Nonfiction that Seems Like a Soap Opera

Staff Picks

Nonfiction that Seems Like a Soap Opera

Reality television stars have nothing on these real historical figures

The adage is that truth is stranger than fiction and these books certainly show that to be true. These nonfiction books feature historical figures with personalities that would put reality television stars to shameand the antics that go with such larger-than-life personalities.
Murder of a Medici Princess by Caroline Murphy – Murder of a Medici Princess introduces an independent Isabella Medici who lived life on her own terms until her older brother gave her husband tacit permission to kill her for her willfulness. In some ways, Isabella is the embodiment of a spoiled daddy’s girl but in others she gains today’s reader’s empathy for her situation. The story of Isabella, her family, her husband and her death will make you think of a soap operabut it is real history.

The Match Girl and the Heiress by Seth Koven – One woman from a wealthy family trying to escape the strictures of society and money, the other a poor orphan who has worked in the slums since childhoodtogether Muriel Lester and Nellie Dowell try to create a progressive community that values all people. Set against the backdrop of Victorian London’s colonialism and global capitalism, Koven explores the relationship between these two disparate women along with their social reform activities.  

The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior: The Intersecting Lives of Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped by Paul Strathern – Having read The Malice of Fortune for a book club, I was interested in the real history behind these three larger-than-life personalities and how they intersected. The real story was better than fiction. The intersection of the three meneach famous in his own rightbrings a better understanding of the history in Italy during their lifetime as well as that of each personality involved.
The Inheritor’s Powder: A Tale of Arsenic, Murder, and the New Forensic Science by Sandra Hempel – Part history of toxicology, part history of forensic evidence in legal proceedings and part true crime, The Inheritor’s Powder features over the top personalities amid the decades of arsenic poisoning cases that it showcases. These colorful personalities include not just the accused murderers but the victims, the lawyers, the scientists and the servants. Readers will be forgiven for wondering how anyone survived such a rash of poisonings!
The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age by Myra MacPherson – Cornelius Vanderbilt, Harriett Beecher Stowe, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan Anthony are all well-remembered figures, and yet ,the two sisters, Tennie Claflin and Victoria Woodhull, who played a sizeable role in all these people’s lives, are not generally remembered today. The two were ahead of their time on almost every issue involving womenvoting, divorce, employment and health careearly in their career, but the ups and downs of their lives and reputations led to a significant moderating of stances later in life.