Are the news cycles causing intrigue fatigue? It may be a little (cold) comfort to know that constant tumult is not unique to our time. In fact, the outrageous and the shocking have always peppered human history. Plus, reading disreputable stories about long-dead people can be more palatable than continually processing the 24-hour news cycle. Some titles for those with an interest in the bad old days.
City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Chief of Police in Paris (2017) by Holly Tucker
The Sun King's reign cast deep, dark shadows. It turns out that people from all strata of French society were consulting fortune-tellers to obtain poisons, often to be used in occult rituals. Who knew? The man on the case was Gabriel Nicolas de La Reynie, brilliant founder of the first modern police force and the person whose "social norms" strategy of installing lanterns on Parisian streets is responsible for its nickname "City of Light". La Reynie's integrity and tenacity brought his investigation all the way up to one of Louis XIV's mistresses. Tucker's well-researched and lively book is so sensational, it's easy to forget this is true crime.
Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway 's Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises (2016) by Lesley Blume
Before he was "Papa", Ernest Hemingway was a literary wannabe who sold out his well-connected friends to write the book that gave him his first taste of major acclaim. The plain writing style of The Sun Also Rises is foundational to modernist literature, but the plot itself is filled with barely disguised misbehavior and intrigue that exposed Hemingway's friends to public censure. The big true story of excess, runaway ambition and the youthful American expats of the Lost Generation. Recommended to read with Hemingway's own A Moveable Feast (1964) and Gertrude Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933).
Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady 's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners (2016) by Therese O 'Neill
Unmentionable sets its cheeky tone with the salutatory title of its introduction: "Hello, Slattern!" Unmentionable is a crystal clear reminder that despite charming depictions of the Victorian drawing room, the actual living experience would shock a modern woman. O'Neill writes Unmentionable in the second person, projecting the reader 's subjectivity into a young affluent woman of European descent. This hilarious book shows that in the 19th century, horrors and affronts to all the five senses were just a part of everyday life. A terrific coffee table book that can be opened to any page for a bizarre surprise.
Hissing Cousins: The Lifelong Rivalry of Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth (2016) by Mark Peyser and Timothy Dwyer
Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth personify the tension between legacy and celebrity. Growing up, the cousins were fond of each other but became rivals in adulthood. Alice was Theodore Roosevelt's daughter, living in the White House during his presidency. Eleanor was Teddy Roosevelt's favorite niece. Alice took on an unofficial role of "First Daughter," acting as a glamorous hostess and dignitary on trips around the world. Eleanor was known for her devotion to social causes that would benefit the poor and vulnerable. Peyser and Dwyer explore the continuum between immediate fame and lasting legend with empathy for both women.
Secret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder and Madness from Romanov Russia (2014) by Michael Farquhar
There's little loyalty in Romanov Russia. Secret Lives of the Tsars examines the icy motives and violent machinations behind the Romanov evolution from medieval to modern. Their unlimited power led some to unchecked decadence and others to reflection. Either way, the bodies of dispatched enemies were often displayed to demonstrate that power. With loads of grisly detail, this is definitely a book for those who could get through the Game of Thrones Red Wedding scene.
Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema (2014) by Anne Helen Petersen
Petersen is a former academic writer whose deep analysis of pop culture produces insight about today's swirl of celebrity. Scandals of Classic Hollywood is an expanded collection of Petersen's online work about the lengths the old Studio System would take to smooth things over for public consumption whenever their stars fell out of step with acceptable social norms. Read about the fraught sexuality of Mae West and Jean Harlow; find out about how Marlon Brando's swagger went from electrifying to embarrassing and how James Dean never had a chance. Check out Karina Longworth's podcast You Must Remember This for more stories from Hollywood's first century.