Nonfiction Previews, Mar. 2013, Pt. 3: History from Nellie Bly to the Hatfields and McCoys

Alexandrov, Vladimir. The Black Russian. Atlantic Monthly. Mar. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780802120694. $25. BIOGRAPHY
Several years ago, while preparing a course on Russian émigré culture between the wars, Yale professor Alexandrov ran across a reference to “the famous Russian Negro Fyodor Fyodorovich Tomas,” said to have owned an entertainment establishment in Moscow called Maxim’s. A black man with a Russian first name and patronymic? How did he get to Russia? And how did he end up, as he did, in Constantinople? Therein lies Alexandrov’s fascinating tale, which is beginning to spark interest.

Bobbitt, Philip. The Garments of Court and Palace: Machiavelli and the World That He Made. Atlantic Monthly. Mar. 2013. 240p. ISBN 9780802120741. $24. HISTORY
All right, Borgias fans; here’s a serious study of a work by one of the series’ top characters. Director of the Center for National Security at Columbia University, Bobbitt aims to explain The Prince within the context of Niccolo Machiavelli’s time and place, burgeoning Renaissance Italy. Often regarded as a story of cynical statesmanship, The Prince in fact captures a moment when the State effectively consolidated under the rule of law. For your upscale readers.

Eisner, Peter. The Pope’s Last Crusade: How an American Jesuit Helped Pope Pius XI’s Campaign To Stop Hitler. Morrow. Mar. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780062049148. $27.99. lrg. prnt. HISTORY
A deputy foreign editor at the Washington Post, award-winning author Eisner brings up important history here, backing up his account with what appears to be substantive documentation. He tells the story of Pope Pius’s XI’s efforts to challenge Hitler’s rise by drafting American Jesuit priest John LaFarge to write a papal encyclical condemning Nazism and anti-Semitism. Alas, conservative churchmen wanting to appease Hitler blocked these efforts, and the Pope died shortly thereafter. Sobering to think what could have been.

Goodman, Matthew. Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World. Ballantine. Mar. 2013. 480p. ISBN 9780345527264. $28. HISTORY
Most of us have heard of Nellie Bly, a reporter for Joseph Pulitzer’s World newspaper, who left New York City on November 14, 1889, in a bid to circumnavigate the globe in record-breaking time. Fewer people know that Elizabeth Bisland, who wrote for the Cosmopolitan, left New York on the same day with the same goal in mind. Bly won, but this account covers the journeys of both women—traveling in opposite direction and each, initially, without knowledge of the other. Suspense and fabulous locations; sounds like armchair travel at its best.

King, Dean. The Feud: The All-American, No-Holds-Barred, Blood-and-Guts Story of the Hatfields and McCoys. Little, Brown. Mar. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780316167062. $27.99. HISTORY
King here takes a big leap from the subject of his best-selling Skeletons of the Zahara, about 12 early-1800s American sailors trapped in the Sahara after a shipwreck. But the subject is just as exciting: the bloody post–Civil War feud in Appalachia between the Hatfields and the McCoys that ultimately left 13 family members dead and attracted national attention. Part of our history; a big purchase.

Reel, Monte. Between Man and Beast: A Tale of Exploration & Evolution. Doubleday. Mar. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780385534222. $26.95. HISTORY
The legend of some dangerous, near-mythical beast—the gorilla—galvanized Westerners in the 1850s, when Paul Du Chaillu headed to equatorial West Africa to see what he could see. Three years later, he emerged with amazing stories and amazing specimens, which landed him in the midst of the heated debate about Darwin’s theory of evolution. Du Chaillu’s mysterious background started some whispers, too. Adventure, history, nature, big ideas—what more could you want?


Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.