What's All This Then?
What's All This Then?
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Field-Tested by Brian Frazer
on a plane and in a hotel room in Newtown, Pennsylvania
Last winter, I boarded a plane from Los Angeles to Philadelphia to visit my mother-in-law back east. I was carrying a copy of Manhunt, which was apropos since it was on an airplane (Boston to Houston) in 1992 that I became hooked on history.
A doctor, whom I was randomly seated next to, saw me reading a copy of Voltaires Candide and remarked how it was unusual to see anyone reading a classic anymore. He followed up that blanket statement by asking me if I was interested in history. History? "Yeah, sure, I guess." Not exactly a glowing endorsement for the genre. He proceeded to write out a list of ten history books: Barbara Tuchmans Guns of August, William Manchesters The Last Lion, and eight other titles in scribbly gibberish.
After heeding his advice and reading The Guns of August, fiction took a backseat for me. I proceeded to devour the other nine books on the list, each one better than the last. Since that chance meeting with the stethoscoped historian, 90% of my reading has been history; however, until Manhunt, no book impressed me as much as anything on his introductory list.
I knew Booth was a successful actor, I just wasnt aware of the enormity of his success. It would have been the equivalent of Jim Carrey, at his peak, assassinating George W. Bush (which would have been splendid on so many levels). But, most importantly, like Tuchman, Swanson sucks you into the story as if youre reading yesterdays newspaper. When I arrived in Pennsylvania, at my mother-in-laws retirement community, I loaned her the book, which she, too, loved. It has since made the rounds among seven or eight of her friends, and I feel like Ive returned the doctors favor by turning a few seniors onto history before they become history.
Brian Frazer is the author of the memoir, Hyper-Chondriac: One Mans Quest to Hurry Up and Calm Down. He meant no offense to old people in his closing sentence.
Read the next Field Test by Ben Greenman