Tag: book excerpts

Book Excerpt: A World Without Jews: The Nazi Imagination from Persecution to Genocide

Alon Confino‘s A World Without Jews: The Nazi Imagination from Persecution to Genocide centers itself around an important question: Why exactly did the Nazis burn the Hebrew Bible everywhere in Germany on November 9, 1938? The events of Kristallnacht have not been adequately accounted for by historians in their large-scale assessments of how and why the Holocaust occurred, Confino argues. He draws on an array of archives across three continents to propose a penetrating new assessment of one of the central moral problems of the twentieth century; tracing the stories the Nazis told themselves about their past and destiny, Confino proposes a penetrating new assessment of the Holocaust, showing how a world without Jews was conceivable and imaginable before and during the war. Below you can read an excerpt on the book as a primer for our further discussion of the book when we post more for Jewish American Heritage Month in May.

The imagination of a Germany without Jews links anti-Semitic actions and ideas in the prewar and war years because it describes Nazi anti-Semitism as a work in progress, built gradually over the years between 1933 and 1945. I thus challenge the mainstream view in popular and scholarly understanding of the Holocaust that the mass murder of the Jews during the war had not been anticipated, that victims and perpetrators alike scarcely believed what was happening, that it was unimaginable and unrepresentable. Primo Levi expressed this idea in one of the twentieth century’s most profound statements: “Today, at this very moment as I sit writing at the table, I myself am not convinced that these things really happened.”8 The sentiment cannot be denied. At the same time, historians know that all that happened was, in some way, somehow, imagined, not literally, not exactly, but it was put into images and words that made it possible. No historical event springs from thin air, none is unique, because this implies having no links to context, past, and present. Of course, on November 9, 1938, no one could imagine the gas chamber of Auschwitz, not even Hitler himself. But on that day one could imagine a German world in which Jews and Judaism were terminated by fire and violence. Our aim is to seek patterns of meaning and purpose in a world of fantasies that made the extermination possible precisely because it was, somehow, imaginable and representable.

The Nazis imagined the Jew by using anti-Semitic ideas from their present-day German society. This statement may seem obvious, but it has consequences for our understanding of the Holocaust. A key approach to the Holocaust has been to focus on anti-Semitism as the primary motivation of the Nazis and to view Nazi racial ideology as the modern form of the old hatred. On one level, this argument is unassailable, for any account of the Holocaust that denies or minimizes anti-Semitism is bound to be unsatisfactory. But beyond this broad agreement, my argument here is in some respect fundamentally different from some trends in the anti-Semitism approach to the Holocaust. A central tenet of many studies of this approach, explicitly or implicitly, has been that an accumulation of the ancient hatred through the centuries paved the way and ultimately produced the Holocaust. I argue the opposite. It is not that the past (of anti-Semitism) produced the present (of the extermination), not that the ancient hatred led to the Holocaust, but that the Nazis interpreted anew the past of Jewish, German, and Christian relations to fit their vision of creating a new world. The Nazis, as we shall see, told a story of national origins at the center of which were the evil Jews. But in telling this story they picked and chose from the history of Jewish, German, and Christian relations elements that fit their narrative while creating anew their own present. It is the Nazis who made sense of, and gave new meaning to, past anti-Semitism, not so much the other way around. It is always people in the present who give meaning to the past, while the past itself can never give meaning to a future not yet born.

At the same time, the Holocaust cannot be understood without consideration of the history of European colonialism. Colonial genocides of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were part of a process of accelerated violence related to nation-building at home and imperial territorial expansion abroad. The Nazi notions of race and of inferior groups who had no right to live belonged in the tradition of European colonialism, which, long before 1933, provided popular, “scientific,” and political legitimacy to British, French, Dutch, Belgian, and others to rule over and kill millions around the world. What set the stage for the Nazi genocides were the broken taboos of earlier decades: the Holocaust was thinkable because, to give but one example, of the prior German extermination of the Herero and the Namaqua between 1904 and 1907 in South-West Africa (present-day Namibia) and the realization that wiping out peoples was a possibility.

Similarly, the enmity against and extermination of the Jews was part of Nazi universe of racial enemies and exterminations. The Jewish genocide was bound up with a set of racial ideas that produced other Nazi mass killings and genocides of, among others, mentally ill patients, Ukrainians, and Russians. The Nazis were determined to build an empire, extending from the Atlantic in the West to the Pacific shores of Siberia in the East, devoted to expansion and the annihilation of entire populations. The Holocaust was only one in a series of genocides committed by the Nazis, and it can be understood only when placed within the comparative history of modern genocides.9 It belongs squarely within the genre of genocides and was not an exceptional, stand-alone historical event. (That said, it has its own particularities because not all genocides are identical, though they all share certain common denominators that group them together as genocides.)

But in themselves the European traditions of modern colonialism and racial ideas cannot account for the Holocaust, and at some point I part way with the scholarship on comparative genocides and on the Nazi empire. Some scholars question in various ways the extent to which the Holocaust was central to understanding National Socialism. In making the Nazi empire, some argue, the Holocaust was a result rather than a goal of Nazism, growing out of the specific circumstances of the war.10 Others integrate the Holocaust into a history of totalitarian genocides committed by Hitler and Stalin in eastern Europe, implying that the Holocaust was a result of the linked policies of the two dictators as they pushed each other to commit ever-worsening crimes.11

The limits of these arguments should also be made clear. If the Holocaust was a result of mass murders in eastern Europe between Hitler and Stalin, why did the Nazis choose to exterminate the Jews of Corfu, and by extension of western Europe, who had no direct relation to this conflict? If the Holocaust was essentially only part of mass murders such as the premeditated starvation of Ukrainian peasants by Stalin in the early 1930s, then why was it that the NKVD, Stalin’s secret police, did not seek to kill all Ukrainians in the Soviet Union or indeed the world, whereas the Gestapo searched for every single Jew in occupied Europe to be murdered and, beyond that, asked the king of Bulgaria and the sultan of Morocco to hand over to the Nazis “their” Jews in order to send them to Auschwitz (both rulers refused)? The genocides in eastern Europe by Stalin and Hitler were bounded by territory, space, and time and had political, social motivations in the mind of the perpetrators. Why did the Nazis target the Jews as the only group that was hunted all over the Continent, as a sort of a spaceless and timeless enemy, whereas other victims of genocide in this period, such as, for example, mentally ill or asocial groups, were not considered existential threats that demanded deportation to Auschwitz from Athens or Rome? The problem with the arguments that the Holocaust was not central to understanding National Socialism is that they view a close description of the circumstances of the Second World War—that is, of what happened—as an explanation to what people believed and imagined—that is, of why things happened. According to these views, implicitly and at times explicitly, anti-Jewish sensibilities were not of major importance in the making of the Holocaust. I wonder about that. Empire building, multiple genocides, and other wartime circumstances cannot account for Germans’ culture and motivations, much as the Nazi immigration policies to push the Jews out of Germany before November 1938 cannot account for burning the Bible.

My view is different. The Holocaust should be placed within a history of Nazi war and occupation, empire building, and comparative genocide. The Holocaust was not unique. But it was perceived during the war as unique by Germans, Jews, and other Europeans, and if we want to understand why the Holocaust happened, we ought to explain this. The comparative approach to genocide sharpens the similarities but also the differences between the Holocaust and other genocides. On the one hand, the idea of exterminating racial groups had been building in European culture and politics for a century before the Third Reich. But on the other hand, it is evident that for the Nazis the persecution and extermination of the Jews was more urgent and historically significant than other genocides they committed. Although they set out to kill all the Jews immediately during the war, they did not have a similar policy for other groups of victims. This only begs the question: Why did the Nazis view the extermination of the Jews as so urgent and fatal to their survival? Why did Germans, Jews, and Europeans perceive during the war the extermination of the Jews as unlike any other genocide perpetrated by the Nazis?


Excerpted from A World Without Jews: The Nazi Imagination from Persecution to Genocide. Copyright © 2014 by Alon Confino. All Rights Reserved.

Dispatches from Faith: Radiant Truth and America

Radiant TruthsSome stories are best told in fragments, built like mosaics from pieces brought together. The story of American religion, what belief can look like since the early years of this nation, is one of those complex histories that benefits from a multiplicity of disparate voices. In Radiant Truths: Essential Dispatches, Reports, Confessions, and Other Essays on American Belief, Jeff Sharlet compiles works of literary journalism with thoughtful introductions that take us through, if not the full of scope of American religion, a vast swath of it. From Mark Twain to James Baldwin, from wounded soldiers to Christian music festivals, these stories lend insight how belief can function in diverse lives.

Literary journalism is a slippery genre, as Sharlet explains, and as such it is able to cross boundaries fitting for an examination of religion, blending narrative and poetry. “Literary journalism’s only essential truth – the impossibility of perfect representation of reality, visible and otherwise – makes it uniquely suited for the subject of American religion,” he writes, “so often struggling to be one or the other, pious or democratic, communal or individual, rooted or transcendent.”

Below are excerpts from the diverse accounts Sharlet brings together, arranged chronologically.

Walt Whitman from Specimen Days, 1863/1882

I open’d at the close of one of the first books of the evangelists, and read the chapters describing the latter hours of Christ and the scenes at the crucifixion. The poor, wasted young man ask’d me to read the following chapter also, how Christ rose again. I read very slowly, for Oscar was feeble. It pleased him very much, yet the tears were in his eyes. He ask’d me if I enjoy’d religion. I said, “Perhaps not, my dear, in the way you mean, and yet, may-be, it is the same thing. He said, “It is my chief reliance.”  He talk’d of death, and said he did not fear it. I said, “Why, Oscar, don’t you think you will get well?” He said, “I may, but it is not probable.”

Zora Neale Hurston from Hoodoo, 1935

The terrified chickens flopped and fluttered frantically in the dim firelight. I had been told to keep up the chant of the victim’s name in rhythm and to beat the ground with a stick. This I did with fervor and Turner danced on. One by one the chickens were seized and killed by having their heads pulled off. But Turner was in such a condition with his whirling and dancing that he seemed in a hypnotic state. When the last fowl was dead, Turner drank a great draught of wine and sank before the altar. When he arose, we gathered some ashes from the fire and sprinkled the bodies of the dead chickens and I was told to get out the car. We drove out one of the main highways for a mile and threw one of the chickens away. Then another mile and another chicken until the nine dead chickens had been disposed of. The spirits of the dead chickens had been instructed never to let the trouble-maker pass inward to New Orleans again after he had passed them going out.

Mary McCarthy from Artists in Uniform, 1953

This period in his life, in which he had thrown off the claims of the spiritual and adopted a practical approach, was evidently one of those “turning points” to which a man looks back with pride. He lingered over his story of his break with the church and his parents with a curious sort of heat, as though the flames of his old sexual conquests stirred within his body at the memory of those old quarrels.

Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, from Arguing with the Pope, 1994

The Church has always been at war with the world, which it simultaneously loves; it is in this coincidence of opposites that the spiritual wealth of the Church lies. I went to Denver to see – I needed to see, in the flesh – the demanding old Pope, a man wedded to the past, a man who calls the earth a “vast planet of tombs,” and the buoyant young people in whom the future lives so vividly. Stasis and energy, the old and the young: perhaps another coincidence of opposites, two halves of the equation meeting and (like the lion and the lamb) providentially joining. One is something immensely grateful to the Church for espousing eternal values and sometimes inclined to regard it as fossilized. One’s equilibrium, such as it is, rests shakily on the apparent dichotomy between spirit and flesh… the instructive flesh.

Poilu: The World War I Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker

A “Must-Read” pick for the New York Post and a Daily Beast “Hot Reads” title!


As discussed in our March”WAR!” theme, it remains of the utmost importance to consider the individual experiences of soldiers. Those on the front lines provide a personal narrative – one that is often separate from political aims and general strategies.

Poilu: The World War I Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker, 1914-1918Poilu: The World War I Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker, 1914-1918 is Edward M. Strauss‘s excellent translation of one soldier’s wartime writings to English-language readers for the first time. Louis Barthas is a thirty-five-year-old French barrelmaker enlisted to fight the Germans from the very start of World War I. His journals of the next four years present a vivid account of life and war.

Below are some excerpts from Barthas’s writings, journal entries detailing the perceptions of the war, the discouragement of soldiers, and the treatment of  the poilu – or “hairy one,” as French infantry men were often called. But perhaps most interesting are Barthas’s reflections at the end of World War I  once he is returned home and given time to process his experiences.


Garrison Duty: August 2–November 1, 1914

General mobilization. Departure for Narbonne.

August 2, 1914. A broiling hot August afternoon. The streets of the village all but deserted. Suddenly, a drumroll. Probably a traveling merchant setting up shop on the main square, or maybe some acrobats announcing their evening performance.

But no, it’s not that. When the drum falls silent, we hear the voice of the town clerk, the commissaire as we call this unique embodiment of local authority. So we lend our ears, expecting to hear the reading of a new decree about rabies or keeping the streets clean.

Alas! This fellow proceeded to announce the most frightful cataclysm to afflict humanity since the Flood. He announced the greatest of all scourges, the source of all evils. He announced the general mobilization, prelude to the war— the accursed, infamous war, which forever dishonored our century and blighted the civilization of which we were so proud.

This announcement, to my great amazement, aroused more enthusiasm than sorrow. Unthinking people seemed proud to live in a time when something so magnificent was about to happen. Even the most indifferent didn’t doubt for an instant that victory would be prompt and decisive.


The Somme Offensive: In the Blood-Soaked Mud:

August 29–November 1, 1916

And our bosses weren’t mistaken. They knew quite well that it wasn’t the flame of patriotism which inspired this spirit of sacrifice. It was simply a sense of bravado, to not seem more cowardly than one’s neighbor. Then there was the presumptuous faith in one’s own star; for others it was the secret and futile ambition for a medal, or a sleeve stripe. Finally, for the great mass, it was the uselessness of protesting against an implacable fate.


1918. Convalescence. Paris. Guingamp. Garrison life.

At Valence we disembarked quietly. But just like at Lyon, as soon as the train started up again we made a dash for the gates. This time most of us were held back by the station crews repulsing the assailants.

I managed to fly through a gate which wasn’t guarded and plunked myself down quietly at the end of a railway-car corridor.

I was duly warned that I would be put off at Avignon and handed over to the station police there, which left me utterly cold. I offered to pay my way; they refused. Even paying poilus weren’t welcome on this train. It just would not do to have crude, dusty, muddy creatures like us offending the fine messieurs and their belles dames lounging on the soft banquette cushions.

You should have seen the disdain with which they looked at me, crouched in my corner. Several times the conductors swore at me, threatened me.


1918. Armistice! Liberation!

I was free, after fifty-four months of slavery! I was finally escaping from the claws of militarism, to which I swore such a ferocious hatred.

I have sought to inculcate this hatred in my children, my friends, my neighbors. I will tell them that the fatherland, glory, military honor, laurels—all are only vain words, destined to mask what is frighteningly horrible, ugly, and cruel about war.

To keep up morale during this war, to justify it, they lied cynically, saying that we were fighting just for the triumph of Right and Justice, that they were not guided by ambition, no colonial covetousness or financial or commercial interests.

They lied when they said that we had to push right to the end, so that this would be the last of all wars.

They lied when they said that we, the poilus, wanted to continue the war in order to avenge the dead, so that our sacrifices would not be useless.

The End of the Nightmare:

August 11, 1918–February 14, 1919

Returned to the bosom of my family after the nightmare years, I taste the joy of life, or rather of new life. I feel tender happiness about things which, before, I didn’t pay attention to: sitting at home, at my table, lying in my bed, putting off sleep so I can hear the wind hitting the shutters, rustling the nearby plane trees, hearing the rain strike the windows, looking at a starry, serene, silent night or, on a dark, moonless night, thinking about similar nights spent up there . . .

Often I think about my many comrades fallen by my side. I heard their curses against the war and its authors, the revolt of their whole beings against their tragic fate, against their murder. And I, as a survivor, believe that I am inspired by their will to struggle without cease-fire nor mercy, to my last breath, for the idea of peace and human fraternity.

Book Excerpt: The Citizen’s Share

To counter [a] concentration of wealth, and live up to the ideals of the country’s founders, Messrs Blasi, Freeman and Kruse argue that America needs another dose of Washington’s medicine: more incentives for employees to build ownership stakes in the firms they work for.—citizens_share The Economist


In today’s ever-changing economy, owning shares in one’s employer may be the best bet for the success of both the individual and the company. The Citizen’s Share: Putting Ownership Back into Democracy, by Joseph Blasi, Richard Freeman, and Douglas Kruse, uses both history and research to support this creative business practice.

The idea of workers owning the businesses where they work is not new.  In America’s early years, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison believed that the best economic plan for the Republic was for citizens to have some ownership stake in the land, which was the main form of productive capital. This book traces the development of that share idea in American history and brings its message to today’s economy, where business capital has replaced land as the source of wealth creation. This important and insightful work makes the case that the Founders’ original vision of sharing ownership and profits offers a viable path toward restoring the middle class.  Blasi, Freeman, and Kruse’s book offers history-, economics-, and evidence-based policy ideas at their best.

Read Chapter One of The Citizen’s Share!

Read an article by Richard Freeman and Joseph Blasi on The Business Desk blog on PBS Newshour!

Read Christopher Matthews’ review, “Can Employee-Owned Companies Reboot the Economy?“, on TIME.com

Monday Inspiration: Leonard Bernstein Memorializes JFK and We Memorialize LB with a Spotify Playlist

The Leonard Bernstein Letters50 years ago today, Leonard Bernstein gave a speech at the “Night of Stars” memorial to President Kennedy at Madison Square Garden. In mourning the loss of this beloved President, Bernstein honored Kennedy’s support of the arts and called upon his fellow artists to strive for new artistic heights in response to the violence.

We hope to inspire you to greatness this Monday with a Spotify playlist of his compositions. Nigel Simeone, editor of the newly published  The Leonard Bernstein Letters, has put together a thoughtful selection of Bernstein numbers to accompany the narrative that emerges from his letters. The playlist features numbers from West Side Story, Fancy FreeSymphony No. 4 in E Minor, Piano Concerto in G Major and Der Rosenkavalier, among others.

As a sneak preview, here are some excerpts from the book to accompany a few of the songs on the playlist, and the text of Bernstein’s memorial speech for President Kennedy:


Listen to The Leonard Bernstein Letters playlist

Fancy Free Ballet: V. Competition Scene

Leonard Bernstein to Jerome Robbins [28 February 1944]
“Slow, slow, but sure. Number 5 is done and being shipped. It’s true enough connective tissue, a la movies, and ought to come off. It’s more or less all development of the competition motive, with some of the music of Girl #1 to use (during the rotation) for the conspiring of the two girls.

The pauses at the beginning indicate nabbing the exciting pas-de-deux couple, and indecision about the situation. (Rotation.) Then the competition comes in earnest, developing, through a scherzo-like section to a “dancy” section, by which time I imagine them on the dance floor! In the last measure a snare drum rolls, fortissimo, continuing beyond the music as a lead-in to the first variation (a la circus). I think it works.”

Symphony No. 3 (Copland)

Leonard Bernstein to Aaron Copland [27 May 1944]

“First I must say it’s a wonderful work. Coming to know it so much better I find in it new lights and shades – and new faults. Sweetie, the end is a sin. You’ve got to change. Stop the presses! We must talk – about the whole last movement, in fact.

The reactions were mixed. Too long, said some. Too eclectic, said Shostakovich (he should talk!). It lacks a real Adagio, said Kubelik. Not up my street, said Wee Willie Walton. And everyone found Chaikovsky’s Fifth in it, which only proves their inanity. I haven’t seen the press yet, but I think it will be good. It just wasn’t a wow, that’s all; it was solid, it was serious.”

West Side Story

Leonard Bernstein to Felicia Bernstein [23 August 1957]

“It’s all too exciting. I never dreamed it could be like this – reviews such as one would write for oneself – the whole town up and doing about the show – the delicious long lines at the box office – morale high – dignitaries every night – the Senate practically in toto – parties – hot newspapers – all the atmosphere of a mid-season opening – gala-emeralds, furs – the works. [...] Of course, as they say, it’s only Washington, not New York – don’t count chickens. But it sure looks like a smash, & all our experiments seem to have worked. The book works, the tragedy works, the ballets shine, the music pulses & soars, & there is at least one history-making set. It’s all too good to be true.”

490. Leonard Bernstein: Talk given at the “Night of Stars” Memorial to President Kennedy at Madison Square Garden
New York, NY

25 November 1963

My dear friends,

Last night the New York Philharmonic and I performed Mahler’s Second Symphony – the Resurrection – in tribute to the memory of our beloved late President. There were those who asked: Why the Resurrection Symphony, with its visionary concept of hope and triumph over worldly pain, instead of a Requiem, or the customary Funeral March from the Eroica? Why, indeed. We played the Mahler Symphony not only in terms of resurrection for the soul of one we love, but also for the resurrection of hope in all of us who mourn him. In spite of our shock, our shame, and our despair at the diminution of man that followed from this death, we must somehow gather strength for the increase of man, strength to go on striving for those goals he cherished. In mourning him, we must be worthy of him.

I know of no musician in this country who did not love John F. Kennedy. American artists have for three years looked to the White House with
unaccustomed confidence and warmth. We loved him for the honor in which he held art, in which he held every creative impulse of the human mind, whether it was expressed in words, or notes, or paints, or mathematical symbols. This reverence for the life of the mind was apparent even in his last speech, which he was to have made a few hours after his death. He was to have said: “America’s leadership must be guided by learning and reason.” Learning and reason: precisely the two elements that were necessarily missing from the mind of anyone who could have fired that impossible bullet. Learning and reason: the two basic precepts of all Judaistic tradition, the twin sources from which every Jewish mind from Abraham and Moses to Freud and Einstein has drawn its living power. Learning and reason: the motto we here tonight must continue to uphold with redoubled tenacity, and must continue, at any price, to make the basis of all our actions.

It is obvious that the grievous nature of our loss is immensely aggravated by the element of violence involved in it. And where does this violence spring from? From ignorance and hatred, the exact antonyms of learning and reason: those two words of John Kennedy’s were not uttered in time to save his own life; but every man can pick them up where they fell, and make them part of himself, the seed of that rational intelligence without which our world can no longer survive. This must become the mission of every artist, of every Jew, and of every man of good will: to insist, unflaggingly, at the risk of becoming a repetitive bore, but to insist on the achievement of a world in which the mind will have triumphed over violence.

We musicians, like everyone else, are numb with sorrow at this murder, and with rage at the senselessness of the crime. But this sorrow and rage will not inflame us to seek retribution; rather it will inflame our art. Our music will never again be quite the same. This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly, than ever before. And with each note we will honor the spirit of John Kennedy, commemorate his courage, and reaffirm his faith in the Triumph of the Mind.

Sneak Preview: Comics Art, by Paul Gravett

In February of 2014, Yale University Press will release an exciting new book on the history of comics: Comics Art, by Paul Gravett, the man the Times of London called, “the greatest historian of the comics and graphic novel form in this country.”  The book will explore the varied styles of the genre, old and new media, historical contexts, contemporary perspectives and innovations, speech balloons, and “silent” narration, to name just a small selection of topics covered in this fascinating, accessible, and richly illustrated book.

We’re pleased to share with you today a sneak preview, an excerpt from the book in which Paul Gravett begins his discussion of the early days of syndication.


Paul Gravett—

Comics ArtThe art and business of comics were forever changed by syndication. Hearst’s King Features, founded in 1915, began servicing not only papers in cities across America but around the world. Real money started pouring in for both publishers and cartoonists. The increased demand for a constant supply of strips in Sunday and daily newspapers, and fresh material for their offshoots and rivals, comic books, meant that publishers could not always rely on a single creator. Some cartoonists would employ assistants to take on parts of the workload, filling in areas of black, inking pencil drawings, drawing background, handling lettering. The solitary artistic genius in charge of every aspect was giving way to a more pragmatic, step-by-step assembly line. The sweatshop system was not so different from the tailoring and garment industry—ironically, the very trade which two tailors’ sons Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, a successful young comic book team, were so keen to avoid.

One result of accelerated production was the invention of the previously unknown job of comics scriptwriter. In 1934, King Features secured the bestselling crime writer Dashiell Hammett to devise a new daily serial, ‘Secret agent X-9’, though he seems to have struggled with the medium and left for the more profitable film industry. The gradual increased reliance on writers paved the way for illustrators happy to realize other people’s tales, often adept in polished draughtsmanship, but lacking confidence in stories of their own. Creators of comics no longer had to be jacks of all trades, but could master just one—a penciller, an inker completing those pencils for reproduction, a colourist, a letterer. Successful cartoonists could divide their labour among uncredited ‘ghost artists’. Don Sherwood reportedly managed to keep all his assistants separate and unknown to each other so they would co-produce his ‘Dan Flagg’ strip (1963-7) for him, while he claimed the sole byline, full credit and most of the money for himself.

It was still possible to craft a comic entirely alone, but the expanding industry tended to prioritise printing and distribution deadlines over anything else. Words, as in scripts, became the starting point of many comics, with in-house editors tweaking the texts before supplying them to artists. Entertaining Comics (EC) would insert all the words, often quite florid, into captions and dialogue balloons, leaving the remainder of the panel blank for the illustrator to fill in. This makes some economic sense—why pay artists to draw what will end up being obscured by lettering? Great writers would emerge who understood the visual power of comics, but it was not uncommon in writer-led comics for artists to be unable to adjust the pacing and panels, owing to limited, pre-set page counts and panel layouts for stories. The words did so much of the work that the pictures served more as decorative props and prompts. When presented with Al Feldstein’s script for ‘Master Race’, the tale of a German concentration camp officer being recognised by a Holocaust survivor on the New York subway, Bernard Krigstein had to beg to be given two extra pages, eight rather than six, to expand it and let it ‘sing’. In this rare case, he was allowed to fragment the Nazi’s climactic death from an accidental fall under a subway train into wordless, moment-by-moment slivers, echoed in the refracted passengers in the eleventh panel. The impact is jarringly powerful. For comics to become a more flexible and expressive medium, the pictures also had to be permitted to tell the story.

To cope with deadline driven pressures, the Marvel method, already in practice before the 1960s, came to avoid detailed scripts and therefore empowered the artists to some extent by letting them pace and illustrate the comic from an outline or plot idea. As a result, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others were given increasing rein to produce more than accompanying illustrations and could channel their innate narrative skills. But at Marvel, artists had no final say. That went to chief writer and self-appointed editor, answerable to nobody else, Stan Lee. A rare surviving photocopy of Kirby’s ‘pencils’ shows that by 1968 he was not working from a full script but only the thinnest of plotlines, and yet was transforming this into complete narrative images with his dialogue and directions in the margins. The main creative tasks of writing were done, which Lee has only to follow, more or less. Lee would leave barely any space uncovered by speech and thought bubbles. In an early X-Men, his verbosity so inflated a balloon that the villain Magneto is all but obscured by his own hyperbole. When Kirby choreographed a nine-panel page of a balletic combat between Captain America and Batroc, so dynamic it had no need for words, Lee could not resist adding a jaunty footnote extolling Kirby’s genius. Compared to typically lengthier Japanese comics which freely used wordless panels and sequences since the 1950s, for years the rule in the majority of American comic books and Western output was ‘in the beginning was the word’, and not the picture.

Fortunately, this would change as more writers with their own artistic gifts would write more visually for American comic books, from Archie Goodwin, Alan Moore and Grant Morrison to Brian Michael Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Bill Willingham and Brian Moore, all of whom have written and illustrated their own comics. Knowing how to draw, they can write for an artist, trusting them to tell the story visually as required. Equally vital has been artists gaining the confidence to write their own material. A prime example is the late French master of bande dessinée, Jean Giraud, illustrator only on the ‘Lieutenant Blueberry’ western series written by Jean-Michel Charlier. Giraud adopted his Moebius pen-name originally to author some humorous solo short pieces. He later use this secret identity, his other side of the strip, to work on four silent, fully painted short reveries in Arzach, unlike anything seen in comics before, and on his improvised Airtight Garage. He would grow into a visionary universe-builder. Other self-aware, self-analysing practitioners have become theorists, scrutinizing the deceptively ‘simple’ medium of comics. This process began with a founding father of the form, Rodolphe Töpffer, who published his Essai de Physiognomonie in Geneva in 1845, and has been continued by Will Eisner, starting in his Comics and Sequential Art (1985), and currently by Scott McCloud, Benoît Peeters, Jean-Christophe Menu and Chris Ware, among others.


© Paul Gravett 2013. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Ghostwriting on Behalf of the ‘Greatest Victorian’s’ Ghost

NPG D7461; Walter Bagehot by Norman Hirst, after  Unknown artist

Walter Bagehot (1826-1877)

The Memoirs of Walter Bagehot is an unusual inclusion in our September theme, “Memoir and Memory,” as the recorded memories, although told in the first person, were fabricated on behalf of Bagehot by historian Frank ProchaskaWalter Bagehot (1826-1877), called the “Greatest Victorian”, left no memoir of his life as a prominent Victorian lawyer, businessman, essayist and journalist. For 17 years he was editor of The Economist, and to this day the magazine includes a weekly “Bagehot” column. His life of true brilliance is now documented for posterity.

Historian and author Frank Prochaska, a long-time fan of Bagehot, has taken up the challenge of writing the faux autobiography on Bagehot’s behalf.  In this extract from the Foreword to The Memoirs of Walter Bagehot, Prochaska explains the motivation behind the book and introduces his understanding of ‘the Victorian with whom you would most want to have dinner’.

G. M. Young, the great historian of Victorian England, once turned over in his mind candidates for the title of the ‘Greatest Victorian’. He was not looking for the supreme genius working in Britain between 1827 and 1901; if so, Darwin and George Eliot would have been among those with strong claims to the distinction. Instead, Young was looking for someone with a roomy and energetic mind, who could have been of no other time: ‘a man with sympathy to share, and genius to judge, its sentiments and movements: a man not too illustrious or too consummate to be companionable, but one, nevertheless, whose ideas took root and are still bearing; whose influence, passing from one fit mind to another, could transmit, and can still impart, the most previous element in Victorian civilization, its robust and masculine sanity’. He awarded the title to Walter Bagehot.

I first discovered Bagehot reading his Historical Essays as a student. Over the years, his works have played an increasing part in my own writings, particularly those on political thought and the British monarchy. In my last book, Eminent Victorians on American Democracy, I devoted a chapter to his criticism of the United States Constitution. As the manuscript was in production, I returned to some of his essays in The Economist and the Saturday Review, in which he dissected politics in a playful manner that made Victorian England seems timeless yet familiar. Sadly, he did not leave a memoir. Given my long-standing interest in his life and times I decided to compose one on his behalf. I chose to write the book in the first person because I thought Bagehot could speak more vividly of his life and mind than I could as an intermediary in a conventional biography.

Bagehot, to use his phrase, was a ‘self-delineating’ writer, someone who left a vibrant image of himself in his essays, books and letters. Much of the text that follows is in his own words, drawn from disparate sources, edited and expanded to create a life in narrative. Bagehot was a man of letters in the broadest sense, with an absorbent mind of remarkable versatility. Whatever he wrote – and he wrote brilliantly – he expressed in a lively conversational style. Talking to him, said his friend William Roscoe, ‘was like riding a horse with a perfect mouth’. His animated prose gives much the same pleasure, whether he was writing for leisured readers of the quarterlies or busy City men in The Economist. He delighted in aphorisms and despised what he saw as the most unpardonable of faults – dullness. If these memoirs are ever dull, the fault will not be Bagehot’s but my own.

Unlike a conventional ghost writer, I have not been able to consult the subject in person. But I have sought to be sensitive to the way in which Bagehot would have portrayed himself had he left a memoir. On the surface, he was a man of buoyant cheerfulness, which disguised an underlying melancholic reserve. Well connected but with few intimate friends, he did not seek the limelight or push himself on others. On grounds of confidentiality, he would have understated his influence on government economic policy, which was not insignificant. He would also have been guarded about his personal and family life, as would have been usual in a mid-Victorian gentleman.  In any case, there is nothing to suggest that he was anything but a dutiful son and a faithful husband. His mother, who suffered from mental illness, was the central character in his life, and he would have treated her with delicacy in a memoir. It seems unlikely that he would have discussed her descent into uncontrollable behaviour, which led to her incarceration in an asylum for several weeks in 1866.

Inevitably, a book of this nature is an historical reconstruction. Examples of the genre are rare, but splendidly achieved in Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian. As Yourcenar reminds us, the reconstruction of an historical figure written in the first person borders on fiction, but is greatly enriched by close adherence to the facts. Unlike Hadrian, Bagehot left a large body of material to draw on. His Collected Works, edited by Norman St John-Stevas, runs to fifteen volumes. In addition, there are the diaries of his wife Eliza, and various biographies, reviews and scholarly studies.


Of course, this is not the autobiography that Bagehot would have written had he left an autobiography; but it is, I believe, free of anachronism and true to his life and times. I have sought to be an amanuensis rather than a ventriloquist and throughout have tried to sustain his tone of voice and the flavour of his writing. I can only hope that Bagehot’s shade would forgive the book’s liberties, and any errors of fact or lapses in judgement. It will have served its purpose if it encourages readers to return to the original writings of this eminent Victorian. If he is not the ‘Greatest Victorian’, he is the Victorian with whom you would most want to have dinner.

Copyright © 2013 by Frank Prochaska. All rights reserved.

Mutiny Profiles: Henry Hudson

Hudson shows today’s leaders that an obsessive leader is a real danger to entrepreneurial ventures and members eventually have a responsibility to depose the authority of such a leader.

Patrick J. Murphy and Ray W. Coye’s   Mutiny and Its  Bounty: Leadership Lessons from the Age of Discovery explores how great seafaring captains like Columbus and Magellan not only quelled mutinies but also built upon such incidents to strengthen their enterprises. Today’s organizational leaders have much to learn about leadership and tactics from these earlier masters. Learn more and read a short excerpt from the book below.

A few leadership qualities of the unusual Henry Hudson:

  • Poor communicator and navigator skill but obsessed with achieving success.
  • Mutiny saved his enterprise but he did not survive it after being deposed.
  • Poor strategist but master tactician.
  • Likable person but not a task-competent leader.

Patrick J. Murphy and Ray W. Coye—

Mutiny and Its Bounty: Leadership Lessons from the Age of DiscoveryToward the end of the Age of Discovery a shift in the dominant perception of mutiny took place. The famous mutiny during Henry Hudson’s 1610-1611 enterprise is a case in point. Unlike Columbus, who quelled mutiny by inspiring hope, Magellan, who suppressed it by exercising authority and brutality, and Sebastian Cabot, who brilliantly gauged mutineers’ intentions ahead of time, Hudson was a masterful tactician but an ambivalent strategist. Mutiny evolved aboard his ship as a natural human force, and he was deposed.

Although Hudson was not the greatest navigator, he was a distinctive, influential leader for whom the Hudson Bay and the Hudson River are named. His life’s goal was to find a northwest passage for ships sailing from Europe to the Spice Islands, India, and other points in the East. Mutiny saved his enterprise in at least one instance, but it was also his final undoing.

At the outset, mutiny is always a delicate and strategic affair. The best-executed mutinies helped a venture even while allowing mutineers to avoid punishment. By this point, in 1608, mutinies were judged with extreme prejudice. Mutineers like Juet could now easily be sentenced to death if convicted. But even an increased threat of punishment was not an adequate deterrent. In fact, this new view probably forced mutiners to be more ingenious and cunning. Juet’s mutiny strategy benefited from the same elements that make leadership effective. It was, much like the leadership strategy Columbus used to quell mutiny on his 1492 voyage, simple and brilliant.

As Hudson fumbled around in the Barents Sea, many incidents offered an opportunity to put the mutiny plans into action. Juet eventually reacted to one of htose incidents, a disagreement over the heading. He told Hudson, on behalf of everyone, to head back to England or else they would remove him as captain. But he cast the demand in more agreeable and subtle terms. Juet and the mutineers asked Hudson to draft an official certificate in his own hand, sign it, and circulate it. Hudson would, in his own words, write that he was stopping the venture under no compulsion from anyone. They would follow Hudson, to be sure, but only if he agreed to lead in the direction they wanted to go. With such a document in the members’ hands, Hudson would find it almost impossible to take recourse against them. If he were to redact the decree or deny its veracity, trust in his ability to lead an enterprise would be destroyed in England.

Hudson’s authority was thus completely subverted in a well-designed mutiny. The ship returned to England safely, and nobody was punished.


Excerpted from Mutiny and Its Bounty: Leadership Lessons from the Age of Discovery. Copyright © 2013 by Patrick J. Murphy and Ray W. Coye. All rights reserved.


Akiko Busch on Citizen Science: An Excerpt from The Incidental Steward

Akiko Busch’s new book, The Incidental Steward: Reflections on Citizen Science, plots the course of one individual and her interactions with the natural world. While most of her work is related to saving the Hudson River, this book works to understand all forms of citizen science, from community clean up activism to commuter-driven crowd-sourced data organization. The prose is beautiful and reflective, focusing on the sense of fulfillment that everyday people can achieve by working for and engaging with the world around them.

The following excerpt serves as an introduction to Busch‘s text of connection to place and others:


Akiko Busch—

The Incidental Steward: Reflections on Citizen ScienceA final quality shared by many naturalists today may be their more collaborative approach. For their predecessors, the consideration of nature was often a solitary endeavor; they made their observations and documented their discoveries on solo sojourns that were often an effort to escape the frantic pace of society—Henry Thoreau’s cabin by the pond, John Muir’s walk to the gulf, Aldo Leopold’s shack by the river. Now, just as often, naturalism tends to be a collective enterprise, a community of like-minded citizens. When the snowy owls migrated from the Arctic to the lower forty- eight states in the winter of 2012 in unexpectedly high numbers, their sightings were reported on eBird, a site run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, enabling the vigilant birders to share information and generate broader public interest and knowledge. In the words of Edward O. Wilson, “The stewardship of environment is a domain on the far side of metaphysics where all reflective persons can surely find common ground.”

Participants engaged in all of these endeavors may just want to get outdoors. Or they may be motivated by a general interest in conservation. Perhaps they are monitoring conditions in their community that may have public health consequences. They may even be looking for a more serious engagement with specific issues and their potential impact on education, research, and policy. But while spending time in the natural world often brings a sense of restoration, that restoration becomes much larger if the result has some societal value. And if it furthers the partnership between scientific research and land use. Surveying vernal pools may be a regenerative way of witnessing spring, but the experience grows in meaning when its results have a tangible effect on how local planners consider the value of open space. Taking inventory of the water celery beds in the Hudson is a good excuse to spend the morning kayaking on the river, but when the data reflect measurable facts about water quality, the connection to the river goes a little deeper. Every year, my friend Doug Reed participates in “A Day in the Life of the Hudson River,” during which environmental educators team up with schoolkids to collect sediment samples, test water quality, identify fish, measure salinity levels, and otherwise learn to gather and share data about the estuary. Participation doubles, triples each year, he says. “They keep coming back. They’re hooked. That’s what happens after a student takes the first step into the river with a net.” …

When stakeholders are connected to ecology, the bond can run deep. Whether it is stepping into the river with a net, pulling up a length of invasive vine, or some other effort in experiential activism, it’s not much of a stretch to suggest that rediscovering a sense of order in the natural world is a way to find our bearings. Possibly it is a way to tap into what ecopsychologists call the “ecological unconscious.” Finding the water celery is a way of picking up the loose thread, locating a vernal pool a means of answering to some dry spell. Anytime one looks to the natural world, a larger lesson plan appears…

My own outings here may have started as part of some effort to calculate the distance between the Hudson Valley I knew as a child and the one I live in today. Maybe tallying the eels entering a Hudson River tributary or looking for the herring that come up the river to spawn in May or counting the eagles for the midwinter census count could supply some of those numbers that help to gauge that distance.

And since then I’ve wondered, too, if these excursions were some effort to continue that walk in the woods with my father so many years ago. From time to time over the years, I have revisited those woods. More than once I have cyberstalked them, finding that Google Earth is capable of returning me to those trees and meadows. From my desk, with my cursor, miles and years away, I sometimes do my best to follow those familiar paths. But it is not easy to do, the trails overgrown with weeds, the thickets too tangled, the apple trees gone. And the screen on my laptop does not have the resolution to tell me whether the woods of maple, beech, and birch are giving way to oak and hickory, as has been predicted. Nor is it clear whether the populations of chickadees and purple finches are on the decline while those of the indigo bunting and cardinal are increasing.

But sometimes my trip is accompanied by a different sound- track. Thewildernessdowntown.com is an interactive film created by director Chris Milk that invites visitors to visit their childhood homes. After they have typed in the address, Google Maps, Street View, and music by the group Arcade Fire collaborate to take the visitor there as the lyrics sing out, “When the lights cut out, I was left standing in the wilderness downtown.” A film captures a young man running down a street, his footsteps pounding, a constellation of birds exploding in the sky. The camera pans the bygone streets and neighborhood, then pulls back, and the landscape spins.

“Write a postcard of advice to the younger you that lived there then,” the website suggests.

I remember the hundred thousand or so observations that Daniel Smiley wrote over a lifetime on index cards and the thousands of notations that have been made over the decades in the Hudson River Almanac. And I wonder at this innate and persistent desire to keep ourselves connected to the places we love, whether it is on an interactive music video, in a digital almanac, or on three- by-five-inch green note cards. All of them recognize some essential protocol about documenting and keeping. All are good blueprints for the postcard I imagine I might write. “I miss you, I miss who all of us were, I miss our lives there together,” I might say. I might find myself more anxious than that. Perhaps I would say, “It is all so long ago. But where are the apple trees? ” Yet that wouldn’t begin to say it all either.

So the chapters that follow came to work as a letter to the place I once lived, more epistolary than the meticulous field notebooks kept by the scientists I encountered, citizen or otherwise. And the excursions here came to be some series of outings parallel to that walk in the woods I took with my father forty years ago. But be- cause “trespass” has come to have a broader meaning now than it did then, I have tried to arrange the words on these pages as some revised version of those small fabric signs, some equivalent way to mark out, to know, to claim the place where I live now.


Excerpted from The Incidental Steward: Reflections on Citizen Science. Copyright © 2013 by Akiko Busch. All rights reserved.

Mutiny Profiles: Sebastian Cabot

Sebastian Cabot shows today’s leaders a caveat regarding how it is possible for one with limited ability to mislead and manage impressions and still achieve success.

Patrick J. Murphy and Ray W. Coye’s  Mutiny and Its  Bounty: Leadership Lessons from the Age of Discovery explores how great seafaring captains like Columbus and Magellan not only quelled mutinies but also built upon such incidents to strengthen their enterprises. Today’s organizational leaders have much to learn about leadership and tactics from these earlier masters. Learn more and read a short excerpt from the book below.

A few leadership qualities of the mysterious Sebastian Cabot:

  • Guileful. Able to influence others interpersonally but not when dealing with groups.
  • Incredible ability to mislead of those in power in order to achieve his aspirations.
  • Complex leadership style, often generated positive and negative outcomes simultaneously.
  • Despite low seafaring expertise, huge effect on English seafaring just prior to England’s golden age.

Patrick J. Murphy and Ray W. Coye—

Mutiny and Its Bounty: Leadership Lessons from the Age of Discovery

English seafaring might have developed differently without the mercurial Cabots. The elder, John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto), had much in common with Christopher Columbus (Christoforo Colombo) and was similarly inspired by Marco Polo. Cabot’s birthplace is unclear, but he became a Venetian citizen (Zuan Chabotto) in the mid-1470s. From Venice, he visited Mecca disguised as a Muslim to research spice caravans. By the late 1480s, debt-laden from failed construction projects, Cabot fled to Spain. There he claimed exeprtise in construction on water (learned in Venice). In the early 1490s, he proposed harbor redesigns in Valencia nad a stone bridge across the Guadalquivir River in Seville to repalce a 700-year -old floating one. In 1494, the bridge project’s funding was withdrawn. Cabot then went to England, where he sensed quickly that the English wanted from him what Columbus had done for Spain.

It is not exactly clear when or where Sebastian Cabot was born (circa 1475, probably in Venice) or when he died. What is clear is that he was a strategic, passionate explorer with a worldly, entrepreneurial spirit. His character reflected the intensity of Magellan and the cleverness of Columbus. He often acted with multiple intentions that seemed conflicting but would prove congruent. His actions could be mysterious, and he had an uncanny and unerring capacity for achieving simultaneously positive and negative results. Cabot was a master at turning utter failures into successes. He was also a rebel. For example, Cabot turned south during his 1508 trip to the northwest Atlantic and traced the North American coast almost all the way to Florida–a sidetrip beyond the scope of his contract. He did not stop until mutiny compelled him to head back to England.

When Cabot returned to England from his Florida excursion, it was early 1509, and a new king, Henry VIII, was on the throne. Cabot’s venture had generated nothing other than a rough survey of the American coastline that offered no new information. He lost some credibility as a navigator, but his carefully engineered reputation for world-class cartography skills won him a royal commission to make maps and charts. This career move took him away from his more entrepreneurial aspirations as a navigator. A map he made in May 1512 guided the English army to Spain as part of a campaign against Aquitaine in southern France. Cabot joined that expedition secretly hoping to find Spanish employment as a seafarer in a culture that valued discovery and exploration more strongly.

When the English army mutinied and the whole expedition dissolved, Cabot snatched his opportunity. A few months later, he secured a meeting with the secretary of the Spanish princess Juana Loca (Joanna the Mad) at Burgos, which was instrumental in gaining an audience with her father, Ferdinand II of Aragon. Many people in Spain had heard of Cabot’s father, and he freely used his father’s name when it helped his cause. Moreover, Ferdinand’s other daughter, Catherine of Aragon, had recently become Henry VIII’s first queen. Henry eventually banished her and married Anne Boleyn, but at this early point Ferdinand welcomed this “Englishman” who had served his admirable English son-in-law. Cabot’s clever presentation of ability and knowledge was met with favor.


Excerpted from Mutiny and Its Bounty: Leadership Lessons from the Age of Discovery. Copyright © 2013 by Patrick J. Murphy and Ray W. Coye. All rights reserved.