‘Austen, Anonymous Writers and History’ by Amanda Foreman

ILLUSTRATION: THOMAS FUCHS

It is a truth universally acknowledged that “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen —who died 200 years ago this month—is one of the most romantic and popular tales ever written. Behind the global adoration she enjoys today lies the irony that in her own time Austen’s name never appeared on her books. Continue reading…

‘The Perils of Cultural Purity’ by Amanda Foreman in The Wall Street Journal

PHOTO: THOMAS FUCHS

“Cultural appropriation” is a leading contender for the most overused phrase of 2017. Originally employed by academics in postcolonial studies to describe the adoption of one culture’s creative expressions by another, the term has evolved to mean the theft or exploitation of an ethnic culture or history by persons of white European heritage. Continue reading…

“The Song-Cycle Ancestors of ‘Sgt. Pepper’” by Amanda Foreman – The Wall Street Journal

The cover art for ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’ PHOTO: © APPLE CORPS LTD.

When the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” turned 50 on June 1, many critics and music lovers praised it as a work that both helped to create the modern concept album and became the anthem for the Summer of Love generation. From the innovative cover design to the musical mashups that included a 40-piece orchestra and a “kazoo” made of toilet paper and a comb, “Sgt. Pepper” seemed to be all about change and freedom. Continue reading…

‘On the Trail of Art Looters’ by Amanda Foreman – The Wall Street Journal

A relief from Rome’s Arch of Titus showing the spoils of Jerusalem. PHOTO: DEAGOSTINI/GETTY IMAGES

Since 2014, Islamic State has been doing its best to destroy all traces of pre-Islamic culture in Iraq and Syria. Hammers and explosives aren’t its only tools. The antiquities trade is worth billions, and the self-styled caliphate is funding itself in part by looting and selling ancient treasures.

In late May, the Journal reported that U.S. and European Union authorities were scrutinizing a pair of art dealers as part of a wider investigation into who has been facilitating the market for ancient coins, statues and relics stolen by Islamic State. The dealers say they have done nothing wrong.

Continue reading…

‘Don’t sneer at historical fiction, it’s keeping the past alive’ by Amanda Foreman’ – The Telegraph

I know it’s old hat to complain that students are becoming more stupid by the hour. But can you blame me when the Cambridge historian John Guy revealed to a Hay Festival audience this week that he keeps meeting prospective students who admit to knowing nothing of Tudor politics outside of Hilary Mantel’s novels.

I mean, what idiot turns up unprepared for an Oxbridge history interview and expects to be taken seriously? When you’re applying to one of the world’s best universities, do you a) read voraciously to ensure that you outsmart the competition, or b) parade your total ignorance of even the most basic tenets of your chosen discipline?

This shouldn’t need spelling out, but here goes: if you plan on discussing a particular era, then make an effort to know it before the interview. Read the books of at least two different academics and have an opinion on whose arguments you find most persuasive. Continue reading…

‘A History of Colors and Their Owners’ by Amanda Foreman – The Wall Street Journal

ILLUSTRATION: THOMAS FUCHS

In 2009, a graduate student working in a chemistry lab at Oregon State University accidentally created a new, brilliantly blue pigment while experimenting with manganese oxide and other materials. Dubbed “YInMn blue” after its chemical makeup, the pigment quickly spurred a research paper and a patent application. And soon the gorgeous new color will be available to all of us: Crayola recently announced that it would introduce a blue crayon “inspired” by YInMn and kicked off a contest to name it. Continue reading…

“Where ‘King Arthur’ Came From, and Why the Film Failed” by Amanda Foreman – The Wall Street Journal

Charlie Hunnam, that sword and that stone, in ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.’ PHOTO: WARNER BROS. PICTURES

In the movie business, even the stuff of legend is no sure bet: The box-office returns for the latest version of the perennially popular Arthurian stories, “ King Arthur : Legend of the Sword,” have marked the film as one of the biggest flops yet for 2017.

What went wrong? High on the list of critics’ complaints was the rewriting of Arthur’s character and story to make him seem more down-to-earth and less like the virtuous leader of legend. The Journal’s Joe Morgenstern called the film “a choppy hunt for the grim, the grungy, the darkness of dungeons and the clamor of a war-torn world.” Continue reading…

‘The Mystery of Genius’ by Amanda Foreman – The Wall Street Journal

ILLUSTRATION: THOMAS FUCHS

“Genius,” a new National Geographic miniseries on Albert Einstein starring Geoffrey Rush, tries to peel back the great physicist’s eccentric public persona and examine the human being underneath, warts and all. But even if we could discover everything about Einstein’s life and character, would that tell us anything about the nature of genius?

People have been puzzling over the concept for more than 2,000 years, as Darrin M. McMahon points out in his comprehensive history of genius, “Divine Fury.” In classical antiquity, genius wasn’t considered a talent or the result of effort but a divine spirit. The ancient Greeks believed that every individual was born with a daimon, an innate spiritual power bestowed by the gods that guided a person’s actions and ultimately decided his fate. The Romans shared this basic belief in a heavenly spirit that resides in us. Continue reading…

‘The Pleasures and Perils of the Garden’ by Amanda Foreman – The Wall Street Journal

HR28T4 POMPEO BATONI LUCCA 1708 – 1787 ROME SUSANNA AND THE ELDERS PHOTO: ALAMY

When the British philosopher Sir Francis Bacon wrote in a 1625 essay that “God Almighty first planted a garden, and indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures,” he knew that his readers would immediately think of the Garden of Eden, the setting for humankind’s downfall in sin. So which was it, a place of simple delights or of awful temptations? Historically, it turns out, gardens have been both. Continue reading…