Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Revisiting the Titanic

Thursday, June 22, 2023

The Hubris of Titanic Strikes Again

We have heard this story before. The five souls lost in a technological breakdown of our most sophisticated effort to explore the seafloor and gaze at the Titanic. Titanic was a perfect example of hubris gone bad. A maiden voyage of an unsinkable ship steaming into an icefield full speed with the thought that electric sliding doors would save everyone by sealing off the sea in the bulkheads. It was the cutting edge technology of its time much like our Space Shuttle. And yet, she strikes an iceberg and five compartments are ripped open and sealed her fate. Titanic quickly became the posterchild for tempting fate by declaring science had conquered risk. We thought we had learned our lesson with more lifeboats and taking heed of wireless ice warnings. But maybe not. After 1985 discovery of Titanic we decided we could tempt fate again and descend almost three miles to the floor of the ocean to look at the last time hubris killed almost 1600 people. But we were secure that our technology would allow us to go where people were not meant to and we could offer that not only to explorers and scientist but for the people who could afford a 250,000 price tag. The very rich onnce again would ride the waves much like in 1912 and for an enormous amount of money descend to that wreck of the Gilded Age. But we found once again our assumption that we had conqured the hostile seas was flawed. Five people bitterly proved that there are some places humans have no business the bottom of the Atlantic to stare at another example of human folly. And the very same shock has now descended as people contemplate how the very richest among us the very brightest could have placed themselves in harms way. Maybe the lesson of Titanic has not been learned. That we will never conquer our enviorment. That there are some places where human gall and hubris will not mitigate the risks. Yes we have a come a long way but so had the people in 1912. A wireless set that could send out a signal 2000 miles. A ship with electric bulkhead doors that could seal up on the flick of a swtich. Just the size of Titanic prohibited the idea of her sinking. But she did sink in less than three hours after hitting the iceberg and she settled to the ocean floor. She should have been a monnument to the idea of tempting fate to declaring all battles won with the planet and human supremacy allowing us to go wherever we want. But of course we ignored the biggest lesson of Titanic. Never assume anything.

Monday, May 8, 2023

The New York Road Not Taken

I never did go to New York. A young writer just out of college I stayed in Chicago although I had been to New York many times. I even went for a full week and stayed in Brooklyn right before Christmas and slogged around from one agent to another dropping off horrible manuscripts until one annoyed agent burst out, "this is not how its done." Nothing came of my week in New York and I went back to Chicago to be the struggling writer. But I am haunted by the might of been of going to NY. I should have. I should have taken my shot in the big apple. If for nothing else to see what would have happened. It is where you go when you are young and want to make it as an artist. I knew that every time I went there. This is where I should be. All the big writers it seemed were launched there. The brat pack of McInerny Brett Eastion Ellis were born there. That was my group. My time. But I didnt make the leap. I stayed in Chicago and cranked out my prose and sent three queries a week to NY publishers but never followed them. The letters came back and rejected all that I had sent them. And then of course I got married and had kids and that door closed. The window to go was when I was broke, hungry and desperate. Which was of course the reason I didnt go even though I do remember considering it and talking about it with friends and family but I never did it. The closest I would come would be the week I stayed there and long weekends where I caroused with friends who had moved to NY. Thinking back I could have easily proposed I move in with them, but I never did. And when I finally broke through and had a two book deal with Bantam and a big advance and a big agent I went to NY and had dinner with my publlisher and agent in an upper east side restaurant and then went out and got smashed and the next day walked Manhattan on a Sunday and bought two first edition Fitzgerald collections of short stories and then flew back home. And now twenty five books later one could make the case I did the right thing by staying put and producing the work. Some say NY is so hard that the creativity dries up with the struggle to survive. Some are crushed by the Big Apple. Many return with their tale between their legs. But others, others are launched into the stratosphere from that hot melting pot of creativity that is New York and end up in the stars. You never know, but I wish I had found out.

Thursday, August 25, 2022


The Great Gatsby has sold 25 million copies worldwide and sells 500, 000 copies annually. The book has been made into three movies and produced for the theatre. It is considered the Greatest American Novel ever written. Yet, the story of how The Great Gatsby was written has not been told except as embedded chapters of much larger biographies. This story is one of heartbreak, infidelity, struggle, alcoholism, financial hardship, and one man’s perseverance to be faithful to the raw diamond of his talent in circumstances that would have crushed others. The story of the writing of The Great Gatsby is a story in itself. Fitzgerald had descended into an alcoholic run of parties on Great Neck, NY, where he and Zelda had taken a home. His main source of income was writing for the “slicks” or magazines of the day the main source being the Saturday Evening Post where Fitzgerald’s name on a story got him as high as four thousand dollars. Then on May 1, 1924, he, Zelda, and baby daughter Scottie quietly slipped away from New York on a “dry” steamer to France, the writer in search of sobriety, sanity, and his muse, resulting on the publication of The Great Gatsby a year later.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Biased Bibliophile Review of Greed in The Gilded Age The Brilliant Con of Cassie Chadwick

Very rarely do I use the word “perfect” to describe a book, but Greed in the Gilded Age by William Elliott Hazelgrove certainly comes close! A very special thank you to William for sending me a signed copy of this wonderful book! I can’t wait to read your next book! Greed in the Gilded Age describes the story of Cassie Chadwick, aka Elizabeth Bigley, who pulled off multiple outrageous cons in the late 1800s and early 1900s, amounting in about $2 million of stolen money, which is equivalent to over $60 million today. I absolutely loved everything about this book! First off, the story is extremely compelling on its own, but we all know that even nonfiction is not objective, and Hazelgrove tells Chadwick’s story in a captivating and enchanting way. Perhaps the detail I appreciated most in the story is Hazelgrove’s depiction of Cassie. Yes, she is certainly a con artist and criminal, but in a time where there was a very narrow margin between legitimately wealthy people and criminals, the narrative truly makes readers question where Cassie actually falls on that continuum. Criminal? More than likely. But also clearly brilliant and innovative. The way in which Hazelgrove tells the story leaves the reader wondering, “Was Cassie really wrong for trying to make something of her life?” We can obviously see that she crossed some lines, but when her actions are juxtaposed by those of Andrew Carnegie, we start to wonder what it is that morphs someone from legitimate to criminal. By the end of the novel, I felt as though Cassie partially got what she deserved, but I was also left with a somewhat mystical admiration of her too. Additionally, Hazelgrove frequently referenced women’s positions in society at the time Cassie lived. This aspect is vital to the story, as many of us cannot comprehend some of the gender differences between then and now. I was also quite happy that Hazelgrove makes small suggestions that point towards sexism linked to Cassie’s case. For instance, the way in which many people assumed a man must have been helping Cassie, or the likelihood that many of the parties involved did not want to give an accurate depiction of what happened, purely out of embarrassment from being duped by a woman. These details were not only key to the overall narrative, they also gave women credit where credit was due, which is not the case with all nonfiction authors. Finally, Hazelgrove frequently provided context to other events going on during Cassie’s life. Some nonfiction books treat their topics as though they exist in a vacuum, which is detrimental to conveying a complete understanding to the readers. However, Hazelgrove does the opposite, and provides relevant and interesting information about events that occurred during Chadwick’s life. From background information on Andrew Carnegie, to information about the Wright brothers, to details about Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency. Hazelgrove gave such a comprehensive narration of Cassie Chadwick’s life, and it would not have been so complete without the additional information he provided. Overall, the story of Cassie Chadwick’s life is interesting on its own, but William Hazelgrove has given it new depth through his thoroughness and talent with situating a story in history. I am never hesitant to admit that I’m quite picky when it comes to reading nonfiction, simply because nonfiction can become boring in the wrong hands. History is an important treasure that we should all treat as valuable, and some nonfiction authors simply don’t seem to have the passion to convey that value to readers. On the opposite end of that spectrum we have authors like William Elliott Hazelgrove, who clearly make it a point to convey the value of history in any narrative they tell. I may be a picky reader, but Hazelgrove certainly has one lifelong reader in me!

Books by William Hazelgrove