Friday, February 29, 2008

Benjamin Wallace

Benjamin Wallace has written for GQ, Details, Food & Wine, Salon, and the Washington Post. In 2002, the Columbia Journalism Review named him one of “ten young writers on the rise.” The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine, his first book, is due out in May 2008.

Not so long ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I'm currently bouncing between two books. Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club constantly amazes me by introducing me to nineteenth-century figures, such as Louis Agassiz, who loomed huge in their day -- and are unknown now, because they were colossally wrong (anti-evolution, pro-phrenology, etc.). Marc Norman's What Happens Next: A History of American Screenwriting tells the story of Hollywood from what I would call a worm's-eye view, except that such a lowly description would confirm the very prejudice toward screenwriters -- those schmucks with MacBooks -- that this book nobly aims to explode.

In the last year, I have been haunted by an ad hoc trilogy: three non-fiction books, by three different authors, each about a remarkable deception, and each partly a memoir. They are The Adversary, by Emmanuel Carrère; True Story, by Michael Finkel, and The Mystery Guest, by Grégoire Bouillier. The first two concern murders, the last a conceptual art stunt, and all (but especially, of course, the two by the French guys) are imbued with existential curiosity.

Oh, and I loved, and wish I had written, Early Bird, Rodney Rothman's sweet, funny, deep account of moving to a Florida retirement village when he was 28.
Visit Benjamin Wallace's website.

About The Billionaire’s Vinegar:
It was the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold.

In 1985, at a heated auction by Christie’s of London, a 1787 Chateau Lafite Bordeaux — unearthed in a Paris cellar and supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson — went for $156,000 to a member of the Forbes family. The discoverer of the bottle was Hardy Rodenstock, a pop-band manager turned wine collector with a knack for finding extremely old and exquisite wines. But rumors about the bottle soon arose. Why wouldn’t Rodenstock reveal the exact location where it had been found? Was it part of a smuggled Nazi hoard? Or did his reticence conceal an even darker secret? Pursuing the story from London to Zurich to Munich and beyond, Benjamin Wallace offers a mesmerizing history of wine and of Jefferson’s wine-soaked days in France. Suspenseful, witty, and thrillingly strange, this is the vintage tale of what could be the most elaborate con since the Hitler diaries.
--Marshal Zeringue