First-class history, and a fascinating exposition of forensic science.

An engrossing tale of an odd subject—a chance snipping of Beethoven’s hair and its perilous journey into the 21st century.

In 1827, on his deathbed, Ludwig van Beethoven was visited by his friend, the composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel. In tow was Hummel’s talented 15-year-old pupil, Ferdinand Hiller, who was, not surprisingly, thrilled to be presented to the musical genius. On a subsequent visit some days later the two found the great man dead. The awestruck Hiller asked and received permission from Hummel to clip a lock of the deceased’s hair, a common practice in those days. Hiller, the son of a well-off Jewish merchant who had converted to Christianity, became a competent, but now mostly forgotten, composer. He had the lock framed and treasured it the rest of his life, presenting it to his son Paul shortly before his death in 1885. From that point on, the history of the lock remained murky until a few years ago, when it ended up in the joint possession of two Arizonans with the unlikely names of Ira Brilliant and Alfredo (“Che”) Guevara. In this quirky but enjoyable work, Martin (Out of Silence, not reviewed) sifts through the evidence he has unearthed and provides a highly entertaining and believable account of what happened to the lock during those missing years—amounting to a thumbnail biography of Beethoven that is eventually overshadowed by an account of the Third Reich’s persecution of the Jews. While some might object to this as gimmickry, Martin pulls it off, owing to his solid research and respect for the reader. While obviously enthusiastic, he never goes over the top. He suggests answers to numerous riddles, but he does not insist on their solutions, letting the reader decide. When, toward the end of the book, the author writes of DNA tests on the hair that reveal new answers to the causes of Beethoven’s deafness and death, even the skeptic will share his enthusiasm for this peculiar subject.

First-class history, and a fascinating exposition of forensic science.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2000

ISBN: 0-7679-0350-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2000



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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