In Julia Baird’s biography, Victoria The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire, she does not shy away from telling both the good and the bad, but being that I am a fan of the queen, I shall not speak ill of her. At the time of her death, Queen Victoria was the longest reigning English monarch. She reigned for just over 63 years — this time has become known to us as the Victorian Era.
When Victoria was born, she was fifth in line to the throne, but her father, the Duke of Kent, stated: “Look at her well, for she will be Queen of England.” Victoria became queen at the age of 18, at a time when most women had no power, and first British monarch to live in Buckingham Palace.
Queen Victoria was popular at the beginning of her reign but went in and out of favor with her people during her time on the throne. She overcame numerous attempts on her life and was key in constructing the British Empire. With her nine children and 42 great grandchildren, Queen Victoria has been dubbed “the grandmother of Europe.” Once you start this book, you will not be able to put it down as it is filled with all the hallmarks of a blockbuster — drama, intrigue and scandal. This book is a great pairing with Daisy Goodwin’s Victoria.
Mary Mann Hamilton lived through it all on the frontier of the Mississippi Delta. Later in life, with the encouragement of a family friend, she wrote her story down in Trials of the Earth: The True Story of a Pioneer Woman and entered it into a contest for publication. Thankfully, despite losing the contest the transcript eventually made its way to publication.
American history is presented undiluted by the lens of the modern historian or reimagined into a more relatable tale, where disease strikes once, neighbors aren’t constantly trying to swindle and cheat each other and children don’t make sport of shooting at escaped convicts. Hamilton presents her life in a very manner of fact fashion, to the point where her arduous daily tasks almost seem manageable. Whether it is cooking breakfast for an entire tree-felling labor camp, tending to infirm family members, keeping her head and that of her children above the rising flood waters or convincing her husband to indulge in his vice only in the privacy of their home, Mary Hamilton details an intense tale of another time.
Her direct style is a clear result of the frontier life that left no time for woolgathering or money to indulge in extravagances. It makes for a fascinating, unrelenting read you won't be able to put down. If you enjoyed either of the novels One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus or The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom, you should consider checking out this memoir.
As the turn of the 20th century neared, many London newspapers hawked the frenetic belief madness, criminality and disease plagued the lower classes more so than at any other time in history, thus endangering not only the future of the Kingdom but of the human race. When young Robert Coombes stabbed his sleeping mother to death and hired an addled-minded adult to help pawn the family’s belongings, no newspaper missed the opportunity to horrify the nation. Compounding the natural repulsion of matricide, Robert, his younger brother and their self-selected guardian enjoyed games of Cowboys and Indians in the backyard while Emily Coombes’ corpse rotted away in the upstairs bedroom. Kate Summerscale unwinds the facts and lies twisted into the half-truths printed at the time in The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer.
Throughout the trial, much was made about how the lowbrow “penny dreadfuls” Robert read had influenced him, and the possibility that the shape of his head or the size of his brain might have affected his emotional state. Little attention was paid to the home environment or family unit. The science of the day deemed Robert to be insane at the time he committed the act. Summerscale follows Robert out of the Holloway Jail to the aptly named Murder’s Paradise at the Broadmoor Asylum, through his release and emigration to Australia, into the trenches of War World I and to an almost cosmic final purpose.
Bereaved fans of Ann Rule and anyone not so patiently waiting for the perpetually in development theatrical version of The Devil in the White City will enjoy this page-turner.
When we talk about the distant future, we almost always look at it from how our current perspectives will change — what new technologies will emerge, what catastrophes may occur, what discoveries will be made, etcetera. But often we also assume that what we know as true today will still be true in the future.
But what happens if it turns out that what we believe now is proven false in some far-off future?
Chuck Klosterman plays devil’s advocate with that notion in his book But What If We’re Wrong? Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past by examining the idea that what we believe as infallible now will be proven invalid in 100 or 200 or 500 years’ time. Just because we believe it now may not necessarily mean it’s really true. After all, people used to believe that the sun went around the world, among other things. Then the Scientific Revolution happened and our understanding changed. So, Klosterman argues, what’s to say that won’t happen again?
This book is a delightful mind trip, equal parts thought-provoking and entertaining. Klosterman works interviews with various notable scientists, writers and philosophers into the text, posing such questions as “are we right about gravity?” and “do we understand what time is?” as well as “will the NFL and other sports leagues still exist?” and “which artist will define rock’n’roll music for future generations?”. His style of writing and use of humor keep the book from getting too esoteric; Klosterman is just as funny and approachable here as he is in his other works. Just don’t expect any definite answers — But What If We’re Wrong? is largely an exercise in conjecture and speculation.
Because after all, who knows what the future holds?