Friday, January 1, 2010

Jim is observing New Year's Day. His final 2009 reading has included J
oan Waugh's U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth, a study of Civil War general and U.S. president Ulysses S. Grant's fluctuating historical reputation, which he will review (favorably) in an upcoming issue of the Journal of American History. Recent light fare has also included John Darnton's Black and White and Dead All Over, which uses the current crisis in the newspaper business (and, in particular, the thinly veiled woes of Darnton's own New York Times) as the backdrop for a juicy murder mystery. Currently he's reading Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, a novel of Tudor England he hopes to review some time in the next week or so.

Given the mania for it in more mainstream media, there's probably not much call here for a ten-best list for the year. But the vote for the most satisfying read of 2009 at this blog goes to Iain Pear's novel Stone's Fall, a brilliantly imagined story about the mysterious death of an arms merchant in 1909 London which proceeds down a
narrative trail that includes 1890 Paris and 1867 Venice, all of which are vividly brought to life by Pears's keen sense of historical detail, which recreates the naval arms race of the late nineteenth century, radical politics, aristocratic social mores, and so much more. Pears is also the author of An Instance of the Fingerpost (1997) and The Dream of Scipio (2002), which I may well like even more. For a discussion of all three, see my review of Stone's Fall, which appeared here as well as on the History News Network website. The novel will be out in paper in June; if you don't want to read it now, keep an eye out for it then.

Best wishes to you all for a happy and healthy 2010. Hope to see you at this site throughout.