Books by William Martin

THE LINCOLN LETTER by William Martin
Released: Aug. 21, 2012

"A satisfying historical mystery."
Martin serves up the fifth book in his adventure series featuring antiquities expert Peter Fallon, in which he searches for Abraham Lincoln's lost diary. Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 2007

"Martin's unabashedly mid-20th-century mainstream fiction style is perfectly suited to this wedding of multigenerational saga and detective drama. "
Antiquarians, survivalists, a media mogul, a travel writer and assorted ruthless killers chase each other around New England in search of an early draft of the United States Constitution. Read full book review >
HARVARD YARD by William Martin
Released: Oct. 29, 2003

"Rollicking historical that's certain to get the top shelf at the Harvard Co-Op."
The sequel to Back Bay (1979) gives the Michener treatment to our richest university as antiquities dealer and Harvard alumnus Peter Fallon hunts for a copy of a lost Shakespeare play. Read full book review >
LAMMAS ALANNA by William Martin
Released: Oct. 6, 2000

"Still, this is a powerful, somewhat disturbing work with a hard, cranky music, slow going but with a distinct cumulative force."
In his fourth collection, Northumbrian poet Martin returns again to the geography, themes, and motifs that have run through his previous work, particularly the pagan myths of the Anglo-Saxons, here transposed cunningly into the coal-mining country of his youth. Martin divides his work into nine sections—a number with mystical significance for the goddess figure who is at its center—each introduced by a stark Celtic image. As might be expected, the poetry is full of heavy, almost druidic language calculated to evoke the pre-Christian epics (contemporary with the goddess myths that Martin is striving to emulate), but there is also a generous sprinkling of balladry, psalms, hymns, and children's rhyming games. The author's lines are short, pithy, concentrated at times to the point of abstraction, and his rhythms are jagged and disconcerting. The overall structure is a sort of loose stitching of similar but discrete elements, suffused by an almost palpable longing for community, for old times, for love. Martin is often compared to David Jones, but where Jones is difficult because of his frequent recourse to private symbolism and personal history, Martin's very language is difficult, using obsolete regionalisms that will leave many American readers puzzled. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 10, 1999

Compelling biographical fiction that probes the unlikelihoods and uncertainties behind George Washington's hallowed historical presence. Just in time for Presidents" Weekend comes another fictional rendering that hunts for the man behind the myth, told in Rashomon-like narratives attributed to real and imaginary eyewitnesses, from a skillful school-of-Michener epic novelist (Annapolis, 1996, etc.) and nonfictional historian of the religious right (With God on Our Side, 1996). The conceit that starts the tale is a mystery: Why did Martha "Patsy" Washington burn a collection of personal letters on the night her husband died? Just after Washington is buried, crusty Hesperus Draper, a self-made colonial who worked his way up from tidewater trader to colonial solider, landholder, and anti-Federalist newspaper publisher, pays his naive, youthful writer-wannabe nephew, Christopher Draper, a king's ransom to find out what those letters may have contained. He advises Christopher to pretend to be writing a biography of Washington in order to gain access to those who knew Washington while he was alive. Martin's story takes shape in the form of Christopher's vernacular notes, supplemented by conveniently discovered written memoirs from those who died before Washington. The visceral, blood-in-the-trenches recollections of the fictional Hesperus, and the brotherly affections of Washington's slave, Jacob, are among the best of many vividly imaginative constructions. We also get strikingly different glimpses of Washington from Silverheels, a Native American; from Washington's coquettish lover, Mrs. Sarah "Sally" Fairfax; from the fretful Martha; and from Washington's numerous political and military rivals. These contrary impressions reveal a postmodern enigma: a conflicted character whose every act was darkened by premonitions of failure—the kind of leader "that if he had not really been one of the best intentioned men in the world . . . might have been a very dangerous one." A strongly satisfying, eminently readable saga that suggests we—ll never completely understand, or condone, the contradictions and inconsistencies of which great leaders are made. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 27, 1996

Published to coincide with a PBS series of the same title, this is a richly detailed, objective account of Christian fundamentalism in the last 50 years and its increasingly organized efforts at shaping public policy. With extensive interviews and research, sociologist Martin (Rice Univ.; A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story, not reviewed) sets out to track the transformation of Christian conservatives from quiet, God-fearing Americans into one of the most potent political forces of the 1990s. He starts by revisiting the career of Billy Graham, then traces the ideas and careers of Graham's successors, including Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Ralph Reed, and the major fights over public policy that their movements have been involved in. Weaving together revealing details and first-person accounts, Martin recreates a number of important conflicts, including the sex education battles in Anaheim, Calif.; the Kanawha County, W.Va., textbook wars; the debate over how to treat AIDS patients; and the fight concerning Amendment 2, Colorado's overturned anti-homosexual law. Martin provides thorough reports but rarely offers pointed morals. He does, however, skewer hypocrisy where he finds it, as in his tracing of the racism evident in Jerry Falwell's early career and his subsequent disingenuousness about it. He also strays repeatedly into political history, such as chronicling presidential races. But the digressions are so well rendered that the reader shouldn't mind. Overall, Martin leaves one with heightened concern for the future of religious tolerance in America. He warns that ``the level of religious conflict appears to be rising and the historically unprecedented extent of religious freedom may be in some danger.'' Both reformers and religious conservatives should find in this penetrating narrative some incentive to work to maintain ``the pluralism that has served us so well.'' (24 pages pohotos, not seen) (Author tour) Read full book review >
ANNAPOLIS by William Martin
Released: June 14, 1996

A big beach book is on the way with this sturdy, generation- spanning chronicle from Martin (Cape Cod, 1991, etc.), now telling the story of an archetypally American family bound to the US Navy and to its Maryland roots from colonial times to the present. From the start, the Staffords (who arrived in the New World in 1634) went down to the sea in ships and did business in great waters. Settling in both the Patuxent River Valley (to raise tobacco) and Annapolis, the tidewater family prospered. After the US gained independence, scions of the clan were blooded in the nascent Navy's campaign against Barbary Coast pirates and in action against British ships of the line during the War of 1812. Midshipman Jason Stafford survived these close encounters (as well as an idyllic stopover in the South Pacific's Marquesas Islands) to achieve high rank. During the Civil War, his sons served on Union gunboats and on Confederate raiders. Their largely male descendants went on to play supporting roles in the Spanish-American War, the founding of the Naval Academy, the Battle of Midway, and other turning-point events that marked America's emergence as a dominant naval power. Staffords also fought valiantly in the riverine jungles of Vietnam and, flying carrier-based attack planes, in the unfriendly skies over the Persian Gulf. Martin's long story is artfully kept within comprehensible limits by the latter-day activities of a maverick Stafford, liberal journalist Jack, who's writing a painfully detailed account of his family's odyssey, and by a distant cousin assigned to produce a PBS-TV special on the family. Their colloquies and inquiries provide continuity and perspective in a narrative whose serial protagonists are steeped in the tradition of doing violence with honor. A lively, engrossing saga that brings epic chapters of US history out of the archival hold into the bracing air of the quarterdeck. (Literary Guild and Doubleday alternate selection; author tour) Read full book review >
A PROPHET WITH HONOR by William Martin
Released: Nov. 19, 1991

Sympathetic but balanced biography of the aging evangelist (b. 1918) who has defined the telegospel as we know it today. Ever broadly aware of revivalism in America, Martin (Sociology/Rice) offers a straightforward view of the most influential evangelist since St. Paul. He shows in fine detail the marketing techniques by which the Billy Graham Evangelical Association wins over sinners worldwide, but he also keeps close focus on Graham, who uses Grecian Formula 16 to keep his hair the right color for TV. Graham was a hyperkinetic child, abrim with mischief but no meanness, who charmed all by the sheer force of his liking everyone. Though not much academically, he had great powers of concentration; and when guests came to visit his home, ``he typically staked out the largest available chair and sat wide-eyed and wordless, gnawing his nails and soaking up every sentence.'' Before attending the Florida Bible Institute, he was the top Fuller Brush salesman in North and South Carolina (he prayed before knocking). His big splash came when a meeting with President Truman (who thought him a God huckster) got national publicity. His later ties to ``the Eisenhower-Nixon administration were his optimum public credential.'' In 1966, Graham set out to change ``the fundamental direction of contemporary Christianity'' and had his own Second Coming in Berlin, where he declared that not to believe in the reality of hell is softheaded; he still sees Satan as a literal being. Team members blanch when he fumbles facts or raps out his ``familiar claim that sexual chastity is virtually impossible without supernatural assistance...especially...for a man, whose sex drive `is six times greater than in a woman.' '' Billy Graham, warts and all: ``hernias, ulcers, tumors, cysts, polyps, infections, pneumonia, chronic high blood pressure, throbbing headaches, spider bites and...falls that have broken 18 of his ribs.'' (Twenty-four pages of b&w photographs—not seen.) Read full book review >