It's very interesting that Shane White would choose Jeremiah Hamilton as the subgood book. Like a 3.7 rounded up to a 4.
(thanks, St. Martin's Press!!)
It's very interesting that Shane White would choose Jeremiah Hamilton as the subject of his study, since there is very little information on this man to be had. Even though he was "Wall Street's First Black Millionaire," "sui generis, typical of nothing," almost nothing is known about him, which seems quite odd -- after all, in the 1850s, an African-American man with the kind of wealth Hamilton had amassed was unusual; given that he was also a "Wall Street adept, a skilled an innovative financial manipulator," it seems to me that there would be a LOT of material out there from which White could pick and choose. But it didn't turn out that way -- Hamilton, in White's words, "became all but invisible" for over a century, even though he'd lived and worked in New York for more than forty years. No dissertations, no articles, and not even a mention in the African American National Biography completed in 2008 to be had about this man. So Shane White had to rely on New York City's public records for his study -- "Newspapers, court cases and government files," as he notes, but there is pretty much nothing directly from Hamilton himself. I mention the lack of documentation here because it is important to remember this fact as you go through the book. It is important for the reader to understand that while there is certainly plenty going on in Hamilton's orbit that White carefully puts together, sometimes the book ranges off into looking at other, more influential people of the time rather than staying focused on White himself. What really sold me on this book though was the combination of what little could be found on the man and the background history of the attitudes of antebellum white New Yorkers toward African-Americans.
Just briefly, Jeremiah G. Hamilton starts in this book as an enigma. Even his birthplace is unknown -- he either came from somewhere in the Caribbean or from Virginia, both of which he claimed as true on various census reports. In Haiti he was involved in a huge counterfeiting scheme as a very young man, but managed to escape imprisonment and come to New York, and the people behind the whole criminal enterprise remained a mystery while being grateful. Hamilton began borrowing cash left and right (spawning several interesting lawsuits since he decided he'd much rather not pay back the money and really pissing off a lot of people), but the kicker came with Manhattan's 1835 "Great Fire" when a number of records were destroyed and Hamilton decided that with nothing legal linking him to anything, all he had to do was to deny that any transactions had occurred, walking away with the cash. This is how he ended up being known as "The Prince of Darkness." He "never believed in turning the other cheek," was the instigator of several lawsuits himself, using "the fine print in legal documents as a razor." He was also a man that a person never crossed without some sort of retaliation, as one judge found out the hard way. His eccentricities included wandering the streets wearing a long, dark, flowing wig, but people were used to this. Hamilton was married to a white woman with whom he had children and lived well; this fact came to a head only during the Draft riots of the early 1860s when a mob took issue with the mixed marriage and stormed his house looking for him. But on the whole, he was a lucky man -- White notes that
"To a considerable extent, money insulated from the worst of the city racial problems. He could live in his nice house on East Twenty-Ninth Street, looking back down to the city, and feel that he and his family were relatively safe."
Hamilton didn't really socialize with other African-Americans, and actually at one point had to declare bankruptcy. Interestingly enough, as White notes, in the census reports of 1850, 1860 and 1870 he "was counted as a white individual;" even when he died of pneumonia in 1875 the doctor failed to fill in the entry for Color. According to White,
"it seems that, neither for the first nor the last time in American history, money lightened the color of an individual's skin."
Hamilton was indeed lucky -- as White points out, racism was rampant in New York City of the time, and segregation akin to what would later become known as Jim Crow was everywhere. The background history of racism in New York was actually my favorite part of this book -- a definite eye opener. White does an excellent job linking the overthrow of Haiti's colonial masters to the rising fear of African-Americans in the United States of the time, both north and south.
While I enjoyed this book for the most part, the problem with White's account lies in the very fact that there's very little real information about the guy outside of the public records and newspapers and he seems to want to make up for it by adding in more than is technically necessary. As a result, along with the history of race relations of the time (which as I've stated was quite good and definitely a much-needed part of this book), he tends to expand sections by telling his readers about the growth of the newspapers, the lives of other prominent people in New York (both white and African-American), etc., and sometimes I found myself sort of skimming through hoping to get back to Hamilton. I'm someone who can sit down with books of history that are not meant for the general public and love them, so I don't think it's my attention span.
Overall, I don't know if I'd really classify this book as a work of history for the general public, but it is definitely well worth reading on many levels. If nothing else, just the fact that Hamilton was the first African-American millionaire but he's not even listed in the African American National Biography begs the question of why he's been ignored for so long and why historically, he's a forgotten figure. And considering that Mr. White spent years of his life trying to find out who this man really was and had very little to go on, I'd say he's done a fine job here and gave his subject as much life as he possibly could. You really can't ask for much more....more
the brief version; you can look to my online reading journal here for more.
First, thanks so very much to Doubleday for my copy. Having no idea who ththe brief version; you can look to my online reading journal here for more.
First, thanks so very much to Doubleday for my copy. Having no idea who the hell was Iceberg Slim, I was in no great hurry to read it, but I'm so glad I picked it up.
It took author Justin Gifford over ten years to research and put together this book, and right up front he says that at "first glance" writing about a guy who'd been a pimp for twenty-five years might seem to be "an appalling choice for a biography," since we're talking about someone who "abused hundreds of women throughout his lifetime;" he also describes him as "one of the most influential renegades" of the past century. On the other hand, even though "he is practically unknown to the American mainstream," Beck went on to write a number of novels as well as his autobiography, Pimp: The Story of My Life. Robin D.G. Kelley, an historian whose work I respect, also notes in the New Yorker that it's not just in the mainstream where Iceberg Slim's work remains relatively unknown -- he states that he's "amazed" that "well-read people" are unfamiliar with Beck's writing as well.
As Gifford notes, Beck is a "mess of contradictions," --
"student at Tuskegee Institute, Chicago pimp with connections to the black mafia, amateur scholar of psychoanalysis, pulp paperback writer, family man, Black Panther Party sympathizer, Hollywood darling of the blaxploitation era, and godfather of hip-hop...all these things and more..."
and that this book "attempts to make sense of these seemingly incongruent identities."
Gifford moves chronologically through Beck's life, using Beck's writings as well as other primary sources to present his readers with a picture of this man, at times testing what Beck writes about himself "against the historical record." Readers also get a view of the huge number of challenges faced by African-Americans in America's cities from the time of the Great Migration up through 1992 and the Rodney King Riots; the author also takes his readers into the growth of African-American activism and politics in general, but more importantly, directly into how events shaped Beck's politics and his writing.
If you want nice-nice and sugar-coated life story, you are NOT going to get it here. Nor is it exactly "true crime," as I see that some people are regarding it. It is downright gritty, mean and in a lot of places, just plain ugly -- not solely in terms of the abuse of women, but also in white America's racist policies and tactics that kept segregation and the realities of Jim Crow an ongoing reality. Highly highly recommended; this is the sort of book I just love. ...more
a longer post at my online reading journal is here; read on for the condensed version.
Just briefly, Irrepressible is written by Emily Bingham, a greaa longer post at my online reading journal is here; read on for the condensed version.
Just briefly, Irrepressible is written by Emily Bingham, a great-niece of Henrietta Bingham's, and she literally tries to "unpack" Henrietta's story as the book moves along. She'd always known about her great-aunt, the one the family called "an invert" (read "lesbian") but in an attic of the family home, Emily Bingham discovered quite a treasure trove of Henrietta's belongings (including letters) that set her on the path to discovering for herself just who this woman actually was.
A pivotal event in this story was the death of Henrietta's mother when Henrietta was only twelve; Henrietta was there when it happened. Since that horrible and traumatic event, her father (often referred to as "The Judge") came to depend on Henrietta for emotional support even after he married a second and third time. As the author notes,
"Her mother's death before her eyes left an open wound -- an an opening for an unusually close partnership with her father that both empowered her and made her weak."
This strange sort of interdependence between father and daughter had a beyond-huge effect on Henrietta's life, a point that the author returns to time and again throughout the book. As one reviewer puts it, she became "an emotional surrogate" for the Judge's "adored dead wife" even through his two marriages, right up to the time of his death.
Henrietta's story is compelling and Emily Bingham has done an amazing amount of research about her great-aunt; sadly, information about her later life is rather lacking in terms of documentation. The author takes us slowly through Henrietta's life as she charmed and romanced members of the Bloomsbury set in 1920s London, started a long-term course of psychoanalysis with Ernest Jones at the behest of her then-lover (and her former English professor at Smith) Mina Kirstein who herself wanted to be "cured" of her homosexual tendencies. As it turned out, Jones became someone in whom Henrietta could confide about the "seductive ambivalence" toward the Judge, even though the psychoanalysis "did not banish the anxiety and depression that stalked her." We are privy to her various affairs with both men and women while in London during the 1920s, her desire not to constantly be at her father's beck and call so that she could have some measure of freedom, her unflagging support of her father when he became FDR's Ambassador to Britain just prior to the beginning of World War II and then her life, at least what's known about it, through the Judge's death and beyond. One of the key ideas in this book is that while Henrietta had a large measure of freedom in terms of same-sex affairs as a young woman as long as she didn't flaunt things (her father even gave his tacit approval to her lesbian relationship with a tennis star with whom she lived while he served as ambassador), but as times changed, shifting morals, homophobia, and Henrietta's status vis a vis her family's prominence in Kentucky added to her already-overburdened mental state and ultimately contributed to her mental deterioration.
While I loved the subject and while I was cliche-ingly glued to this book, there were times when I kind of did the odd eyeroll or two over the author's writing -- very minor quibbles, to be sure, but still a bit annoying. I will say however that the things that make this such an intense and compelling novel -- Henrietta herself, her family's history, her ongoing desire for the freedom to be who she wanted to be and the obstacles that so often got in the way, as well as her later tragedies -- far outweigh my niggles with the occasional writing issues, making for one hell of a good book.
Like a 3.8 playing catch-up again -- story of my life lately.
In the introduction to this book, editor Helen Taylor notes that the goal of this volumeLike a 3.8 playing catch-up again -- story of my life lately.
In the introduction to this book, editor Helen Taylor notes that the goal of this volume is to "demonstrate the scope of her concerns and achievements -- hopefully to quell for ever the myth of a humourless, Cornish cliff-walking upper-middle-class recluse who wrote only one good book." And while it is true that a very large section of this book consists of introductions to other works by du Maurier (all of the Virago editions), it seems to me that the work most fully written about here continues to be her most famous book, Rebecca, sort of thwarting that goal.
The Daphne du Maurier Companion is divided into five different sections. The first part, "Daphne du Maurier, by the People Who Knew Her," begins with an interview with her children, moving into a couple of pieces by an editor, Sheila Hodges, who worked with du Maurier for just under fifty years. Part two is all about Rebecca's "lasting reputation and cultural legacy." Part three (in part) takes on the other novels, but it only consists of introductions to Virago's editions of du Maurier's books. There is also a look at her short stories by collection (again, introductions to Virago editions) but to be really honest, there are only a few out of her rather large selection of short stories that are discussed in any sort of breadth. Part four, "Daphne Du Maurier in Adaptation" focuses on the movies made from her books -- again, with more written about Rebecca than any other novel or short story. Part five introduces a "rediscovered short story" entitled "And His Letters Grew Colder."
Considering that this book was published in the "centenary year of Daphne du Maurier's birth" (what would have been her 100th birthday), as a "commemoration" of her incredible output over the years, it's a pretty good general guide to her work, and there is much to glean from its contents. It's a good book to have around while reading du Maurier as it does offer some insight into the woman herself, i.e. where she was coming from at different stages of her life as her writing career progressed. I suppose you could argue that it does draw attention to her work outside of Rebecca, but because there is so much focus on that very well-read and well-loved book, my own opinion is that it actually does the opposite. My favorite part of the book was in part one, where the interviews with her children and the articles by her editor made du Maurier more or less come to life as a real person rather than just an author.
I read one review that stated that it seems like The Companion is a sort of "make-book" for the occasion, and well, that's obviously true considering what I noted in the preceeding paragraph about the centenary. However, even though you're not going to get a lot of depth in this volume, it's still a great place to start if you're considering reading any of du Maurier's work. I'd recommend it with the caveat that it's more of an overview rather than a book that actually goes into great detail. But what is there is both interesting and insightful. ...more
Since I'm into history and the publisher mailed me this book a while back, I've just finished Pulitzer-prize winner Kai Bird's The Good Spy: The LifeSince I'm into history and the publisher mailed me this book a while back, I've just finished Pulitzer-prize winner Kai Bird's The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames. I'd never heard of Robert Ames before, but now I'll never forget him. I've made a very lengthy post at the nonfiction page of my online reading journal, so if you want the long of it, click through. Otherwise, you're just getting my impression of the book here.
Ames' life and work as a CIA agent and then Intelligence Officer in the Middle East, as well as the glimpses behind the scenes at politics and policymaking are all very well portrayed here, and there may be some small merit in the author's thesis that when Ames was killed in the 1983 bombing of the US embassy in Beirut, a sizeable chance for peace in the Middle East died along with him. He had the both the ear and the confidence of formidable players there, he worked tirelessly to help put out flames before they became raging fires, and gave up much of his family life in the interests of peace. A Good Spy is a most excellent read, and it is definitely a book that a)I'll never forget b) I urge everyone who has an interest in trying to understand the current situation in Middle East to get a copy of and c) has definitely spurred my interest in further reading.
I'm still in a little bit of shock after having finished this book. Well worth every second. ...more
Super book about one of my ultimate favorite jazz musicians.
"What he gave the horn, it gave back. What it gave him, he never forgot."
The ultimate reaSuper book about one of my ultimate favorite jazz musicians.
"What he gave the horn, it gave back. What it gave him, he never forgot."
The ultimate reading day for me includes the following: rain (which we get a lot of down here in the south), a cup or two or three of strong black coffee (no pods -- I love freshly ground) and most important, the jazz music playing in the background. One of my favorite musicians is Charlie Parker, about whom this book was written. I have been wanting to read a biography about Parker for a long time; when Kansas City Lightning was published last year, I scooped it up. But here's the thing: this is less of a biography than I thought it would be. At first I was disappointed, but I kept flipping back to the book cover with its subtitle "The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker," and came to terms with the fact that a standard biography was not the author's intention. I say that up front so that if you start reading and Parker disappears for long periods of book space, don't despair and keep going. The end product as a whole is informative and frankly, quite a ride, one not solely for the jazz lover. It also speaks to African-American culture of the time, and expands out into a look at blues, swing and jazz in the context of a wider American culture.
Starting out at New York's Savoy Ballroom, the "Madison Square Garden of the battles of the bands", the story takes you back in time to the Kansas City and the origins of Parker's eventual rise to fame. It was a place where musicians held court at 18th Street and Vine, where the blues morphed into a new form of jazz. The book is filled with the people, music, culture etc that influenced Parker, often related via interview by people who were there who had a connection with him. There are also times where the author goes off on serious but informative tangents and not just in the world of music: he spends time talking about the Buffalo Soldiers, the impact of D.W.Griffith's "Birth of a Nation," which portrayed African American men as the white man's worst enemies vis-a-vis white women; there is a also a brief history of minstrelsy which eventually serious African-American musicians refused to be a part of; the rise and downfall of boxer Jack Johnson and his later betrayal of Joe Louis among many others. But it's when he's into the music and the musicians that the writing shines; the descriptions of after-hours jam sessions where musicians were free to be themselves are amazing. Even though there are a number of gaps in Parker's personal life story here (as the author notes, it's largely because so much of his early years remain undocumented), the beauty of this book lies in the world surrounding Parker and how it influenced his near fanatic drive to create something new, something already inside him needing to come out.
While sometimes the writing meanders, when he's ready to bring Parker back into the scene, he's in tight control. Some of these parts are reimagined, while others are based on personal memories and research. At the same time, he lets the reader know when discrepancies arise -- for example, stories told by Parker's first wife Rebecca don't always mesh with the eyewitness accounts of her sister. But while in places the writing might strike an off-key note (for me there were a few, especially when he equates "Charlie's curiosity about narcotics" to his affection for Sherlock Holmes mysteries) taken as a whole, the book has a cool flow to it, filled with vivid jargon in a style that is truly his own.
Reader response has been generally favorable toward this book; after perusing several professional reviews, the same is true on that level as well. I also discovered that Kansas City Lightning is just one of a two-volume set, so I'll sit tight and eagerly anticipate the next book. In the meantime, I can very highly recommend this book, especially to fans of jazz and of Charlie Parker, but also to anyone who is into African-American history. A definite no-miss. ...more
Empty Mansions is one of those books where you don't get sucked in right away, but once you're there, there's no way you can leave. I have a long reviEmpty Mansions is one of those books where you don't get sucked in right away, but once you're there, there's no way you can leave. I have a long review you can read by clicking here, or just stay for the shorter version. Either way, right up front I'll say that you probably haven't read another book like this one.
Empty Mansions is a book that proves the old axiom that sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction, and, I would add, just as captivating. The centerpiece of this book is Huguette Clark, a privileged, incredibly wealthy woman who chose to live her life happily by staying hidden. Huguette's story may seem to some to be the stuff of madness, but the the authors disagree, calling her a "modern-day 'Boo' Radley," someone who shut herself away in order to remain "safe from a world that can hurt." Huguette died in 2011, at the age of 104, two weeks shy of 105, but her death isn't the end of this story. Empty Mansions takes you from the wide Montana prairies to the smaller world of the privileged elite; from a beautiful mansion topped with a golden tower on Millionaire's Row in New York City to a hospital room next to a janitor's closet in this strange but well-told and thoroughly-researched story.
The book takes the reader through the life of W.A. Clark, former senator from Montana and self-made multimillionaire known as the "copper king," and his family -- his wife Anna La Chapelle, daughters Huguette and older sister Andrée. Clark had other older children from a previous marriage, but lived with his second family on New York City's Millionaire's Row in a six-story mansion at Fifth Avenue and Seventy-seventh street. The sisters grew up in opulence and lived privileged lives, all before tragedy struck with Andrée's death at the age of 16. After having lost her sister and best friend, Huguette was sent alone to a school for the "daughters of elite," where her dance teacher was Isadora Duncan. In 1925 her father died, but due to the terms of his will, Anna and Huguette moved to an apartment at 907 Fifth Avenue. Huguette married in 1928, but it didn't last, and she was divorced by 1930. As time went on, Huguette began to stop seeing visitors, becoming reclusive, and eventually stopped leaving her apartment. Anna died in 1963, and Huguette "throws herself" into her art -- which consisted of painting and meticulously furnishing dollhouses, or more accurately, storyhouses where she could move her dolls (a massive collection) through the rooms, having them do different things, and studying cartoons frame by frame. She spent tons of money on these projects, and was also very generous with her money among friends and supporting worthy causes (along with paying for upkeep of the "empty mansions" she'd inherited) from her "fairy-tale checkbook," but above all valued her privacy, trusting in her attorney and her accountant to handle all business transactions. But Huguette had also been getting treatment for skin cancer, and when her doctor died in 1990, she didn't look for another one, and all the while she was getting worse. A friend persuaded her to go the hospital for treatment, and she ended up at Doctors Hospital, a "treatment center for the wealthy," in New York City.
At the age of 85, within two months of Huguette's surgeries, she becomes an "indefinite patient," at Doctors Hospital, choosing to remain there for the rest of her life, never telling family where she was, ordering everyone to respect her privacy at all costs. According to the authors, within a month, one of her doctors alerts the hospital's powers-that-be Huguette is the daughter of a multimillionaire, and that he'd be willing to help develop an "appropriate cultivation approach." Behind her back, they made fun of her, but the hospital officials hold meetings to figure out how to get her to give up some of her money. The president of the hospital, again according to the authors, boldly says that
"Madame, as you know, is the biggest bucks contributing potential we have ever had."
The doctors go all out trying to get her to cough up in a number of measures that can only be described as coercive.
It wasn't just the officials or her doctors who got part of her money, either, one of them outright blackmailing her into loaning him an extra $500,000 on top of the million she'd already given him. Her private nurse/companion is Hadassah Peri who also came to benefit from Huguette's generosity, as Huguette gave her and her family several "gifts" of cash and property, coming to over $30 million dollars. By the time of her death, Huguette was cash poor, and had been selling off extremely valuable possessions to pay for the little "gifts" she gave out as well as the taxes attached to the gifts.
I will say that the first parts of the book that went back to the days when W.A. Clark was making his fortune and building up a tarnished reputation as a Montana senator were pretty dull, and that I almost put the book down. Once the early history was finished, however, the story picked up with a vengeance. There were parts that shocked, parts that made me downright angry, and parts where I couldn't tell whether Huguette was mentally disturbed, easily taken advantage of or coerced, or whether she was just exercising her right to spend her money the way she chose to. I just wanted to know her story and how she got to the point where she chose to stay in a hospital for twenty years, but it turned into much more than that. There are some really good questions raised in this book, but in the end, I discovered that it actually raises more than it answers. That's not a bad thing, and there are probably things that will never be known, even when this upcoming trial gets underway.
Definitely recommended, and while not all reviews have been positive, I don't really pay attention to them when I find something I've really liked reading. If you are looking for something beyond the ordinary, you'll definitely find it here.