December 30, 2020 | kasarak
Here are just a few of the new books on the history and biography shelves as 2020 comes to an end.
Arthur Briggs's life was Homeric in scope. Born on the tiny island of Grenada, he set sail for Harlem during the Renaissance, then to Europe in the aftermath of World War I, where he was among the first pioneers to introduce jazz music to the world. During the legendary Jazz Age in Paris, Briggs's trumpet provided the soundtrack while Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and the rest of the Lost Generation got drunk. By the 1930s, Briggs was considered "the Louis Armstrong of Paris," and was the peer of the greatest names of his time, from Josephine Baker to Django Reinhardt. Even during the Great Depression, he was secure as "the greatest trumpeter in Europe." He did not, however, heed warnings to leave Paris before it fell to the Nazis, and in 1940, he was arrested and sent to the prison camp at Saint Denis. What happened at that camp, and the role Briggs played in it, is truly unforgettable.
In this revealing, funny, and inspiring memoir, seven-time New York Times bestselling author and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright--among the world's most admired and tireless public servants--reflects on the challenge of continuing one's career far beyond the normal age of retirement.
In 2001, when Madeleine Albright was leaving office as America's first female secretary of state, interviewers asked her how she wished to be remembered. "I don't want to be remembered," she answered. "I am still here and have much more I intend to do. As difficult as it might seem, I want every stage of my life to be more exciting than the last."
In that time of transition, the former Secretary considered the possibilities: she could write, teach, travel, give speeches, start a business, fight for democracy, help to empower women, campaign for favored political candidates, spend more time with her grandchildren. Instead of choosing one or two, she decided to do it all. For nearly twenty years, Albright has been in constant motion, navigating half a dozen professions, clashing with presidents and prime ministers, learning every day. Since leaving the State Department, she has blazed her own trail--and given voice to millions who yearn for respect, regardless of gender, background, or age.
What Becomes a Legend Most is the first definitive biography of this luminary--an intensely driven man who endured personal and professional prejudice, struggled with deep insecurities, and mounted an existential lifelong battle to be recognized as an artist. Philip Gefter builds on archival research and exclusive interviews with those closest to Avedon to chronicle his story, beginning with Avedon's coming-of-age in New York between the world wars, when cultural prejudices forced him to make decisions that shaped the course of his life.
Compounding his private battles, Avedon fought to be taken seriously in a medium that itself struggled to be respected within the art world. Gefter reveals how the 1950s and 1960s informed Avedon's life and work as much as he informed the period. He counted as close friends a profoundly influential group of artists--Leonard Bernstein, Truman Capote, James Baldwin, Harold Brodkey, Renata Adler, Sidney Lumet, and Mike Nichols--who shaped the cultural life of the American twentieth century. It wasn't until Avedon's fashion work was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the late 1970s that he became a household name.
Balancing glamour with the gravitas of an artist's genuine reach for worldy achievement--and not a little gossip--plus sixteen pages of photographs, What Becomes a Legend Most is an intimate window into Avedon's fascinating world. Dramatic, visionary, and remarkable, it pays tribute to Avedon's role in the history of photography and fashion--and his legacy as one of the most consequential artists of his time.
According to legend, the Roman emperor Nero set fire to his majestic imperial capital on the night of July 19, AD 64 and fiddled while the city burned. It's a story that has been told for more than two millennia--and it's likely that almost none of it is true. In Rome Is Burning, distinguished Roman historian Anthony Barrett sets the record straight, providing a comprehensive and authoritative account of the Great Fire of Rome, its immediate aftermath, and its damaging longterm consequences for the Roman world. Drawing on remarkable new archaeological discoveries and sifting through all the literary evidence, he tells what is known about what actually happened--and argues that the disaster was a turning point in Roman history, one that ultimately led to the fall of Nero and the end of the dynasty that began with Julius Caesar.
Rome Is Burning tells how the fire destroyed much of the city and threw the population into panic. It describes how it also destroyed Nero's golden image and provoked a financial crisis and currency devaluation that made a permanent impact on the Roman economy. Most importantly, the book surveys, and includes many photographs of, recent archaeological evidence that shows visible traces of the fire's destruction. Finally, the book describes the fire's continuing afterlife in literature, opera, ballet, and film.
After WWII, millions of lost and homeless POWs, slave labourers, political prisoners, and concentration camp survivors overwhelmed Germany. Soldiers attempted to repatriate them, but after exhaustive efforts there remained over a million displaced persons who had no home to which to return. The international community couldn't agree on the fate of the Last Million, and after a year of inaction, an International Refugee Organization was created to resettle them. But no nations were willing to accept the 200,000 to 250,000 Jewish people who remained trapped in Germany. Only after the partition of Palestine and Israel's declaration of independence were they finally able to leave their displaced persons camps in Germany.
"How was it possible, I wondered, that all of this American land--in every direction--could be fastened together into a whole?"
What does it mean when a nation accustomed to moving begins to settle down, when political discord threatens unity, and when technology disrupts traditional ways of building communities? Is a shared soil enough to reinvigorate a national spirit?
From the embaattled newsrooms of small town newspapers to the pornography film sets of the Los Angeles basin, from the check-out lanes of Dollar General to the holy sites of Mormonism, from the nation's highest peaks to the razed remains of a cherished home, like a latter-day Woody Guthrie, Tom Zoellner takes to the highways and byways of a vast land in search of the soul of its people.
By turns nostalgic and probing, incisive and enraged, Zoellner's reflections reveal a nation divided by faith, politics, and shifting economies, but--more importantly--one united by a shared sense of ownership in the common land.
Is it possible for a sitting vice president to direct a vast criminal enterprise within the halls of the White House? To have one of the most brazen corruption scandals in American history play out while nobody's paying attention? And for that scandal to be all but forgotten decades later?
The year was 1973, and Spiro T. Agnew, the former governor of Maryland, was Richard Nixon's second-in-command. Long on firebrand rhetoric and short on political experience, Agnew had carried out a bribery and extortion ring in office for years, when--at the height of Watergate--three young federal prosecutors discovered his crimes and launched a mission to take him down before it was too late, before Nixon's impending downfall elevated Agnew to the presidency. The self-described "counterpuncher" vice president did everything he could to bury their investigation: dismissing it as a "witch hunt," riling up his partisan base, making the press the enemy, and, with a crumbling circle of loyalists, scheming to obstruct justice in order to survive.
In this blockbuster account, Rachel Maddow and Michael Yarvitz detail the investigation that exposed Agnew's crimes, the attempts at a cover-up--which involved future president George H. W. Bush--and the backroom bargain that forced Agnew's resignation but also spared him years in federal prison. Based on the award-winning hit podcast, Bag Man expands and deepens the story of Spiro Agnew's scandal and its lasting influence on our politics, our media, and our understanding of what it takes to confront a criminal in the White House.