Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Trashy History: A Less Guilty Pleasure

If it’s history, do you have to feel guilty about it? Here are ten all-true tales of scandal, corruption, infidelity, debauchery, and even some murder. Have any favorite examples of trashy history that aren't listed here? Let us know in the comments section.

The Bolter
by Frances Osborne

Idina Sackville was the daughter of one of England’s oldest and richest families. She was also notorious for her affairs and extravagant, scandalous parties. Osborne’s biography follows the seemingly endless scandal and excess of Sackville’s life over two continents, five husbands (one of them murdered), and innumerable lovers.

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A Bright and Guilty Place: Murder, Corruption, and L.A.'s Scandalous Coming of Age
by Richard Rayner

A history of depression-era Los Angeles in which, as the Los Angeles Times put it, “characters, crimes, scandals and legends spill from the pages in bewildering and fascinating profusion.” Rayner delves deeply into the scandal and corruption that defined the era and inspired the genre of noir fiction.

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Bright Young People: The Lost Generation of London's Jazz Age
by D.J. Taylor

For the young and rich of London, the 1920s were one long party. Taylor explores the decade long debauchery of these proto Paris Hilton’s from many different perspectives, detailing the drunken excess and outrageously improper behavior that made them famous simply for being famous.

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Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire
by Amanda Foreman

A vivid portrait of one of the most famous and influential, not to mention fashionable, women of her time. Georgiana's public success hid a troubled private life: a costly addiction to gambling, affairs with some of the leading politicians of the day, and a history of excessive drinking and drug taking, all while living in an uneasy menage-a-trois with her husband and best friend. Foreman's book was turned into the movie The Duchess.

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Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire
by Alex von Tunzelmann

A behind-the-scenes retelling of the transfer of power from Britain to India and Pakistan that foregrounds the foibles and follies of the primary players--particularly the affair between Edwina Mountbatten and Jawaharlal Nehru. The Los Angeles Times called it an “irreverent and irresistible” book that presents “history as a box of bonbons, a collection of delectable little nuggets of folly and scandal.”

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King of Heists: The Sensational Bank Robbery of 1878 that Shocked America
by J. North Conway

The tale of George Leonidas Leslie: society architect, ladies man, and master bank robber. His 1878 robbery of the Manhattan Savings Institution is considered the greatest bank robbery in American history, but he never spent a day in jail. In the end, it was not his crimes that caused his downfall, but his amorous advances.

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The Lady in Red: An Eighteenth-Century Tale of Sex, Scandal, and Divorce
by Hallie Rubenhold

In 1782, Sir Richard Worsley brought a criminal conversion case against his wife’s lover, suing him for damages to his “property”. What followed turned into one of the first celebrity divorce cases: a parade of scandalous assertions about the infidelities and perversions of both parties that shocked an English public who, never-the-less, could not read enough about it.

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Pauline Bonaparte: Venus of Empire
by Flora Fraser

Napoleon’s fiercely loyal sister Pauline was considered by many to be the most beautiful woman in Europe. She was also notorious for her many affairs, her flamboyant behavior, and her opulent dress. Fraser, an accomplished biographer, lamented after the book’s publication, "I don’t suppose I’ll ever write about anyone so infinitely entertaining again."

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Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul
by Karen Abbott

The New York Times called Abbott’s book about Chicago’s turn of the century red light district a “lush love letter to the underworld’ that reads more like literary fiction than a work of history. Blurbing the book, Sara Gruen put it a little more succinctly: “Sex, opulence, murder—what’s not to love?”

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The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective
by Kate Summerscale

As the New York Times put it, “fact and fiction do not so much blur as bleed into each other” in Summerscale’s book, the story of a brutal 1860 murder at an English Country house that scandalized the public, nearly ruined the career of the investigator in charge, and inspired the genre of detective fiction. This book might read like a Victorian murder mystery, but every bit of it is true.

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