Baum on Books

Still high on the list of the world’s 100 best novels, Joseph Conrad’s haunting “Heart of Darkness” continues to fascinate, mystify, and attract adaptors. Although Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 award-winning film “Apocalypse Now,” starring Marlon Brando is, arguably, the most imaginative of the lot—moving Conrad’s brooding and inscrutable Congo tale to Vietnam—the 1902 novella inspired earlier films (Boris Karloff as the charismatic Kurtz in 1958, John Malkovich in 1993). “Heart of Darkness” has also been turned into radio dramas, theatre pieces, even an opera.

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.

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