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Banvard's Folly: Tales of Renowned Obscurity, Famous Anonymity, and Rotten Luck

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3.97  ·  Rating details ·  580 Ratings  ·  84 Reviews
The historical record crowns success. Those enshrined in its annals are men and women whose ideas, accomplishments, or personalities have dominated, endured, and most important of all, found champions. John F. Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage," Giorgio Vasari's "Lives of the Artists," and Samuel Johnson's "Lives of the Poets" are classic celebrations of the greatest, the bri ...more
Hardcover, 286 pages
Published May 31st 2001 by Picador USA (first published 2001)
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Tittirossa
E' rassicurante sapere che i no-vax, talebani-vegani, gli inventori folli, i pazzi-visionari, i millantatori seriali, gli imbonitori da palcoscenico, i falsari famosi, non sono frutto solo dell'epoca presente. Anzi, hanno illustri e affascinanti predecessori. Toglie quel retro pensiero strisciante, che trova sempre più credito, che tutto sia imputabile a Facebook e alla diffusione di internet. E invece no! Eravamo folli anche prima, e le folle (ma anche le élite) erano ben liete di farsi abbindo ...more
Roberta
Ma io questa gente la voglio conoscere, la voglio invitare a cena!
Cominciamo però a bacchettare il titolo, perché di donne in queste 13 biografie c'è solo Delia Bacon, che è anche l'unica persona ad apparire rancorosa ed arrabbiata. Escludiamo poi William Henry Ireland, che costruisce falsi intenzionalmente (anche se arriva alla truffa per conquistare un po' di considerazione dal padre, che lo credeva un perfetto imbecille) e abbiamo 11 personaggi geniali. La loro colpa è spesso quella di essere
...more
Joshua Eisenberg
Everyone knows about famous people. That’s why they’re called famous. But what of all those people who accomplished great things, made great strides, and then were simply forgotten? That’s what Banvard’s Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn’t Change the World sets out to answer. The book chronicles the lives of thirteen interesting individuals who tried hard enough, but, for one reason or another, became nothing more than a footnote in history – if they’re lucky. Most notable among the stori ...more
GoldGato
Oct 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This was a quite lovely read, about forgotten people in barely forgotten times. Only in America would we consider these gentlemen and gentlewomen to be 'losers', simply because they had an idea that others stole or their achievements have been forgotten by each succeeding generation. Some of them were just plain eccentrics, and I think we can look at the 21st century and see we have the same idealists today.

The title derives from John Banvard, who created grand works of art on rollout canvas, wh
...more
Ryan Vaughan
Dec 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: eccentics, biography
Ever hear of the musical language Solresol? When was the last time you read the works of Martin Tupper? If you haven't and your curious this is the book for you. Nice selection of biographies of people who deserve to more than just footnotes. Too often ,especially in public schools, history is presented as one long string of triumphs this book offers a nice antidote to that. Those looking for an excersize in schadenfreude should look elsewhere Collins treats these ecentric individuals ,whom most ...more
Tintaglia
Nov 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, storia
Io li inviterei tutti a cena.
Avremmo ottima uva, intrattenimento teatrale e musicale, discettazioni letterarie e filosofiche (con una predilezione per Shakespeare, e una probabile rissa), resoconti di Paesi lontani, dimostrazioni scientifiche e mediche. E, per finire, ci faremmo fare tutti un ritratto - gigantesco, come era costume del signor Banvard.
E se anche la maggior parte di questi intrattenimenti si rivelasse campata in aria... l'importante è la compagnia, no?

Un libro stupendo: tredici vi
...more
Bobparr
Oct 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Divertissement assai interessante, situato storicamente nei paesi anglosassoni, perlopiù tra il 1600 ed il 1800. R.W.Emerson appare spesso, come comparsa. Chissà se vuol dire qualcosa...
Saggio che diventa morale laddove illustra come il genio non sia nulla senza avvedutezza e onestà.
Ce lo si augura anche a proposito dei (geniali) finanzieri e dei (geniali) politicanti italioti di ultima razza.
Ellie [The Empress]
May 08, 2017 marked it as tbr-non-fiction  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ellie [The Empress] by: QI/Podcast Episode 61.
QI 61
Joshua Buhs
An uneven, not quite cohesive collection of essays.

Paul Collins opens these thirteen pieces with a very short introduction. He says that he wanted to write about people with grand ambitions, but who failed--people who were once famous, or at least, perhaps, talked about, but are only remembered now by those with an antiquarian cast of mind. It's the only thing tying the book together, the introduction, and even it doesn't quite capture what is going on here.

Take the first three stories: one abou
...more
Tracey
Sep 05, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those with an interest in the lesser-known aspects of history
A pass-along from my mom, Banvard's Folly has been on my Imminent To Read list for quite some time & I finally picked it up earlier this week.

As the subtitle says, the book is a collection of articles about men & women who had (or attempted to have) a brief moment of fame and have since faded into obscurity. Collins' subjects come from many different walks of life - artists, scientists, writers, and actors. Not only does Collins tell their stories, he looks at what, if any impact they ha
...more
Lorin Kleinman
Feb 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
History is written by the winners. Or at least about the winners. There’s no shortage of tributes to, say, Shakespeare or Einstein. But what about the losers? Happily, there’s Paul Collins—a great and, I think, under-appreciated writer—who in Banvard’s Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn’t Change the World, brings to life a group of people who were famous in their own day, but for various reasons have been completely forgotten. The best-known (if that’s the right word) of Collins’ anti-hero ...more
Atticus_jem_scout Angela
Il sottotitolo di questo libro è "13 storie di persone che non hanno cambiato il mondo"... perché interessarsene dunque? Paul Collins ci fa rivivere le esistenze di personaggi bislacchi e genialoidi che sono riusciti per un brevissimo periodo della loro vita ad assurgere ad apparente immortalità per poi cadere nel dimenticatoio. Ogni racconto ci svela un mondo di credenze e cultura che hanno destato un interesse inaspettato nel pubblico dei tempi andati, dandoci anche un bellissimo quadro del no ...more
Bill
Aug 17, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
What a quirky book. Stories of 13 people who were unique and somewhat infamous (in the day) but absolutely unknown now. I found myself comparing this book (and author) to my hero - the historian Daniel Boorstin - who has entertained me with incredibly detailed stories about people, events, and things which are everyday and all around us, but about whom and what you haven't a clue.
Angie
May 25, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hilarious. Not only that, some useful tips on how not to follow in the footsteps of creative failures. If I taught business school, this would be required reading. My favorite chapter involves a pneumatic subway station that was secretly built under City Hall.
Kathy
May 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Paul Collins wrote in Sixpence House that he was working on this book while still living in Hay on Wye, Wales. He had the title, which is actually the title of the first story, and was struggling with other editorial decisions at the time. The amount of research that went into this book was as interesting to me as the stories themselves: "Thirteen Tales of Renowned Obscurity, Famous Anonymity, and Rotten Luck." Paul Collins has continued to write and edit this type of material, and now lives in ...more
Matt
Sep 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Those one-sentence that's-all-you-need-to-know-reader paragraphs get obnoxious really quickly, and he doesn't have quite the insight into human nature that he thinks he does.

That being said, I couldn't put the book down, and I'd read 39 more of these tales written by the author.
jennifer
Apr 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most of the people in this collection tried so hard to succeed that you can't help but root for them, even knowing that being included in a book of this title, they failed. Well, that isn't entirely true. Ephraim Bull spent years cross-breeding and cultivating grapes until he created the Concord, which became the most commercially successful grape. His failure was no fault of his own, just that the law didn't allow patents on life forms, including new breeds of plants. This allowed every nursery ...more
Gregg Sapp
Sep 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Even famous people who do truly great things are seldom thought about, after a period of time. Hell, somebody named Frederic Passy won the first Nobel Peace Prize, but I doubt if any but fringe historians could identify him or what he did. It’s one thing, though, to have once been famous, only to be forgotten… while you are still alive. That takes a special kind of loser.

To call the thirteen individuals whose careers are documented in “Banvard’s Folly” by Paul Collins “losers,” though, doesn’t r
...more
Al
Aug 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read once that Robert Benchley found bookstores depressing. He could imagine the author of each book typing the last line and saying, “That it! I’ve written the great American Novel!” “Banvard’s Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn’t Change the World” provides a similar ironic take on the lives of people (primarily from the 19th Century) who achieved their fifteen minutes of fame, only to see their ideas fall into disrepute. Whether the subject had “out of the box” theories on science or a ...more
Gina
Sep 16, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
The collection is solid and well-written, but in certain stories, Collins could have focused on particular elements more fully. Also at times, Collins goes into minor digressions about loosely related factoids (something I actually find endearing in a historian but others could describe as meandering). A great aspect of this book—especially if you read several books at once like me—is the biographies are non-related (though Collins does a good job of making little references), so you can read it ...more
Brandi Thompson
Feb 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an absolutely engaging and entertaining book. The perfect blend of history and whimsy. These formerly famous characters are often well connected to still famous names, but they have fallen to history. Collins tells their stories in an easy to read format that makes you curious to learn more. And he kindly provides an additional reading list, which is primarily full of rare books in this instance. I would highly recommend this book!
Steven
Jul 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
This is an offbeat treat. The book profiles 13 individuals - artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, and hucksters of various sorts - who were enormously famous and influential at one time, but whose fortunes sank as quickly as they had risen and are now almost completely forgotten.

The specific cases are fascinating: the 19th century's bestselling but now totally obscure English poet, a proponent of the curative powers of blue light, the creator of the largest single artwork on the planet, the orig
...more
Angel
Jun 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This was a fun little book, and one of the first that I was reading for fun once I moved on to library school. Here is part of what I wrote back when I read it in 2002:

>>All the stories were interesting to read, and in some instances, shed further light on the late 19th century and the American literature of that period. I think the book succeeded not only in telling of men like Banvard or Psalmanazar, which it does in bringing to life such persons with good research and clear writing, bu
...more
Rory
Feb 19, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs, academicians
I made the unfortunate mistake of reading this last amongst Collins's works (second-to-last, really, I have not yet read Not Even Wrong...), which makes it difficult to fully enjoy. Sixpence House and The Trouble with Tom are wonderfully written and polished books wherein Collins has truly found his voice and style of writing. Banvard's Folly meanwhile, lacks some small portions of his style present in other works, and truly feels like a first book of an author. Nonetheless, it is a fantastic wo ...more
Laura
Mar 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone!
Shelves: non-fiction
While doing research for a class one of the SFPL librarians mentioned that this book might be helpful. The title sounded familiar, but it wasn't until she brought over the book that the lightening hit: the author was Paul S. Collins. His book "Sixpence House" is wonderful (feel free to check my review), and in that book he actually mentions working on this book. How perfect that my schoolwork connected me to it!

Anyway, the book is great. Some of the stories are less interesting than others, but
...more
Harvey
Jun 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
from the jacket: "Paul Collins's Banvard's Folly is a different kind of book. Here are 13 unforgettable portraits of forgotten people: men and women who might have claimed their share of renown but who, whether from ill timing, skulduggery, monomania, the tinge of madness, or plain bad luck - or perhaps some combination of them all - leapt straight from life into thankless obscurity. Among them are scientists, artists, writers, entrepreneurs, and adventurers from across the centuries and around ...more
Lynette
I was a little disappointed with this book. The author's choices of the people he wrote about were not as entertaining as I believe they could have been and I felt like many of the stories were pointless. If the idea was to show how fickle fame and fortune can be, than I do have to agree that the author made his point, for many of those whose stories Collins told were at the top of their games, making lots of money and/or being celebrated by their peers at one point in their lives - only to die ...more
Therese
I have been looking for this book for YEARS. It wasn't in our extensive library system and then bam...there it was. It's a book of collected essays about people who were ALMOST world changers. But for some reason they fizzled, fate didn't approve, and we forgot about them.

The idea is fantastic. I load my pinterest boards with these forgotten people and stories as a hobby and write about them for pay, so I was excited to find a book of them.

The only problem is that it's uneven. Some people just
...more
Joshua
Jul 08, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2008
A bit of a disappointment this one. A collection on essays about obscure types who "almost" left a legacy behind but have slipped away into the unknown--from the Concord grape guy to a guy who spent his life trying to find habitable holes IN the earth to a guy who secretly built a 400 foot subway line under NY (complete with station!) in the mid 1850s w/out anyone above knowing (this was my favorite essay).

I love the quirky people but found this book as a whole just kind of dull. If a book is d
...more
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Paul Collins is a writer specializing in history, memoir, and unusual antiquarian literature. His nine books have been translated into eleven languages, and include Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books (2003) and The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars (2011).

A frequent contributor to the "Histories" column of New Scientist magazine,
...more
More about Paul Collins...
“William pondered what his next discovery might be. He knew that readers were vexed by the possibility that their Bard might have been Catholic. There is, after all, that suspicious reference to Purgatory by the ghost of Hamlet’s father. In an era when anti-Catholic legislation was favorably viewed by many, such papist skullduggery was improper in a national literary hero. And so, on Christmas Day of 1794, William presented his nation with a fine gift—Shakespeare’s Profession of Faith, in which he disowns any Catholic sympathies. His father was awed by the import of this, so much so that he could no longer keep the discoveries secret. All holiday frivolity was to be set aside now. —” 0 likes
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