“Like most people, I associated the Jazz Age with gaiety and decadence, but what I came to recognize was the underlying fear that, after World War I and the influenza epidemic, rather than heading toward a new enlightened era, the world was headed to a new Dark Age.”
There’s a reason I don’t do those “best books of the year” until the end of the year; you might come across a fantastic one in November or December! David Jaher‘s new nonfiction book, The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World (Crown), might be my absolute fave from 2015! It’s both a ridiculously entertaining page-turner about Houdini’s duel with a high-class medium in Boston in the 1920s, and a remarkable study of the Spiritualism craze and humanity’s deep-rooted need to hear word from beyond the grave. David and I have a great conversation about the book,the origins of ectoplasm, his history with Houdini, researching and writing the Jazz Age, the nature of fame, David’s career as an astrologer, and more! Give it a listen!
We talk about some books in this episode. Here’s a list of them:
- The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World – David Jaher
- Ragtime: A Novel – E.L. Doctorow
- A Collection of Essays – George Orwell
- U.S.A.: The 42nd Parallel / 1919 / The Big Money (Library of America) – John Dos Passos
- “A Short Trip Home” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Houdini!!!: The Career of Ehrich Weiss : American Self-Liberator, Europe’s Eclipsing Sensation, World’s Handcuff King & Prison Breaker – Kenneth Silverman
- Moby Dick – Herman Melville
About our Guest
David Jaher received a BA from Brandeis University and an MFA in Film Production from New York University. At NYU, he was the recipient of the WTC Johnson Fellowship for directing. Jaher has been a screenwriter and a professional astrologer. A New York native and resident, this is his first book.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at his home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Jaher uncredited.
“Churchill was one of the last members of the Aesthetic Movement, except he applied his aestheticism to war.”
Professor Jonathan Rose joins the show to talk about his new book, The Literary Churchill: Author, Reader, Actor (Yale University Press). It’s a fascinating work about the books and plays that influenced one of the 20th century’s greatest statesmen, drawing connections from Churchill’s literary interests (and aspirations) to his policy decisions. Prof. Rose tells us about the most surprising literary influence he discovered, Churchill’s roots in Victorian melodrama, his love of the coup de theatre, his no-brow approach to art, how Hitler was like a photo-negative of Churchill, and why a politician like him would never survive in today’s party-line system.
“Just as Oscar Wilde was a public performer who created a persona, I think Churchill did something very similar in his life. His greatest creation was Winston Churchill. It was his greatest work of art.”
Along the way, Prof. Rose also tells us about the one book he wishes Churchill had read, why Churchill would love the internet, why so many politicians cite him as an influence but fail to live up to his example, what it’s like teaching history to students who weren’t alive during the Cold War, and why we need more literary biographies of political figures (at least, for those who read).
About our Guest
Jonathan Rose is William R. Kenan Professor of History at Drew University. He was the founding president of the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing, and he is coeditor of that organization’s journal, Book History. His book The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes: Second Edition won the Longman-History Today Historical Book of the Year Prize, the American Philosophical Society Jacques Barzun Prize in Cultural History, the British Council Prize of the North American Conference on British Studies, the SHARP Book History Prize, and the New Jersey Council for the Humanities Book Prize. It was shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Award and the British Academy Book Prize, and named a Book of the Year by the Economist magazine. His other publications include The Edwardian Temperament, 1895-1919, The Holocaust and the Book: Destruction and Preservation (Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book), and A Companion to the History of the Book (with Simon Eliot). His latest book is The Literary Churchill: Author, Reader, Actor (Yale University Press).
Credits: This episode’s music is Mr. Churchill Says by The Kinks (duh). The conversation was recorded at Mr. Rose’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into my brand-new Zoom H5 digital recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Prof. Rose by me.