Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: The graceful Cary Grant / Have in drink in Pompeii / Kate Moss and achievement / The Ottoman Balkans / Li Shizhen

This week: The graceful Cary Grant / Have in drink in Pompeii / Kate Moss and achievement / The Ottoman Balkans / Li Shizhen

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism. Learn more about my academic background here.

1. The Acrobatic Grace of Cary Grant
By Angelica Jade Bastién | Current :: The Criterion Collection | February 2021
“It is axiomatic, perhaps, that Cary Grant was as much a creation as the films he starred in.”

2. The Lingering Terror of Silence of the Lambs
By Chris Nashawaty | Esquire | February 2021
“30 years after its release, the Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins masterpiece still fascinates us. But the movie almost never even got made.”

3. Why Are Young People Having So Little Sex?
By Kate Julian | The Atlantic | December 2018
“Despite the easing of taboos and the rise of hookup apps, Americans are in the midst of a sex recession.”

4. Reconstructing the Menu of a Pub in Ancient Pompeii
By Farrell Monaco | Atlas Obscura | January 2021
“Eat like a first-century Roman, using recent archaeological discoveries as your guide”

5. Once Upon a Time, Kate Moss Thought She Couldn’t Take a Good Picture
By Mitchell Nugent | Thirstory :: Interview | March 1999
“Moss, then 25, recalled that before her career took off, neither she nor her mom had much confidence in her modeling potential.”

6. Is working in bed ruining your sleep and sex life? Here’s how to fix it
By Linda Geddes | The Guardian | January 2021
“Using the bedroom as a workspace has its pitfalls, from a disturbed body clock to a dampened libido. But it doesn’t have to be that way”

7. ‘I Could Just Vanish’: In Kabul, Pocket Notes to Prevent Anonymous Death
By David Zucchino and Fatima Faizi | The New York Times | January 2021
“As violence engulfs them, some Afghans carry notes with their names, blood types and relatives’ phone numbers in case they are killed or severely wounded.”

8. The Royal Proclamation of 1763
By Christopher Rose, Joan Neuberger and Henry Wiencek | 15 Minute History :: UT Department of History | 2014-2020
Also see: The Ottoman Balkans | Apartheid | The Egyptian Revolution | The Social Legacy of Andrew Jackson

9. Quilt artists create textiles to admire or cozy up with
By Kim Cook | Associated Press | January 2021
“Los Angeles-based artist Sabrina Gschwandtner has created a quilt series stitching together 16 mm and 35 mm film strips and backlighting them with a lightbox to illuminate the patterns.”

10. Li Shizhen
By Melvyn Bragg | In Our Time :: BBC 4 | 2012-2020
Also see: Cosmic Rays | Gnosticism | Benjamin Franklin | The An Lushan Rebellion

Book gems of 2016, Part 6

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on World War I and World War II, science, culture, and literature.

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Summer is upon us, and the season of leisure is the perfect time for new stories, characters, ideas, and adventures. Stillness of Heart concludes its occasional series of critical recommendations, from Civil War battle histories to memoirs, and from intellectual histories to photobooks almost as beautiful as the natural world they celebrate.

Read Part 1 of this 2016 series here and subsequent essays in this series here.

Finally … a brief look at some of the best works on World War I and World War II, science, culture, and literature.

David M. Lubin’s Grand Illusions: American Art and the First World War (Oxford University Press, 304 pp., $31.96) challenges us to appreciate how the trauma of war on individuals and on society as a whole has a powerful effect on how that society and its most creative minds express themselves through artwork. Political statement, illustration of shattered psyches, celebrations of victory and glory, reflections of societies that will never be the same again — the wartime and postwar motivations for beautiful and horrifying works analyzed in Lubin’s book were as varied and complex as the artists themselves. This valuable book reviews the work of famous artists and introduces us to previously unknown artists we must know about to fully understand the full spectrum of artwork from the Great War era.

Benjamin E. Jones’s Eisenhower’s Guerillas: The Jedburghs, theMaquis, and the Liberation of France (Oxford University Press, 336 pp., $23.96) reminds us that as the D-Day invaders floated off-shore and the paratroopers floated down from the sky, an Allied insurgency distracted, disrupted, or destroyed German operations in the hours and days before the invasion. This stunning book collects the stories of the daring teams that accepted incredible risks and executed impossible missions in the struggle to free France from Nazi domination.

Theresa Kaminski’s Angels of the Underground: The American Women who Resisted the Japanese in the Philippines in World War II (Oxford University Press, 512 pp., $27.95) offers a story of patriotism and bravery in the midst of brutal conquest. Four women contributed in different and priceless ways to the resistance efforts, the return of the American forces, and the final defeat of the Japanese invaders. Kaminski places their efforts in the larger historical context of the military operations, Japanese treatment of American prisoners, and the place of the Philippines in the overall calculus of Pacific strategy.

J. Samuel Walker’s Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs against Japan (University of North Carolina Press, 168 pp., $25), reissued this fall in a third edition, analyzes the contemporary debates over the use of the weapon, evaluates the intelligence available to the Truman administration officials at the time the decision had to be made, and includes fresh information from recently opened Japanese archives. The work masterfully illustrates the incredibly complicated considerations made by the Americans and the Japanese as the world — and warfare itself — stepped into a new era.

Miri Shefer-Mossensohn’s Science among the Ottomans: The Cultural Creation and Exchange of Knowledge (University of Texas Press, 262 pp., $55) pushes back against classic Western assumptions that the Ottoman Empire lost its cultural ambitions and interest in technological advancements — two key aspects of an intellectually vibrant entity — throughout the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, thereby dooming itself to (and justifying) European domination after World War I. Far from it, she argues, for the Ottomans retained their intellectual passion for new solutions to old problems, particularly in the field of communications, when, as early as the 1870s, they were one of the world’s leaders in telegraph technology. For centuries, the Ottoman Empire deliberately and nobly strove to create and maintain a rich creative and artistic culture, championing new inventions, embracing and improving innovations from other regions, and building on the mountainous achievements inherited from Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Safavids, and other great civilizations. This work refocuses academic attention on those accomplishments and challenges Western scholars and students to grant Ottoman civilization the credit and respect it richly deserves.

Apollo Pilot: The Memoir of Astronaut Donn Eisele, edited by Francis French (University of Nebraska Press, 192 pp., $24.95), promises to be an incredible story from an incredible individual. Eisele was selected for the Apollo 1 mission, the first in a series of manned missions to the moon. A training injury suddenly grounded him, and then news came that a fire killed the Apollo 1 crew, including his replacement. The disaster paralyzed NASA’s lunar program, and it was up to the next Apollo crew, including Eisele, to face down dual challenges: restart the Apollo mission program and also recover Americans’ faith in the grand endeavor. Apollo 7 did both. Eisele’s memoir of scientific triumph and personal tragedy brings a new dimension to the literature of space flight and of the heroes that won the space race.

Allan Metcalf’s From Skedaddle to Selfie: Words of the Generations (Oxford University Press, 232 pp., $19.95) promises to be a smart and light-hearted stroll through the history of American vernacular and the societies, cultural fads, fashions, and events that inspired or were defined by them. Metcalf’s work is a vital reminder that the stories behind common and colorful language, ranging from the Revolutionary era to today, are complicated but crucial elements of our nation’s history and cannot be underestimated.

Reading Debra Hamel’s Reading Herodotus: A Guided Tour through the Wild Boars, Dancing Suitors, and Crazy Tyrants of The History (Johns Hopkins University Press, 360 pp., $29.95) is like sitting on a beach near Bodrum, formerly Halicarnassus, with Hamel next to you, the classic book open on your lap, as she illuminates every incredible and sexy story — just the way Herodotus hoped we would enjoy his work.

James A. Michener’s Legacy (Penguin Random House, 144 pp., $16) re-appears on the literary stage with a new paperback edition. The 1987 novel centers on Norman Starr, loosely modeled on Iran-Contra figure Oliver North, as he prepares to answer for his actions before a congressional committee. He looks for moral strength in his ancestry, and the novel unspools an incredible cast of characters ranging across American history, each having played a part in forming the democratic republic Starr’s actions may have threatened.

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Book gems of 2016
An occasional series
Jan. 3: Antiquity, Civil War, World War II, and space
June 22: Presidents and the political world
June 29: Texas and Texas history
July 6: Latin America
July 13: Slavery and the Civil War era
July 20: World War I and II, science, culture, and literature