Displaying articles for: May 2012

The NAACP at War

June 1: The NAACP was founded on this day in 1909. The organization's priorities over its early years included a campaign to create equality in the armed forces. When black soldiers returned from distinguished service in WWI, W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the NAACP's founders, called upon them "to fight a sterner, longer, more unbending battle against the forces of hell in our own land."

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The Other Fleming

May 31: The British writer-adventurer Peter Fleming was born on this day in 1907. Fleming's worldwide travels, recounted in his books and newspaper column, were widely read through the mid-twentieth century; their appeal derived not only from his exotic destinations but also from the blithe and dashing manner in which he told of them. Ian Fleming's biographers say that he lived in envy of his older brother and may have borrowed some of his flair for James Bond.

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Pasternak, Persecution

May 30: Boris Pasternak died on this day in 1960, aged seventy. Pasternak's last years were dominated by the publicity and persecution that attended the publication of Doctor Zhivago and the announcement that he had won the 1958 Nobel Prize. The Soviet line, communicated by quiet threat and noisy rhetoric, was that Pasternak, in playing "the part of a bait on the rusty hook of anti-Soviet propaganda," was worse than a pig for having "fouled the spot where he ate."

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T. H. White

May 29: T. H. White was born on this day in 1906. Best known for his Once and Future King series, White wrote two dozen books on a wide range of subjects, many of them reflecting their author -- an eccentric, reclusive man who fluctuated between treating life as a lark and a disaster.

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Trail of Tears

May 28: The U.S. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act on this day in 1830, setting in motion the events recalled in Vicki Rozema's recent Voices from the Trail of Tears: "…They persuaded us to sell them some land. Finally they drove us back, from time to time, into the wilderness, far from the water, and the fish, and the oysters -- they have destroyed the game -- our people have wasted away, and now we live miserable and wretched, while you are enjoying our fine and beautiful country…."

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Lady Mary Montagu

May 26: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was born (or perhaps baptized) on this day in 1689. Montagu's adventurous life, independent spirit and vigorous writing attracted attention during her day, and she has a lasting place in medical history through her contribution to the eradication of smallpox.

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Ginzburg, Stalin, Russia

May 25: Eugenia Ginzburg died on this day in 1977. Ginzburg spent eighteen years in Russian prisons and work camps, a loyal Communist but a victim of Stalin's purges nonetheless. Released in 1955, she spent the next twelve years on her memoir Journey into the Whirlwind, regarded by many as one of the most readable and affecting accounts of Gulag life.

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McCullers's "Homeric Moment"

May 24: Carson McCullers's The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Works was published on this day in 1951. Included in this omnibus edition were most of the pieces upon which her reputation now stands, putting her in a rank with Faulkner, de Maupassant and D. H. Lawrence, said V. S. Pritchett, for her ability to give regional settings and characters "their Homeric moment in a universal tragedy."

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Savonarola's Bonfire

May 23: Girolamo Savonarola was hanged on this day in 1498 and then incinerated in the same piazza in which the citizens of Florence had earlier attended more than one "bonfire of the vanities." George Eliot's 1863 novel Romola, set in Savonarola's Italy, describes one such bonfire "in the shape of a pyramid, or, rather, like a huge fir-tree, sixty feet high."

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On the Oregon Trail

May 22: America's "Great Migration" westward began on this day in 1843, some 1,000 heading west in the first pioneer exodus over the Oregon Trail. Small groups had been making the five-month trek for several years, but this marked the start of the legendary wagon trains; over the next fifteen years, 350,000 would make the trip, or attempt it.

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Pope's Poetic Darts

May 21: Alexander Pope was born in London on this day in 1688. Barred from politics and university, deformed by tuberculosis, Pope seemed destined to be an outsider; this created the distance necessary for firing the satiric darts by which he became eighteenth-century England's most celebrated poet.

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Hawthorne & Dickinson

May 19: Nathaniel Hawthorne died on this day in 1864, and Emily Dickinson's funeral took place on this day in 1886. Longfellow's poem recalling Hawthorne's funeral in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, describes a town "white with apple-blooms"; those present at Dickinson's funeral also noted apple blossoms, these appearing as if to match the poet's wishes to be buried in a simple dress of white flannel and in a white casket.

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The Kit Marlowe Case

May 18: A warrant for the arrest of Christopher Marlowe on charges of spreading "blasphemous and damnable opinions" was issued on this day in 1593. The day before his scheduled court appearance, and at just twenty-nine years of age, Marlowe was killed in a barroom brawl; four centuries on, his personality, his plays, his mysterious career as a government spy -- even his motto, tattooed sub-navel by Angelina Jolie -- continue to intrigue.

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Heloise & Abelard

May 17: On this day in 1164, Heloise was buried alongside Abelard in the cemetery at the nunnery he had founded for her and at which she was abbess for over thirty years. The Heloise and Abelard relationship was a legend even in their own lifetimes, one built from letters, love songs, and facts chronicled by Abelard himself.

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West's "Screwballs and Screwboxes"

May 16: Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust was published on this day in 1939. Unlike most attacks on Hollywood, West's target was not the glitz and sleaze of those atop the "dream dump" or even the squalor of the movie nether-world, but the city's infrastructure, the entire Hollywood culture of "screwballs and screwboxes."

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Three Guns, No Dames

May 15: Carroll John Daly's "Three Gun Terry," introducing the first of the hard-boiled detective-heroes, was published in Black Mask magazine on this day in 1923. Terry's rule is "I ain't interested unless I got to be." His rates are $50 a day, $200 flat "for every man I croak -- mind you, I ain't a killer, but sometimes a chap's got to turn to a gun." Sometimes Terry turns to women, too, until he gets wise: "I'm off dames; they don't go well with my business."

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Cutting Clockwork Orange

May 14: On this day in 1962 Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange was published. The novel and the 1971 Stanley Kubrick film made Burgess internationally famous and the target of controversy, some finding his book prophetic of our social breakdown, some dismissing both book and author outright: "Anthony Burgess is a literary smart aleck whose novel, A Clockwork Orange, last year achieved a success d'estime with critics like William Burroughs, who mistook his muddle of sadism, teddyboyism, jive talk and Berlitz Russian for social philosophy."

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Florence Nightingale & Lytton Strachey

May 12: Florence Nightingale was born on this day in 1820, and Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians was published earlier this week -- May 9, 1918. Nightingale is the focus of one of the four essays in Strachey's influential book, credited with introducing a new form of biography, as intended: "Who does not know them, with their ill-digested masses of material, their slipshod style, their tone of tedious panegyric…."

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Douglas Adams, Animals

May 11: Douglas Adams died of a heart attack on this day in 2001, aged forty-nine. His Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and its handful of sequels became international bestsellers, and the Dirk Gently books have also done well, but Adams said that he was proudest of Last Chance to See, a documentary account of his expeditions to observe a handful of near-extinct animal species.

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Libricide

May 10: The Nazi book-burning campaign began on this night in 1933. The campaign reflected most of the ideological elements behind such events -- nationalism, imperialism, militarism, racism and totalitarianism -- but studies such as Lucien Polastron's Books on Fire (2004) remind us that Germany was far from the first or last nation to advocate and practice "libricide."

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Buffalo Bill Meets Queen Vic

May 9: Buffalo Bill's Wild West show opened in London on this day in 1887. The show had been playing across the U.S. for several years, and the Ned Buntline dime novels about Bill Cody had been popular for several decades, but the London production marked the beginning of a wildly successful European tour, and helped cement the impression that America was a gun-happy, cowboys-and-injuns culture.

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The Definitive Flaubert

May 8: Gustave Flaubert died on this day in 1880. Although he enjoyed a small circle of friends -- George Sand, Zola, and Maupassant among them -- and Frederick Brown's recent biography Flaubert (2006) finds a convivial streak, most agree that ordinary living was not Flaubert's strength. His last novel is subtitled "An Encyclopedia of Human Stupidity," and his Dictionary of Accepted Ideas is a satiric compendium of contemporary platitudinous beliefs.

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Reymont's Poland

May 7: Wladyslaw Reymont, one of Poland's most famous nineteenth-century novelists, was born on this day in 1867. Reymont's best novels have been compared to the work of Thomas Hardy and Emile Zola, and in 1924, the year of his death, Reymont won the Nobel Prize (over Hardy) for The Peasants, his epic of rural Polish life.

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Napoleon's Return

May 5: Napoleon Bonaparte died in exile on this day in 1821. His burial on St. Helena a few days later, the body encased in not one but four coffins, was meant to discourage the most hopeful Napoleonist or relic merchant; his reburial in Paris in 1840 took place before cheering crowds and worried authorities.

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Huxley, Science & the Royal Society

May 4: T. H. Huxley was born on this day in 1825. "Darwin's Bulldog" was one of the Victorian era's preeminent men of science, a respected social commentator, and a shaping influence on the Royal Society of London. Seeing Further, a recent collection on "The Story of Science and the Royal Society," describes Huxley as one who managed "to give the Society clout and lustre, and to keep it firmly attached to scientific endeavor at the highest level."

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Machiavelli in Florence

May 3: The Italian humanist Niccolò Machiavelli was born on this day in 1469. Machiavelli's reputation is now based on The Prince, regarded as poster copy for political calculation and cynicism; in his 2011 biography Machiavelli, Miles J. Unger explains The Prince as the response of a patriot, a scholar, and a satirist to his historical moment.

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The Hoover File

May 2: J. Edgar Hoover died on this day in 1972. Forty years later, the books exploring Hoover's uncertain legacy continue to appear. Among the most recently published is Enemies: A History of the FBI, by Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Tim Weiner: "Hoover stands at the center of the American century like a statue encrusted in grime."

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Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysley Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
In the Light of What We Know

Zia Haider Rahman's mystery of a brilliant Bangladeshi mathematician's past barrels through the Ivy League, London high finance, and spy-haunted Afghanistan in a page-turning tale of exile, intrigue and the price of friendship. A Discover Great New Writers selection.

The People's Platform

Once touted as the foundation for tomorrow's digital democracy, the Internet is increasingly ruled by a few corporate giants, while millions of contributors till its fields for free. Astra Taylor looks at why the web has failed to deliver a communitarian cyberscape, and offers a compelling case for restoring its original vision.

A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.