Chris Scott

The "death" of Sherlock Holmes in 1893's "The Final Problem" sparked worldwide grief. As recounted by Russell Miller in The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Prince of Wales was said to be particularly anguished. In the City of London, workers sported black armbands or wore black mourning crepe tied round their top hats; in New York 'Keep Holmes Alive' societies sprang into being." Conan Doyle, by then one of the world's most popular authors, found himself reviled – one old lady hit him with her handbag. But he'd had enough of Holmes and was happy to send him over the Reichenbach Falls in Moriarty's grasp. The detective had come to eclipse everything Conan Doyle did. He wanted to move on, saying the killing of Holmes was self – defense, "since if I had not killed him, he would certainly have killed me."Miller's new biography of Conan Doyle is a masterful compilation of the life and times of the man who, despite his efforts at literary homicide, is remembered principally as the creator of Holmes and his friend and colleague, Dr. Watson.

One of the joys of the book is to see Conan Doyle's myriad inspirations for the characters, locations and plots with which Conan Doyle filled his most famous stories. Miller presents Dr. Joseph Bell, one of Conan Doyle's instructors at the University of Edinburgh Medical School, who could deduce a patient's illness at a glance by observing what others merely saw. The plot of The Hound of the Baskervilles is revealed to have originated in a chance encounter with a young journalist on a sea voyage from South Africa. Conan Doyle himself, and his experience as a struggling physician, provided a model for Dr. Watson, the chronicler of Holmes' remarkable skills.

But as Conan Doyle always took pains to point out, his life consisted of much more than Sherlock Holmes. Miller's book therefore emphasizes the "other" Conan Doyle, the man whose long life was filled with adventures every bit as wondrous and sometimes as dangerous as any fictional detective. As a writer, Conan Doyle made his reputation on historical novels and short stories, painstakingly researched works that sold well but that never received the serious acclaim he hoped for. His love of action and his jingoistic patriotism led him to volunteer for service in the Boer War and World War I, both of which he defended tirelessly even as they became bloody morasses. On the home front, the firmly anti – religious author often fought for reform, whether railing against Britain's archaic divorce laws or championing those wrongfully accused of crime. He was a formidable advocate, Miller notes, because "once Conan Doyle made up his mind he was unstoppable, impervious to argument, blind to contradictory evidence, untroubled by doubt." But his final crusade, in the cause of spiritualism, nearly destroyed his reputation, leading as it did to a published article in which he forcefully presented "proof" for the existence of fairies.

Conan Doyle was a remarkable, complicated man and The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle does great justice to this great author, finally bringing him out of the shadow of his greatest creation.

Chris Scott reads Holmes stories in Nashville.

The "death" of Sherlock Holmes in 1893's "The Final Problem" sparked worldwide grief. As recounted by Russell Miller in The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Prince of Wales was said to be particularly anguished. In the City of London, workers sported black armbands or wore black mourning crepe tied round their top hats; in […]

Mark Twain observed that "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." Readers will certainly find much familiar in the history that Paul Strathern chronicles in Napoleon in Egypt. A great Western power, angered by the behavior of a Middle Eastern regime, sends an army to set things right and bring good government to the downtrodden masses. The resulting occupation is marred by atrocities and cultural misunderstanding, incites a rebellion and starts a larger war. The invaders are ultimately defeated by attrition and mismanagement.

But as a mirror of modern times, Napoleon Bonaparte's doomed 1798 venture into the Nile valley and the Levant is imperfect. Napoleon, as Strathern admirably proves, viewed Egypt as merely the first step on his journey to personal glory. He planned an overland invasion of south Asia and India, thereby repeating the accomplishment of his hero, Alexander the Great. The revolutionary government in France had no control over Napoleon during his three years in the Middle East – thanks largely to a British naval blockade – making him not just a military governor, but de facto Sultan of Egypt and ruler of all he surveyed. Napoleon tried to introduce reforms to the suspicious, xenophobic population. But even the presence of a contingent of French savants – intellectuals from all branches of science and the arts – seemed aimed more at burnishing Napoleon's ego than improving Egypt. That the savants made real contributions to science during the occupation is now a footnote in any field except Egyptology, which was founded during those difficult years.

Ultimately, Napoleon's invasion brought him the glory he desired, but in an unintended way. The broader war it started allowed him to seize control of France and most of Europe. Strathern, a prize – winning novelist as well as a historian, has probed Napoleon's complex personality, both the megalomania for which he is vilified and the military prowess for which he is admired, and has in the process created a highly readable lesson in the rhymes of history.

Chris Scott writes from Nashville.

Mark Twain observed that "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." Readers will certainly find much familiar in the history that Paul Strathern chronicles in Napoleon in Egypt. A great Western power, angered by the behavior of a Middle Eastern regime, sends an army to set things right and bring good government to the […]

Joe Jackson begins The Thief at the End of the World: Rubber, Power, and the Seeds of Empire with an old Amazonian saying: God is great but the forest is greater. He then proves this adage by telling the tale of Henry Wickham, English adventurer, amateur botanist and "biopirate" extraordinaire. In 1876, Wickham smuggled thousands of rubber-tree seeds out of Brazil. It is a story of hubris that ultimately involved Henry Ford in one of several ill-fated attempts to tame the great Amazon forests.

Henry Wickham was a failure at most things, but he was not the sort to give up. Indeed, he would have died early in his South American adventures if his nature had been anything other than indefatigable. Jackson vividly portrays the rigors of life in the tropics, where cholera, malaria, vampire bats, electric eels and a host of other plagues make life tenuous in the best of times. As he notes of the British subjects who loyally pushed the boundaries of empire, "The things one took for granted at home – clean water, a bath, no killer fish in the tub – were luxuries out here." Wickham survived, however, finally finding himself in the right place at the right time as Britain schemed to plant its own source of rubber, a natural resource vital to modern technology.

The quest to steal the founding seeds of vast rubber plantations created a gold-rush mentality in which, as Jackson describes it, "The white milk that dribbled like blood became a mirror: In rubber's slick, obsidian surface, each man saw his need." Wickham needed a way out of the putrefaction of the jungle, and this incentive produced success that earned him a knighthood, ensured Britain's dominance and plunged Brazil into economic disaster. And as with most grand actions, the consequences echoed down through the decades, creating a litany of failed efforts to harness the wealth of the jungle, efforts that continue today in the great forests of the world.

Chris Scott writes from the temperate climate of Nashville.

Joe Jackson begins The Thief at the End of the World: Rubber, Power, and the Seeds of Empire with an old Amazonian saying: God is great but the forest is greater. He then proves this adage by telling the tale of Henry Wickham, English adventurer, amateur botanist and "biopirate" extraordinaire. In 1876, Wickham smuggled thousands […]

Many people like to look up their family tree, but it is rare for someone to place their lineage into historic context. Bill Griffeth, an award-winning CNBC financial journalist, did, when he rediscovered American history while doing a little genealogical research along the way. By Faith Alone: One Family's Epic Journey Through 400 Years of American Protestantism is the chronicle of his geographic, historical and spiritual journey. Griffeth began his expedition in England where, in the early 1600s, his ancestors found themselves on the minority side of the Protestant Reformation. They were Puritans, those much maligned yet remarkably versatile dissenters who insisted they could restore Christianity to its unadulterated roots. The Puritans were soon losing their argument with the Church of England and had to, in Griffeth's words, become strict Anglicans, or leave the country. They left, although for some the leaving may have had as much to do with a desire for better economic prospects as with religious conviction.

After several years of financial and religious prosperity in the Netherlands, Griffeth's ancestors decided the New World would provide even greater opportunities, and they joined the early migrants so famously known as the Pilgrims. America proved a land full of peril and promise and seemed an ideal place for those of devout faith to test their resolve. Thousands of their brethren joined the growing New England settlements, where the human tendency to quarrel produced a growing list of denominations. It also produced the Salem witch trials. Griffeth's account of that horror is tinged with his personal relationship, however distant in time, with two of the victims.

Part travelogue, part family tree, part testimony, By Faith Alone is at heart an account of the spiritual development of America, an aspect of history often left out of schoolbooks. It is a story of people whose convictions drove them to a hostile world where they founded a nation. It is also, says Griffeth, acknowledging the cause of his family's wanderings, the story of a journey that never would have happened if Henry VIII's request for a divorce had been granted.

Many people like to look up their family tree, but it is rare for someone to place their lineage into historic context. Bill Griffeth, an award-winning CNBC financial journalist, did, when he rediscovered American history while doing a little genealogical research along the way. By Faith Alone: One Family's Epic Journey Through 400 Years of […]

<b>Heart of darkness: Lindbergh's pursuit of immortality</b> The title of David M. Friedman's new book is slightly misleading. Although <b>The Immortalists: Charles Lindbergh, Dr. Alexis Carrel, and Their Daring Quest to Live Forever</b> does cover the subject described, it also covers much more. It is the story of two famous men, their deep friendship, their brilliant work, their detestable philosophy and the earth-shattering event that changed one of them forever. Friedman must be lauded for turning an arcane medical subject into history both illuminating and affecting.

In 1930, the most famous man in the world, Charles A. Lindbergh, sought the advice of Nobel laureate Dr. Alexis Carrel. Lindbergh hoped Carrel would know how to repair a defective valve in his sister-in-law's heart. The great physician, inventor of the technique for suturing blood vessels, could not help. But in that meeting a partnership was forged that produced advances in the study of living tissue and organs so profound that the most amazing medical procedures in use today organ transplant, repair and in-vitro growth are their direct medical descendants. Lindbergh and Carrel graced the cover of <i>Time</i> magazine in 1938 and lectured far and wide about the possibility of perpetually repairing human organs, effectively rendering death obsolete. It was a dream that, for a time, seemed perfectly reasonable.

Unfortunately, as Friedman states, the duo's search for a biological path to immortality was not intended as a public health initiative. Carrel and Lindbergh were racists, and sought to conquer death not to advance all humanity, but to ensure the continued supremacy of white civilization. So when Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, Lindbergh embraced the Nazi regime, dismissing their brutality as a passing aberration. His public advocacy for Hitler earned him scorn throughout the rest of Europe and the United States and caused a breach with the French-born Carrel, who feared German militarism. Friedman's revelation of what happened to Carrel and Lindbergh during the subsequent global conflagration is the emotional heart of <b>The Immortalists</b>, in which he shows readers what can happen to men confronted by the logical extreme of their deeply held beliefs.

<b>Heart of darkness: Lindbergh's pursuit of immortality</b> The title of David M. Friedman's new book is slightly misleading. Although <b>The Immortalists: Charles Lindbergh, Dr. Alexis Carrel, and Their Daring Quest to Live Forever</b> does cover the subject described, it also covers much more. It is the story of two famous men, their deep friendship, their […]

<b>Angier's latest scientific journey</b> Natalie Angier loves science, and she wants everyone else to love it, too. Or at least understand it better. Angier, who won a Pulitzer Prize for <i>Woman: An Intimate Geography</i>, shares her lifelong love in her latest, <b>The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science</b>. Beginning with an essay explaining her wonderful take on why everyone should be better educated about science, she proceeds through chapters that define it (a dynamic, evolving process, not a collection of facts), describe its nature and provide primers on the five hard physical and life sciences physics, chemistry, biology, geology and astronomy. This is the kind of book that could easily have been dreary and dusty, but <b>The Canon</b> is not a staid lecture about atoms and molecules, rocks and quasars. And even the hard sciences aren't all that difficult when presented by this gifted science writer. Keeping people interested long enough to describe the foundations of, for example, evolutionary biology, requires making a connection with them at their elemental, human core. Angier does this by celebrating the humanity of science. It's quite simple, really. Science is based on curiosity, one of our species' defining instincts. The scientific method comes easily to curious beings. Throughout the book, Angier introduces men and women of science, people who have taken their innate curiosity and turned it into their careers. Getting to know them makes understanding their work all the more fun. The most prominent personality in <b>The Canon</b> is, of course, Angier herself. She is a lively tour guide with a passion for puns and quirky examples. Writing about the structure of the atom, she notes, an atom of gold, like all atoms, is hollow, is nearly nothing, is emptier than a fraternity keg on Sunday morning. The chapter titled Probabilities is worth the price of the book and should be required reading for anyone trying to puzzle their way through life in this universe.

<i>Geologist Chris Scott wishes his science textbooks had been half as well written as</i> The Canon.

<b>Angier's latest scientific journey</b> Natalie Angier loves science, and she wants everyone else to love it, too. Or at least understand it better. Angier, who won a Pulitzer Prize for <i>Woman: An Intimate Geography</i>, shares her lifelong love in her latest, <b>The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science</b>. Beginning with an […]

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