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Blog Posts by Subject: Biography

A Week in the Life of James Dean, or The Force is Strong With This One

What if someone told you that you had one week to live? What would you do? What places would you visit? Would you read any books? Listen to any particular music? Would the common and insignificant things you pass every day become more meaningful? Would that apple taste any better if you know it was your last one? Who would you thank? Who would you apologize to?    This week fifty-five years ago was the last week in the life of ... Read More ›

Wertheim Study and the Allen Room writers celebrate Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Free public lectures in the South Court Auditorium by the writers and scholars of the Research Study Rooms began last week, and with a bang.

Distinguished historian and biographer Susan Butler spoke about her forthcoming book, Roosevelt and Stalin: Winning the War: Shaping the Peace.  For it, she discovered 300 unpublished hot-war messages, researched the Tehran and Yalta conferences, and we learned all sorts of things - 

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POP! goes the Picture Collection: Warhol at NYPL

Self-Portrait, 1967.(1)He came from my hometown. As a teenager, he collected photographs of movie stars. A few years later, I clipped fan zines featuring Hayley Mills and the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and the Dave Clark 5 and

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Remembering a Legend: Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

It's hard to believe that it is a year since the untimely passing of Michael Jackson. It seems everyone can remember where they were and what they were doing when they found out he had died. (I know I can). It still shakes and saddens some to the core to even bring up his name in mundane conversation.

His life was filled with more twists and turns than an amusement park ride. He was destined for greatness; his innate talents took him to heights very few performers have yet to achieve. But like many tragically fallen performers before him, his  shocking death left many 

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Maurice Wertheim

The Wertheim Study is a hidden gem at The New York Public Library, though certainly treasured by the writers and scholars that use it.  But who was Maurice Wertheim?

Born in 1886 and a Harvard graduate, he wore many hats.  He began his career at the United Cigar Manufacturers Company, moving on to Hallgarten & Co., the Underwood Corporation, the Cuban Atlantic Sugar Company, the Hat Corporation of America, the Bond Stores Company, and his own company, Wertheim & Co.  During WWII he 

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LIVE from the NYPL, Richard Holmes: Post Event Wrap-Up

The LIVE from the NYPL program featuring Richard Holmes in conversation with Paul Holdengräber was off to a rocky start last night; the technology controlling the microphones kept malfunctioning. Mr. Holmes joked that it probably had "something to do with homeland security." This prompted a few chuckles from the crowd. When the microphone started acting up again twenty minutes later, Richard commented, "this gives new meaning to [part of] the subtitle of the book; ‘the Beauty and Terror of Science.'" At this point, he had the audience roaring with laughter. 

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Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York’s Master Builder and Transformed the American City

Robert A Caro’s tome The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York is a thick, unwieldy book at 1344 pages. It sits on my shelf with yellowed pages. I bought it shortly after I moved to New York City 30 years ago. I enjoy history and learned after I moved here that Robert Moses was an important piece of the NYC history puzzle. The book upon first reading was lost to me. I had no real understanding of New York City at that point and Robert Moses’ story 

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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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