Voyages of Discovery

Captain James Cook

“It was now just eight o’clock, when we were alarmed by the discharge of a volley of small arms from Captain Cook’s people, and a violent shout of the Indians… Captain Cook and four marines had fallen in this confounded fray.” So writes James King from his vantage aboard ship, upon taking over captaincy of the Resolution after James Cook was slain by provoked Hawaiian natives in 1779. One eyewitness declaims that “matters would not have been carried to the extremities they were, had not Captain Cook… first unfortunately fired.”
In the eyes of the traditional historian, this event is the tragic death of a hero, akin to the slaughter of Orpheus by hysterical Bacchantes; yet for revisionist champions of native peoples, the repulsion of the English becomes a temporary victory for the people of Kealakekua Bay. A reprint of an 1860 compilation by naval historian John Barrow, this concise edition condenses four tomes of Admiralty records by excising navigational details, thus offering an eminently readable narrative. Highlights include: Cook’s discovery of Australia during his first voyage, resulting in the British Crown’s decision to establish a penal colony at Botany Bay; the events leading up to Cook’s demise during his fated third voyage, including a stranger-than-fiction account of how the Kealakekuan natives mistook him for an earthly manifestation of the god Lono; and Cook’s painstaking descriptions of Tahitian and New Zealand natives during his second voyage.
In these descriptions of natives and their customs, the heart of the Voyages, Cook displays a nearly modern sophistication. Resisting the romantic racism of the 18th century, he assiduously refuses to treat natives as noble savages, children of nature, or heathen devils. Barrow illustrates this sensitivity by juxtaposing another contemporary description of Tierra del Fuegans (“perfectly nude, wild and shaggy… like so many fiendish imps”) with Cook’s more humanitarian perspective (“These people appeared on the whole to be the outcasts of human nature; their only food was shellfish; and they were destitute of every convenience arising from the rudest art”).
Although relentlessly mild by today’s standards, the Voyages were immensely popular, consistently titillating readers from their first publication through the 19th century. Just as those who wanted to see naked men and women in the pre-Playboy era would look through National Geographic, many would turn to the Voyages of Discovery to read about the promiscuity, license and nudity of natives. HS

Publisher: Academy Chicago
Paperback: 555 pages

Chicago by Gaslight: A History of Chicago’s Underworld, 1880-1920

Richard Lindberg

This extensively researched history of Chicago’s early underworld serves as a Midwestern companion to Luc Sante’s compelling Low Life. These, along with Herbert Asbury’s legendary cult volume, The Gangs of New York—now back in print, will supply the reader with a veritable thieves’ den of tasty, textured, late-Victorian depravity by way of peanut shells on the floor, beefsteaks, beer and blood. Includes 15 ghoulish pages concerning notorious murderer Herman Mudgett (a.k.a. H.H. Holmes), an informative complement to the scanty literature dealing with this fascinating maniac and his trap-door-filled “house of horror.” CS

Publisher: Academy Chicago
Paperback: 236 pages

Murder Guide to London

Martin Fido

A good read for “armchair ghouls” as well as a guide to the killing streets of Murdersville, U.K. “Find and visit major murder sites all over London. Maps show the distribution of murders and provide a handy key to murderers’ names.” Details locations of all the classic cases: Jack the Ripper’s first stop and slash in Buck’s Row; the Kray twins’ Stoke Newington flats, where they partied and popped shotguns; Dr. Crippen’s murder house, where he sliced and diced his wife; Reg Christie’s gruesome garden (he planted four bodies); and Dennis Nilsen’s Cranley Gardens flat, where the fat of his last victim clogged the drains after cooking. GR

Publisher: Academy Chicago
Paperback: 272 pages

The Mystery of the Princes

Audrey Williamson

When the legend has more propaganda value than the truth, print the legend. “There is no evidence whatsoever that Richard III, a man conspicuous for his loyalty to his brother Edward in a power-hungry age, murdered his brother’s children, totally unnecessarily, to gain a throne from which they were in any case legally barred. Moreover, he never announced their deaths, so what could he have hoped to gain by them?” Contemporary records are examined, revisionist histories are examined, the bones of “two young boys” are examined, and Richard’s hump disappears along with his guilt. GR

Publisher: Academy Chicago
Paperback: 215 pages

Beyond the Body: An Investigation of Out-of-the-Body Experiences

Susan J. Blackmore

“About one person in 10 claims to have left his or her body at some time. Some were close to death, others had undergone an accident or shock; but these experiences can occur at any time and for no apparent reason. Occasionally people claim to have traveled to distant places, and even to have been sent there by others, in the course of their experiences. Do we possess some sort of “double” or astral body, which is capable of an independent existence? And if so, what implications does this have for survival after death?”
“Blackmore's explanation for out-of-the-body experiences is based on historical and anecdotal material, surveys and laboratory experiments (including attempts to weigh the soul and photograph the spirit). Beyond the Body is a rigorous yet intensely readable piece of research.”

Publisher: Academy Chicago
Paperback: 284 pages

The Age of Agony: The Art of Healing, 1700-1800

Guy Williams

The art and practice of medicine was “severely retarded” in the 18th century. Call it cruel and unusual healing. Before germ theory, before anesthesia, before magic-bullet pills. Surgery was you, the doctor, a bottle, and a saw. Babies were given opiates to shut them up. Ladies lived with lice in their wigs. Harelips were cut and sewn up while three men held the child down. Smallpox scarred your face for life. And then there was the cure for insanity, a combination of purging, blistering, bleeding, violent sickness, and burning. “In the body, Hippocrates had said, were the four humours. If one or more of the humours were present in excess, mental disturbance would result.” First cure was “the use of drastic purges, or vomits.” If the humour refused to be purged, blood-letting was next, “either by a surgeon’s knife, or by the use of leeches.” Third try was “raising blisters by applying plasters or hot irons to the skin [until] the seared or ulcerated place suffered to run a good while.” Last resort: drill a hole in the head; maybe the humours will escape from the brain. Unless you were rich, failed insanity cures were often farmed out to strangers and “chained in a cellar or garret of a workhouse, fastened to the leg of a table, [or] tied to the post in an outhouse.” Others were cast out into the cold, “like a lost dog or bitch.” RP

Publisher: Academy Chicago
Hardback: 237 pages

The Borgias: The Rise and Fall of the Most Infamous Family in History

Michael Mallett

Machiavelli wrote in The Prince (Mussolini’s favorite bedtime reading) that if Cesare Borgia had managed to live just a few more years, he could have made himself master of all Italy. After reading Michael Mallett’s The Borgias, one can see that Machiavelli understates the case. Rising from obscure origins in the Spanish gentry, within two generations the Borgias had made themselves equal to all the ruling houses of Europe in regard to power politics. Rather than obsess on one particular family member (a difficult choice), Mallett thinks in terms of general family traits whose qualities manifest themselves in different proportions. These traits consist of religious devotion, poisoning/murder, sexual license (including incest), self-aggrandizement, and a knack for asset management. Although it is tempting to think they burst into history like a storm and then dissipated, the Borgias possessed great staying power. In addition to Rodrigo, Cesare and Lucretia, we also meet the more obscure St. Francisco Borgia, whose was married to the niece of St. Ignatius de Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order. Co-existing with various monsters, murderers and libertines are the ubiquitous younger Borgia women who take religious vows, adding the requisite note to make this the quintessential family of contrasts. Furthermore, the family branches stretched back to Spain and from there to the New World, where the Borgias managed to end up as viceroys of Peru. MM/ES

Publisher: Academy Chicago
Paperback: 368 pages

Through the Time Barrier

Danah Zohar

Britain’s Society for Psychical Research provides archival material for a rethinking of precognition. If it does exist, asks the author, “can it be understood in terms of modern science? It directly contradicts the theories of classical physics—but the modern view of time and space as set out in Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity may be able to accommodate it.” From waking impressions of the Titanic sinking to experimental studies with animals, the quantum level phenomenon of “Action at a Temporal Distance” is explored. GR

Publisher: Academy Chicago
Paperback: 178 pages