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Blog Posts by Subject: Biography

A Mystery in Astor Hall

I recently received a research question that posed a bit of an unusual mystery. The question was why John Jacob Astor, a founder of the library, was listed as a benefactor on one of the Astor Hall marble columns not once, but twice.

The question sent me over to Astor Hall to investigate, where I found the first four benefactors listed as John Jacob Astor, William Backhouse Astor, James Lenox, and John Jacob Astor, in that order. Hmm, a mystery indeed.   To answer the question, I began with the first issue of the ... Read More ›

Herman Melville

For a long time Herman Melville has been one of my favorite writers, perhaps the favorite. I read Moby Dick in junior year of high school in 1968 and was totally mesmerized. I have re-read it at least five or six times and it amazes me every time. I've also read all of his other novels, some of which were very difficult to read, but always worthwhile and interesting. When you read them in order: Typee, Omoo,

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Charles Schulz and Peanuts

There are only a handful of art forms native to America. Among these are jazz, musical comedy, the mystery novel, and the comic book. As far as comics are concerned there are arguably no characters more beloved and instantly recognizable than Charles Schulz’s Peanuts. After all, the saga of Charlie Brown and his friends is arguably the “longest story told by a single artist” in the history of all mankind. But what do we really know about this cartoonist and his alter ego? In the biography

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Boss Tweed's Last Swindle

Amazing to think how something beautiful can come from something corrupt.  The inspiring Jefferson Market Library (born a courthouse) had just such a beginning. You may have heard of Boss Tweed?  William Marcy "Boss" Tweed was a 19th century politician who swindled New York City out of millions of dollars.  By the 1860s, Tweed became head of Tammany Hall, a powerful group of Democratic politicians.  He organized his associates into the Tweed Ring, which sponsored schemes for city improvements.  Millions of 

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The Pony Express: History and Myth

Nearly everything you thought you knew about the Pony Express is wrong. Well, perhaps not wrong, but exaggerated or romanticized. If you’re like me, you’re probably imagining men dressed in fringed leather uniform on horses, riding at break-neck speeds to carry important business and love letters hundreds of miles, perhaps while simultaneously shooting their Wincester rifles in the air. When not dashing across the prairie, the riders would be found roping cattle, drinking and playing cards in saloons, hunting buffalo, and dodging Black-Hatted Bandits and 

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Washington Crosses The Delaware (Again)

Many people in the New York and New Jersey areas today probably don’t realize how much history there is about the American Revolution right at their doorstep. The key early parts of the war were enacted right here. The battles of Trenton and Princeton have to be the most popular and covered aspects of the Rev War. So any recent book on these well worn topics should offer something new. For the most part, Washington's Crossing, by David Hackett Fischer (Oxford Univ. Press, 2004), does, but the author still allows himself to get 

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The Queen of the Birds

Flannery O'Connor, who would have been 84 today, is best known for her dystopic portrayals of the South and Southerners in her novels Wise Blood, and The Violent Bear it Away, and in short stories like "

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Unexpected Lives of Women Authors

If you enjoyed my earlier post on the Unexpected Lives of Women, here are some authors who did or wrote about things that were different from the status quo at the time.

George Eliot, wrote under pen name of a man so that she would not be seen as, what 

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Unexpected Lives of Women

“Revolution is but thought carried into action.” —Emma Goldman

“All creative people want to do the unexpected.” —Hedy Lamarr

“If the career you have chosen has some unexpected inconvenience, console yourself by reflecting that no career is without them.” —

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Musing on Iris Murdoch

A strange relationship is established with favorite novelists, particularly those who are our living contemporaries. In reading their work, we are reconstituting word by word their mental landscapes and experiencing the energy which has gone into the act of creation, thereby establishing an extraordinary sort of intimacy. Although it should work the same way with deceased authors, the relationship lacks the reassurance that they are safely off somewhere, working on their next book. Since these authors no longer inhabit our present reality, their fiction inexorably turns into historical 

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Discovering Algot Lange

This is a picture of Algot Lange. Do you know who he is? I had not heard about him until last week when a patron approached the General Research Division reference desk asking about him. Mr. Lange was a Swedish explorer who wrote two books about his adventures in the Amazon during the early twentieth century. He’s an interesting fellow and a reminder that not all of history 

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Mr. Beeton, crafty guy.

(Stereoscopic view of a church bazaar from NYPL Digital Gallery.)

You’ve perhaps heard of Isabella Beeton, famous in Victorian England for her immensely popular guides to cooking and housekeeping. (A search in The Library Catalog for Beeton, Mrs. (Isabella Mary), 

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