Looking at the lists of bestsellers in the N.Y. Times and on Amazon.com recently I’ve been struck by how many of them tell the stories of men and women of the past. And when I look at the list of archived books on my Kindle that I’ve read over the past year or two I see the faces of the people I’ve learned to know. There’s Catherine the Great (Robert K. Massie) whose maneuvering to keep the Russian court in order seems just as modern as The Office on TV. And Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra paints the portrait of a woman caught between two military powers struggling for supremacy, just as so many world leaders are now. It’s not just women’s stories of the past that resonate with our lives today. When I read about Sergei Diaghilev in Sjeng Scheijen’s biography, his long exile from Russia reminds me of so many people who have been forced to flee their countries and build new worlds in foreign lands. Not many of them have the genius of Diaghilev to produce ballets that thrilled the world, but in smaller ways they have expanded the culture of their birth into new countries and also like him have paid a price in loneliness and pain. Diaghilev was only a few years older than Hedy Lamarr, whose hidden life is recounted in Hedy’s Folly by Richard Rhodes. She fled from Europe to America, like so many others in the mid-twentieth century, and found a beloved home in the new world without losing her roots in the old.
Margaret Fuller, one of my favorite 19th century heroines, once wrote that she longed to leave “a footprint on the earth” through her reporting and writings. That started me thinking about how many of us now discover people from the past who seem to speak to us about what the world is like. It echoes Emily Dickinson’s cry “This is my letter to the world, That never wrote to me” I’ve started this blog in the hope of having a place to share my ideas about the connections I have found with the men and women who went before us and shared their lives with us through books. I hope that you will share your thoughts on this site too.