Archive for December, 2010

Thirteen People Who Didn’t Change the World, by Paul Collins   no comments

Posted at 9:35 am in Book review

History is written by the winners. Or at least about the winners. There’s no shortage of tributes to, say, Shakespeare or Einstein.  But what about the losers? Happily, there’s Paul Collins—a great and, I think, under-appreciated writer—who in Banvard’s Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn’t Change the World, brings to life a group of people who were famous in their own day, but for various reasons have been completely forgotten. The best-known (if that’s the right word) of Collins’ anti-heroes is Delia Bacon, who was renowned on two continents for her brilliantly erudite lectures, but went mad, and in the process invented the Francis Bacon-wrote-Shakespeare’s-plays theory. (She and Francis were unrelated, though late in her life she seems to have forgotten this.) Martin Farquhar Tupper was a famous writer of revoltingly treacly Victorian poetry, bizarrely much admired by Walt Whitman.  René Blondlot was a brilliant scientist who believed that he had discovered N-rays. Collins manages to evoke sympathy for his hapless protagonists, though it’s perhaps not unmixed with schadenfreude. Still, in this deeply fun book, they finally have the last word.

Written by Lorin on December 30th, 2010

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