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Banvard's Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn't Change the World

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Banvard's Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn't Change the World Cover

ISBN13: 9780312300333
ISBN10: 0312300336
Condition: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

The historical record crowns success. Those enshrined in its annals are men and women whose ideas, accomplishments, or personalities have dominated, endured, and most important of all, found champions. John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage, Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists, and Samuel Johnson's Lives of the Poets are classic celebrations of the greatest, the brightest, the eternally constellated.

Paul Collins' Banvard's Folly is a different kind of book. Here are thirteen unforgettable portraits of forgotten people: men and women who might have claimed their share of renown but who, whether from ill timing, skullduggery, monomania, the tinge of madness, or plain bad luck-or perhaps some combination of them all-leapt straight from life into thankless obscurity. Among their number are scientists, artists, writers, entrepreneurs, and adventurers, from across the centuries and around the world. They hold in common the silenced aftermath of failure, the name that rings no bells.

Collins brings them back to glorious life. John Banvard was an artist whose colossal panoramic canvasses (one behemoth depiction of the entire eastern shore of the Mississippi River was simply known as "The Three Mile Painting") made him the richest and most famous artist of his day. . . before he decided to go head to head with P. T. Barnum. René Blondot was a distinguished French physicist whose celebrated discovery of a new form of radiation, called the N-Ray, went terribly awry. At the tender age of seventeen, William Henry Ireland signed "William Shakespeare" to a book and launched a short but meteoric career as a forger of undiscovered works by the Bard — until he pushed his luck too far. John Symmes, a hero of the War of 1812, nearly succeeded in convincing Congress to fund an expedition to the North Pole, where he intended to prove his theory that the earth was hollow and ripe for exploitation; his quixotic quest counted Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe among its greatest admirers.

Collins' love for what he calls the "forgotten ephemera of genius" give his portraits of these figures and the other nine men and women in Banvard's Folly sympathetic depth and poignant relevance. Their effect is not to make us sneer or revel in schadenfreude; here are no cautionary tales. Rather, here are brief introductions-acts of excavation and reclamation-to people whom history may have forgotten, but whom now we cannot.

Paul Collins writes for McSweeneys Quarterly, and his work has also appeared in Lingua Franca and eCompany Now. While writing Banvard's Folly he lived in San Francisco, where he taught Early American literature at Dominican University. He and his family moved briefly to Walesa journey about which he is writing a bookand now live in Oregon.

A Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2001 for Nonfiction

A fascinating and often wickedly funny work of literary biography, social history, and cultural curiosity, Banvard's Folly is a different kind of book. In a volume that reads like the antithesis of Lives of the Artists, or the opposite of Profiles in Courage, Collins offers thirteen unforgettable portraits of forgotten people: men and women who might have claimed their share of renown but who, whether from ill timing, skullduggery, monomania, the tinge of madness, or plain bad luckor perhaps some awful mix thereofleapt straight from life into thankless obscurity. Among their number are scientists, artists, writers, entrepreneurs, and adventurers, from across the centuries and around the world.

Collins brings them all back to glorious life. John Banvard was an artist whose colossal panoramic canvasses (one behemoth depiction of the entire eastern shore of the Mississippi River was simply known as "The Three Mile Painting") made him the richest and most famous artist of his day . . . before he decided to go head-to-head with P. T. Barnum. René Blondlot was a distinguished French physicist whose celebrated discovery of a new form of radiation, called the N-Ray, went terribly awry. At the age of seventeen, William Henry Ireland signed "William Shakespeare" to a book and launched a short but meteoric career as a forger of undiscovered works by the Barduntil he pushed his luck too far. John Symmes, a hero of the War of 1812, nearly succeeded in convincing Congress to fund an expedition to the North Pole, where he intended to prove his theory that the earth was hollow and ripe for exploitation; his quixotic quest counted Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe among its greatest admirers.

Collins aims to capture the "forgotten ephemera of genius" in his portraits of these figures, as well as the other nine protagonists in Banvard's Folly. Indeed, each essay in this off-beat, original collection brings to its neglected subject sympathetic depth, poignant relevance, cultural detail, and historical reclamation.

"No writer better articulates our interest in the confluence of hope, eccentricity, and the timelessness of the bold and strange than Paul Collins. [This book is] sublimely odd, frequently funny, and better yet, thrillingly factual."Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

"Though the most profound question is 'What is the meaning of life?' the most human question 'Don't they know how special I am?' Paul Collins knows. Thanks to these fascinating tales, his forgotten attention-seekers must be rolling over in their graves, if only to finally bask in the limelight."Sarah Vowell, author of Take the Cannoli

"Collins's swift, humorous prose makes for satisfying schadenfreude."Time Out New York

"[A] lively treatise on eccentricity, flawed genius, and star-crossed obsession."The Washington Times

"An unqualified success."The Seattle Times

"A remarkably lucid and entertaining peek into the admittedly strange lives of the characters [Collins] has unearthed . . . A witty meditation on the vagaries of fame and the human drive for validation."Tucson Weekly

"With crisp prose and engaging storytelling, Collins contemplates the whims of fortune and the foolhardiness of humanity."Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Hearteningly strange . . . Stretching the bounds of nonfiction's propensity for weirdness, Collins exhumes little-known figures [and] recounts their perversely inspiring battles against the more logical ways of the world."The Onion

"The thirteen lives and times to which Collins devotes his considerable scholarship and manifest narrative gifts in Banvard's Folly are the flash-in-the-pan, briefly notable, and long-ignored ones-of-a-kind, who remind us of the nobility and futility, the grandeur and begrudgery of our endeavors. Of Collins's endeavor, however, we can proclaim our permanent thanks and amazement and heartiest welcome."Los Angeles Times Book Review

Review:

"...the joy of the lot lies in contemplating thewhims of fortune and the foolhardiness of humanity, while delighting in Collins's crisp prose and engaging storytelling. A delightful opportunity to get in touch with your inner loser." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"No writer better articulates our interest in the confluence of hope, eccentricity, and the timelessness of the bold and strange than Paul Collins. This book is sublimely odd, frequently funny, and better yet, thrillingly factual." Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Review:

"Though the most profound question is 'What is the meaning of life?' the most human question 'Don't they know how special I am?' Paul Collins knows. Thanks to these fascinating tales, his forgotten attention-seekers must be rolling over in their graves, if only to finally bask in the limelight." Sarah Vowell, author of Take the Cannoli

Review:

"[A] lively treatise on eccentricity, flawed genius, and star-crossed obsession." The Washington Times

Review:

"With crisp prose and engaging storytelling, Collins contemplates the whims of fortune and the foolhardiness of humanity." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Review:

"Banvard's Folly are the flash-in-the-pan, briefly notable, andlong-ignored ones-of-a-kind, who remind us of the nobility and futility, the grandeur and begrudgery of our endeavors. Of Collins's endeavor, however, we can proclaim our permanent thanks and amazement and heartiest welcome." Los Angeles Times Book Review

Synopsis:

The historical record crowns success. Those enshrined in its annals are men and women whose ideas, accomplishments, or personalities have dominated, endured, and most important of all, found champions. John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage, Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists, and Samuel Johnson's Lives of the Poets are classic celebrations of the greatest, the brightest, the eternally constellated.

Paul Collins' Banvard's Folly is a different kind of book. Here are thirteen unforgettable portraits of forgotten people: men and women who might have claimed their share of renown but who, whether from ill timing, skullduggery, monomania, the tinge of madness, or plain bad luck-or perhaps some combination of them all-leapt straight from life into thankless obscurity. Among their number are scientists, artists, writers, entrepreneurs, and adventurers, from across the centuries and around the world. They hold in common the silenced aftermath of failure, the name that rings no bells.

Collins brings them back to glorious life. John Banvard was an artist whose colossal panoramic canvasses (one behemoth depiction of the entire eastern shore of the Mississippi River was simply known as "The Three Mile Painting") made him the richest and most famous artist of his day. . . before he decided to go head to head with P. T. Barnum. René Blondot was a distinguished French physicist whose celebrated discovery of a new form of radiation, called the N-Ray, went terribly awry. At the tender age of seventeen, William Henry Ireland signed "William Shakespeare" to a book and launched a short but meteoric career as a forger of undiscovered works by the Bard — until he pushed his luck too far. John Symmes, a hero of the War of 1812, nearly succeeded in convincing Congress to fund an expedition to the North Pole, where he intended to prove his theory that the earth was hollow and ripe for exploitation; his quixotic quest counted Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe among its greatest admirers.

Collins' love for what he calls the "forgotten ephemera of genius" give his portraits of these figures and the other nine men and women in Banvard's Folly sympathetic depth and poignant relevance. Their effect is not to make us sneer or revel in schadenfreude; here are no cautionary tales. Rather, here are brief introductions-acts of excavation and reclamation-to people whom history may have forgotten, but whom now we cannot.

Synopsis:

This impeccably documented book offers portraits of famously forgotten men and women, who leap from the ash heap of thankless obscurity and directly onto the page. Includes profiles of the eccentric panorama painter John Banvard, the delusional physicist Rene Blandlot, and the Shakespeare forger William Henry Ireland. 16-page photo insert.

About the Author

Paul Collins writes for McSweeneys Quarterly, and his work has also appeared in Lingua Franca and eCompany Now. While writing Banvard's Folly he lived in San Francisco, where he taught early-American literature at Dominican University. He and his family moved briefly to Wales — a journey about which he is writing a book — and now live in Oregon.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

shannon leonetti, June 24, 2007 (view all comments by shannon leonetti)
Maybe the results aren't in.....just because it isn't yet obvious....someone wrote a book about them. The rest of us are reading the book...who's to say one of these lives wont inspire someone else who WILL change the world!
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(5 of 10 readers found this comment helpful)
Shoshana, June 19, 2007 (view all comments by Shoshana)
An anthology of once-famous, once-infamous, or never famous men (with one exception) who were hot stuff at the time but now are obscure or entirely forgotten. Collins (the author of Not Even Wrong: A Father?s Journey into the Lost History of Autism) has chosen an interesting assortment of scientists, scammers, and artists to profile. He has an engaging narrative voice and generally is successful in evoking each person and engaging the reader's empathy. I'd have wished for a few more women, but women's historical footprints are often fainter.

Collins makes errors here and there, nothing major but still obvious. For example, in discussing viticulture, he points out that for consistency, grapes must be propagated from clones since the genetic material varies from seed to seed (p. 115). However, on page 121, his big point is that "Grapes have seeds"; he tells us this to show how Ephraim Bull's competitors were able to steal his new Concord grape. However, the seeds should make no difference; it's the cuttings that would. Since Collins then immediately goes on to say this, it's not clear why he even makes his erroneous comment about seeds.

This would be a good companion piece to a book on mediums or eccentric inventors.
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(2 of 5 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780312300333
Author:
Collins, Paul
Publisher:
St. Martins Press-3pl
Location:
New York
Subject:
General
Subject:
Biography
Subject:
United States - 19th Century
Subject:
Eccentrics and eccentricities
Subject:
General Biography
Subject:
Biography - General
Subject:
Historical
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Series Volume:
t. 2
Publication Date:
20020531
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Includes 2 halftones in text, plus one 1
Pages:
320
Dimensions:
8.5 x 5.5 x 0.712 in

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Related Subjects

Biography » General
History and Social Science » US History » 19th Century
Reference » Trivia

Banvard's Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn't Change the World Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$10.00 In Stock
Product details 320 pages Picador USA - English 9780312300333 Reviews:
"Review" by , "...the joy of the lot lies in contemplating thewhims of fortune and the foolhardiness of humanity, while delighting in Collins's crisp prose and engaging storytelling. A delightful opportunity to get in touch with your inner loser."
"Review" by , "No writer better articulates our interest in the confluence of hope, eccentricity, and the timelessness of the bold and strange than Paul Collins. This book is sublimely odd, frequently funny, and better yet, thrillingly factual."
"Review" by , "Though the most profound question is 'What is the meaning of life?' the most human question 'Don't they know how special I am?' Paul Collins knows. Thanks to these fascinating tales, his forgotten attention-seekers must be rolling over in their graves, if only to finally bask in the limelight."
"Review" by , "[A] lively treatise on eccentricity, flawed genius, and star-crossed obsession."
"Review" by , "With crisp prose and engaging storytelling, Collins contemplates the whims of fortune and the foolhardiness of humanity." (starred review)
"Review" by , "Banvard's Folly are the flash-in-the-pan, briefly notable, andlong-ignored ones-of-a-kind, who remind us of the nobility and futility, the grandeur and begrudgery of our endeavors. Of Collins's endeavor, however, we can proclaim our permanent thanks and amazement and heartiest welcome."
"Synopsis" by ,
The historical record crowns success. Those enshrined in its annals are men and women whose ideas, accomplishments, or personalities have dominated, endured, and most important of all, found champions. John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage, Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists, and Samuel Johnson's Lives of the Poets are classic celebrations of the greatest, the brightest, the eternally constellated.

Paul Collins' Banvard's Folly is a different kind of book. Here are thirteen unforgettable portraits of forgotten people: men and women who might have claimed their share of renown but who, whether from ill timing, skullduggery, monomania, the tinge of madness, or plain bad luck-or perhaps some combination of them all-leapt straight from life into thankless obscurity. Among their number are scientists, artists, writers, entrepreneurs, and adventurers, from across the centuries and around the world. They hold in common the silenced aftermath of failure, the name that rings no bells.

Collins brings them back to glorious life. John Banvard was an artist whose colossal panoramic canvasses (one behemoth depiction of the entire eastern shore of the Mississippi River was simply known as "The Three Mile Painting") made him the richest and most famous artist of his day. . . before he decided to go head to head with P. T. Barnum. René Blondot was a distinguished French physicist whose celebrated discovery of a new form of radiation, called the N-Ray, went terribly awry. At the tender age of seventeen, William Henry Ireland signed "William Shakespeare" to a book and launched a short but meteoric career as a forger of undiscovered works by the Bard — until he pushed his luck too far. John Symmes, a hero of the War of 1812, nearly succeeded in convincing Congress to fund an expedition to the North Pole, where he intended to prove his theory that the earth was hollow and ripe for exploitation; his quixotic quest counted Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe among its greatest admirers.

Collins' love for what he calls the "forgotten ephemera of genius" give his portraits of these figures and the other nine men and women in Banvard's Folly sympathetic depth and poignant relevance. Their effect is not to make us sneer or revel in schadenfreude; here are no cautionary tales. Rather, here are brief introductions-acts of excavation and reclamation-to people whom history may have forgotten, but whom now we cannot.

"Synopsis" by , This impeccably documented book offers portraits of famously forgotten men and women, who leap from the ash heap of thankless obscurity and directly onto the page. Includes profiles of the eccentric panorama painter John Banvard, the delusional physicist Rene Blandlot, and the Shakespeare forger William Henry Ireland. 16-page photo insert.
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