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Banvard's Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn't Change the World Paperback – May 3, 2002
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From The New Yorker
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
“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
Top Customer Reviews
The title story, Banvard's Folly, tells the tale of the artist John Banvard -- world famous in the 1850s, but utterly forgotten today, whose great moving panorama of the Mississippi River made him rich, but who ultimately was destroyed competing with P.T. Barnum.
Other stories include "The Man With N-Ray Eyes", which relates how a French scientist believes erroneously that he has found a new source of radiation; "A.J. Pleasonton's Blue Light Special", which discusses the 1870s fad concerning the healing properties of light reflected through blue glass, and numerous others, including the story of a Shakepeare forger, a woman's quest to prove Shakespeare's works were written by Francis Bacon and others, and the development of the pneumatic train.
The book is a little sad, because each of the characters really believes in their ideas, even though they are rejected by society. But instead of a happy ending, these stories all end badly for the protagonists -- they end up mocked and forgotten.
The book is remarkable for its scholarship -- researching the forgotten intellectual and cultural history of a previous century is no easy task; but Mr. Collins brings the reader back into the culture of the times easily. The stories are entertaining and very amusing.
I selected this title to kick off a book club in my library and everyone loved it as much as I did. It is highly recommended.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
All of the 13 people depicted in this book were eventually mocked and forgotten. Even though their ideas were rejected, they really believed in themselves and their work. Read morePublished 7 months ago by SJPeachy
I discovered this book via a QI podcast. It's brilliant, fascinating and so well written. Worth a readPublished 10 months ago by Paul McElwaine
The author is a very clear writer and makes these short biographies very entertaining and interesting to read. The stories are engaging and offer insight into human nature. Read morePublished on June 21, 2013 by R. Lau
A wonderful book that sheds light on some important and obscure characters of American history that otherwise would be forgotten about. Read morePublished on March 4, 2013 by Chris N. Dale
So maybe I have a bit of a crush on Paul Collins and everything he writes, but truly Banvard's Folly is quite clever. Read morePublished on January 10, 2012 by AnakaliaKlemm
Although every story was fascinating, some were better told than others. The story of Banvard and blue light therapy were quite absorbing while I also recall shifting in my seat... Read morePublished on August 19, 2010 by Martha B.
This book is filled with windows into the the lives of people who did or tried to do very interesting things, and never had their stories told until now. Read morePublished on August 14, 2008 by Barry Solomon