Sunday, December 30, 2007

Rockin’ the Kremlin

Last Thursday, the Scorpions played a concert at the Kremlin that celebrated the founding of the FSB, the successor security service to the KGB, NKVD, and the Cheka, which Dzerzhinsky, “Iron Feliks,” founded ninety years before on December 20, 1917. Lead singer Klaus Meine later said that he had no clue about the occasion of the show, which, it turned out, was packed by FSB agents and guests (who politely applauded the band’s perestroika-inspired “Wind of Change.”) Among the former KGB men present was the previous FSB director, and now Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Audio Book on the Way

Vienna 1814: How the Conquerors of Napoleon Made Love, War, and Peace at the Congress of Vienna, which will be published in March 2008, will now also be an audio book, an eleven cd-set released this spring. More details to come.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Black Postcards

A promising new memoir is on the way from Dean Wareham, guitarist and singer of Galaxie 500, and then Luna, which Rolling Stone famously called “the greatest band you’ve never heard of.” The publisher bills the memoir as “a wickedly honest and unsparing account of a journey through the music world, the artistry, and the hustle . . .” (Wareham’s Black Postcards: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Romance). Also, the Galaxie 500 Peel Sessions (September 1989 and October 1990) have just been released, apparently for the first time, that is, besides the bootleg versions that circulated.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

London Calling Again

There’s a new book, just sold this week, about the North Kensington punk band The Clash, and the authors will be Paul Simonon, Mick Jones, and Topper Headon, that is, The Clash themselves (Joe Strummer died in late 2002). The band will tell their own story, from the early days of punk to releasing what Rolling Stone magazine called the best album of the eighties, London Calling (released in late ’79) and beyond. The Clash will reportedly feature “hundreds of photos, many never-before-seen and unique memorabilia from the band’s own collection.” (Publishers Lunch) Look for it in October 2008 on Atlantic UK.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Iron Curtain Odyssey

Dominique Lapierre’s memoir of a 1956 road trip through the USSR has just been published in India. Lapierre was then a 25 year-old reporter for Paris Match, and Nikita Khrushchev had authorized the visit. Lapierre, the photographer Jean-Pierre Pedrazzini, their wives and a couple of Soviet reporters then set out on an almost three and a half month, 13,000 km trip behind the Iron Curtain. Given his previous books, such as his (and Larry Collins) Is Paris Burning and Freedom at Midnight, this should be a fascinating read. It has already been a bestseller in France. Lapierre's Once Upon A Time in the Soviet Union is not currently available in the States, but here's the website of the Indian publisher, Full Circle.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Chess, Tai Chi, and the Art of Learning

Josh Waitzkin – the young chess prodigy featured in the memoir Searching for Bobby Fischer: The Father of a Prodigy Observes the World of Chess and the later Paramount film - discusses chess, martial arts, and the nature of learning in his book, The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence. After tying Kasparov in an exhibition game at age 11, Waitzin went on to win several national chess championships and five national championships in Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands (middleweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight divisions). He is also a spokesman for the fight against Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Carol Jarecki has a two-part review of Josh Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning at ChessBase.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

No Longer Dreaming in Latin

I was asked the other day about the differences between researching Finding Atlantis and Vienna 1814. The first thing to come to mind was the nature of the source material. For Finding Atlantis, I used primary sources in a half dozen languages, including old Swedish, which Rudbeck wrote virtually all of his surviving correspondence and his 2,500 tome detailing his discoveries, the Atlantica. There were also a few (one hundred or so) letters in bombastic seventeenth century Latin that I translated, mainly “fan mail” to Rudbeck congratulating him on his work.

The Congress of Vienna also has a wealth of source material in a variety of languages – I used a half dozen on this book too, though not Latin or old Swedish. There were also more memoirs, diaries, correspondence, minutes of meetings, and many other valuable primary sources for recreating the daily life of the conference. More later, as we get closer to the book launch.

Monday, December 3, 2007

To Seize a President

According to Czech resistance fighter and historian Radomir Luza in today’s Lidove noviny (h/t ceskenoviny), Czech exiles had plotted to spirit away President Edvard Beneš after the communist coup of February 1948. The president, one of the founders of Czechoslovakia, was to be seized from the secret police StB, and recruited to lead anti-communist resistance. The plot was never attempted because of the president’s poor health. Luza has written, co-written, and edited several books about Czech history, including A History of the Czechoslovak Republic, 1918-1948, The Transfer of the Sudeten Germans: A Study ofCzech- German Relations, 1933-1962, and, with Christina Vella, The Hitler Kiss: A Memoir of the Czech Resistance.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

I, Napoleon

A handwritten page from the final draft of Napoleon’s novella Clisson and Eugenie – a love story about a Corsican rebel who ultimately gets betrayed – was sold today by Osenat for $35,400. Napoleon wrote the story most likely in 1795 when he was a 26-year old general; the following year, he would marry Josephine and launch his first Italian campaign. Clisson and Eugenie was not published in his lifetime. See items at auction here (French) and one account of the sale in English here.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Michael Beschloss’ Next Book: Wartime Presidential Leadership

Michael Beschloss' new book - sold at auction to Crown - will tell the two-hundred year story of American wartime presidential leadership (Publishers Weekly). Beschloss, who received an Emmy for his work on the “Decisions that Shook the World” series, now serves as NBC News Presidential Historian. He has been working on the subject since college, when he wrote an undergraduate thesis on Kennedy and Roosevelt, which later became Kennedy and Roosevelt: the Uneasy Alliance (1980).

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Nobel Prize Ceremony

Several years ago, when I attended the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm, I enjoyed telling the story of Alfred Nobel’s most famous ancestor to everyone who would listen. Who’s the ancestor? It’s Olof Rudbeck. I told how he discovered and explained the lymphatic system as a teenager; how he built the grand anatomical theater for dissections, though soon tired of the business and rarely used it afterwards; how he founded the botanical garden which is now named after his successor Carl Linnaeus; how he collected cannons and fired them at celebrations. And of course how he spent the last thirty years of his life on an adventurous hunt for the lost civilization of Atlantis, which he believed he found in Sweden, all of which I later wrote about in Finding Atlantis.

Here’s a picture I took that evening:

Note the older gentleman standing second from left in the front. It’s John Nash, the economics wizard later featured in Sylvia Nasar’s biography, A Beautiful Mind. We didn’t know a fraction of the story at the time, other than Nash being, among other things, a pioneer in game theory.

So Al Gore, Dorris Lessing and everyone else heading out to Stockholm (or Oslo for the peace prize), give a toast to Alfred Nobel’s illustrious ancestor, Olof Rudbeck, who took time away from his obsessive search for Atlantis in Sweden to marry his daughter Vendela to a young Petrus Nobelius.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Inside the Black Kings

Ideas for stories sometimes come in the most unexpected ways. For Columbia University sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh, it was during his first year of graduate school when he was being held captive in an abandoned housing project by the Chicago gang the Black Kings. Venkatesh will tell the story of his seven year relationship with the gang, which he won over and studied, in his upcoming memoir Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets. Sudhir Venkatesh has written widely on “vice careers,” including a collaboration with Steven Levitt on the economics of gang finance in The Quarterly Journal of Economics. One of his recent studies, Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor, won the C. Wright Mills Award in 2007. Gang Leader for a Day will be out in January 2008.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Rock 'n' Roll Office

A new memoir is on the way from Dan Kennedy, Rock On: An Office Power Ballad, scheduled for February 2008. After landing his dream job with a giant record label, Kennedy soon finds himself disillusioned, to say the least. “The music business isn’t pretty,” as Kirkus Reviews put it, “but it’s pretty funny.” In Kennedy’s hands, it will be, no doubt. He is author of Loser Goes First, runs, and has contributed to McSweeneys for seven years. A ten-city book tour is in the works.

The Life and Times of a Fallen Planet

Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History and director of Hayden Planetarium, will soon be publishing The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet. Tyson will tell the inside story of how the beloved little planet, well, got Plutoed. Originally scheduled for the spring, the publication date now seems to be June 2008. Tyson, among other things, has an asteroid named after him, Asteroid "121213 Tyson." You can read his monthly column at Natural History.

Party like it's 1814

Good news. I was excited to learn that one of my favorite historians has just given us a wonderful review of Vienna 1814, my upcoming book on the Congress of Vienna, the spectacular peace conference that redrew the maps after the Napoleonic Wars and ushered in the longest period of peace Europe has ever known. It was also one of the greatest parties in history, with a dazzling array of masked balls, banquets and celebrations. Can't wait to tell you more, and I will do so as soon as possible.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Pirate Capitalism

International Talk Like a Pirate Day, alas, has come and gone, but there’s a book being published in January that advises us to start thinking like one – that is, like a pirate or innovator who often shakes up our arts and industries with maverick, sometimes revolutionary solutions. The author, Matt Mason, is a former pirate radio DJ and co-founder of wedia, the nonprofit media company that covers humanitarian issues across the globe; his book, The Pirate’s Dilemma: How Youth Culture Reinvented Capitalism sounds wonderful:

"How do you start a movement with a marker pen? What’s the connection between the nun who invented disco, and file sharing? How did a male model messing with disco records in New York in the 1970s influence the way Boeing design airplanes? . . . The Pirate’s Dilemma tells the story of how youth culture drives innovation and is changing the way the world works. " (Matt Mason, The Pirate's Dilemma)

I can’t wait to read it. In the meantime, Mason has a new blog, discussing everything from “Punk Capitalism” to the “Tao of Pirates.”

Monday, November 12, 2007

David McCullough's Next Book: Americans in Paris

A few hours ago, it was announced that David McCullough has sold his next book to Simon & Schuster. The still untitled project will tell the story of Americans in Paris: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Fenimore Cooper, Edith Wharton, Langston Hughes, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Samuel Morse, Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, William L. Shirer, Josephine Baker, to name a few. McCullough’s 1776 has 3 million copies in print, and his John Adams will be broadcast on HBO in the spring of 2008, the same time, incidentally, as my Vienna 1814 will be out. McCullough, at first, had trouble convincing his editor of the merits of writing about the cranky second president. John Adams went on to become the best-selling biography in Simon & Schuster history.

Writer’s Advance Tops Rolling Stone and Prime Minister

When his forthcoming memoir went to auction, Keith Richards won an advance of 7 million. Last month, Tony Blair received 9 million for his autobiography. But the Welshman Ken Follett has bagged an even larger advance for his upcoming trilogy, tentatively entitled The Century, about families caught up in the crises of the first, second and cold wars. The advance, including foreign rights deals, is a reported 50 million dollars. Not bad for a socialist from Cardiff.

Not over until the First Baseman Sings, preferably Gilbert & Sullivan

After arriving in the United States from his native Ireland in the late nineteenth century, John Clark ended up playing first base in the major league, blossoming into the major opera star who called himself “Signor Brocolini” and eventually becoming Gilbert & Sullivan’s first “Pirate King.” You can read many fun tales of vintage baseball in Peter Morris’s new book, But Didn’t We Have Fun: An Informal History of Baseball’s Pioneer Era, 1843-1870, which is scheduled to be published in the spring of 2008. Morris is also a National Scrabble Champion (1989) and World Champion (1991). Read about Clark, the new book, and Morris’ other works on the history of baseball here.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

"For a time, the world's best rock 'n' roll band"?

Author and music critic Jim Walsh has just published The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting, based on his intimate knowledge of the legendary south Minneapolis band and the thriving Minneapolis music scene of the 1980s. Walsh has already been praised by Publishers Weekly for writing a “loving, appropriately ramshackle tribute” to the Mats, detailing such infamous episodes as Paul Westerberg smashing copies of Hootenanny in local record store and the band’s “triumphant disaster” on Saturday Night Live. Trouser Press called the Replacements “for a time, the world’s best rock ‘n’ roll band.”

As a former disc jockey for a college radio station who played the Replacements many times over the years, I look forward to Walsh’s book. It should be a fascinating read. After all, what do fans ask the most of R.E.M.’s Peter Buck? “You played on [Replacements] 'I will Dare.' What was that like?” “More people bring that up to me than anything else,” he said.

Speaking of Peter Buck, Cable & Tweed have posted an old photo of him back in his days as a clerk at Wuxtry Records. Note the comics Conan the Barbarian and the first issue of Howard the Duck in the background.

Historian and Former German Chancellor Honored in Berlin

Next week, Fritz Stern will receive the "Award for Understanding and Tolerance" from the Jewish Museum Berlin. Stern, former Seth Low Professor of History at Columbia University and who also taught at Yale, Cornell, and Berlin, is the author of many works, including Five Germanys I Have Known, Gold and Iron, Germany 1933, The Politics of Cultural Despair, The Failure of Illiberalism, and Varieties of History. The other recipient of this year’s prize will be Helmut Kohl, the former Chancellor of Germany who presided over the reunification. Kohl, who also has a PhD in history, is the longest serving chancellor in German history since Bismarck. He will be honored particularly for his efforts to rebuild relations between Germany and Israel. The ceremony will be held on November 17. Link (German). Also in Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Friday, November 9, 2007

And Why Shouldn't Snoop Dogg be Filmed Golfing on Drugs?

Dom Joly, writer, actor, producer and former diplomat, has published a new book called Letters to My Golf Club. Here Joly, known for his surreal hidden camera comedies like Happy Now? and Trigger Happy TV, fires off cranky, increasingly outrageous requests to British golf clubs. What, for example, is the club planning to do to combat illicit dog fighting on its grounds? “Will the Board allow Snoop Dogg to be filmed golfing on drugs?” Not available in the States, but here’s a link to the UK publisher.

Finding Atlantis in Turkish

My book about Olof Rudbeck and his search for Atlantis (in Sweden), Finding Atlantis, has now been translated into Turkish, in a new paperback edition by Istanbul’s Vatan Gazetesi.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Animation Greats Go Live

Janet Waldo, the voice of Judy Jetson, Wilma Flintstone’s mother (Pearl Slaghoople), the Smurf Hogatha, Josie McCoy (Josie and the Pussycats) and Morticia Addams (The Addams Family: The Animated Series) among many others will take your questions tomorrow at Stu’s Show on Shokus Internet Radio. She will be joined by Hanna-Barbera writer and historian Earl Kress, who has written for (among others) Animaniacs, Back to the Future, Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry Tales, Transformers, Woody Woodpecker, and received an Emmy nomination for his work on Pinky and the Brain. The host, Stu Shostak, has a long list of credits himself, including a ten-year stint as Lucille Ball’s film archivist.

So call in, (888) SHOKUS-5, it’s free. The show will air tomorrow 4-6pm Pacific time/7-9 Eastern at the above address. While you’re at it, wish the host a happy birthday.

A Beatle, Monty Python, and Young Douglas Adams Project

Have you wondered what would have happened if a Beatle, a Monty Python, and a young Douglas Adams ever teamed up on a musical comedy? Too good to be true? Well, actually . . . In 1974, five years before publishing Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams had the opportunity to work with Beatle Ringo Starr and Python Graham Chapman on a project called Son of Dracula, which spoofed 1970s horror flicks.

The cast for this project included not only Ringo Starr (and George Harrison on the soundtrack), but also Keith Moon of the Who, John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, and a young, still relatively unknown Peter Frampton. David Bowie was apparently tapped to play the young son of Dracula, Count Downe, but the part went instead to the legendary songwriter Harry Nilsson. The film is indeed rare. Even the handy, 1700 page film-reference guide, Videohound's Golden Movie Retriever: The Complete Guide to Movies on Videocassette and DVD, does not list it.

In the spring of 1974, Son of Dracula debuted in Atlanta to fanfare reminiscent of Gone With the Wind. “We had 12,000 kids screaming,” Ringo Starr (who played Merlin the Magician in the film) remembered, describing the fans who lined up in excitement. But the enthusiasm was not to last. Contemporary reviews panned it. “A confusing, flat, and utterly misguided attempt to blend horror, comedy, and rock ‘n’ roll,” one critic said. Awful, plain awful, many others concluded. The day after the debut, the cast and crew quietly slipped out of town. Not long afterwards, Son of Dracula would disappear from theaters as well.

Curiously, too, as if the humor were not strained enough, the production studio (Apple) later demanded that Graham Chapman and the gang rewrite the entire dialogue, which was then simply dubbed over top the original scenes. Horror film connoisseur Kim Newman calls Son of Dracula “one of the rarest of all ‘70s British horror films . . . barely seen in America. Once you’ve seen it, you’ll know why.”

As recent as M.J. Simpson’s fascinating biography of Douglas Adams Hitchhiker (2003), the film had not been re-released in theaters, video, DVD, or otherwise. Now, however, it’s available on, Youtube. Don’t expect a masterpiece. Son of Dracula is one of many projects that flourished in the frenzied post-Beatle, post-Python, and pre-Hitchhiker period, some of which were good, and others not. Watch the rock horror opera here for yourself.

Linnaeus From Park Avenue to the Moon

For our readers in New York, the Scandinavian House (58 Park Avenue) is hosting a lecture by Lund University’s Professor of History of Science and Ideas, Gunnar Broberg, entitled “Carl Linnaeus: Life and Achievements.” Broberg, winner of the August Prize, is world authority on Linnaeus, the king of flowers who gave us not only classification systems, but also words such as homo sapiens, mammalia, and even Rudbeckia, which he named after Olof Rudbeck and his son Olof Jr. Among the many honors paid to Linnaeus, there is a place named after him on the moon. For anyone interested in Linnaeus or eighteenth century Sweden, the event is a must. Be sure, too, to ask Broberg about cats. The lecture is November 12 at 6.30. Tickets $10/$8.

Also at the Scandinavia House is Sarah Edkins’ “The Myths and Magic of Iceland: A Voyage through Icelandic Children’s Literature,” which promises to take children up to age 7 “to an enchanted landscape of glaciers, volcanoes, magical creatures, and spellbinding stories.” On November 8 at 7.30pm, soprano Marion Melnik and pianist Marko Hilpo (Silbelius Academy, Helsinki) will give a concert in the Victor Borge Hall, this year being the 50th anniversary of Jean Sibelius death. On the fifteenth, too, there is a film night with several Swedish short films. Sarah Gyllenstierna will be there with her “I’m Your Man” (Soul Sister Films) and winner of Best Short Comedy at the Women of Color Film Festival. Wing-Yee Wu will be there with “For Memories” (2006). For more information on these and other events, visit the Scandinavia House or call 212 847-9740.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Daredevil Motorcyclist Not a Big Jump Actually

What do you do after writing books about Dean Acheson, James Forrestal, Jimmy Carter, Henry Ford, John Kerry, Rosa Parks, Father Michael J. McGivney, Hurricane Katrina, and editing the Ronald Reagan diaries? This was historian Douglas Brinkley’s dilemma. His answer: a biography of the daredevil motorcyclist and seventies icon, Evel Knievel.

Actually this is not a big jump, pardon the pun. You may remember Brinkley shaking up the dry, run-of-the-mill history lecture format in the early 1990s when he took a small class of students on a six-week road trip across America, reading classics of literature and seeing everything from Graceland to Monticello. They met William S. Burroughs, toured Jack London’s place, and stayed with Ken Kesey, who took them on a ride on his legendary psychedelic bus, Further. (See his The Majic Bus: An American Odyssey). Brinkley has also edited the papers of Jack Kerouac, and he is now editing the third volume of the letters of Kentuckian Hunter S. Thompson.

Evel Knievel: Daredevil in Winter was sold on proposal last week. Given the drama surrounding the motorcyclist’s life, Brinkley’s book should attract many readers – and not just children of the seventies who rode red-white-blue bikes and tried to jump everything that did not move.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Hello, Darkness My Old Friend . . .it’s the Sounds of Saturn

The Cassini spacecraft, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the European Space Agency, the Italian Space Agency, and many others bring us “The Eerie, Bizarre Sounds of the Saturnian System”, complete with microphones capturing the winds of Titan, h.t. Boing Boing. Listen for yourself at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Swedish? Well, of course

Meet Olof Rudbeck, the man who announced that he had discovered Atlantis in Sweden. He then excavated what he thought was its capital, and opened a museum to house its artifacts. He also claimed to have discovered the Kingdom of Hades (near the Arctic Circle) – and then sent a “scientific expedition” to explore this shadowy Underworld. By the end of his thirty year quest, which soon became one of the more unusual in modern history, Rudbeck believed that almost every major figure of ancient Greek and Norse mythology had either visited Sweden, or had actually been Swedish.

Before this search became a lifelong obsession, Olof Rudbeck (1630-1702) had been the first Swede to make a major scientific contribution. He discovered and explained the lymphatic system – as a nineteen-year old. He was working largely on his own (his supervisor was too busy in the alchemy lab). Later, when Rudbeck became a professor, he built an anatomy theater for dissections, and founded a botanical garden, which developed into one of the larger ones on the continent. He discovered two comets, using instruments he built himself. Among many other things, Rudbeck started an early postal service in Sweden, operated fencing and dancing school, and harnessed the town river to power several machines in his factory. One of his favorite things to do was to make fireworks, and he would long enjoy lighting up the night sky with his home-made rockets.

All of this extraordinary talent was brought to his search for the fabled lost civilization, and the “discoveries” poured in at an alarming rate. By 1702, Rudbeck had compiled some 2,500 pages of evidence for his theories – I read every word of the four tomes of Old Swedish and Latin (including his surviving correspondence). Rudbeck's theories are perhaps the most rigorously-argued and wildly speculative theories of ancient history ever to be accepted, for a time, among many contemporaries. Rudbeck was admired at the court of Louis XIV, proposed as a member of the Royal Society in London, and celebrated in cafes, salons and academies across the continent. Avid readers were Leibniz, Montesquieu, and Isaac Newton. Rudbeck's Atlantica is, among other things, a veritable curiosity cabinet of the seventeenth century (From my book Finding Atlantis: A True Story of Genius, Madness, and an Extraordinary Quest for a Lost World).

Sunday, October 28, 2007

My Library #1: Rudbeck's Atlantica (1679)

One afternoon in the late nineties, I took a break from reading Olof Rudbeck’s letters at Lund University in southern Sweden, and went for a walk. Passing the cathedral and several cafes where I had spent many afternoons practicing my Swedish with patient friends, I entered an antiquarian bookstore. I browsed a bit, and then struck up a conversation with the man behind the counter. “Do you have anything on Olof Rudbeck?” I asked, hoping for something, or anything that I had not already read. “No, I don’t think so,” he said, looking down and shaking his head. But just to make sure, he went to the back to take a look. A few moments later, he returned with a first edition of Olof Rudbeck’s Atlantica.

Above (right) is the title page to the Atlantica (Swedish Atland eller Manheim). Rudbeck wrote the text in Swedish and his colleague, the classicist and professor of eloquence Anders Norcopensis translated it into Latin. The page (left) discusses a few of Rudbeck’s 102 “proofs” why Atlantis must have been in Sweden. Later volumes would offer additional support for his theory. For more on the Atlantica, see post "My Library" or read more about it in Finding Atlantis.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Staggering Genius “Wise Enough To Do Good”

After winning the 2007 Heinz Award in Arts and Humanities this week, Dave Eggers will donate the proceeds ($250,000) to the innovative, nonprofit literary centers, the 826 Valencias (named after the first one in San Francisco’s Mission District). Each 826 focuses on teaching creative writing and expression to elementary, middle and high school students. "I think Dave has been a model of somebody wise enough to do good, other-centered things with his good fortune," George Saunders said at the award ceremony in Pittsburgh. At 37, Dave is the youngest recipient in the Heinz Award’s thirteen year history. Carolyn Kellogg reported in the LA Times, and also at her Pinky's Paperhaus.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What’s the Price of Being "the Rudest Man in Britain?”

Actually, according to Tudor expert David Starkey, who was given that honor by the Daily Mail, it’s worth an additional 100,000 pounds a year, and that’s almost certainly an under-estimate. Yes, indeed, yesterday Starkey received a CBE from the queen. Apparently she asked him if he planned to do any more documentaries. 'Yes Ma'am," he was quoted as quipping, "On you. It's quite complimentary."

Starkey is currently writing a biography of Henry VIII to be published in 2009. Expect a big splash, as it will be joined with an exhibit at the British Library and TV series, all of which will commemorate the 500th anniversary of the year the notorious Tudor monarch, all of 17-years old, began his reign.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My Library

Inspired by librarything, I decided to start an occasional series of blog entries featuring “Random Books from My Library.” The first selection – let me say at the onset – is not random. The book was not chosen for its literary merits, either, or its appeal to collectors. It was chosen simply for its value to me. It’s a first edition of Olof Rudbeck’s Atlantica (1679).

Readers of Finding Atlantis will remember this as the first volume of Rudbeck’s massive attempt to prove that the fabled lost world of Atlantis was actually in Sweden (Yes, that Atlantis and yes, that Sweden.). And Rudbeck became so convinced of his theory that he would soon challenge any thinker to Europe to come to the north and prove him wrong. He would pay the expenses.

Olof Rudbeck was – I should add at this point – a pioneering physician who discovered the lymphatic system (as a teenager) and then became embroiled in a bitter priority dispute with Thomas Bartholin. He was also an anatomist, botanist, architect, engineer, surgeon, painter, astronomer, inventor, shipbuilder, singer, composer, mapmaker, fireworks maker, prankster and general loose cannon around town. All those skills and experiences were brought to his search, and it was one wild ride.

The work, at first only 900 pages, swelled to four and a half volumes and some 2,500 pages of “evidence” he found of the lost Atlantis of ancient Sweden. By the end of the thirty year quest, Rudbeck had believed that he had found not only Atlantis, but also virtually every major god, hero, or other figure of classical Greek and Norse mythology - and they were all Swedes. Mount Olympus, Asgard, and even the Kingdom of Hades were all in Sweden. I read every word of the bulky work, which prompted more than a few of my Swedish friends to wonder who was more obsessed, Rudbeck or me. At any rate, I will begin my library series with the Atlantica, very soon, that is, as soon as I have a decent photograph of the book to post.

The Empire Strikes Back

Historian Niall Ferguson, who was named one of “the world’s most influential people” by Time magazine (2004), will soon be blogging for the Financial Times (Link). This follows his appointment last month as a consultant to a £9.5 billion hedge fund with GLG Partners. He has written widely, including Virtual History (as editor), Paper and Iron, The Cash Nexus, The Pity of War, The House of Rothschild, Empire, Colossus, and most recently, The War of the World. "What's the point of having knowledge about modern history,” Ferguson once said in an interview (Robert Fulford), “if you confine yourself to writing monographs . . .?” I, for one, am looking forward to his new blog.

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Debut Author, A Self-Published Book, and A Seven Figure Deal

Brunonia Barry has sold her first book, the self-published The Lace Reader to William Morrow in a seven-figure deal. It’s a thriller set in 1990s Salem, Massachusetts, her hometown, and deals with the experiences of a heroine, who like her family, can read the future by staring at patterns in lace. It’s a story, according to her website, “about trusting your own intuition, even if the rest of the world thinks you're crazy.” Here’s the Publishers Weekly review that generated the excitement that led to the book deal, and the selling of translation rights now across Europe.

Kudos to the “Leather-Jacketed Pied Piper”

Neil Gaiman’s co-production of his Stardust is now out with a cast that includes Robert de Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Ricky Gervais. Next month we have his Beowulf with Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone and Angelina Jolie. Soon, too, expect a BBC version of Anansi Boys. Gaiman is understandably excited about this project with its African-Caribbean lore: “I don't think anybody,” he said, “has actually done a drama, the cast of which was almost completely black, in which the point of it was not that the cast was completely black." Anansi Boys is scheduled for November 17 on the BBC World Service. Interesting interview with Ian Burrell.

The Book that Got Away

When I used to teach a university honors seminar on The Ancient World, I enjoyed screening the Coen brothers film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? This helped set the mood for the Odyssey, which, in my opinion, is one of the greatest adventure stories of say the last 2,600 years. I would have shown Raising Arizona or The Big Lebowski, too, if I could have worked them in between Aeschylus and Euripides.

At any rate, one story that Joel and Ethan Coen have not been able to bring to the big screen is James Dickey’s novel, To the White Sea, which centers around a B-29 gunner downed in Japan at the end of World War II, who proceeds to walk from Honshu to Hokkaido. One other thing: the lead character does not know any Japanese, and there’s no dialogue after the first five minutes. Discussion with collaborator Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men) and journalist Lev Grossman in the October 29 issue of Time.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Historian Signs Bat for Baseball Hall of Fame

Historian Jacques Barzun, who will celebrate his 100th birthday next month on November 30, has signed a bat which will be presented to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. His words, "whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball,” already adorn the hall.

Ever since I read his Columbia Ph.D dissertation, which was published in 1932 under the title The French Race: Theories of its Origins and their Social and Political Implications prior to the French Revolution, I have immensely enjoyed his books. Barzun is a national treasure. For more on the celebration, check out Leo's Wong’s blog, Barzun 100 and the Jacques Barzun Centenniel.

Two New Exciting History Titles

Laurence Bergreen follows the Venetian merchant Marco Polo along the Silk Road deep into Mongolia and China in Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu. Bergreen's last book about Magellan, Over the Edge of the World, was wonderful, and Simon Winchester has already called this one “a classic portrait that now surely can never be bettered." Bergreen's Marco Polo will be released next week, and Matt Damon will be starring as the young Venetian in an upcoming Warner Bros film.

Joseph J. Ellis, Professor of History at Mount Holyoke College, also has a new book out at the end of this month, American Creation: Triumph and Tragedy at the American Founding. American Creation follows his previous works, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Founding Brothers, and National Book Award-winning American Sphinx. Both Publishers Weekly and Booklist have already given it stellar reviews.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Agent Zigzag

A few weeks ago, Tom Hanks (New Line Cinema) purchased rights to Ben MacIntyre’s new biography of the colorful conman and World War II double agent Eddie Chapman, Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love and Betrayal. They edged out Warner Brothers, in a short auction, in a seven-figure deal. Hanks and Gary Goetzman of Playtones will produce.
MacIntyre is author of several popular histories, including The Napoleon of Crime: The Life and Times of Adam Worth, Master Thief, and Forgotten Fatherland: The Search for Elisabeth Nietzsche. Agent Zigzag, published by Harmony Books, draws on many newly declassified MI5 files and hit bookstores in the United States in September.

From Olof Rudbeck to Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino is apparently toying with the idea of setting a coming of age tale of an American bumming around in Stockholm during the 1970s. Obviously, there is a great deal of potential here. The Swedish capital is, in many ways, a writer and filmmaker’s dream. I visited Stockholm many times in the 1990s, and lived there for a spell too when researching Finding Atlantis. It is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Go Quentin! While you’re at it, be sure to take the short trip out to “Old Uppsala” and see where the enigmatic Olof Rudbeck believed that he had found Atlantis.

A brief introduction to the life of Olof Rudbeck and his obsession with Atlantis – the subject of Finding Atlantis – can be found in my post here.

Finding Atlantis Goes to China

Finding Atlantis – the story of the flamboyant Olof Rudbeck (Sweden’s “Leonardo da Vinci”) and his adventurous hunt for the fabled lost civilization of Atlantis (which he believed he had found in Sweden!) – has been translated into several foreign languages. Thanks to Zhejiang People’s Publishing House, it’s now also out in Chinese.