Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Kathryn Allamong Jacob

Kathryn Allamong Jacob is curator of manuscripts at the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. She is the author of Testament to Union: Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C., Capital Elites: High Society in Washington, D.C., after the Civil War, and the recently published King of the Lobby: The Life and Times of Sam Ward, Man—About—Washington in the Gilded Age.

About a week ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Several years ago, when I began working on the biography of Sam Ward, whose main years of influence placed him squarely in the Gilded Age, I read Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner’s The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today (1873) and Henry Adams’ Democracy: An American Novel (1880), which he published anonymously, leading to wild speculation as to the author’s identity. Recently, when the book was finished, I read them again. The Gilded Age is still laugh-out-loud hilarious in places; Democracy still so cynical. Both novels seem so fresh, probably because corrupt politicians, enormous egos, conniving social climbers, and venal lobbyists didn’t disappear when the Gilded Age ended. They all had their real-life, non-fiction counterparts in the late 1800s and they have them still in Washington.

I’ve also been reading some historical fiction. I’m fascinated by the genre and I admire any author who can create dialog good enough to suck me into her/his story and make me wonder whether she/he found the language in a letter or other old document or made it up. Among the novels I’ve enjoyed the most are Jill Lepore and Jane Kamensky’s ribald and randy Blindspot, Geraldine Brooks’ dark March, much of which is set near my home in Lexington, MA, and Cheng and Eng, by Darin Strauss, which stayed with me and unsettled me for days and days and sent me to the web to learn more about these twins.
Read more about King of the Lobby at the official website.

--Marshal Zeringue