selected by some regional and national book clubs, including the History Book Club and the Military Book Club.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Like A Rolling Stone

In addition to Martin Scorsese's upcoming Rolling Stones concert film Shine A Light, check out Steven Kurutz's fascinating new debut Like A Rolling Stone, which will also be released in April. Kurutz's book will follow two rival tribute bands, Sticky Fingers and Blushing Brides, on the 2005-6 tour, meeting other acts along the way such as the Kounterfeit Kinks and the Red Hot Chilli Bastards. Publishers Weekly reviews Like A Rolling Stone here, and Kurutz's blog is here.