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.