Friday, September 30, 2011

Landau Thefts & Library Security

There's a very good piece in today's Wall Street Journal about the Landau/Savedoff thefts and about the continuing threat from thieves like them to the archival materials held in libraries around the world. Among the new information:

- NARA inspector general Paul Brachfeld says that as many as 2,500 of the more than 10,000 items removed from Landau's home may be stolen, and that prosecutors found several jackets in the apartment with custom-made pockets for secreting documents out of libraries. Brachfeld says that investigators are currently informing libraries which were likely hit by the duo, adding "We're going to surprise a lot of people."

- Savedoff's next court date is 27 October, and he's expected to enter a guilty plea.

- Prosecutors are now saying that the University of Vermont's library was a target of Landau's, and Jeffrey Marshall says that they're missing some 60 documents (but wouldn't say whether Landau and Savedoff visited there).

- Landau is currently under house arrest, and has requested permission to sell off artwork in order to pay his living expenses.

Under the current indictments, Landau and Savedoff could face up to 15 years each in prison. I hope they get every minute of that time, and I hope that this case will finally serve as a wakeup call to the many libraries out there who still haven't gotten the message that there are creeps like Landau and Savedoff in their reading rooms, scheming and plotting every day.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Book Review: "Rin Tin Tin"

If you follow Susan Orlean on Twitter (@susanorlean), as I do, then you're aware that her new book, Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend (Simon & Schuster, 2011) hits bookstores this week. It's been fascinating to watch this book work its way through the production process from the author's perspective, and because of that I feel oddly connected to it in a way I don't feel with most books (excepting those I've assisted with the research for). It's a nice feeling, and it's so exciting to see the book actually "in the wild" now, after all this time.

It's a spectacular book, simply put. As someone who's too young to have experienced even the most recent t.v. iteration of Rin Tin Tin, I probably approach this book differently from those who grew up with the television show or those who can remember the earlier films: for me it's less about connecting with a past I remember, and more about learning about something I never knew. Orlean has brought her prodigious talent for telling a good story fully to bear, and the result is, truly, unputdownable.

Orlean leaves no corner of the Rin Tin Tin story unexplored: she goes to France and locates (with some difficulty!) the small town where soldier Lee Duncan found the young pup he would name Rin Tin Tin in the waning days of World War I. She follows Duncan and his superbly-trained dog to Hollywood and describes how "Rinty" became a star. She profiles those humans who devoted their lives to the dog, and to the idea that there would always be a Rin Tin Tin: original owner/trainer Lee Duncan, his partner and successor Bert Leonard, and many other players in the story.

In telling the story, Orlean seamlessly integrates supplementary material on the history of dog breeding in general and of German shepherds in particular, of dog training and canine military units in the world wars, of early Hollywood animals and the fierce competition between their human teams for commercial success and advertising sponsorship. As much as it's the story of Rin Tin Tin, it's also the story of the American entertainment industry, from the days of the silent movie to the rise of HBO.

Orlean describes her own memories, of watching Rin Tin Tin shows and of lusting after a Rin Tin Tin toy belonging to her grandfather. And (one of my favorite aspects of her books) she offers glimpses of her research process and experiences: here, some of the most poignant scenes for me were her descriptions of how she felt as she read through the archival collections of Duncan and Lambert's papers (the latter being located in a storage locker).

A heart-touching story of devotion and persistence, told by one of the masters of contemporary American writing. Recommended very highly indeed.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Handyman Jailed for Manuscript Thefts

From the Guardian today, a report that Tyrone Somers, 41, has been sentenced to 30 months in prison for the theft of manuscripts from the London home of bookseller Rick Gekoski. Gekoski had reportedly hired Somers as a handyman and assigned him certain tasks to be carried out over the weekend of 23-24 July. When Gekoski returned, however, the tasks were undone and £36,000 worth of manuscript items were missing.

Somers turned himself in, returning the documents at the same time. The report indicates that Somers suffers from bipolar disorder and that he told police that "he had been advised that going to prison would solve" his psychological problems. Prosecutors say he told police that "he went into the house and for a short time he battled with these thoughts. He said he took the book of manuscripts because he knew it would extend his prison sentence."

More from the Independent, including quotes from Gekoski.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Book Review: "Ethan Allen"

Willard Sterne Randall's Ethan Allen: His Life and Times (W.W. Norton, 2011) is the first full-scale biography of Allen in a generation, and that alone would make Randall's book worth a read for anyone interested in the Revolutionary period (especially someone who might by now be tired of biographies of the usual suspects).

Randall does well at telling the story of Allen's tempestuous life, from his early days in Connecticut during the Great Awakening's theological debates to his pre-Revolutionary paramilitary activities in what would become Vermont, resulting in his emergence as the leader of those in the "New Hampshire grant" area who sought release from the overlapping claims of New York and New Hampshire. The reconstruction of Allen's surprise raid on Fort Ticonderoga, and the subsequent defeat at Montreal which led to Allen being held as a British prisoner of war for almost three years are nicely done, although covered fairly quickly.

The best parts of the book for me were the sections covering Allen's captivity, followed by his years of wily machinations to obtain first Vermont's independence and then statehood, and then his few twilight years (during which he wrote a deist tract, Reason the only oracle of man, which was received very poorly indeed). Allen's early death, at age 51, robbed the young United States of a character who certainly would have played some interesting role had he lived longer.

Randall teases out the myths and legends that have sprung up around Allen's life quite well, picking through the historiographical rubble to get at the heart of the matter, and discovering valuable new pieces of evidence through new archival research. For that, and for its examination of Allen's writings, this book deserves much praise.

Unfortunately, the book, at 540 pages, runs about 150 pages too long. There are lengthy passages of digression which just don't fit; these mostly come in the opening chapters, with seven pages on Anne Hutchinson, for example. The narrative could have been greatly tightened up and the writing improved by another round of editing: too many chapter sections begin with clunky transitional phrases like "By the time ... ," and "At this juncture," and there are a few really wince-inducing lines ("The announcement of the birth of the United States at Lexington and Concord," &c.). Additional silly mistakes (e.g. the number of people killed in the Boston Massacre) and some questionable (and uncited) statements in the Great Awakening section also gave me pause.

I hope that any second edition will correct many of the errors which detract from what would otherwise be a most welcome addition to the genre.

Links & Reviews

- Dan Cohen's got a very smart piece in the Atlantic about the HathiTrust/Authors Guild lawsuit; make this your must-read essay for the weekend.

- Another don't-miss is Brooke Palmieri's 8vo post about the book catalogues of E.P. Goldschmidt.

- Writing in the Chronicle, Kathleen Fitzpatrick urges young scholars to "do the risky thing" in digital humanities.

- Maurice Sendak is doing interviews about his new book, Bumble-Ardy. Globe and Mail; Fresh Air.

- Susan Orlean talked to NPR this week about her new book, Rin Tin Tin.

- Some more great stuff from The Collation this week: Sarah Werner profiles a 1565 Guyot type specimen broadside, which a marginal note suggests was used to sell Guyot's types to London printers, and (on her own blog) notes some fascinating marginalia in a copy of Gower's Confessio amantis.

- From Houghton Library, a new video on the handling of rare books and archival materials.

- John O'Connell writes in the Scotsman about the origins of Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, which began with an interesting collaboration between Conan Doyle and his friend Bertram Fletcher Robinson.

- Also on NPR this week, Stephen Greenblatt discussed The Swerve.


- Ann Blair's Too Much to Know; review by Jacob Soll in TNR.

- Neal Stephenson's Reamde; review by Tom Bissell in the NYTimes.

- Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve; review by Michael Dirda in the WaPo.

- Lawrence Bergreen's Columbus; review by Ian W. Toll in the NYTimes.

- Simon Garfield's Just My Type; review by Paul Shaw in Salon.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Auction Report: Results from Bloomsbury; Christie's Preview

Results for Bloomsbury London's sale of The Cetus Library: Food & Drink, Agriculture, Gardening and Social History, 1543 - 1829 on 22 September are here. The top seller, at £20,000, was a lovely copy of Reginald Scot's 1584 work The Discoverie of Witchcraft. A copy of the first edition of Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery (London, 1747) sold for £13,000, and the first English edition of Rembert Dodoens' A Nievve Herbal (London, 1578), fetched £10,000.

Philip Miller's Figures of the most beautiful, useful, and uncommon plants described in the Gardener's Dictionary (London, 1755-1760) sold for £11,000, and a copy of the very rare The Court & Kitchin of Elizabeth, Commonly Called Joan Cromwell (London, 1664), containing recipes supposedly from the table of Oliver Cromwell's court, sold for £7,500 (over estimates of just £1,000-1,500).

Christie's London will sell Travel, Science and Natural History items on 27 September, in 407 lots. Lots of artifacts and artwork: the top-estimated lot is a pair of 1750 Valk table globes (est. £50,000-70,000). There's also an Enigma Machine (est. £30,000-50,000). Among the books, de la Sagra's Historica fisica, politica y natural de la Isla de Cuba (Paris, 1839-1861) is estimated at £15,000-25,000, and there are some other great 19th-century travel and natural history books on offer.

This Week's Acquisitions

Here's what arrived this week:

- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain (Crown, 2012). Publisher.

- American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard (Viking, 2011). Publisher.

- Columbus: The Four Voyages by Laurence Bergreen (Viking, 2011). Publisher.

- Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick (Viking, 2011). Publisher.

- George Washington's Expense Account; edited by Marvin Kitman (Grove Press, 2001). Amazon.

- McSweeney's Issue 38; edited by Dave Eggers (McSweeney's, 2011). Amazon.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Book Review: "The Revisionists"

Thomas Mullen's The Revisionists (Mulholland Books, 2011) is a fast-paced, highly intellectual thriller with all sorts of interesting things to say about the intersections of the past, present and future and the ways in which individual actions and events shape history. Our main character, Zed, is an agent from the future, sent back in time to ensure that all the nasty events of our own day still happen so that the humans of the future can live in a society made perfected by learning from the mistakes of the past. That means taking out the historical agitators (hags) also sent back in time in order to keep those events from happening.

As Zed carries out his gruesome but necessary missions, Mullen draws in other characters, spinning a complicated web of betrayals, relationships and pursuits: we meet former CIA operative Leo Hastings, corporate lawyer Tasha Wilson (grieving over the loss of her soldier brother), and a young Indonesian maid being mistreated by her Korean diplomat employers. Mysterious men in dark SUVs from various intelligence agencies crop up at various points.

Complex, dark, and thought-provoking. Sometimes a bit hard to follow, but overall, quite well done. And the cover design is one of the best I've seen in a very long time.

Links & Reviews

- This week's big news was a new lawsuit filed by the Authors Guild and other interest groups against HathiTrust and participating universities. Julie Bosman covered the suit for the NYTimes, and Jen Howard for the Chronicle. There were several angles to all this, one of which was HathiTrust's list of possibly orphaned works, rights-holders for some of which were quickly identified. Michigan said they would re-examine their process for including orphaned works. And Kevin Smith's open letter to one of the author identified as the rightsholder is certainly worth a read.

- Meanwhile, a status conference was held in the original Google Books lawsuit; judge Denny Chin has outlined a proposed schedule to bring the case to trial, although both sides say they continue to negotiate and hope to reach a settlement.

- Steve Ferguson's found a nifty 1872, "The Printer's Sheet of Miscellaneous Trade Receipts" - things like making fireproof paper, gilding edges of books, removing ink blotches from paper, &c.

- Over at the new Folger blog The Collation (which you should be reading if you're not already), Heather Wolfe posts on a new acquisition: a collection of deeds documenting the ownership of a Fleet Street property from 1543-1735. The deeds are notable because they offer up the precise location of Richard Tottel's printing house and provide evidence of the "evolution of this property into various other booksellers’ shops and coffeehouses in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries," as Heather writes.

- Also on The Collation this week, a Q&A with new Folger director Michael Witmore.

- JSTOR released the full list [PDF] of titles from which early content is now freely available. Some great stuff here; kudos to them for releasing it.

- At Booktryst, a short profile of the English binder Roger Payne, and a look at some early Poe titles coming up for auction at Sotheby's on 20 October (along with a whole bunch of other great things; I'll have a preview up of the sale up shortly).

- Jonathan Gharraie has an essay in the Paris Review on Meryn Peake's Gormenghast books.


- David Reynolds' Mightier than the Sword; review by Drew Gilpin Faust in TNR.

- Catherine McKinley's Indigo; review by Alice Wyllie in the Scotsman.

- David Lodge's A Man of Parts; reviews by Christopher Benfey in the NYTimes and Michael Dirda in the WaPo.

- Jim Lehrer's Tension City; review by Jeff Shesol in the WaPo.

- David Roberts' Finding Everett Ruess; review by Jessica Gelt in the LATimes.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Auction Report: 1-15 September

- PBA's Rare Books & Manuscripts sale on 8 September saw the archive of letters and documents from the family of Benjamin O’Fallon sell by private treaty prior to the sale (a very good thing). Of the 136 remaining lots, just 82 founds buyers. The only lot among the expected high spots which made a price approaching its estimate was the first octavo edition of McKenney and Hall, which made $14,400. The first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in a fine binding sold for $6,600. A manuscript Koran from ~1796 was the surprise top seller, fetching $18,000.

- At Bloomsbury's Conjuring & Circus: Books, Prints, Posters and Apparatus sale on 8 September, the top sellers were a set of plated silver cups which originally belonged to famous 19th-century magician Johann Nepomuk Hofzinser; and an 1882 painting of a tavern featuring a conjurer doing tricks. Both made £10,000.

- Heritage Auctions Historical Manuscripts sale made a total of $995,959.81, with the military archive of Henry Burbeck fetching the highest price: $113,525. The John Adams letter to John Jay failed to find a buyer [Update: Joe Fay from Heritage writes to say the letter was withdrawn prior to the sale], as did the 9 May 1754 "Join, or die" Pennsylvania Gazette (which, as of this morning, you can "Buy now" for $59,750 - not a bad deal, actually). The Rare Books sale brought in a total of $889,753.23, with Galileo's Dialogo (1632) at the top of the list; it sold for $65,725. A presentation copy of Darwin's The Different Forms of Flowers (1877) and the first edition Book of Mormon both sold for $48,800. The Aitken Bible didn't sell.

- Watch for my full report on the Swann Galleries sale of the first part of Eric Caren's How History Unfolds on Paper collection in the fall Fine Books & Collections. The sale was held on on 15 September, and saw 300 of 355 lots sell. Charles II's commission to Edmund Andros to take possession of New York sold for $120,000; a rare first American broadside copy of the famous diagram of the slave ship Brooks made $14,400; a copy of William Hubbard's A Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians in New-England (1677) fetched $24,000 and two fragments of what may be the first printing job done in New York did not sell. An 1866 baseball scorecard made $36,000.

- Also on 15 September, Bloomsbury held a Bibliophile Sale, in 417 lots. Full results (with no lot making more than £1,200).

This Week's Acquisitions

Here's what arrived this week:

- The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (Visual Editions, 2011). Amazon. Edition info.

- The Shakespeare Thefts: In Search of the First Folios by Eric Rasmussen (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011). Publisher.

- Signing Their Rights Away by Denise Kiernan and Joseph D'Agnese (Quirk Books, 2012). Publisher.

- Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White's The Elements of Style by Mark Garvey  (Touchstone, 2007). Amazon.

- Verdi's Shakespeare: Men of the Theater by Garry Wills (Viking, 2011). Publisher.

- Socrates: A Man for Our Times by Paul Johnson (Viking, 2011). Publisher.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book Review: "Scorch City"

I absolutely loved Toby Ball's 2010 debut The Vaults (my review), and I'm incredibly pleased to report that his followup novel, Scorch City (St. Martin's Press, 2011) does anything but disappoint.

We find ourselves back in Ball's "City" in the summer of 1950 some fifteen years after the events of The Vaults. Political, religious, and racial tensions have come to a roiling boil, pitting the black Uhuru Community, perhaps allied with Communist sympathizers, against the virulent anti-Communists of the City, whose numbers include not a few members of the police force.

Investigative reporter Frank Frings and detective Piet Westermann are called upon by the Community's leaders to simply move a murder victim's body so that suspicions won't fall upon innocents, but of course doing so sets into motion a series of unexpected consequences that could lead to the end of the City itself.

Once again Ball's put together a cast of memorable characters, none entirely good and none without their own motivations and concerns.

Dark, gritty, and absolutely riveting. I had a difficult time doing anything else once I started reading.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Book Review: "Stealing Rembrandts"

Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), co-written by Anthony Amore (head of security at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum) and Tom Mashberg (a longtime Boston Herald reporter who's written extensively on the 1990 Gardner heist) chronicles a few (really, just a few) of the many thefts of Rembrandt artworks during the 20th and early 21st centuries.

I'd have expected something a little less workmanlike from this duo; I've read many of Mashberg's articles about the Gardner case, and this has little of the liveliness evident in much of that earlier journalism. And it's a shame that the Gardner story (which involved the theft of three Rembrandts!) is relegated to passing mentions throughout the text, since who better to write about that particular theft than these two?

Don't get me wrong: the cases Amore and Mashberg do profile are certainly worth the attention, and they make for fascinating stories. The interviews with those behind a few of the heists alone make this a book worth reading, although simply printing long excerpts from the interviews might not have been the best approach. The historical background on Rembrandt's life, practices, artistic circle and the ongoing attribution scholarship are well integrated into the text.

The takeaways from the book are that thefts of masterpieces rarely turn out well for the thieves: in today's market there really simply isn't an easy way to sell them on, and keeping them long term tends to just result in damage to the artwork.

Another easy improvement would have been the addition of more pictures: eight pages of black and whites, which don't even include reproductions of all the Rembrandts higlighted in the text, was simply disappointing.

Overall: could have been significantly better.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Links & Reviews

Either it was a reasonably quiet week or I wasn't paying enough attention (probably the latter).

- JSTOR announced this week that ~500,000 articles from 200 journals (pre-1923 in the US, pre-1870 from other countries) will be made freely available.

- I'll just second Sim's comments on the current Rare Book School fundraising campaign. Give if you're able.

- Project Gutenberg founder Michael Hart died at the age of 64. NYTimes Obit.


- Andrew Graham-Dixon's Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane; review by Michael Dirda in the WaPo.

- Simon Garfield's Just my Type; review by Wes Bausmith in the LATimes.

- Nigel Cliff's Holy War; review by Eric Ormsby in the NYTimes.

- Sylvia Nasar's Grand Pursuit; review by Alana Samuels in the LATimes.

- Willard Sterne Randall's Ethan Allen; review by Adam Tschorn in the LATimes.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

This Week's Acquisitions

No new books this week, but the first issue of the new McSweeney's food magazine Lucky Peach arrived.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Book Review: "Midnight Rising"

Tony Horwitz's new book Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War (Henry Holt, 2011) is rather different from his previous works, in that he doesn't alternate the narrative between past and present but focuses on the historical event: John Brown's attack on the Harpers Ferry arsenal in October 1859. When I first realized this, I confess I was a little bit bummed (I liked that aspect of those earlier books), but I'm more than pleased to say that this is an excellent book, very probably the best account of the raid we're likely to get.

Horwitz offers up not only a detailed, even riveting play-by-play of the assault itself, but also several chapters on Brown's earlier life and exploits. He explores, at great depth than several other recent Brown biographers have done, the strong links between Brown and his key northern backers (as well as the widely varying reactions of those backers following the raid). And he's done a very nice job of profiling Brown's comrades-in-arms, bringing their stories into the mix in a way I've not seen done before.

My favorite part of the book were the aftermath chapters, covering the reaction to Brown's attack in the northern and southern press, by government officials at the federal and state levels, abolitionist leaders, and those who actually knew Brown and his men or supported his efforts. Horwitz has done a brilliant job of recreating how Brown's capture, trial, and execution were perceived by those actually living the events.

No matter how much you think you know about John Brown and his actions, I guarantee you'll learn something from this book, and that you'll enjoy the read. Highly recommended.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Book Review: "Lost States"

Michael Trinklein's very amusing Lost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania, and other States that Never Made It (Quirk Books, 2010) profiles a bunch of states that might have been, complete with contextual maps, short explantations, and entertaining tidbits aboout the proposals.

Many of the "lost states" fall into one of several types: territories which the U.S. either controls now or controlled at one time, separatist movements within existing states, different plans for boundaries of existing states (basically different ways to slice up territories), or far-fetched schemes to annex all or parts of other countries (there are entries here for Albania, Great Britain, Guyana, and Taiwan, for example).

While I'm not sure I would have included a few of these, Trinklein makes a good case for each, and I really liked the maps he designed for them (also, the dust jacket unfolds into a poster-sized map, if you're into that sort of thing). The tone is light, and that's perfectly okay.

Quirky, and great fun.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Links & Reviews

Sorry for the delay this week; no internet connection this morning meant I got some reading done.

- The September Fine Books Notes is out, featuring an interview with longtime Americana dealer Norman Kane, a piece on Yukon maps, recent auction highlights, and more.

- Also up, this month's Americana Exchange Monthly, which looks ahead to some of the fall's auctions, profiles Vic Zoschak's reference workshops, &c.

- Steve Ferguson's got a mustn't-miss post up about Elkanah Settle's presentation bindings.

- Ed Pettit's going to devote 2012 to reading all of Dickens' works: follow along here, or on Twitter at @ReadingDickens.

- The NYTimes covered what seems to be a diminished market for mass-market paperback editions of books.

- On NPR this week, Simon Garfield talked about his new book Just my Type.

- In the September Believer, Paul Collins writes on a very odd trend in late-50s-model Chrysler cars: hi-fi turnstables!

- At The Collation, Jim Kuhn's begun a series of posts on various handy Folger Library tools with an introduction; start following along!

- Lev Grossman writes in the NYT's "The Mechanic Muse" column about scrolls, codices, and e-reading.

- In case you missed it this week, check out 60 Minutes with Shakespeare, in which 60 scholars talk for a minute (or so) apiece about som aspect of Shakespeare and the "authorship controversy." And for more Shakespeare on the radio, check out Folger curator Owen Williams and editor Barbara Mowat's appearance on the Kojo Nmandi show.

I didn't see any particularly noteworthy reviews this week.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Book Review: "Then Everything Changed"

Even though I don't write about it too much here, I'm something of a politics junkie by nature, and I also happen to love some well-informed speculative writing, so when I learned that Jeff Greenfield had written Then Everything Changed: Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics: JFK, RFK, Carter, Ford, Reagan (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2011) the book went right on the "must read" list.

Putting his many years of political reporting and experience to good use, Greenfield has taken three "turning points" and spun out the longterm scenarios of what might have happened had things gone differently. As he writes in the preface, "what would have happened if small twists of fate had given us different leaders, with different beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses? I've tried here to answer that question by exploring, in dramatic narrative form, complete with characters, thoughts, and dialogue, a trio of contemporary alternate American histories, all flowing from events that came a mere hairsbreadth away from actually happening" (p. xii).

What if a suicide bomber had killed JFK outside his house in December, 1960, before the electors had cast their ballots? What if RFK hadn't been shot in June, 1968, just after winning the California primary? What if Gerald Ford had recovered from a crucial gaffe during a 1976 debate, and won reelection? Greenfield outlines what the next years and decades might have looked like under those circumstances. While some of the conclusions may seem implausible, far-fetched, or even silly, I'm hard pressed to say that any of Greenfield's flights of fancy are any less likely than some of the actual things we've seen in our politics over the last few decades.

From what he writes in the Acknowledgments, it would appear that Greenfield had been contracted to write a novel (he'd done an earlier one for Putnam). I'm glad that he ended up writing this book instead, and I certainly hope he had as much fun writing it as I had reading it. I absolutely loved the arcana he delved into, from the complicated mechanics of Democratic primary delegate math to the vice-presidential calculations of the 1980 candidates. If you get as excited about these things as I do, go out and buy this book, and read it closely.

Book Review: "Tides of War"

Historian Stella Tillyard makes her debut as a novelist with Tides of War (Henry Holt, 2011), a thoroughly satisfying story of the Peninsular Wars both on the battlefront and the home front.

Integrating fictional characters with historical personages and real settings, and alternating sections of chapters between London and the Spanish front, Tillyard manages to curate a vast, detailed plot into a readable whole. Clearly her knowledge of the historical context was put to good use in the deployment of key details and various elements of the plot (in which a field doctor experiments with blood transfusions, and we witness the development of early gas lighting attempts and the beginnings of the Rothschild banking empire).

While it took me little while to get into the book, and I found myself drawn more to several of the minor characters than to the headliners of the novel, no real matter. It ended up being a good read, and I'll certainly watch for Tillyard's next (which I suspect may feature at least a few of the same cast).

This Week's Acquisitions

New arrivals:

- Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock (Simon & Schuster, 2010). Forgotten Bookmarks (watch their site and Twitter for giveaways of some great titles).

- Ethan Allen: His Life and Times by Willard Sterne Randall (W.W. Norton & Co., 2011). Publisher.

- Scorch City by Toby Ball (St. Martin's Press, 2011). Publisher.

- Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie (Random House, 2011). Publisher.

- Sanctus by Simon Toyne (William Morrow, 2011). Publisher.

- Reamde by Neal Stephenson (William Morrow, 2011). Publisher.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Book Review: "Chatterton"

A complicated meditation on literary reality and originality, forgery and fakery, Peter Ackoyd's Chatterton (Grove Press, 1996) combines a trio of narratives: in the present day, failed poet Charles Lutwyche finds a portrait and papers suggesting Thomas Chatterton might not have actually killed himself in 1770; in the 1850s, painter Henry Wallis uses poet George Meredith as his model for Chatterton's death scene; and Chatterton himself, over the course of his short (or was it?) life.

As Lutwyche investigates his discoveries, he accidentally finds that his sometime employer, novelist Harriet Scrope, might have done a little "borrowing" in a couple of his own novels, adding another dimension to Ackroyd's treatment.

While many of the characters are rather forgettable, and the Wallis/Meredith section doesn't work quite as well as it might, overall I liked the playful complexity of the novel, and one of the sub-plots (featuring Lutwyche's sometime employer, novelist Harriet Scrope) was great fun.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Auction Preview: September

- PBA Galleries hosts a Rare Books & Manuscripts sale on 8 September, in 185 lots. The top-estimated lot is a complete set of Stephen King's Dark Tower series, each signed by King and the artist (estimated at $15,000-20,000). A first octavo edition of McKenney and Hall also rates a $15,000-25,000 estimate; a "true first" edition of Cooper's Water Witch (Dresden, 1830) is estimated at $10,000-15,000, as is a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in a fine binding. Lots 137-185 in this auction include an archive of letters and documents from the family of Benjamin O’Fallon (1793-1842), Indian Agent for the United States on the Missouri.

- Bloomsbury's got a Conjuring & Circus: Books, Prints, Posters and Apparatus sale on 8 September, in 729 lots.

- Heritage Auctions is selling Historical Manuscripts and Rare Books on 13-14 September in Beverly Hills. The key lot in the manuscripts bunch is the 9 May 1754 Pennsylvania Gazette, containing the first instance of Franklin's "Join, or die" cartoon. It's estimated at $100,000-200,000. A July 1788 John Adams letter to John Jay concerning ratification of the Constitution rates a $40,000-60,000 estimate. Among the books, there's a first edition Book of Mormon (est. $80,000+) and an Aitken Bible (est. $40,000+).

- Swann Galleries will sell Part I of Eric Caren's How History Unfolds on Paper collection on 15 September, in 355 lots. Watch for my profile of this sale in the next issue of FB&C. Highlights include Charles II's commission to Edmund Andros to take possession of New York (est. $100,000-150,000); a rare first American broadside copy of the famous diagram of the slave ship Brooks (est. $15,000-25,000); a copy of William Hubbard's A Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians in New-England (1677; est. $25,000-35,000) and two fragments of what may be the first printing job done in New York (est. $8,000-12,000).

- Also on 15 September, Bloomsbury holds a Bibliophile Sale, in 417 lots.

- On 22 September, Bloosmbury London sells the Cetus Library: Food & Drink, Agriculture, Gardening and Social History, 1543-1829, in 425 lots.

- Christie's London will hold a Travel, Science and Natural History sale on 29 September. More info to follow.