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Past imperfect : history according to the movies edited by Mark Carnes

Intriguing large-format book, published in 1996, pairing historians with classic movies. More than 20 writers explaining the accuracy of Hollywood bio-pics and history. John Sayles kicks off dissecting the economic reasons that history is so often fudged. Carnes tasked Gerda Lerner with three Joan-of-Arc films, and she reliably criticized them all in less than 3000 words.

Truevine by Beth Macy

Details the lives of the sideshow performers known as “Eko & Iko, the Ambassadors from Mars” (also “Sheep-headed Boys from Ecuador” and many other ballyhoos.) Born to a Truevine, Maryland sharecropping family in the 1890s, Willy and George Muse were albino African-Americans. Willy died age 108, and Macy managed to speak with the people who cared for him at the end of his life. She details the racism and disablism that kept the Muse brothers in the sideshow, as well as the determination of their mother, who successfully sued for their back wages. The author spends too much time telling me how she did her extensive research, but the history is chilling and fascinating.

Chenoo by Joseph Bruchac

The Abenaki author is a poet, and he does a wonderful job exploring the context of a fictional pan-Indian occupation of a former State park. The Indian humor is grim and hilarious, but as a murder mystery it’s quite weak.

A Life Discarded by Alexander Masters

I adored the author’s earlier books–Stuart, a Life Backwards1 and Simon, the Genius in My Basement. His latest exploration of everyday life begins with an untidy stack of more than 140 diaries found in the trash. He deconstructs the author’s life and identity, and eventually, gets her permission to publish this analysis. In the process, he meditates on our destinies through the lifespan, as well as mourning the company of the two friends who gave the diaries to him.


  1. discovered in my Cumberbatch-completist mode ↩︎

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