When I was young my parents used to traipse my two brothers, my sister and me around Europe to see the sights – my mother was a historian, and we spent a lot of time reliving the Albigensian crusades, climbing ramparts and re-enacting the fates of kings and heretics. I remember a trip through Normandy when every time we passed a broom bush we would cry out “Plant a Genet” – Geoffrey Plantagenet, the founder of the dynasty that ruled England before the Tudors, used to stick a Theplantagenetssprig of broom in his hat. The Plantagenets controled England and Normandy, and large swaths of France. Their most famous kings – Henry Ist, Richard the Lionheart, Edward I, were heroic rulers, brave on the battlefield and skillful in their stewardship of government. The less appealing among them – “Bad” King John, Edward II, Richard III – were conniving and duplicitous egotists, the famous villains of Shakespeare’s history plays.

All of this was a bit of a blur of fact and myth until I read Dan Jones’ The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England. Dan’s history is alive – he puts you right there on the battlefield, and inside the thoughts of knights and knaves as they contemplate cunning acts of treachery or meet their gory deaths. He is a natural storyteller – which means that he tells history as it should be told, as a story, with larger than life characters and surprising plot twists. This is history for fans of Game of Thrones or The Lord of the Rings – with all of the sexual escapades and gory ends –only in this case every word is true.

TheWarsoftheRosesMy son is three and thinks of himself as a knight, and I think there is something deeply appealing about that world, with its code of honor, bravery  and chivalry. Dan Jones’ Plantagenets was a surprise NY Times bestseller for us – everyone in house loved it, and it became a huge sales department favorite. We are about to publish his follow up, The Wars of the Roses, which tells the story of how the Plantagenets essentially clawed themselves apart and were finally replaced by the Tudors. The Tudors are familiar – Henry with his bloody serial monogamy, Elizabeth and Mary, Queens who knew that their power was at once sharpened and compromised by their sex. But how did they come to rule England? It turns out that their grandfather would never in his wildest dreams have imagined that his descendents would one day wear the crown. When Katherine of Valois chose him as her second husband, she did so because she thought he was safe. Little did she know what trouble their children would have in store for them. Dan Jones is so much fun to read that once you finish you want to go right back to the beginning and start all over again.

Start Reading an Excerpt from The Plantagenets and learn more about The Wars of the Roses.

Andy Photo

Andy Dudley is a Digital Business Manager for Penguin. His favorite place to get lunch near the office is Fiacco’s for their roast beef sub.






howwegottonowHow We Got to Now, by Steven Johnson

Steven Johnson does what every science writer should be doing; he takes complicated issues and simplifies them without dumping them down. In How We Got to Now he addresses 6 different areas of technological development (glass, cold, sound, clean, time, and light) and shows how we got to this moment with each. It’s a fun, informative read. And if you want more, PBS is doing a series based on the book starting Oct 15th.






Five Came Back, by Mark Harris

No one writes about movies like Mark Harris (I always keep an extra copy of his prior book Pictures at a Revolution in my office just to give away to people). In Five Came Back, Mark looks at five of the most important directors from Hollywood’s Golden Age and how they came to influence the narrative of WWII and how we even remember the war today. Mark’s writing is Oscar-worthy.






The Plantagenets, by Dan Jones

Did you know that there were a real group of people almost as fascinating as the imaginary characters on Game of Thrones? Dan Jones brings the real-life characters of Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine (who makes Cersei seem like a good wife and mother), Richard the Lionheart, and makes every sword thrust and toppling of king jump of the page. They may not have had any dragons, but they sure had the murdering down.






Command and Control, by Eric Schlosser

You probably remember from Schlosser from Fast Food Nation and how he addressed the recklessness of the fast food industry. In Command and Control, he addresses the recklessness of the nuclear weapon industry and wow, HOW ARE WE ALL STILL HERE? The number of times the world was almost blown up is frightening and Schlosser talks about a number of the close calls. Read this with the lights on.






Detroit, by Charlie LeDuff

Charlie LeDuff is a mad man. And I mean that as a compliment. In only the way he can, Charlie shows how his adopted hometown of Detroit has been brought down by corruption, destroyed by arson, battered around by politicians looking to make a buck, and the ordinary people who are just trying to survive every single day that represent all of America. And because of these people, even Charlie can hold on to a chance of redemption for Detroit, and hopefully, the entire country.




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photo 3

Stephen Morrow, Executive Editor at Dutton






denaliDenali’s Howl, by Andy Hall

It was 1967, the summer of love, and while Haight-Ashbury was dancing to White Rabbit and the Beatles were dropping acid, twelve sober young men climbed into the worst storm ever to hit the summit of Alaska’s Mt. McKinley or Denali as the locals call it. Only five made it back.  Andy Hall, the son of the Mt. McKinley National Park superintendent at the time, was five years old. Denali’s Howl is his telling of what befell those on the mountain and those at its foot trying to help.  It is also a study in how we think of our past, how such tragedies can become embedded in the meaning of our lives, our unwritten autobiographies, and yet remain mysterious.



mindThe Organized Mind, by Daniel J. Levitin

Could good old conscientious organization really be the secret to navigating the modern world’s flood of details?  As Daniel Levitin shows, the latest neuroscience says yes.  From how to deal with your kitchen junk drawer (what are those keys in there for anyway?) to how to organize your thoughts for the most important decisions of all, The Organized Mind is a book that brings together the ordinary everyday experience of making your life work better with Levitin’s expert insight into how attention and memory function. This isn’t just a book about being neater, it is about clearing a space in which you (and your kids) can be resoundingly creative.



superstormSuperstorm, by Kathryn Miles

We had just had our Halloween party back in 2012 at 375 Hudson Street when New Yorkers started to realize the big bad hurricane was coming to get us.  As she was working on Superstorm Kathryn Miles said the storm was like the shark in Jaws–only this monster ate its way up from Jamaica to the Great Lakes, with New York City as its main course.  Her story of forecasters and their science unable to make sense of this unprecedented system as it played out day by day, of the seamen whose traditional knowledge didn’t help, and of the people whose lives it destroyed is all about the unforgiving, fearsome power of nature—just when we thought we had it beat.



doessantaexistDoes Santa Exist?, by Eric Kaplan

Ok, so Does Santa Exist? is the most profound and funny book I’ve ever worked on and probably ever will.  I am pretty much unhinged about it.  Eric Kaplan has a job as a brilliant comic writer on America’s  most popular sit com and is finishing his Ph.D. at Berkeley, but I’m just hoping he starts a cult so I can join it.  How could such a simple, childish question lead to such a dazzling, exuberant flight across the deepest questions of human existence?  You will learn a bunch of philosophy, and the point of it all too.  As Matt Groening said, “It is the funniest book of philosophy since… well, ever.”  Just the thing for the gift giving season!




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TheLostWifeWhen writing novels, one never knows where inspiration will strike.   A few years ago, I was well into my research for a book on the ways that Jewish artists managed to create art during the Holocaust, when I overheard a story at the local hair salon about a couple who were separated at the beginning of the war with each of them being told that the other had perished. Sixty years later, they miraculously were reunited at the wedding of their respective grandchildren.  When I overheard that story, I felt like I had been struck by lightning.  My mind was filled with so many questions: why had this couple each believed the other had died? What was their initial love story? What were their second love stories that produced the children who were now the parents of the grandchildren getting married?  And most importantly, how did they each survive World War II?

This story would end up being the bookends for my novel The Lost Wife, into which I invented the lovers’ histories both before and after their separation.

I wanted to draw in my readers by evoking the same questions that I had after initially hearing that story.  I wanted those questions to propel them into the same journey I too would undertake while crafting the body of the novel.

TheGardenofLettersThe inspiration for my new novel The Garden of Letters, also began after hearing a story that ignited my curiosity.  While at a dinner party, a friend shared with me the details about how her father had escaped from Hungry through Italy during WWII with forged papers that their family had spent their entire life savings on.  When my friend’s father arrived in Portofino, German guards were scrutinizing everyone’s papers so carefully that he was sure he was going to be arrested.

Suddenly, out from the crowd, a big barrel-chested Italian man cried: “Cousin, cousin, I’ve been waiting for you all week.  Thank heaven’s you’ve come!”

He was able to whisk my friend’s father away and take him back to his home on the cliffs of Portofino.

When my friend’s father asked this man why he had saved him, for clearly he wasn’t his cousin, the man replied:  “I try to come to the port every month.  I try to save the person who looks the most afraid.”

When I heard that story I immediately thought it would make an amazing beginning to a novel.  I imagined the two people whose lives intersect at this occupied Italian port.    One fleeing and in need of shelter.  The other a person who sees that fear and sets upon helping him.   “The Garden of Letters” opens with my young heroine being saved from the Germans at the Portofino port by a doctor.

As in all my novels, I wanted my main character to possess a creative gift.  With The Lost Wife, I explored how art could be used as a form of Resistance against the Nazis.  In The Garden of Letters, I explore how music could be used.

My main character Elodie, is a young cellist who sends coded messages for the Italian Resistance through her performances And the book explores the many creative ways essential information was transmitted during the war.

When I traveled to Italy to meet with partisans and female messengers who were involved in the Resistance, I was introduced to a person who shared with me another unusual way information was sent during the war.  Giovanni Pellizzato, whose grandfather was both a bookseller and an active member of the Italian Resistance, described how codes were cleverly hidden throughout the pages of a book, and how within the back shelves of his father’s bookstore many of the books had their paper carved out to create a space where pistols were stored inside.  This information was so intriguing to me, it inspired the character of the bookseller, Luca, in The Garden of Letters.

As storytellers, we’re responsible for crafting narratives that bring our readers into a world that transport and hopefully inform.  As writers, however, we must also be open to all the stories that surround us, for everyone has a unique history to share.


Matt is the Marketing Director at Penguin Press. He has never won the Penguin Cup fantasy football league.






Book publishers aren’t necessarily known for their athletic prowess, but believe it or not, we’ve got a lot of athletes here at Penguin. You’ll find us on Central Park’s Great Lawn on summer evenings, playing softball against Oxford University Press. You’ll find us on the Chelsea Piers basketball courts running up the score on Simon and Schuster. And because fake sports are just as intense as real ones, you’ll find us every August in a booth at the back of Mr. Dennehy’s Irish Pub drafting our fantasy football teams The Penguin Cup league. (My team name: The Secret Life of Brees.)

We’re just as competitive about publishing sports books. And now, in the sports doldrums of August, there’s plenty of time to catch up on your reading.


Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success, by Phil Jackson

How many NBA legends can quote from both ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu and contemporary urban fantasy author Jim Butcher? Jackson is one of the most successful, innovative, and unique sports figures.







Bird Dream: Adventures at the Extremes of Human Flight, by Matt Higgins

I don’t like flying. On planes. So I can’t imagine jumping off a mountain with a wingsuit. But I loved reading about the people who do – from the safety of my couch, on solid ground.






boys in the boat

Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, by Daniel James Brown

A book about rowing? A book about rowing. Trust me.








LeBron’s Dream Team: How Five Friends Made History, by Lebron James

It’s got to be a fun time to be a Cleveland sports fan right now.








Rules for Becoming a Legend, by Timothy S. Lane

A novel for fans of The Art of Fielding and Hoosiers about a rising high school basketball player. Lane is 6’8” if he’s an inch, so when he talks about basketball, you listen.








Fantasy Life: The Outrageous, Uplifting, and Heartbreaking World of Fantasy Sports from the Guy Who’s Lived It… by Matthew Berry

If you’re wondering why your friends, co-workers, spouses are distracted every fall, read this book. You won’t believe how far people take their fantasy sports obsessions.





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Sarah is a Marketing Manager at Viking, specializing in nonfiction. She lives in the Bronx and is obsessed with sketch comedy.





Redeeming the Dream

Redeeming the Dream, by David Boies and Theodore B. Olson

Just over one year after the Supreme Court decision to overturn Proposition 8, the two lawyers who argued for the plaintiffs offer an insightful and riveting look inside the inner workings of the case. Theirs is an unlikely pairing—one conservative, the other liberal, they argued against each another in Bush v. Gore—but they were able to put aside their political differences and join forces to fight for what they believed in, which is hard not to get inspired by.




Careless People

Careless People, by Sarah Churchwell

This book achieves the trifecta of history, literature, and murder. By weaving together F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing of The Great Gatsby with the unfolding criminal investigation of the 1922 Hall-Mills murder, Churchwell looks for clues as how to how aspects of the case—which was a major ongoing news story that year—may have made their way into Gatsby. It also details the Fitzgeralds’ lives in Great Neck and the fascinating characters they hobnobbed with, from newspapermen to bootleggers to criminal bosses. We of course have no way of confirming if Churchwell’s suspicions are true, but it’s fun to think about regardless.



Blood Aces

Blood Aces, by Doug Swanson - On sale 8/14/14

This is the pulp-infused true story of Benny Binion, the Texas gangster and pioneering Las Vegas casino owner whose legacy can still be felt today (he founded the hugely successful World Series of Poker). As Dallas’s reigning mob boss, Binion could be brutal, yet he was fiercely protective of his family and philanthropic when it was to his advantage. Brimming with tales of the criminal underworld and Binion’s shrewd business practices, which often turned violent (he is quoted as having said “I ain’t never killed a man who didn’t deserve it”), this dark slice of Americana is compelling and vivid—you can almost smell the stale Camels and last night’s beer at Binion’s Horseshoe.


The Fires

The Fires, by Joe Flood

Counter to popular lore, this book argues that the majority of the fires ravaging parts of the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan in the ‘70s were caused by a faulty computer model. In the ‘60s Mayor Lindsay teamed up with a think tank called the RAND Corporation to develop a way to govern the city more efficiently and statistically, starting with the fire department. But their methods were deeply flawed, resulting in severely reduced service in the neighborhoods that needed it desperately. It was an aspect of New York City history I hadn’t been aware of—and I’ve read a lot of books on New York City history. With so much of our current world moving to statistical analysis to predict just about everything from customer buying habits to election outcomes to the nation’s best burrito, this seems especially relevant.

Pictures Revolution

Pictures at a Revolution, by Mark Harris

If you’re anything like me, you love reading about the culture of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Pictures at a Revolution profiles the five movies that were nominated for Best Picture of 1967, offering not just the stories of the making of each individual film, but a broader picture of Hollywood in the ‘60s and the overall culture and atmosphere of the era. In a year that marked a real turning point for American movies, not to mention the culture at large, the five nominees represent both the new and the old, the generational divide sharply on display. The book offers some fascinating on-set stories and priceless trivia—who knew that at one point Bonnie and Clyde was to be directed by Jean-Luc Godard, who wanted to cast Elliott Gould as Clyde Barrow? (I actually kind of wish that had happened.)


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Eliza Rosenberry is a Publicist at Blue Rider Press where she began her career in 2012. Originally from Massachusetts, she graduated from Northeastern University with a BA in English. She can be found wherever books and snacks are available.




This Town, by Mark Leibovich

This Town by Mark Leibovich

I love opening an issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine and seeing a new piece by Mark Leibovich. He’s the magazine’s Chief National Correspondent and writes sharp, critical, and thoughtful profiles of political figures (many of these profiles will be collected in his upcoming book Citizens of the Green Room - stay tuned!). This Town, which we published last summer in hardcover and this year in paperback, is an insider-y take on everything that’s wrong with Washington D.C.: in a nutshell, that the politicians, lobbyists, and media in our nation’s capital are way too friendly with each other. Mark is a hilarious writer and even though it paints a pretty depressing picture, This Town is so much fun to read. And the paperback edition has a new afterword, with updates on the Post-#ThisTown era.

Love & War

Love & War by James Carville and Mary Matalin

James Carville is a Democrat and Mary Matalin is a Republican, and they’re political consultants, and they’re married. I would have a hard enough time dating someone who didn’t like the same TV shows as me, let alone such a fundamental difference as political beliefs — especially when it’s also your career. But James and Mary have somehow made it work, and they speak candidly about their twenty years of marriage in Love & War. They also write about returning to Louisiana (where James is from) after Hurricane Katrina and working to rebuild the city of New Orleans — those passages are my favorite.



The Last Magazine, by Michael Hastings

The Last Magazine by Michael Hastings (on sale 6/17/14)

The Operators, Michael Hastings’s book about General Stanley McChrystal and the war in Afghanistan, was published on January 5, 2012. I remember because it was my third day as an assistant at Blue Rider Press and Michael was the first author I’d ever worked with. He was most famous for getting McChrystal fired with a Rolling Stone profile; his reporting was refreshing, exciting, and brave. But Michael died tragically in a car accident a year ago, and it was a shock for all of us who had read his writing, experienced his talent and energy, and anticipated a long and prolific career. The Last Magazine is Michael’s debut novel, discovered in his files after his death: a hilariously funny account of a young journalist in the early 2000s trying to find his footing in a changing media landscape, and informed by Michael’s own experiences. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to read a new piece of his writing, this time fiction – but still with Michael’s signature insight, humor, and perspective.


Blowback, by Valerie Plame and Sarah LovettBurned, by Valerie Plame and Sarah Lovett

Blowback and Burned (10/21/14) by Valerie Plame

Valerie Plame is a former covert CIA operative whose identity was exposed (and her career was therefore ended) by the Bush administration. After writing a memoir, appearing often as a CIA expert on TV and on speaking tours, and moving her family out to New Mexico, Valerie is now writing a spy thriller series. Co-written with Sarah Lovett, BLOWBACK and BURNED star Vanessa Piersen, a covert CIA operative who travels the world and focuses on anti-nuclear proliferation, keeping her assets safe, and having secret affairs with other agents. Valerie is incredibly smart and charming, and her professional expertise is on every page of these books.

Acid Test LSD, Ecstasy, and the Power to Heal, by Tom Shroder

Acid Test by Tom Shroder (on sale 9/9/14)

Ever since this book was presented at our launch meeting last year, I’ve been itching to get my hands on a galley. Journalist Tom Shroder has written a history of psychedelics, and how the drug MDMA (commonly known as ecstasy) has been used to effectively treat PTSD, especially in returning military personnel. I had no idea (until this book) that more than 500,000 veterans suffer from PTSD.  Shroder’s reporting is phenomenal and his sources — including a veteran whose PTSD is under control thanks to MDMA therapy — are fascinating.  If weed was the big drug story of 2013, this book could do the same for psychedelics in 2014. And it doesn’t hurt that the cover is awesome.


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9781592408177MOn the afternoon of June 8, 2005, a librarian at Yale University Library was shocked to discover an X-acto knife blade on the floor of the reading room. Library staff traced it to a bespectacled, silver-haired dealer in antiquarian maps who was looking at rare books and atlases that day. When he was followed out of the library, E. Forbes Smiley III was found to have four maps stolen from the books he looked at there. After an FBI investigation, Smiley eventually admitted to stealing 97 maps worth more than $3 million from libraries around the country. The question is, Why did he do it? That’s the question I set out to explore in my new book, The Map Thief, published by Gotham Books this week. Along the way, I discovered many new facts about the case, and about maps themselves. Here are five:

1) Maps are much easier to steal than art

Works of art are generally one-of-a-kind pieces that hang in museums where everyone knows where they are. It’s hard enough for thieves to break and in and try and steal one; but it’s even harder for them to try and sell it. For that reason, most art thieves are apprehended soon after their crimes—or else, the art goes underground for decades. Rare maps, meanwhile, may be printed in thousands of copies—of which a dozen or even a hundred may have survived over the centuries. Most of those copies exist in libraries, contained in books or in folders full of similar maps that are often poorly catalogued and sometimes poorly guarded. Once a thief walks out with one, he can sell it for thousands of dollars, or even tens of thousands of dollars, to dealers or collectors who may never even suspect it is stolen—and may hang it in public view without anyone else suspecting it either. Smiley got away with this kind of theft for at least four years, and would have gotten away with it for longer had he not carelessly dropped the blade on the floor.

2) Most maps are bad—but bad for a reason

It’s hard to put ourselves back in time to the way the world was before Google Maps and satellite technology, back when mapmakers had to rely on primitive instruments and dubious travelers’ reports to sketch the border and coastlines of the world. But hundreds of years ago, cartographers introduced all kinds of errors into maps, some mistakenly and others intentionally. A misjudgment by explorers in the 17th century, for example, led to California being drawn as an island for over a hundred years. But other mistakes were politically motivated, such as the inclusion of a Northwest Passage on Dutch and English maps for centuries; or the introduction of fictitious towns and cities onto areas a particular country was trying to colonize. During the 18th century, France and England battled over North America for years with maps that drew boundary lines in different places before they ever fired a shot in an actual war over the continent. Oftentimes these mistakes, intentionally or not, increase the value of maps, prized by collectors for the stories they tell about the area during a certain time period.

3) Map dealing can be a cutthroat business

Far from the image of map collecting being a rarified pursuit followed in a gentlemanly manner, serious map dealing can be competitive and cutthroat, with a small number of dealers battling it out at auctions over a limited number of rare and valuable artifacts. In the 1990s, the value of maps soared when they became popular for decorating by the rich and famous. Map dealer Forbes Smiley found it difficult to compete, even though he was one of the most knowledgeable dealers in his field. Always a bad businessman, Smiley began getting squeezed by other dealers better at competing at auction and sewing up valuable clients. He began falling further and further into debt, until he began to desperately look at theft as a way out of his predicament.

4) The roots of Smiley’s thefts were laid in a small town in Maine

Forbes Smiley always loved New England history; he grew up in a small town in New Hampshire and always lamented the way it became overrun with commercialization. In college, he fantasized about creating a utopian village with his friends that they could design to their liking. Years later, he actively sought to create that town in the small hamlet of Sebec, Maine, where he bought the post office and a restaurant and general store and sought to create the perfect New England village. Unfortunately, not all residents shared his vision, and he ended up getting in a legal dispute that cost him money and prestige—eventually leading him in part to steal maps to make up for his losses. While some of the money from the maps he stole went into nice clothes, fancy meals, and plane trips, the vast majority went into his grandiose scheme in Sebec.

5) Smiley didn’t admit all of the maps he stole

In an interview, Smiley told me that he didn’t know of a single map he stole that he didn’t admit to authorities. Yet, in my research, I uncovered nearly a dozen maps that libraries were able to recover after the FBI had given up their own hunt. The libraries relied on physical evidence such as smudges or impressions on the paper in order to identify and claim the maps they did; but many of them also have circumstantial evidence pointing to even more maps that Smiley stole. For example, some libraries are missing copies of maps that Smiley admitted taking from other libraries, and in other cases, he sold extremely rare maps to dealers that existed in only a few copies. Without definitive proof, however, the libraries weren’t able to recover them. Never a good businessman, Smiley may be telling the truth when he says he can’t recall all of the maps he stole. But either way, we may never know for sure how many maps he got away with taking.


Ben Platt is an Associate Editor at The Penguin Press, where he began his career in 2010. He is a graduate of the University of Chicago.




Detroit, by Charlie LeDuff

Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff

The only book you will ever need about the Motor City, the American Dream, and the unforgettable LeDuff–who spends these exhilarating pages generally raising hell and asking The Powers That Be all the tough questions how the country’s richest city became the capital of foreclosures, unemployment, and much else. Muckraking like we need, gonzo journalism at its best.





Command and Control by Eric Schlosser

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, by Eric Schlosser

Reading this terrific book, one quickly realizes that America’s nuclear arsenal is less DR. STRANGELOVE and more Marx Brothers. Launch levels are accidently pulled, bombs mistakenly dropped on American soil, missiles secured by little more than high-school combination locks. But by centering on one terrible accident–a fire in a nuclear missile silo, in 1980 Arkansas–Schlosser takes what could be a litany of woe and turns it into a page-turning, unforgettable read.




The Good Food Revolution By Will Allen with Charles Wilson

The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities, by Will Allen with Charles Wilson

Urban farming at its most extreme. Using old-school community activism and revolutionary aquaponics–a technology that grows plants and fish simultaneously, the life cycle of one feeding the other–Will Allen and his organization GROWING POWER are changing the way cities will feed themselves in the future. Based around Allen’s extraordinary life story–son of a sharecropper, star  in professional basketball, successful businessman, and finally farming entrepreneur–The Good Food Revolution is good stuff.



Thinking the Twentieth Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder

Thinking the Twentieth Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder

One of the last books of Tony Judt–the author of another personal favorite, Postwar–along with Timothy Snyder–the historian behind the harrowing Blood LandsThinking the Twentieth Century is truly a gift. Arranged as a free-wheeling dialogue between these two unorthodox experts of recent history, the book has all the makings of a masters-course-in-one-volume but reads as easy as can be. A wonderful experience.




Diaries of an Unfinished Revolution edited by Layla Al-Zubaidi & Matthew Cassel

Diaries of an Unfinished Revolution: Voices from Tunis to Damascus, edited by Layla Al-Zubaidi & Matthew Cassel

Finally, the story of the Arab Spring has lived and witnessed by its actual participants. Drawing on short accounts from different actors across the Middle East, Diaries of an Unfinished Revolution breaks many of our easy certainties and offers up many hard truths about this pivotal series of events, and reveals the true cost of making change today. It won’t give anything away to say that the book’s last line is, “And the demonstrations go on, into the unknown.”




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Fallen Beauty by Erika Robuck

Edna St. Vincent Millay’s seven-hundred acre estate in the Berkshires, Steepletop, is a literary gem. I visited Steepletop for research for my novel, Fallen Beauty, and wish to share some background about the home and the legacy of the poet, and encourage travelers to visit this site so rich in natural beauty and literary history.

 Dr. Holly Peppe, a Millay scholar and the literary executor of the estate, was kind enough to share her knowledge of the family and of Steepletop with me. Her work on Millay, including the Introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Millay’s Early Poems, a collection she annotated and edited, has helped keep Millay’s memory alive. Her other critical essays about the poet appear in various anthologies and in the new Collected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay (Harper Perennial, 2011). As one so close to the family, Dr. Peppe gave me keen insights on the fascinating Millay women, and voiced her wish to rekindle public interest in one of our greatest American poets.

ERIKA ROBUCK: As one who believes that books and writers find us when we need them, I am curious about the commencement of such “relationships.” When did your relationship with Edna St. Vincent Millay begin?

HOLLY PEPPE:  You might say it was a winding road! My mother read poetry to me as a child and sang songs every evening at the piano, so I was exposed to the musicality of words early on. By the time I was in high school, I considered poetry a second language—my favorite pastime was writing poems and songs and reading every poet I could find. My favorites were Neruda and Borges. I started out as a music major in college but switched to English and earned a B.A. and Masters before moving to Rome, Italy where I directed the American College of Rome’s English Department for a few years. Inspired by a favorite book, Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet –a work that I encourage all writers to read—I made a summer pilgrimage to Switzerland to visit a water castle and other places where the German lyric poet Rilke lived and wrote, ending the tour with a visit to his grave. I was in love with him and his work and decided that I would return to the U.S. to pursue a doctorate, with Rilke as my subject.

Unfortunately, the Ivy League university where I had earned my Masters rejected my plan, noting that I could not earn a doctorate in English if I wrote about work that had been translated from another language. Instead I would need to find a poet who wrote in English. So I chose Edna St. Vincent Millay, whose poetry I admired, only to have this second topic rejected by the English department because Millay was not considered a “major American figure.” I was told I could combine my research on Millay with work on another poet or two, like Robert Frost, Marianne Moore or Louise Bogan, and the combo would equal one “major” writer! My frustration with that plan, which I considered absurd, led me to the University of New Hampshire, where I was told they would accept Millay as a dissertation if I would educate a doctoral committee about her work. Because she was a bestselling poet, most scholars had considered her poems “too accessible” and “popular” and therefore not worthy of serious study. I disagreed on all counts and set out to prove them wrong.

My research led me to Steepletop, where Millay’s sister, Norma, age 89, was still living and working as the poet’s literary executor. The Director of the Millay Colony, an artists’ enclave across the hill from Millay’s home, told me Norma was largely unapproachable. Nonetheless, armed with gifts from Rome and my determination to write about her older sister, I made the trek to the top of the hill in Austerlitz to visit. Luckily Norma accepted me as an ally and over the next few years, where I spent days and weeks at a time at Steepletop, we became good friends.

Getting to know the poet through the eyes of her fiercely devoted sister was a moving experience and before long, Millay became far more than a dissertation topic or even a favorite poet to me—she became a living memory.

Even on my first visit to Steepletop, the place seemed to exist outside of time. Norma and her husband, Charlie had carefully moved in around Vincent; she left her sister’s clothes and shoes in the bedroom closets. (Norma’s own clothes were hanging on the shower rack in the bathroom). Millay’s evening purses, with lipstick still inside, were left in place, tucked lovingly into the mahogany bureau’s drawers.

There were times when I felt Millay’s presence everywhere, like the night Norma asked me to try on Millay’s gowns. Dutifully I modelled them, one after another, including the long red velvet and black taffeta dresses the poet had worn on her reading tours. For a graduate student in awe of her subject, it was thrilling!

ERIKA ROBUCK: Was Norma pleased to have a scholar studying her beloved sister?

HOLLY PEPPE: Oh, no—not at all! She didn’t believe in academia and said most professors drained poetry of its passion. So she insisted that before she would discuss a poem with me, I would need to memorize it. This is what prompted me to learn many of the poems and sonnets by heart, which was indeed more enriching than simply reading and analyzing them one after another. In the end, we spent two to three hours a day talking about Millay’s poetry—its origin, form, meaning, and so forth.

ERIKA ROBUCK: How did it feel to be living in Millay’s house?  

HOLLY PEPPE: I felt like I was living in a dream. Many times, especially when Norma and I were sitting in the living room, sipping wine and eating our meals from decorative metal trays as Millay sometimes had, I gazed around in appreciation and wonder at the whole experience.

ERIKA ROBUCK: When I visited Steepletop, I was taken aback by the life force left in the house and grounds. For a place that has been almost untouched since the days of the poet, the atmosphere is very active. Has anything troubling, haunting, or fascinating ever happened to you at the house?

HOLLY PEPPE:  Yes, and though I’m not generally a believer in the paranormal, I absolutely believe there is a spirit or two in residence at Steepletop. So much happened there—from Millay and Eugen’s legendary parties, to the 1936 car accident that resulted in Millay’s addiction to morphine, to Millay’s and then Norma’s death in the house 36 years later.

My first encounter was the night Norma died –she was in Millay’s bed in an upstairs bedroom. I was with Norma’s dear friend Elizabeth Barnett, who would inherit her role as literary executor. In the middle of the night, Elizabeth and I got into my car and followed the hearse down the hill to the funeral home. A few hours later, sad and exhausted, we drove back to Steepletop, only to find that the strings of Christmas lights surrounding the house were blazing with an array of color, having somehow turned themselves on! Instead of being frightened we were instantly delighted—we knew it was the spirit of Norma, welcoming us home.

A few weeks later, when I returned to the house to discuss Norma’s memorial service with Elizabeth, we heard a loud crash upstairs. When we went to investigate, the wooden bar in Millay’s closet holding the gowns had crashed to the floor. Was it Norma this time, or the poet herself sending us a message? We weren’t sure.

And finally, on the afternoon after Norma’s memorial, I was bidding Elizabeth goodbye on the front porch when the light above me started blinking, slowly at first, and then faster and faster until it went out. “I guess she doesn’t want you to leave,” Elizabeth said with a smile.

ERIKA ROBUCK: Why is preserving the legacy so important to you, and what would you like readers to know about Steepletop?

HOLLY PEPPE: I promised Norma, and then Elizabeth, I would carry on as the next literary executor, a keeper of the flame. I want people to know that Millay’s impressive body of work is of vital importance to the American literary tradition. It was this poet, who was also a playwright, essayist, and short story writer, who infused new life into traditional poetic forms and brought new hope to a generation of youth disillusioned by the political and social upheaval of the First World War.

I also want to introduce readers to her deftly crafted sonnets and lyrics not only addressing typical poetic subjects — love, loss, life, and death and so forth– but also tackling the social issues of the day: political injustice, discrimination, and personal freedom.

It’s an exciting time in the world of Edna St. Vincent Millay! The Millay Society Board, is intent on preserving the beauty and spirit of Steepletop.  On behalf of my fellow Board members, I’d like to invite readers and others to visit this National Historic Landmark, Millay’s beloved country home. There you can walk through the newly restored gardens and rooms in the house where, at every turn, it feels like the poet herself might just walk in the door.

ERIKA ROBUCK: These are lovely sentiments for a worthy cause, and I encourage all to visit this fascinating place, and learn more about Edna St. Vincent Millay. Thank you, Holly.

Steepletop is open from May 23 2014 – Oct 20 2014, and reservations are required. Call 518-392-3362 or visit the website at millay.org for more information.