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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Last year I had mission accomplished, and completed my 80 books goal with several weeks to spare! I'm going to do something similar in 2013, but I do want to make a minor change. I read 80 books with room to spare last year, so this year I am going to keep my goal at 80 books, but I'm going to put in a requirement that 8 of the books, and at least one every two months, be a doorstopper. For my purposes, doorstopper is defined as a book with 500 or more pages. I'm not going to sweat it if I read a nonfiction book of 500 pages with a section of footnotes at the back taking up some of the 500 pages. It will still count as a doorstopper, I'm not going to get that technical. I already have a few doorstoppers in mind.



This was marked down to under five bucks a few weeks ago and I grabbed it. Churchill is one of my favorite figures from history, and I will probably eventually read all three volumes of this unless I die of old age first!



As the creator of Sherlock Holmes, one of my (imaginary) heroes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gets secondary hero perks. And he appears to have had some actual adventures, including serving as ship's doctor on a whaling ship and nearly dying. I have already bought this, and I will move it out of TBR status and onto my Kindle.



I've been in Custer's former house at Fort Riley, KS, so clearly I need to learn more about him and Crazy Horse.



I've found the history of exploration in general and Columbus in particular to be fascinating for years, and I read this years ago while I was unemployed after leaving the Army. Time to read it again. But I won't be shelling out $70 for the hardback! (for some reason the link maker won't let me link to the less expensive paperback)

There will be other books doorstoppers and more normal-sized. Several of them will deal with Italy and Roman history, as next Fall I am going to Italy on a trip which will include seeing Venice (Been there once) and Rome, which I've never seen before!

BOOKS READ:

1. What the Butler Winked At: The Adventures of Eric Horne, Butler, by Eric Horne
2. The War of the Worlds Murder, by Max Allan Collins
XX. Convair B-36 Peacemaker: A Photo Chronicle, by Meyer Jacobsen
3. The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle, by Russell Miller
4. The Dance of Time, by Michael Judge
5. Assignment in Eternity, by Robert Heinlein
6. Right Ho, Jeeves!, by P. G. Wodehouse
7. Armed Robbers in Action: Stickups in Street Culture, by Robert T. Wright and Scott H. Decker
8. Time Travelers, Strictly Cash, by Spider Robinson
9. The Chinese Maze Murders, by Robert van Gulik
10. The Anatomy of Motive, by John E. Douglas
11. A Time to Stand: The Epic of the Alamo, by Walter Lord
12. Kill Your Darlings, by Max Allan Collins
13. Groundhog Day, by Don Yoder
14. The London Blitz Murders, by Max Allan Collins
15. The Tunguska Mystery, by Vladimir Rubtsov
16. The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey
17. The Pope Who Quit, by Jon M. Sweeney
18. The Far Traveler, by A. Bertram Chandler
19. The Truth About Cruise Ships, by Jay Herring
20. The Lusitania Murders, by Max Allan Collins
21. Beyond the Wild Blue: A History of the US Air Force, 1947-2007, by Walter J. Boyne
22. A Fall of Moondust, by Arthur C. Clarke
23. Vital Circuits: On Pumps, Pipes, and the Workings of Circulatory Systems, by Steven Vogel
XX. Rice Farming: Complete With Methods to Increase Rice Yield, by Julian Bradbrook
24. Ancient Images, by Colin Ramsay
25. Star Courier, by A. Bertram Chandler
26. Vesuvius, by Gillian Darley
27. The Hindenburg Murders, by Max Allan Collins
28. Lost at Sea: The Truth Behind Eight of History's Most Mysterious Ship Disasters, by A. A. Hoehling
29. In Ruins: A Journey Through History, Art, and Literature, by Christopher Woodward
30. The Case of the Little Green Men, by Mack Reynolds
31. Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance, by Atul Gawande
32. Memoirs of a Mangy Lover, by Groucho Marx
33. Magnus Ridolph, by Jack Vance
XX. Cigars of the Pharaoh, by Herge
34. Spider Silk: Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging, and Mating, by Leslie Brunetta and Catherine L. Craig
35. St. Peter's, by Keith Miller
XX. The Urine Dance of the Zuni Indians of New Mexico, by John Bourke
36. To Keep the Ship, by A. Bertram Chandler
37. On the Border With Crook, by John G. Bourke
38. Ancient Rome in So Many Words, by Christopher Francese
39. To Keep the Ship, by A. Bertram Chandler
40. Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians but Were Afraid to Ask, by Anton Treuer
41. The Haunting of America: From The Salem Witch Trials to Harry Houdini, by William J. Bimes and Joel Martin
42. How Do Private Eyes do That?, by Colleen Collins
43. The Pearl Harbor Murders, by Max Allan Collins
44. Methusaleh's Children, by Robert Heinlein
45. Gaslight Arcanum: Uncanny Tales of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Kim Newman
46. Thank You, Jeeves, by P. G. Wodehouse
47. Bat Bomb, by Jack Couffer
48. Wicked Bronze Ambition, by Glen Cook
49. City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas, by Roger Crowley
50. The Story of the Pony Express, by Glenn D. Bradley
51. The Last of the Legions, and Other Tales of Long Ago, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
52. Fossils: A Very Short Introduction, by Keith Thomson
53. Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy, by Mark P. Witton
54. The Transylvania Flying Squad of Detectives, by M. L. Dunn
55. No Cure for Death, by Max Allan Collins
56. A Journey into Michelangelo's Rome, by Angela K. Nickerson
57. Catastrophes and Lesser Calamities: The Causes of Mass Extinctions, by Tony Hallam
58. Sharpe's Rifles, by Bernard Cornwell
59. Ancient Rome, Rise and Fall of an Empire, by Simon Baker
60. Matilda's Stepchildren, by A. Bertram Chandler
61. Tales of Terror and Mystery, by Arthur Conan Doyle
62. How to be Interesting (in 10 simple steps), by Jessica Hagy
63. Storm Front (A Novel of the Dresdent Files), by Jim Butcher
64. The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception, by H. Keith Melton
65. When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time, by Michael J. Benton
66. Murder at La Fenice, by Donna Leon
67. Inside the Aquarium: The Making of a Top Soviet Spy, by Viktor Suvorov
68. Star Loot, by A. Bertram Chandler
69. Retail Undercover, by Mark E. Douglas
70. Ninety Percent of Everything, by Rosé George
71. Venice: A New History, by Thomas F. Madden
72. Napoleon's Pyramids, by William Dietrich
73. The Anarch Lords, by A. Bertram Chandler
74. The Sixteenth Rail, by Adam J. Schrager
75. Death's Door, by James R. Benn
76. Dangerous Instincts: Use an FBI Profiler's Tactics to Avoid Unsafe Situations, by Mary Ellen O'Toole
77. Fool Moon, by Jim Butcher
78. Daily Life in the Roman City: Rome, Pompeii, and Ostia, by Gregory S. Aldrett
XX. The Swerve, How The World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt (abandoned)
79. Myth Conceptions, by Robert Asprin
80. Alpha Beta: How Twenty-Six Letters Shaped the Western World, by John Man
81. Vampire Forensics: Uncovering the Origins of an Enduring Legend, by Mark Collins Jenkins
82. Foreign Planes in the Service of the Luftwaffe, by Jean-Louis Roba
83. Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture, by Marvin Harris
84. Death in a Strange Country, by Donna Leon
85. Nice Weekend for a Murder, by Max Allan Collins
86. Fellowship of Fear, by Aaron Elkins
87. Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire that Rescued Western Civilization, by Lars Brownsworth
XX Burmese Daze: Myanmar in 28 Photos, by Elizabeth Sowerbutts
88. The Dark Place, by Aaron Elkins
89. The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades, edited by Joseph Riley-Smith
90. George Washington's Mount Vernon: At Home in Revolutionary America, by Robert Dalzell
91. The Photographer's guide to Washington, DC, by Lee Jones
92. The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain
93. Turkey: Culture Smart!, by Charlotte McPherson
94. Transylvania's Most Wanted, by M. L. Dunn
95. The Ho Ho Ho Mystery, by Bob Burke
96. Neutrino, by Frank Close
97. Hercule Poirot's Christmas, by Agatha Christie
98. The Time Traders, by Andre Norton
99. Battle of Britain 1917, by Jonathan Sutherland
100.The Honest Truth About Dishonesty, by Dan Ariely
101.The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
102.Armored Thunderbolt: The US Army Sherman in World War II, by Stephen Zaloga
103.The Titanic Murders, by Max Allan Collins
(Italicized books are doorstoppers)
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·


What the Butler Winked At, by Eric Horne

I've finished the first book of 2013. As I've mentioned before, I am fond of reading about people who have interesting jobs, so when I learned about this book I wanted to read it despite the mixed reviews it has received at Amazon. The book is a memoir by a man who was a servant in England from roughly 1870 until he retired on little money when things fell apart for the nobility in England after World War I. He started at the lowest level, and aspired to be the Butler for the King of England. He never had that job, but he did serve as butler to a Princess and a (unrelated) Prince, both foreign potentates living in England. The book has some problems, but I really liked it.

This book was written after the author had suffered through several years of struggling for employment and suffered a personal tragedy, and that definitely affected his outbook. The book begins with a great deal of venting of spleen at nearly everyone, but especially at inconsiderate employers. Fortunately, this is brief, and he shifts to recollections of his boyhood, then describes his career as a servant.

The book apparently never suffered the attentions of an editor--The spelling is quaint and the style is extremely rambling. "Horne" (apparently a pseudonym) will stop in the middle of an account to interject a joke he heard or to tell some brief story that came to his mind. Keeping in mind what the book was, I didn't find this bothersome. But if you have low tolerance for such things, you'll be unhappy with the book.

The book consistently held my interest, and I read it straight through spread over two evenings. There was never anything that just bowled me over with awesomeness, and some of the references and stories baffle me--I suppose this is an unavoidable consequence of reading an extremely personal book by a from over a century ago. Those things didn't deter me from liking the book, it feels very authentic, as if we are given a look into the man's innermost thoughts and at what he thought was important or interesting.

There are lots of tidbits from the book, I will post some tomorrow. But now, as it is after Midnight, I'm off to bed. But before I go, I'll give What the Butler Winked At three and a half stars, very close to four.
 

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I love these threads of yours, would you mind if I started one of my own? Just keeping count is boring... 
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Seleya said:
I love these threads of yours, would you mind if I started one of my own? Just keeping count is boring...
Go for it! I forgot to file for a patent on the idea, so it is in the public domain.... :D. As I mentioned at the end of last year's thread, I think I get more out of my reading this way.

Did you read the book on Cambodia yet?

Sent from my DROID RAZR using Tapatalk 2
 

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;D, I'm looking forward to the exchange of opinions and ideas.

No I didn't yet, it's in my list for this year. You know, I wonder wether he really misunderstood some of the points you mention in your review or he was trying to explain things to his superiors using a frame of reference they were familiar with...Were I to guess I'd say some of both. I'm really looking forward to reading it.

 

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HC - only recently discovered last year's thread and read it with great interest. I shall follow this one closely.

Yours, too, Seleya if you decide to start one.
 

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Thank you, Sam.
I've just started, it's a  rather light first post (I guess I must find my voice), but discussion and comments are definitely welcome.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Back to "What the Butler Winked At"...

As you can probably tell from my comments earlier, I found that I really liked this book, and was interested in the author. I found myself wondering what happened to him after he wrote the book. I felt this way even though I never had my socks knocked off by anything wonderful in the book, and at times the book departs from the matter-of-fact and upbeat tone and becomes a bit melancholy (I won't give away details except to see that the author had had a hideous couple of years before writing it). He explicitly says that he views himself as having wasted his life. I don't think he'd have said that through most of his career.

I've highlighted too many things to list here, but here are a few:

Horne had come of age in mid-Victorian times, and seems to accept telephones, but sincerely hated loud automobiles and their stinking fumes! :D He compares their use unfavorably with the pageantry of a coach with matched footmen who would leave the stopped carriage, march in unison to the door they were visiting, knock both knockers in unison if it was a double door (as at the best places), march back to the carriage, let down the steps, and hand down the ladies. On a more practical note, he explains that motor cars were bad for the chauffeur. Horses had to be rested after a time, but the car could go and go and go, and many employers were inconsiderate of their drivers.

Horne began his "gentleman's service" career as a footman. This was before electric lights, and each morning before breakfast, he and one other footman had to gather 73 oil lamps from throughout the house, clean them and trim the wicks, and return them to their places. They had to do this before breakfast. Horne points out some things that had to be learned, both as general skills, and knowledge of a particular house. When one is carrying a large butler's tray in front of one, the stairs are out of sight as you climb or worse yet, descend them. If you think you are at the bottom of the stairs when there is another step to go, disaster is likely.

Horne moved to a better position, and he described the livery worn by male servants at the new place:

...Our livery was very smart. Scarlet breeches and waistcoat, blue coat with scarlet collar and cuffs, trimed with inch wide silver lace, and one epaulet on the left shoulder, white stockings, and buckles.

With some employers, servants were required to powder their hair.

One family had a wine cooler, a huge piece of solid silver that took four men to carry it. And of course, it had to be polished. I was surprised to learn that it was usually male servants who were assigned to polish silver.

It was common for Horne's employers to have a house in Scotland to spend some time at. At one of these, he reports that the Earl who employed him required bagpipes to come and play in the corridor outside his bedroom each morning at 8 AM to wake him. The racket of the bagpipes reverberating off of stone walls was hideous (in his opinion!) . At some places in Scotland, a group of pipers would march around the outside of the house or castle each morning.

When an heir to the family line was born, one family brewed up a thousand-gallon tun of ale to be broached when he attained the age of 21. Sadly, the young man was killed in World War I.

I'm a lover of the Jeeves stories, but Horne was no Jeeves. When he was personal valet to a young man (just as Jeeves was!) he knew his bos (that's the way he spells it!) was sweet on a daughter of a family whose home they visited. Horne saw his bos exit a room where he'd been alone with the young lady with a crestfallen air. Horne thinks he popped the question, and was turned down. Horne liked this employer, but later the man married a woman described as a Tartar, and as a spitfire. Horne "could not stand her at any price" and handed in his resignation. Jeeves would have salvaged the first woman's refusal (if she'd been a good match) and definitely would have figured out a way to block the marriage to a tartar!

Horne had some adventures with the old-fashioned bicycles with a tall front wheel. He describes helping his boss to learn to ride one with a front wheel 52 inches in diameter! Horne himself had a serious accident on one, when he was flung from the bike into a stone wall and knocked out.

Once Horne was sent ahead of the family to a country house he'd never been to before, with instructions to begin preparing it for habitation before the family and other servants arrived. This was an old place like a maze internally with lots of doors, and Horne went about to the rooms putting candles, pens, paper, and other stuff for the occupants. Because of the unchanging nature of the small short passageways and doors, he couldn't find the way he'd come in! He started dropping an envelope in front of his entry door, so he could identify it.

Horne worked for one family who did not run a happy house, and were constantly having changes in servants at their country home. When a servant left, he would get a rail ticket back to London. The family had developed a system of sending the departing servants to a different station and line than their replacements were coming in on. This minimized the chance that the embittered servants who were leaving could warn the arriving servants!

One bos was big in raising race horses. When important races were held near his home, he would be host to several owners of competing race horses. The coachman wanted to get inside information about a particular race, so after dinner on one of these racing occasions, when the ladies and servants would leave the room to the gentlemen, the coachman got an ally to pull him up in the dumbwaiter where he could listen in on the horsey conversation. The coachman shared his information with the other servants, and everyone had a very profitable day the next day, for he had correctly spied out the winning horse!

Horne was handicapped in rising to work for the very highest families, because he was five feet, nine inches tall, and it was considered desirable to have servants, especially the head butler, who were six feet tall or taller! He seems to be resigned to this, and even he falls prey to the prejudice against shorter male servants. He left one family in an unhappy way, when his bos died and an heir who he did not respect took over. Horne describes how a few months later, he passed the home in London while the new heir was entertaining, and figuratively sneers as he describes how the two footmen out front were only five feet, two inches tall!

In 19th Century London there were no emails from Nigerian princes, but there were other scams, some aimed squarely at the serving class. A common trick was to place an ad in the paper describing a highly desirable position at a good salary, directing applicants to a storefront. When the eager job applicant would apply, they'd be told that the advertised position had just been filled. But, a similar position was sure to open up soon, and the applicant would be offered an opportunity to get on the firms books for only a half-crown booking fee. Of course, there never were any of these highly desirable jobs at the agency.

I've posted an excessive amount of this stuff, but for some reason I found it very interesting, and grew to like the author. I hope Eric Horne had a happy life after he wrote the book!
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·


The War of the Worlds Murders, by Max Allan Collins

This is moving along nicely, and I completed my second book of the year last night. There were a bunch of books by Max Allan Collins recently released on Kindle and available in the KOLL, so I borrowed this one for January. The other books I've covered in these threads were mostly from the Nate Heller series, though the most recent one was from the Mallory series. This is from another series yet, what Collins calls the Disaster Series. Somehow I never got around to reading these, even in paper, but in addition to being set amidst disasters, they share that a famous mystery writer is the protagonist in each one. For this one, the hero is Walter Gibson. You probably don't recognize his name, but you're aware of his work, and can quote at least one line...Gibson was the creator of The Shadow.

This book is centered around the infamous Orson Welles broadcast of The War of the Worlds that scared the pants off of America in 1938. Gibson is there because he has been called in by Welles to work on a special project. When a murder is discovered, Gibson is the one who seeks to solve the mystery for us. For me, the highlight of the book wasn't so much the mystery as it was learning about Orson Welles (I know little of him) and learning more about the famous radio show. The book takes us to a number of locations in New York City in the late 1930s, including the famous Cotton Club, where Cab Calloway performs this famous number:


I was inspired to look the above up on Youtube, and I'm glad I did. I'd seen a much older and less athletic Calloway perform this same number in The Blues Brothers movie, but he was an amazing showman earlier (and apparently the Youtube clip is from 1958, twenty years later than the scene in the book). Calloway was awesome, and the closeup done at the two and a half minute mark in the clip above is amazing!

Lots of interesting historical detail in the book--As always, Collins relentlessly researches his history before writing.

At the time of the War of the Worlds broadcast, Welles was struggling to get his show noticed--He had about four percent of the radio audience, while competing against another show that starred Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy that got 35% <!> of the audience. Welles show, The Mercury Theater on the Air, was beloved by critics, but didn't hae much audience and most importantly, had no sponsor. The stunt with the Mars invasion worked, soon afterwards, the Campbell Soup Company became the sponsor of Welles' show!

In the book, Welles states that a similar stunt with fake news reports on a BBC radio broadcast about riots and unrest by unemployed mobs in London created a similar panic. I'd never heard of this, since Collins has such good research, I'm assuming it is true. I'm going to do a little research.

Gypsy Rose Lee gets a passing mention as performing at a theater, but doesn't make an appearance in the book.

The book reports that the real H. G. Wells complained about the liberties taken with his material, and expressed concern that his work would be used "to cause distress and alarm throughout the United States." Though later Wells and Welles had a very cordial meeting in person.

Remember when I mentioned that Edgar Bergen and his ventriloquist's dummy were whooping up on Welles in the ratings department? Orson Welles later displayed a cable that supposedly came from President Roosevelt telling Welles that "...the intelligent people were all listening to the dummy, and all the dummies were listening to you!"

Howard E. Koch was the principal writer for the War of the Worlds show. You probably don't recognize that name, but again you know and can quote at least one line from his work....Four years later, he was one of three scriptwriters who co-wrote the movie Casablanca!

I enjoyed the book, more because of Welles and the show than because of the mystery, which is fine as a mystery (and has a nice surprise in it) but gets overwhelmed by the interesting setting. three and half stars from me. But now I'm going to have to find a book about the 1938 broadcast and read it!
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Not really a "reading" book, but I completed this a couple of days ago:



Convair B-36 Peacemaker: A Photo Chronicle, by Meyers K. Jacobsen

(editorial aside--When searching for this with the KB "link maker", I entered "B-36 photo chronicle". I got two items to choose from, one the correct book I was looking for, and the other a book by C. S. Lewis called "The Horse and His Boy." How the Lewis book meets the search terms is a mystery I'll probably never solve....)

I have a longtime interest in aircraft and in military history, so of course history involving airplanes is particularly interesting. I also have a fondness for the unusual (as readers of these threads have surely noticed) and the B-36 is a favorite of mine as one of the more unusual planes ever mass-produced! It was huge, the largest mass-produced piston engine aircraft ever, and had the longest wingspan of any combat aircraft ever. The B-29 from World War II was a large plane, big enough to carry the first atomic bomb, but the B-36 dwarfed the B-29. Check out this comparative photo of the two planes:



(note that this is one of the early B-36s with only six propeller engines, the four jets were added later)

Because of the great size, the B-36 was sometimes called the "aluminum overcast". It was big enough that the crew could use tunnels inside the wings to get to the engines during flight. For several years, it was the only aircraft that could carry the then-new hydrogen bomb, and the only bomber that could fly from the USA to the USSR without aerial refueling. Fortunately for us all, that flight was never necessary, and the B-36 has another unusual distinction that it was the front line of our defense for almost a decade, but was never used in combat.

The B-36 also had ten engines, very unusual to begin with, and the engines were a mix of propeller and jet, with the propellers being "pusher" propellers. With so many engines in such an unusual configuration, it wasn't unusual to have engine trouble. Enthusiastic flight engineers would report to the pilot that they had "Six turning and four burning" when all was well with the jet and propeller engines. More jaded and cynical types would announce: "Two turning, two burning, two smoking, two joking, with two engines not accounted for, Sir!"

Because of the size of the plane, most airfields where it was stationed had no hangars that could hold it. So maintenance had to be carried out in the open, or at best under a canvas temporary enclosure. Each of the six propeller engines had fifty-six <!> spark plugs to be changed. This was not fun in the Summer in New Mexico or Texas, or in the Winter in South Dakota or Alaska!

For various reasons, there were experiments with a tracked landing gear for the B-36. This actually flew, though only once. If you don't believe me, here's a video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDCgMlomhvM

(embedding is disabled for this video, you'll have to click the link)
Fortunately, this freak of aeronautical engineering only flew once.

This book begins with a few pages of text about the history and development of the bomber, then it goes to photographs only (except for brief but useful captions). The selection of photos is excellent, and covers a variety of subjects besides the expected aircraft in flight and on the ground. It is in a nice large format that allows a great look at the photographs, and the quality of the photo printing is very good. If the airplane interests you, this book is well worth the ten bucks. Five stars from me.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I said in the initial post of this thread that my portfolio this year would include some big doorstopper books, and I've started. I'm now reading this:



The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle: A Biography, by Russell Miller

Yep, a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of my hero, Sherlock Holmes! And it is a respectable, though not mammoth, doorstopper--541 pages long. I'm now 19% of the way through the book. This is indeed an exhaustive look at his life. Before ACD himself gets on the scene, Miller spends numerous pages describing the history of his mother's and father's ancestral lines. There's also a surprising coverage of his boyhood. Apparently ACD and/or his mother were compulsive archivers, and Doyle was very close to his mother, writing detailed letters to her regularly throughout her life, even though Doyle went away to boarding school quite young, and lived far away from her through the first parts of his career.

The author explains at the beginning of the book that he benefited compared with previous biographies because he had full access to some of Doyle's papers that hadn't been released to the public, and have been locked up by a lawsuit for several decades. I don't have independent knowledge, and am taking him at his word about this. But whatever papers he had access to, he has made good use of them and produced an interesting and readable book. I'm very pleased with it so far, though I am only in the early days of his medical career, and he has had only a few stories published, and Sherlock hasn't been thought of yet.

The book notes that Doyle is unaviodably linked with Holmes in the public mind, even though Holmes is only a small part of Doyle's literary output. At the site of the (demolished) home where Doyle was born in Edinburgh, is a statue of....Sherlock Holmes! I haven't got to details yet, but the opening confirms the stories that Doyle resented Holmes, and and viewed Holmes as doing great damage to Doyle's literary reputation.

The book has a partial list of places and products that have featured Holmes, besides the famous Tube station in London:

"...cigarette cards, tea towels, board games, dinner services, postage stamps, beer bottles, chewing gum, mouthwashes, computer games, Beecham's Pills, and packets of Kellogg's Crunchy Nut corn flakes."

Apparently there has been a Sherlock Holmes ballet<!>.

ACD's uncle, Dick Doyle, was a favored illustrator for Punch magazine, one of Uncle Dick's most telling topics was pointing out that in the early 1840s, Queen Victoria's consort Prince Albert had an annual allowance from the taxpayers of thirty thousand pounds, while the total budget for educating the poor in all of England was only ten thousand pounds. In 1848, Dick produced almost a third of the cartoons in the magazine, and soon after he designed a front cover illustration that was used on the magazine for over a century.

Pope Pius IX has appeared in several of the books I've read in the last year and has been mentioned in these threads (he was the pontiff who chewed out his American envoy because the just-assassinated President Lincoln had gone to the theater on Good Friday). He even makes it into this book, Punch and Arthur's uncle Dick pushed a harsh campaign against Pius when Pius sought to expand the number of archbishops and bishops in England.

If you review manuscripts from aspiring writers, you may want to take note of the technique Doyle used many years after his childhood, when an eager young author sent Doyle a volume of poems and essays that were awful, and insisted on an evaluation of the contents. Doyle told the newcomer "You are equally at home in prose and in verse."

Doyle's family had extreme financial trouble because his father was a hardcore alcoholic, and though apparently not violent, was totally unhelpful as a provider, and ended up being institutionalized. In spite of this, money and aid was found to send young Doyle away to boarding school at a young age, and he grew up mostly seeing his family only on holidays.

I'd heard of Joseph Bell, one of Doyle's instructors in medical school, who had an uncanny ability to deduce the background and illnesses of patients by observing them. He's regarded as the inspiration for Holmes. The book has some stories that illustrate this ability to do things such as distinguish between the calluses of a carpenter and a stonemason. Arthur respected Bell's inspiration enough to dedicate The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes to Bell, and wrote privately to Bell giving him credit for inspiration. Another of Doyle's professors was thought to be the inspiration for Professor Challenger, an important, but less well-known Doyle character. I have read and enjoyed the Professor Challenger stories, but this was new to me!

A fellow-student while Doyle was at the University of Edinburgh was J. M. Barrie, who later created Peter Pan. The book doesn't give any indication that they knew each other well, however.

Doyle was strapped for funds, and worked filling prescriptions to make money. He sometimes filled 100 prescriptions in one evening, and this was on top of attending class! Eventually he took a break from medical school to serve as ship's doctor on a whaling ship that made an arctic voyage. He fell into the frigid water several times while walking on ice floes and nearly drowned. The ship's captain nicknamed him "The Great Northern Diver." Once he fell in while by himself, barely managed to get out of the water, and walked to the ship with his clothes frozen solid like a suit of armor, crackling as he walked. Doyle loved the Arctic trip, but when he signed up on a ship going to several ports in Africa, the trip was miserable, and he grew gravely ill. A big fire on the ship came very close to igniting highly flammable palm oil cargo that might have created an explosion that could destroy the ship. These experiences cured him of the idea of a career at sea. By this time he was writing stories and getting published in magazines, and he did have the thrill of finding a magazine with one of his stories in it while visiting a British expatriate's house in Africa!

Doyle's family were staunch Catholics, and he disappointed them bitterly when they offered to pull strings to get him a job in a Catholic hospital. Doyle insisted he couldn't accept such a position, because he didn't believe in Catholic doctrine. Doyle tried to work jointly in a medical practice with a classmate who was apparently brilliant, but had some strange notions--The friend believed that the best way to impress patients was to yell at them, and make them feel lucky they were seeing such a skilled doctor! The friend also spent time working on crackpot inventions. One involved towing huge magnets on barges behind warships. The magnets were supposed to attract enemy shot away from the ship towing them! He had done test experiments using a revolver with steel bullets and smaller magnets, and invited Doyle to take a shot at his wife's head with a magnet nearby to pull away the shot. Doyle had the good sense to decline. The partnership didn't last long!

Doyle moved to a practice by himself, and was extremely short of money, having to skip meals sometimes. He had a fine brass placard announcing his practice outside his door, but he would wait till the dark of night to go out and shine it--He didn't want the neighbors to know that he couldn't afford a domestic servant to do the job! Income from writing helped keep Dr. Doyle afloat during this time.

When Doyle filled out his tax return for the year 1882, Doyle reported a total income of only 154 pounds, which meant he owed no tax. The auditor returned the form to Doyle with the notation, "Most unsatisfactory". Doyle returned it with his own notation below, "I entirely agree." He was eventually able to convince the Revenue folks that he actually was doing that poorly!

I'm still early in Doyle's life, Holmes doesn't even seem to be a glimmer in Doyle's eye yet, so there will be more to come!
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
tipsy telstar said:
have you gotten conan doyle out of med school yet?
Yep, he took the voyage to Africa as his first job out of med school, spent some time job hunting unsuccessfully, spent a few months trying to share a practice with the nutty friend, and he now has completed his first year in his own medical practice in Portsmouth. Poor guy had a tough time building up a clientele!
 

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Claw, I enjoy your reading your reviews.  Congrats on last year's journey.  Your interests align with that of my Dad, and if only he were a KB'er, you and him would probably be able to exchange thoughts on the same books.  I've resigned myself to just reading your posts since I doubt if I will have time to read those lengthy books and the historical ones.  I just fill up my time on the train with "shallow"  :-[ reads - but my resolve this year is to pick up more biographies and business books, and just cycle in between the easy fiction reads.  There is always room for growth, and I may eventually work my way up to yours and telracs' diversified literary picks.  :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
tx dartrider said:
Claw, I enjoy your reading your reviews. Congrats on last year's journey. Your interests align with that of my Dad, and if only he were a KB'er, you and him would probably be able to exchange thoughts on the same books. I've resigned myself to just reading your posts since I doubt if I will have time to read those lengthy books and the historical ones. I just fill up my time on the train with "shallow" :-[ reads - but my resolve this year is to pick up more biographies and business books, and just cycle in between the easy fiction reads. There is always room for growth, and I may eventually work my way up to yours and telracs' diversified literary picks. :)
Hello, Dartrider....You shouldn't "have" to read anything you don't enjoy (I'm leaving out school and work assignments, heh) but if you have stuff you want to read that is a little tougher, just fold some in as you describe. Say hi to your dad for me!
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
I have great progress to report on my reading, and need to catch up on my reporting here. I've now finished two additional books, including my first doorstopper of the year! The Arthur Conan Doyle book is done, and I enjoyed it and recommend it. Since not every phase of a person's life is awesome, I had been afraid I might have to struggle with keeping going on all 550 pages of this book, but that never happened. In a tribute to the author, he held my interest all the way. Of course, ACD also deserves part of the credit, which he earned by living a very interesting life!

I was amused to find that Doyle sometimes struggled with some of the same issues that I see our authors here on KB dealing with. Doyle analyzed how best to keep the interest of readers when publishing periodic outputs over time, and he decided that a tightly-linked serial story, such as Dickens had often used, wasn't the best choice for repeated publication in a magazine. Too much risk that you'll lose readers if they miss an installment! He decided that it was best to have a series of interlinked stories, with each story standing alone. This will generate interest in reading the next installment, even if a previous independent installment was missed. In his personal papers, he agonized over whether he could successfully make the transition from writing short stories to writing novel-length fiction..."I know I can write small stories in a taking way, but am I equal to a prolonged effort--Can I extend a plot without weakening it--Can I preserve the identity of a character throughout..." When publishers rejected one of his early historical novels because "it had next to no attraction for female readers" and because "it is hardly sensational enough", he wrote groveling letters trying to change their mind, and offering to allow it to be published for free in exchange for a portion of the profits. His files contain repeated letters to some editors asking about the status of manuscripts he submitted over a year before!

Doyle considered several names for the character who became Sherlock Holmes. Had he chosen differently, we might today read about Sheridan Hope, Sherringford Holmes, or Ormond Sacker. All names he seriously considered!

The original Holmes story was not seen favorably by editors, and eventually was accepted for publication in "Beeton's Christmas Annual", an obscure publication that was filled with ads for products like "Steiner's Vermin Paste, A sure and certain destroyer of rats, cockroaches, mice, and black beetles!" Fortunately, the first story, A Study in Scarlet, was widely noticed and well-received by the public. Unfortunately, it was accepted too late to be in the next issue, so had to sit in obscurity for a year before being published the following year!

From the beginning of his success with Holmes, Doyle worried that Holmes would overshadow what he considered his more serious work. As early as four years after the initial appearance Doyle wrote to his mother that he was thinking of killing Holmes off (this would have been after only twelve stories!). Fortunately for Holmes fans, his mother pointed out that Holmes was a very reliable source of income, and should not be killed off. The publisher of The Strand magazine, which originally published most of the Holmes stories, estimated that having Doyle's name on the cover boosted circulation of an issue by over 100,000 copies.

After the first series of twelve Holmes stories was over, Doyle wanted to concentrate on "serious" work, but his publisher was eager for more Holmes. To put the publisher off, Doyle insisted on a fee of one thousand pounds for a series of twelve additional stories, which he considered a ridiculous demand, and then was surprised to find the offer eagerly accepted!

While working on a story, Doyle had an output of about 3,000 words per day, working from breakfast until lunch in the morning, then from five to eight in the evening. Once he'd written the initial version of a story, he had no interest in revisions, and did no review of his work. He kept an Ideas Book with handwritten notes on ideas for the future, and marked them off when used. The lack of revision helps explain some of the awful howlers in the stories, such as Watson's migrating war wound, and mention of him buying a dog that never appears again. Doyle wasn't bothered by this. "In short stories....as long as you produce your dramatic effect, accuracy of detail matters little," he wrote. On the other hand for his beloved historical novels, he maintained detailed notebooks with descriptive and consistent detail and did everything he could to painstakingly maintain accuracy and consistency.

Doyle believed that he had learned to speak Norwegian, and showed off his ability to his friends on a trip to a ski resort in Norway by having a lengthy conversation with a Norwegian military officer at a rest-house. He was a bit vague in explaining what this delightful conversation was about, and admitted he hadn't quite caught it all. He later learned that he had offered to let the man take his personal horse and carriage, which the man did! He stopped trying to speak Norwegian after that!

Doyle's first wife got consumption and was an invalid for several years. Doyle cared for her, and relocated the family several times in an effort to get her in the most healthful environment as understood at the time. But...He also took up with a much younger woman who often followed Doyle to new cities, and over time, even his first wife's mother was aware of this. Supposedly his first wife never knew about this being anymore than a family friend, but a report from Doyle's daughter suggests she was aware of it and accepted that Doyle would marry this woman after she was gone.

When Doyle did kill off Holmes, there was outrage. The Strand magazine lost 20,000 subscribers. The Strand published an editorial indicating that they had pleaded with Doyle for Holmes' life, but been rejected. Doyle observed that he buried his bank account along with Holmes. Doyle said that he'd once eaten too much pate de foie gras, and got a sickening feeling when confronted with it even years later. He said Holmes gave him the same feeling, and he wasn't going back.

Doyle was an avid sportsman, not only at cricket and rugby, but he was one of the first people outside Scandinavia to take up snow skiing, and wrote an article illustrated with photographs that is considered to have played a big role in popularizing the sport. The residents of Davos, a Swiss ski resort, erected a commemorative plaque to Doyle, not for his Holmes stories, but for "bringing this new sport, and the attraction of the Swiss Alps in Winter to the attention of the world."

Doyle was a mixed bag in his attitudes about women. He wrote a short story in which a male doctor encounters a female physician, shocking enough to the character, but has to learn to accept that the woman is a better doctor than he is! Very modern for the day, and Doyle also campaigned avidly for reforming divorce laws that were very unfair to women. On the other hand, he was always against giving women the right to vote, even as late as the 1920s!

I was pleased to learn that when visiting Egypt, Doyle had stayed at the same hotel I stayed at when I visited Egypt a Century later!

Another commonality between Doyle and many of our current authors....Doyle worked out that many reviews in different magazines were written by the same person writing under different names! He was outraged by this, especially when one of these powerful reviewers attacked some of his work. Doyle engaged in a big publicity campaign to end this practice, and was frustrated because few other writers would come out and support him.

Holmes was put on the stage several times, even during Doyle's life. In a 1905 revival, a very young Charlie Chaplin played Billy, the page boy at Baker Street.

Doyle tried to volunteer for active military service several times, and did succeed in being sent to South Africa as a military physician during the Boer War. He was more effective as a propagandist on behalf of the Empire during war, and did enthusiastic pamphleteering and writing during and after the Boer War and especially during World War I. Remember my discussion of "Invasion Literature" last year when describing The Swoop? Doyle had his own contribution. Before World War I, he wrote a story in which eight submarines of an imaginary nation blockaded and starved England into submission because the Royal Navy had no effective anti-submarine tactics. Though an effective propagandist, and a great writer, Doyle did not get political suppport from the English public. He ran for Parliament twice, and lost both times.

Unlike butler Eric Horne, Doyle willingly adopted new inventions (it just now occurs to me that they grew up at roughly the same time). Doyle not only bought a motor car, but avidly participated in long-distance motor rallies. In 1902 he took a lengthy balloon ride and came down twenty-five miles away from his launch point. We know about this because he was interviewed about it by a young journalist named P. G. Wodehouse! Doyle said the ride wasn't frightening till he got up high and realized that a wicker basket was the only thing between him and falling to his doom!

Doyle undertook a major publicity campaign for the release of an unjustly imprisoned Asian-English man that achieved success after several years. The local chief constable was initially flattered that the creator of Sherlock Holmes would be reviewing his work, but then was outraged when Doyle made him look the fool. Doyle had a second successful campaign to help an unjustly-accused German Jew. Though he did good work in those efforts, Doyle was the most naive and easily-fooled "pigeon" possible for fake spirit mediums, and he marred his public image in the last third of his life by avidly publicly campaigning to raise acceptance seances and spiritualism. The rumor mill claimed that Doyle (who had already been knighted) would have been offered a peerage if he hadn't embarrassed himself by his campaigning for "spooks". I'd read about this before, and had the impression that it was a reaction to the loss of Doyle's son and brother from World War I (ironically, neither was actually killed in combat). But there are hints that he was looking at it much earlier than this. He didn't go "all the way" and go public until after World War I, however.

During one seance, the spirit of Charles Dickens appeared, and expressed regret that The Mystery of Edwin Drood had been left unfinished. "Dickens" suggested that Doyle have a go at finishing it, and Doyle apparently seriously considered it.

When Doyle visited a professional magician's group, he astounded them by showing them movies of what appeared to be dinosaurs alive and moving about. The magicians were flabbergasted! They wondered if this was something created with his spiritualism connections. He then revealed that this was test footage for one of the early moving picture adaptations of "The Lost World"!

Speaking of film, Doyle is on film at least once:


This is worth watching. It is interesting that Doyle talks about Holmes first, and spends almost the exact same amount of time talking about Holmes, then about spiritualism. I suspect they made him promise to talk about Holmes first, as that would be what interested viewers.

Adventures of ACD is highly recommended, it held my interest all the way through. Five stars from me.
 

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The Dance of Time, by Michael Judge

I bought this book thinking it was a history of the development of the calendar, though the reviews clearly indicate it is intended to be more than that. And about the first third of the book actually is a straight history of how the calendar has changed over the millenia. But the book then shifts to a calendar-like list of the months, with segments on the background of special days in each month. We're talking special days from the perspective of primitive farmers in Europe, and in some cases, early Christians, not any old public holiday. There's not a mention of President's Day or Bastille Day here, but New Year's Day and the Equinoxes (for instance) are well-covered. The author wants us to understand how the rhythms of life in the old days, especially those of agriculture, are tied into important calendar days. There's also good coverage of how some religious dates became important days, and a rather cynical view of the old Catholic church appropriating pagan holidays that became important by announcing that that pagan holiday just happened to be an important day in Christ's life, and it was totally acceptable to celebrate that part of Christ's life by doing whatever the pagans had been used to doing on that day--As long as everyone understood they were doing these things for Jesus now!

The book is interesting and worth reading, but I am not keen on the editing. I believe a few of the facts are sloppy, and even I spotted two problems with use of possessives in the book. There are probably more that I missed. And once the author explicitly refers to an AD date when he means the BC year. The author tries to wax a little bit too lyrical in some of the descriptions. Still a good book for someone who wants to understand how the calendar and various holidays came out of the rhythms of the sky and agriculture.

The original Roman calendar had sixty nameless days tacked on after December and before the start of their new year in March. These days were reserved for the unhappy dead, Winter was their time, and the Romans would take no chances of offending them, and certainly not of summoning them up by attaching their names to anything! Eventually, this was fixed, and the new calendar improved matters, but still only accounted for 355 days in the year. This meant that not only was their calendar off, but it got ten days further off each year! By 50 BC, the Vernal Equinox, which should occur around March 20, fell on May 15!

Fortunately, Julius Caesar fixed things before Brutus bumped him off. And except for a minor adjustment in the Middle Ages, the basic structure of his calendar still serves us over 2000 years later. To fix things, sixty-seven days were added to one year, so the year 44 BC lasted for 432 days! I'd be interested to know how they referred to the extra days, but the book doesn't tell us that. Being born during that period must have been a real pain when planning for later birthday parties!

Most of us are aware of the key solar dates in the calendar--The equinoxes and solstices. But thanks to the Celts, we have two other "special" days. November 1st and May 1st. The traditional four dates are most important for farmers who harvest crops, and the two special days are key for someone raising pasture animals in northern Europe. May 1st is the appropriate time to put cattle out to pasture, and November 1st is a good typical time to bring them in for the winter. May 1st isn't as key to us, being mostly a worker's holiday now, but November 1 survives in the observance of the night before, which is Halloween for us. Halloween survives with its pagan roots mostly intact, and is the oldest continually-celebrated holiday in the Western World.

The calendar decreed by Julius was off by only a bit, but it lasted long enough that the errors creeped up, and by 1530, the calendar was a full nine days off again! So the Gregorian calendar corrected things. Since it was announced by Pope Gregory, how soon you adopted this was determined by how Catholic or anti-Catholic your country was. So Protestant England didn't adopt it till after George Washington was born two hundred years later, and Orthodox Russia didn't switch till the Communists came to power in the Twentieth Century! Instead of adding days, this made days disappear from the calendar, for those countries that made the initial switch in 1580, nine days had to disappear from the calendar.

There are really three important sources for different calendar days. The oldest strain started in the Middle East, and flowed through Greece and Rome. It was mostly focused on the four key solar days I mentioned. A second stream had a German and Celtic influence and blended into the Roman calendar. Eventually the Romans became Christian, and some Christian days were added to the calendar, and many of the existing special days were recast in a Christian form.

Interestingly, there is no agreement on where the custom of April Fool's Day came from. It is possible that it is very very old and goes back to prehistory, but also possible it started as late as the 1500s!

I'm wondering if this statement in the book is an April Fools--It certainly seems improbable to me: "The Italians believe that the bagpipe...was the favorite instrument of the Virgin, and that the original shepherds who came to worship at the feet of baby Jesus played their bagpipes for him." This blows my mind, and I haven't attempted to confirm or disprove it. Maybe Seleya can tell us!

The book points out that Santa Claus is arguably the last full-blown mythical figure that is still a going concern (if only for little kids in the West or who are Western-influenced).

Three stars out of five from me. Recommended only if the subject interests you.

This is my fourth book for the year (I'm not counting the B-36 book in my 80 books, it was mostly pictures). I still have read another book that I have to write up. I'll try and get it tomorrow morning.
 
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