THE THEFTS OF THE MONA LISA

THE COMPLETE STORY OF THE WORLD'S MOST FAMOUS ARTWORK

Readers intrigued by the subject should turn to one of Charney’s shorter articles or TED talks on the same subject.

An art historian’s account of the perilous history of the world’s most recognizable painting.

After opening with a gripping narration of the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911, Charney proceeds with an excellent chapter on the painting’s history. This portion includes a synopsis of da Vinci’s career and legacy; the author explains how critical reception to the Mona Lisa changed over time, offering valuable perspective on how the theft contributed to the portrait’s place in popular culture. From here, the book becomes substantially less compelling. The author devotes an entire section to how Picasso and his friend Guillaume Apollinaire became embroiled in the hunt for the Mona Lisa. This is a wonderful tidbit but—spoiler alert—neither the painter nor the poet had anything to do with the theft. The pages Charney devotes to their actual exploits are merely tangents. The author’s account of the recovery of the Mona Lisa is interesting, but his depiction of the search is flat—largely because readers already know the thief’s identity, and the author’s description of the French detective is unenlightening. The book also has a lot of repetition—at least one whole passage appears twice—and Charney contradicts his own text more than once. He writes, for example, that after the excitement of the painting’s return to France, the “phrase ‘Mona Lisa smile’ became part of the vernacular”—after he has already quoted numerous art critics and journalists commenting on that smile. Charney even reproduces the suicide note of a Mona Lisa–obsessed artist who took his own life in 1852: “For years I have grappled desperately with her smile, I prefer to die.” The portion of the text that deals with the painting’s entanglements with the Nazis suffers from similar flaws.

Readers intrigued by the subject should turn to one of Charney’s shorter articles or TED talks on the same subject.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781538181362

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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A WEALTH OF PIGEONS

A CARTOON COLLECTION

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

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The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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