Tolstoy’s False Disciple: The Untold Story of Leo Tolstoy and Vladimir Chertkov by Alexandra Popoff

Tolstoy

When I was in school, I read The Death of Ivan Ilych and feel in love with Russian literature.  No, I think I fell in love with Russia in toto. How could one not with a beautiful and mysterious place with churches like the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood? Coolest.Name.Ever. My obsession led me to the first career goal I ever had, to work for the State Department in Russia. Then the wall came down and so did my enthusiasm. Anywho….

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As the years have gone on, I’ve devoured other Russian works and have never been disappointed. (even though I still have issues with the practice of patronymic naming) Strangely, I’ve never really read a thing about the authors themselves, until now.

Tolstoy was an idol in his time and he created a social movement that garnered a ton of followers called Tolstoyans.

“To speak of “Tolstoyism,” to seek guidance, to inquire about my solution of questions, is a great and gross error. There has not been, nor is there any “teaching” of mine. There exists only the one eternal universal teaching of the Truth, which for me, for us, is especially clearly expressed in the Gospels…I advised this young lady to live not by my conscience, as she wished, but by her own” Tolstoy- What is Religion?

The top follower was Vladimir Chertkov and his Machiavellianism ended up ruling over Tolstoy, his work, legacy, and even his death as you will learn in Tolstoy’s False Disciple.

I found the power that Chertkov wielded over a person that founded his own social movement astounding. Tolstoy was arguably the greatest Russian writer and thinker and yet he was led around by the nose by this chameleon-like  upstart. Frightening, to say the least.

The book gave me a better understanding of the times they lived in, a new appreciation of Tolstoy and his work, and knocked the pedestal that I had him on down a few feet. It was an awesome study in how a person’s character can be so powerful even when they have no new ideas of their own to offer.  Chertkov was a vile human being in my book, but in no way does this make the book vile. It may make you want to go back in time and smack poor Leo on the head though…

There is also a not-so-favorable review on The New Yorker.

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City of Liars and Thieves by Eve Karlin

City of Liars

This period of New York history, right around 1800, is really lacking representation in historical fiction. I can think of only a few that I have ever read set then and it’s a shame because the big names like Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson, etc. were either still alive or at least still known as contemporary figures and the whole country was finally settling down to the business of being a country. New York City still had a lot of wide open spaces, pigs roamed the streets as de-facto organic garbage collectors and the citizens were starting to struggle with the growing needs for drinkable water. There was no hint of the city we all know today.

Elma Sands, a young pretty Quaker woman, comes to the city to live with her cousin and hopefully to escape the out-of-wedlock label she has been forced to wear in her small town in Northern New York. Her cousin, Catherine Ring, looks upon her as a younger sister and hopes to alleviate some of her feelings of isolation with Elma near.

Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr and rising and hungry for more power. Their enmity is already set, but their ultimate confrontation was a few years away. Right then, they were the poster boys for the drive to get water to the city that was growing by leaps and bounds daily. Unfortunately, their aims were more about power and gain than by actually doing the public service of public works.

Elma falls in love with a boarder in the Ring household and while it makes Catherine worry, the risk seems to be resolving when she tells her cousin that she and her beau intend to be married as soon as they tell his brother, a right hand man of the water company. The young man looks to be in love with her and Catherine breathes a sigh of relief when the pair leave together to share the good news. The next morning, the young man is back home, but Elma is nowhere to be found.

Soon, the whole city is looking for Elma and hounding her extended family on Greenwich Street. Catherine soon learns that when it comes to dealing with the cronies of Burr and Hamilton, the public is at a distinct disadvantage. When Elma’s body is found at the bottom of a useless newly dug well, she finds herself alone in fighting for the truth and ultimately for justice.

The period was fabulously written and it is oddly comforting to see that the “haves” have always had a leg up when dealing with the “have-nots”. It is never right and always hard to swallow, but Catherine is a strong heroine that you can’t help identify with. I’ll be on the lookout for more from Eve Karlin.

City of Liars and Thieves by Eve Karlin

  • Print Length: 258 pages
  • Publisher: Alibi (January 13, 2015)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • ASIN: B00LYXY076

 

This book was provided by TLC Book Tours. See what other readers thought here

 

 

 

Sort of Like Gwen's Signature


The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era by Michael A. Ross

New Orleans

In 1870, New Orleans and Reconstruction had it so right and the best example of this I have ever come across is this case and this book. I wanted to cry; not because there was a kidnapping, but because for a few shining moments, our country was trying so hard to live the ideal of freedom and justice for all.

Two African American women kidnapped wee Mollie Digby from her front yard in June of 1870. I say African American, however at the time they were called many things, some nice and some that are derogative now. It may seem strange to us now, the “N” word was seldom one of them. We tend to look at the American South as rabid racists in the late 1800’s. New Orleans was different though. It was special and in many ways a utopian sort of place where people of different races and nationalities lived side by side and often mixed and mingled. There were slaves pre-war, so it wasn’t perfect.

New Orleans had a long history as a French Colony before the US made their little ‘ole Louisiana Purchase and the French had always had a better attitude about race than most countries, way ahead of their time. There was this idea of Creoles; French Creoles, Afro-Creole, Louisiana Creole, etc.  The precious gift of New Orleanians was that they were all Creoles. They all got along and for the most part, it looks like it was copasetic until the war or really after the war…or really until people that didn’t understand the concept of Creole moved on in after the war and tried to shape New Orleans based on their old fears and belief systems. If what I am trying to say is coming out like a hot mess, it’s because my thoughts get all muddled and well, it was a hot mess at the time.

Half of the population of New Orleans jumped on this kidnapping because it was two African Americans and the other half were busy trying to use it to show that Reconstruction was working. The problem is that it was the media that was doing the hating and people pay attention when the news shoves crazy stories in their faces all day-all the time. (much like now) The Republicans that really believed in Reconstruction and supported equality got it a bit muddled as well. Instead of finding dear Mollie Digby, they were busy attempting to prove a point and that never works well.

What matters is that for one brief shining moment Justice was truly blind and fair. It was hard won, never assured, and probably the last time that African Americans got a fair shake in a courtroom for decades, but it happened. The story of it is glorious and heart breaking and will make you mad and will make you look back at the political parties and what they stood for and a million other things.

And then, that other political party got busy, there were black codes and Jim Crow then the KKK drew members like a dead skunk in the road draws maggots and it all went to hell for way too long.

An amazing book about a not so amazing crime that highlights not only the great New Orleans culture, but a time when everything and anything was possible.

{Insert apology here because I get really worked up whenever one of the two R’s comes up, Racism & Rape. Those are things that shouldn’t be happening and there is no valid excuse or for them other than ignorance and hate. Not acceptable.}

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Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann

Tinseltown

There are many keywords that will lead any reader to pick up a book. For me, the list seems a bit endless with history, murder, and classic or silent Hollywood somewhere near the top and that is why when I saw Tinseltown on the Harper’s upcoming books I did a wee bit of a jig.   Being a reformed classic movie junkie and having a festering obsession with John Barrymore (really, I have photos and trading cards of him on my walls) this was a great fit with the other books on my shelf covering this very same subject- the murder of William Desmond Taylor. {insert ominous da, da, da, dum}

Taylor and Jack the Ripper have quite a bit in common; both unsolved, everyone has a theory, pre-modern forensic science, evidence gone missing, and even their own exhaustive websites with information and groupies. Taylor’s murder has something that I don’t see the Ripper as having, it happened at the same time as the birth of Hollywood, which was arguably the the major cultural and entertainment powerhouse of the 20th century.

What is slightly different in Mann’s take on the case is that he comes to the conclusion that the culprit was someone that, while a suspect in most treatments, has not been confidently fingered before, there is a lot more talk of drug use, it’s the most complete picture of Paramount mogul Adolph Zuckor that I have ever read, and he makes many interesting word choices throughout.

A friend reminded me the other day that if there is no controversy of some sort or one can’t be created, the media will not cover it and that really applies to Tinseltown. Mann give the impression that every single person tangentially related to Hollywood had major skeletons in their closets and 99% of them had to do with drugs. Now, I wasn’t there and it was the wild 20’s and yet, I am not a fan of painting an entire industry or time period as drug and sex-crazed.  You might be tempted to throw the 60’s at me after reading that, but do you really think that everyone…your parents or grandparents, if you are younger, were out “turning on, tuning in, or dropping out”? I didn’t think so.

Zuckor? That was probably the most well done part of the book. It will leave feeling grateful for never having worked for the man and perhaps, insight into characteristics were almost vital to have in order to become the leader in many business at the time. His life is the embodiment of immigrant success that makes America great and also proves, yet again, that one doesn’t necessarily have to be likable to succeed.

Word choices? This was interesting and while I need to make note of it, I also need to mention that I have lately been on a lot of rants about this from authors and copywriters in general.  His use of words like clew and athwart might not sound to you like the nails on a chalkboard that they were for me. Think of this as a big case of it’s not Mann, it’s me.

His fingering a culprit? Like the Ripper, there have been so many theories that it is really hard to separate the wheat from the chafe. It’s completely possible and still unable to move beyond reasonable doubt for me based on the few facts that are left.

Tinseltown is like the 1920’s and Hollywood was, one heck of a ride. So much has been written about the murder that I really don’t have a favorite book in the race. If the case is new to you and you don’t have any pre-conceived notions, this wouldn’t be a bad choice and would treat you to a fair amount of somewhat unrelated Hollywood history, which is nice. Like the Ripper, the chance of fingering the dastardly murderer and pleasing everyone at this point are akin to finding a victim’s bloody sweater with DNA on it over a hundred years later. Oh…wait…that’s been done…and debunked. (My family has passed down many things, nothing as strange as a bloody sweater though. Seriously, not one generation thought it weird?)

Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood

by William J. Mann

  • Print Length: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (October 14, 2014)
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers

Much Like Gwen's Signature

Tinseltown fell into my hands like manna from heaven from HarperCollins. As always, the gift has no effect on my personal thoughts regarding the book. 


Modern Pioneering by Georgia Pellegrini

Modern

Book space is a major issue in my house and to live without towers of them around me I have to be really brutal about what stays, gets donated, or as part of a specific collection, gets shoved in boxes under my bed. Say hello to the not-so-mini-library of books on Frank Lloyd Wright and the Arts & Crafts movement that, most likely, are holding up my bed right at this very moment.

Anywho, there are three shelves of visible books and a good portion of those are to-be-read with the remaining space for favorites and reference.  It isn’t often that a book falls into that last category because competition is T-O-U-G-H, tough. Modern Pioneering has made the cut.

Growing up in the city with parents that worked their rear ends off had it’s trade-offs and one of those was a lot of my food came out of a box from the freezer, was nuked in the microwave, and slithered onto my plate. Not only that, but we had a gardener, a pool guy, a dry cleaners that delivered, etc. Are you picking up what I am throwing down? There was zero home ec going on in my house. It was so bad that my first laundry load in college all came out blue due to not knowing to separate colors and especially new colors.

As the years have flown by I have learned so much and would have killed for the plethora of books that are out there now like Modern Pioneering. The whole make from scratch and consciousness about where food comes from is something that we lost for a few decades and color me thrilled. This one is a keeper for a few reasons.

There are things in Modern Pioneering that can attract all pioneering skill sets. It’s great for a beginner and the pro will find some new-to-them skills as well.  Kefir, is finally explained in words that don’t sound like something only a crazy health nut would use, priceless. From more space efficient gardening to (gosh I cringe at this word) foraging, then making a birdhouse out of a gourd to how to season a cast iron pan-there is so much packed into 293 actually readable pages.

Foraging to this city girl brings up negative pictures of dumpster diving and those um, freaky people that do it for fun. I might use wildcrafting or creativity in it’s place. It isn’t the wrong word, just has negative connotations for me personally.

Oh, and the photos? Fuhgetaboutit, you’re covered though you might want to bring something to wipe the drool. There are step-by-step directions and tutorials that will make you a pro in no time.

In general, it is a such a great book to grab at first blush that it earned one of the coveted slots on the shelf, even with the use of the word forage.  It fits right in between the 52 Weeks cookbook and The Healing Remedies Sourcebook, which are my go-to books for other similar but not the same reference titles.  Stop judging me for also saving The Resurectionist by Hudspeth, it’s all a part of my evil plan. It will happen with Kefir and cool illustrations of animals that don’t exist. 

 

Much Like Gwen's Signature

I think this one was from the publisher, it seems to have moved in and made a home for itself and that is a good sign. Not all books get along with each other.