The more I read about the English Civil War the more fascinated I get—THE WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution by Christopher Hill looks at the various movements that sprung out of the same soil — dissatisfaction with the established church, fear of an authoritarian monarchy — that fueled the war, but took things far further than the Puritans did or wanted. Among the various movements (Ranters, Diggers, Levelers, Quakers) were cries to abolish the Church of England and any church hierarchy; allow complete religious freedom, including for atheists; acknowledge the equality of everyone (one of the Quaker habits that infuriated people was that they rejected “hat courtesy,” refusing to doff their hats to anyone); legalize premarital sex; prevent the rich and powerful enclosing common lands and forests; and to abolish private property completely. Cromwell’s government was, of course, no more enthusiastic about these ideas than Charles I’s reign had been, so the various movements were eventually repressed or collapsed (the Quakers survived by becoming more moderate, and thereby absorbed many of the other dissenters), though Hill argues their ideas spread and circulated nonetheless. Interesting.
After reading World’s Fair Goblin and a comic-book story set at the 1939 World’s Fair, I couldn’t resist TWILIGHT AT THE WORLD OF TOMORROW: Genius, Madness, Murder, and the 1939 World’s Fair on the Brink of War by James Mauro (cover design by David Stevenson, all rights to design and photos with current holders). The book chronicles how flamboyant personality Grover Whalen took a proposal to build the World’s Fair on the notorious trash dumps of Flushing Meadows (the source of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ash-heaps in Great Gatsby) only to discover that his sunnily optimistic predictions of a massively profitable tourist attraction pumping money into New York fell far short of the reality (and were made worse by frequent drenching weather). Plus, of course, the Fair’s vision of the utopian high-tech World of Tomorrow looked increasingly pie-in-the-sky as war blossomed in Europe (by the second year, attendance at the foreign pavilions became more about mourning the country’s under Hitler’s yoke than anything else). Very good
The third compendium of THE WALKING DEAD by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Stefano Gaudiano is easily the best of the three for having the best villain. Negan is a twisted counterpart to the good guys’ leader Rick, extorting protection from the various communities of survivors but offering protection and clearly seeing himself as building some sort of new civilization; frequently brutal and possibly crazy, but he plays fair as much as possible—in short, a lot like some of the nation-builders in real history (and as he points out, not as different from Rick as the latter wants to think). The next-up adversaries, the Whisperers, are weird, but not as interesting, but there’s also a twist I won’t mention here. Well done.
THREE-MARTINI LUNCH by Suzanne Rindell has a trio of literary wannabes struggling with the usual array of career and personal obstacles in 1950s Greenwich Village. I read this mostly for the 1950s detail (to see if it gave me any ideas about using the same in Brain From Outer Space) which was good, but the book didn’t grab me. Partly that’s my own lack of interest in literary fiction, but Rindell’s style was very stiff, and it made the voices of the three leads sound much too similar.