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BRINGING DOWN THE COLONEL

A SEX SCANDAL OF THE GILDED AGE, AND THE POWERLESS WOMAN WHO TOOK ON WASHINGTON

Good, timely history for the #MeToo moment.

Journalist Miller (Good Catholics: The Battle over Abortion in the Catholic Church, 2014) unearths a juicy 19th-century sex scandal.

For years, Willie Breckenridge, a beloved congressman from Kentucky, carried on a long-term extramarital affair with Madeline Pollard, a women of modest origins—and then was sued for breach of contract when, after his wife died, he married a well-connected widow rather than his mistress. Adultery, of course, was not uncommon. What was new was Pollard’s insistence that having behaved less-than-virtuously did not mean she should be treated like trash—and her demand that the powerful man she'd slept with not get off scot-free. The press went wild, reporting on every breath drawn in court and dissecting the meaning of the suit after the jury found for the plaintiff. Miller, a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches, argues that the Breckenridge-Pollard drama was a turning point of sorts. She credits the case and its attendant publicity with “making it acceptable to talk openly about sex” and with eroding the double standard whereby men could stray sexually without damaging their reputations, but women who transgressed norms of chastity and fidelity were ruined. Even the (male) editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal responded to the case by criticizing “a code of morality” that burdened women with “all the responsibility for purity and all the penalty for wrong-doing.” As engaging as Miller’s central story are the minor characters, including Jennie Tucker, a young secretary hired by the Breckenridge team to spy on Pollard; and Breckenridge’s daughter, Nisba, who, after the scandal receded, became the first woman to be admitted to the Kentucky bar and the first woman to receive a doctorate in political science from the University of Chicago. Nisba's and Jennie’s stories, far from being filler, transform what might have been merely an account of a racy scandal into a panoramic examination of women’s changing roles and of women’s efforts to provide for themselves and make their way in the largely male public sphere.

Good, timely history for the #MeToo moment.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-25266-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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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 PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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