Joan Baum

Joan Baum is a recovering academic from the City University of New York, who spent 25 years teaching literature and writing. Joan has a long career as a critic and reviewer, writing for, among others, WNYC, Newsday, The Christian Science Monitor, MIT's Technology Review, Hadassah Magazine and writing on subjects in her dissertation field, the major English Romantic poets. She covers all areas of cultural history but particularly enjoys books at the nexus of the humanities and the sciences.

With an eye on reviewing fiction and nonfiction that has regional resonance for Connecticut or Long Island – books written by local authors or books set in the area – Joan considers the timeliness and significance of recently published work: what these books have to say to a broad group of readers today and how they say it in a distinctive or unique manner, taking into account style and structure as well as subject matter.

Book Review: 'Tombstone'

Jun 25, 2020

You know the expression, attributed to Aristotle—the whole being greater than, or different from, the sum of its parts—meaning that the way individual items combine can often affect the overall result. In the case of journalist and best-selling author Tom Clavin’s latest historical exploration of the Wild West called “Tombstone,” readers should pay attention to the parts.

No way you’re not going to keep reading a book with this opening line: “The captain wore a see-through dress.” Especially when the title of the book is “Scandal on Plum Island” and the author, Marian Lindberg, a journalist and attorney, notes on the cover that it’s a true story. This historical account, however, is not about conspirators’ favorite subject, germ warfare, on this windswept island in Gardiners Bay that’s still closed to the public, but about allegations of  homosexuality against a commanding officer, when Plum Island housed an army base in 1914. 

The king of escape Harry Houdini still fascinates us even though he died 94 years ago on Halloween this year. A new biography, “Houdini: The Elusive American,” takes a fresh look at his life and ambition to be remembered. 

Yet another go at the Founding Fathers? Well, to judge from historian and documentary filmmaker Tom Shachtman’s new book, “The Founding Fortunes,” Yes and No. Subtitled “How the Wealthy Paid for and Profited from America’s Revolution,” Shachtman’s analysis of the years 1763-1813 merits a yes because he does revisit some of the big names and battles of the day. But the answer is also no because “The Founding Fortunes” is not just another look at Colonial and post-Colonial politics and economics.

He didn’t at first appreciate the scare and chose to stay in the crowded city. And he hadn’t at the start stockpiled food or self-isolated or realized the extent of the contagion. But he did come to acknowledge the horror and the “brutal courage” of those who tried to help. “He” was Daniel Defoe. The time was 1722. The occasion, the publication of “A Journal of the Plague Year,” three years after Robinson Crusoe. In the “Journal” Defoe is looking back 57 years to when The Great Plague hit London, one year before The Great Fire would destroy just about anything that was left.