Killing Them Softly

Death plays a big role in most history books, and definitely in biographies.  The death of a central feature often concludes a book.  Even if the book’s story ends before the main characters shuffle off this mortal coil, readers want to know how it all ended for the people they have spent several hours reading about, which usually leads to an epilogue.

Washington Navy Yard: Some Tough History

For someone writing a book about James Madison (that’s me), yesterday’s mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard has powerful echoes.  While the new national capital was being hacked out of forest and swamp in the 1790s, Congress arranged to buy land for a naval support facility.  Soon the navy yard at Washington City was the center of America’s small but tough fleet of armed frigates and smaller warships.

(For a great history of the early Navy, check out Ian Toll’s Six Frigates.)

John Bingham: American Founding Son

Today marks the launch of a new biography of Congressman John Bingham of Cadiz, Ohio, American Founding Son, by Gerard Magliocca of University of Indiana School of Law.  It’s great to have this fresh and excellent examination of Bingham, a key force in helping to shape the America that emerged from the Civil War:

  • Bingham is the source of the largest single expansion in the rights of citizens since the Constitution was ratified:  the commitment to “equal protection of the laws” and “due process of law” embodied in Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Without those provisions, the federal government might never have had the power to support the civil rights movement over the last sixty years.

Aaron Burr on Staten Island

Aaron Burr in his later days.

Aaron Burr in his later days.

Aaron Burr’s final days on Staten Island are the subject of a delightful new volume by Martha Smith Kakuk and Ray Swick:  Aunt Abby and Aaron Burr’s Last Days:  Staten Island, the Summer of 1836, and the Death of America’s Most Notorious Man.

Brought out in a limited addition by the Printing Press, Ltd. of Charleston, West Virginia, the pamphlet features the poignant reminiscences of Abby Bailey, who befriended Burr at a Port Richmond hotel during his last summer on earth.  Though there has always been something shabby and seedy in the portrayal of Burr’s final months, Bailey emphasized that the inn was a pleasant one on the shore that afforded views of the steamers and other craft going by, and Burr’s room was “the pleasantest of the house.”

Looking for America in World War I

On a recent trip to France, as part of research for a novel I hope to write next year, my long-suffering wife endured several days in northeastern France looking for traces of America’s role in World War I.  The weather was just right for imagining nasty, soggy trench warfare, where half the casualties were from illness, not wounds.  Though it was late May, it was cold and rainy.

Les Monthairons -- a military hospital in World War I.

Les Monthairons — a military hospital in World War I.

“The Lincoln Deception”: One step closer!

photo (20)

I just received a few “advanced reader copies” (i.e., copies for reviewers) of my forthcoming novel, The Lincoln Deception.  It’s a great pleasure to see them, though the book doesn’t go on sale until August 27.  You can reserve a copy by pre-0rder from Amazon.

I dedicated this one — a historical mystery that tries to unravel the secrets of the John Wilkes Booth Conspiracy — to my father; the dedication says he “loved history, and a good mystery.”  I wish he was around so I could share it with him.  I hope he’d like it.

Burr’s Corsets . . .

A stern-looking Burr; perhaps his undergarments were tight.

A stern-looking Burr; perhaps his undergarments were tight.

Aaron Burr’s devotion to the charms of the fair sex is the apparent justification for a new exhibition at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Upper Manhattan, where Burr lived for a few months during his short-lived second marriage at age 77.  The show is titled “The Loves of Aaron Burr:  Portraits in Corsetry and Binding.”

I did not make that up.  I did not even know that “corsetry” was a word.  I quote from the New York Times’ notice of the show, verbatim:

The Lincoln Deception

the lincoln deception

Well, there it is!  The cover of my first novel, which will be released on August 27.   Sink into the crepuscular gaslight of Washington in 1900 as our mismatched heroes struggle to scrape away the myths, misunderstandings and lies surrounding the John Wilkes Booth Conspiracy, while dodging the powerful secret forces that need to keep the secrets . . . secret.

Exciting?  It sure is to me.  And it’s even available for pre-order at Amazon and Booksense (for independent bookstores)!  So far, some early comments have been very generous —

Pirates Ahoy!

I don’t think these pirates look much like Captain Jack Sparrow, though it might be more entertaining if they did.

Nah, it wouldn’t.

I was blown away by a recent notice from Simon & Schuster, publisher of my three books to date, reporting the number of pirated e-copies of my books that they have bullied off the Internet.

What’s your guess?

The older version of a pirate

If you guessed eleven, you win.

Ten times, someone has posted free access to the text of Impeached, and once someone has posted the same for American EmperorEach time, according to Simon & Schuster, the hateful, disgusting thieves were threatened into taking down the books.  Two websites posted one of my books on four separate occasions apiece.  That doesn’t sound inadvertent, does it?

Reading Madison’s Mail

A partial set of the published volumes of Madison's correspondence -- just the ones I bought secondhand.

A partial set of the published volumes of Madison’s correspondence — only the ones I bought secondhand.

Bulletins from the frontiers of research:

  • When it came to negotiating the Louisiana Purchase, American diplomats James Monroe and Robert Livingston sewed up the deal in a couple of weeks.  When it came to squabbling over credit, the two diplomats spent eighteen months writing backbiting letters to James Madison (Secretary of State) explaining in excrutiating detail how the other guy almost killed the deal and how the letter-writer singlehandedly saved the day.