An Expat Upstate: Perspectives on American Small Town Life

Book review: One Hundred Miles From Manhattan, by Guillermo Fesser Americans tend to get restless and move around a lot. They effortlessly leave one state for another. Don’t think it’s easy to guess their origin. Curiously, Americans tend to tell me they are from the place where they currently live rather than sharing the name of their city of birth. If I ask someone from … Continue reading An Expat Upstate: Perspectives on American Small Town Life

Midyear Recap (…A Little Late)

I wasn’t planning to do a midyear best-of list, and July is already half gone, so…well past the halfway mark. But realizing how many truly excellent nonfiction titles have come out already this year, I thought a year-end recap would be way too long if I didn’t collect some standouts from the year’s beginning! And I promise these are worth every minute of your precious … Continue reading Midyear Recap (…A Little Late)

Black Widow of the Heartland

Book review: The Truth About Belle Gunness, by Lillian de la Torre On a spring day in 1908, police were called to the scene of a fire in a farmhouse in La Porte, Indiana. In the ruins of the house, they discovered four bodies: three children and a headless adult believed to be the farm’s proprietress, Belle Gunness. A former employee, Ray Lamphere, was charged with … Continue reading Black Widow of the Heartland

Royals to Refugees: Roots of an Afghan Family

Book review: Crossing the River Kabul, by Kevin McLean Book Depository Author Kevin McLean adopts the voice of Baryalai Popal to tell his dramatic true story, spanning decades, of escaping Afghanistan in 1980 during the Russian invasion and war, and his eventual trek to America. Now an American citizen, Baryalai (called Bar) was born into one of the two historic royal families of Afghanistan. Bar’s family … Continue reading Royals to Refugees: Roots of an Afghan Family

Love, Death and Feudalism in Old World Italy

Book review: Murder in Matera, by Helene Stapinski Author and journalist Helene Stapinski comes from a long family line of thieves and crooks, as detailed in her popular history of crime and theft in Jersey City (especially her family’s participation in it), Five Finger Discount. In her new memoir, Murder in Matera, Stapinski travels to the Basilicata region of southern Italy, attempting to track down and flesh out a … Continue reading Love, Death and Feudalism in Old World Italy

Rest in peace. You are not forgotten.

Book review: History of a Disappearance, by Filip Springer “‘Our memories of the town keep getting more beautiful as the years go by,’ they laugh, because that’s how human memory is – it sifts out the bad and only holds on to beautiful images.” It’s a strange but true facet of history that for several periods of many years, Poland didn’t exist. Situated between Germany and Russia, … Continue reading Rest in peace. You are not forgotten.

Simpler Times: When Bill Met Monica

Book review: A Vast Conspiracy, by Jeffrey Toobin I was too young to understand much about, or grasp the gravity of what an impeachment was when it happened. What I remember most vividly of the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky saga was the edition of the newspaper where the lurid details appeared (maybe it was excerpts of the Starr report, I’m not sure). It carried a parental advisory warning … Continue reading Simpler Times: When Bill Met Monica

Poison in the Sun King’s Paris

Book review: City of Light, City of Poison, by Holly Tucker (Amazon / Book Depository) In the late 1600s during the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King, a network of witches, fortune tellers, apothecaries, priests, charlatans and magic and medicine people operated in the shadows of Paris. They provided desperate customers with the medicinal powders and potions they wanted to solve their problems, which were often … Continue reading Poison in the Sun King’s Paris

Dark History in the City of Eternal Moonlight

Book review: The Midnight Assassin, by Skip Hollingsworth (Amazon / Book Depository) Journalist Skip Hollingsworth asks near the beginning of The Midnight Assassin: “Why is it that certain sensational events in history are remembered and others, just as dramatic, are completely forgotten?”  Jack the Ripper committed his notorious murders in London’s East End a mere three years after Austin was terrorized by what we now would … Continue reading Dark History in the City of Eternal Moonlight

Images in the Ink

Book review: The Inkblots, by Damion Searls Beginning as a biography of the oft-overlooked Hermann Rorschach, developer of the eponymous psychological and personality test, and becoming a history of the test’s uses and controversies, The Inkblots is a continually surprising, enlightening work of narrative nonfiction. For creating a test so famous that it long ago crossed from the specialized psychology domain into pop culture and household status, little is commonly … Continue reading Images in the Ink

In Support of the Shy

Book review: Shrinking Violets, by Joe Moran Shyness is about much more than just shrinking away. Violets “shrink” not in retreating from the world but in evincing nature’s talent for endless variation and for sustaining life in the most varied habitats. Shyness, too, can flourish in many climates and soils and express itself in many ways. It can, like the violet, be accompanied by a … Continue reading In Support of the Shy

Outsiders Bearing Witness to Revolution

Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 – A World on the Edge by Helen Rappaport (Amazon / Book Depository) Helen Rappaport, author of 2014’s popular history The Romanov Sisters, among other titles on history and royals both Russian and otherwise, explains in her acknowledgments for Caught in the Revolution that while working as a historian she was struck by “…how much seemed to have been written about … Continue reading Outsiders Bearing Witness to Revolution