Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: I needed a shower after this.

Quick synopsis: The story of Jeffrey Epstein and how he got away with seriously gross things and got murdered.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Dude got murdered.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Dude. Seriously. He got MUR-DURRRRRED.

My Take: I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I hate when people use some convoluted thought process to explain something which is much easier to attribute to straight incompetence and laziness.

That being said, there is a massive conspiracy around Jeffery Epstein, and he got murdered for it.

The documentary carefully chronicles how Epstein and his girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell (another piece of garbage), dragged unsuspecting young women into some very disgusting circumstances. The vast majority were minors at the time and were shopped around to rich clients.

What I appreciate about the documentary more than others is two things: First, they have women who were actual victims speaking about their experiences. They don’t hold back, and it is moving to hear it directly from them and how their lives were impacted. Second, a lot of famous names are thrown around, but it is very clear who is being accused and who is someone that was friends with Epstein. Epstein traveled in very rich circles and not everyone was a child molester.

A lot were, though. Looking at you, Prince Andrew.

Verdict: This is so gross. It’s a must watch. It’s done well and it will make you want to burn down the state of Florida. Yes, more so than usual.  

If You Liked This Try:

  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (Netflix)
  • Holy Hell (Netflix)
  • The Innocence Files (Netflix)
  • The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (HBO)
  • Abducted in Plain Sight (Netflix)

Musing: And Now for Something Completely Different – Art!

I had a flight of fancy and approached a co-worker who I knew had amazing art skills. Ethan is a jovial guy and seemed excited about the project. I came up with a scene: A knight standing in front of a medieval castle with a queen looking out over ramparts. Ethan had a lot more questions, but I do what I always do with talented people; I got out of his way.

And you can see the fruits of his labors. Pretty cool, right?

(Added it below in case it doesn’t show in the header. You’re welcome, technologically challenged.)

The Crown (Neflix, Seasons 1 and 2)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Moving for the English, hilarious for Americans.

Quick synopsis: The story of Elizabeth II coming to power.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: It’s Downton Abbey, only real.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Elizabeth II is kind of a dim bulb. See below.

My Take: This is a very classy show that does not skimp on great acting, sets, or even having some fun at royalty’s expense.

The show starts with showing how Elizabeth II came to power after the death of her father. This show is expensive, and it looks it. All the actors are great, especially Matt Smith who plays a whiny man-child without being completely irredeemable.

I was more surprised by the way in which the show does not shy away from revealing some serious flaws in each of its characters. I won’t spoil too much, but the show will draw you in with some of the most mundane topics. And a quick google search shows a lot of these things are true or at least well reported rumors.

There are two things I find absolutely hilarious that I need to mention. First, I am a Catholic. As a Catholic, it is INSANELY FUNNY that English royalty was extremely concerned about people getting divorced. They considered it a scandal. This is what we call historical irony, people. Anglicanism was created for Henry VIII to get divorced! And don’t come at me with any of the other reasons. The egomaniac just wanted to shag Anne Boleyn. Full stop.

Second, as an American, this show is a weird dichotomy. You will be watching a very well written monologue delivered by a superb actor. Many of these speeches try to purvey the importance of kingship/queenship. And I LAUGH. I actually said to my TV, “This is why we kicked your asses out 250 years ago!”

I’m an ugly American. I’m okay with it. U-S-A! U-S-A!

Verdict: This is a really good show. If you have any interest in these people or the time period then you will be very happy.  

If You Liked This Try: *Note: Not all are historically accurate, but they are lots of fun. Some are ridiculously inaccurate (but enjoyable) trash.

  • Versailles
  • Vikings
  • Hatfields and McCoys
  • The Tudors

Island of the Lost by Joan Druett

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Seriously, stories like this are why I didn’t go in the navy.

Quick synopsis: The story of the shipwreck of the Grafton on the Auckland Islands in 1864. Oh, it’s also the story of the shipwreck of the Invercauld on those same islands just a few months later in 1864. Yes, really.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: The highest point in the Auckland Islands is Mount Dick. Stop laughing, you child.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: This is a crazy story because you have two separate shipwrecks on the same island chain just months from each other. The most amazing part? Neither of the shipwreck crews even knew about the other.

My Take: This book (and Mike Dash’s Batavia’s Graveyard) made me fall in love with reading history again. What makes this book amazing is that it is a story of two shipwrecks, survival, and the importance of good leadership.

The shipwrecks are the most straightforward sections. Each ship gets too close to the Auckland Islands which are a few hundred miles south of New Zealand. The captains of the Grafton and Invercauld react very differently both during the wreck and afterwards. This directly leads to a fight for survival and the most interesting aspect of the book, leadership in crisis. The actions of each captain are polar opposites and cause dire consequences. One shows how to keep men motivated and hopeful during 18 months of isolation culminating in a desperate attempt to make it home. The other captain becomes morose and distant. His lack of leadership leads to the death of most of his crew.

Druett understands the sea and what these men go through. If you don’t like this genre of book, then it will seem to crawl in places. However, if you like survival stories, you will recognize that Druett is showing how desperate and monotonous the fight to live can be. I was riveted.

Verdict: I love this book. It may not be for the casual reader, but for anyone interested in shipwrecks, survival, and leadership, this is a must read.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Peter Stark, Astoria
  • Caroline Alexander, The Bounty
  • Alfred Lansing, Endurance
  • Jennifer Niven, The Ice Master
  • Nathaniel Philbrick, In the Heart of the Sea
  • Stephen Brown, Island of the Blue Foxes
  • Buddy Levy, River of Darkness
  • Mike Dash, Batavia’s Graveyard

Timely History: The Halifax Explosion

On August 4th of this year, a gigantic explosion ripped through Beirut in Lebanon. Final numbers on the destruction are not fully understood, but it looks like at least 220 people were killed and 7,000 injured. The blast was approximately 2.75 kilotons of ammonium nitrate.

Nerd that I am, I immediately thought of the Halifax Explosion of 1917. During World War I, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada was an active port. In order to ward off German U-Boats, an actual net was pulled across the Narrows at night to keep submarines from attacking the boats in the port.

All of this meant boats were eager to get out on their routes right away in the morning when the net opened. First, to be on schedule, but also because being out on the open ocean was better than being cooped up in a port like fish in a barrel. A ship named the Imo was one of them.

Also, since this was World War I, many boats were full of extremely dangerous cargo.

Like the Monte-Blanc. Which had 6 million pounds of high explosives. Oh, and airplane fuel stacked ON TOP of the high explosives.

There is a lot that goes into what happened, but the gist is this: the Imo wanted out, the Monte-Blanc wanted in, and they both wanted to do so at the same time. They collided.

A fire began on the Mont-Blanc. Everyone who knew what was going to happen tried to warn everyone they could while abandoning ship. 20 minutes after the collision, at 9:04 am, the Mont-Blanc exploded.

The results were immediate and horrendous. Everything, including buildings, within a half mile radius was obliterated. People just outside the blast radius were horrifically disfigured. One of the main issues was people’s eyes. If they were looking in the area of the blast, their eyes exploded from the concussion. This is to say nothing of the debris thrown by the blast.

Or the tsunami, yes tsunami, called by the blast which displaced the water in the harbor.

Or the fact that when people finally started comprehending and sending for help, a blizzard hit.

In the end, the Halifax Explosion killed 1,950 people. 9,000 people were injured. It was a 2.9 kiloton explosion compared to Beirut’s 2.75 kiloton explosion. Halifax is the largest human-caused explosion besides the atomic bomb.

For Further Reading:

Curse of the Narrows by Laura MacDonald

The Great Halifax Explosion by John Bacon

https://nationalpost.com/news/beirut-blast-measured-2-75-kilotons-how-does-that-compare-with-other-major-explosions-in-history

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halifax_Explosion

https://www.forbes.com/sites/kelseyatherton/2020/08/04/think-halifax-not-hiroshima-for-beirut-explosion/#66763bc11c66

Hamilton

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: I am…. whelmed.

Quick synopsis: The biography of Alexander Hamilton in musical form.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Yeah, Hamilton wanted to sex up his sister in law.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: The whole thing is more accurate than it isn’t.

My Take: I mean, it’s fine.

Let’s talk about the history since, you know, that’s what my website is about. It’s pretty good for a musical. It is based on Ron Chernow’s book (which is very good) and follows the flow and major broad strokes really well. There are a few anachronisms, Lafayette was not in the U.S. as early as portrayed, Hamilton meeting and getting in well with Washington was not as fast as it showed, etc. They were not so egregious to be worth pillorying the play over. Hamilton was not nearly as important militarily in the revolution as it seemed.

Now let me switch to “Theater Nerd” Brendan. (What gives me the right and credentials? I played Barnaby Tucker in The Matchmaker in high school. So, suck it.) The hype train went way too far down the tracks on this thing. It is not as good as the sum of its parts. Almost all the actors are fantastic with the exception of Lin-Manuel Miranda (LMM from here on out) who is out of his league. No, I couldn’t do better and that’s also besides the point. His writing is quite good, and this truly is an interesting art piece. The problem is that it is a spectacle and not a moving piece of art. It is interesting, but not transcendent. LMM did something very interesting. It is new.

When I started to watch it, I thought back to the plays I have seen on Broadway. When they are good, you forget you are watching a play and time flies by. To me, the pinnacle is Les Miserables. The most macho idiot you can find will sit through it without realizing how long it is. Each song seems carefully crafted to drag an emotion out of you and does just that. I paused Hamilton multiple times and kept checking how much longer I needed to go. Oh, also WHY IS THE SAME ACTOR PLAYING ONE OF THE BEST PEOPLE EVER AND ONE OF THE WORST PEOPLE EVER?! WHY?! And for those of you who told me to watch this and didn’t warn me, WE ARE IN A FIGHT.

King George III was hilarious.

Ultimately, I’m not going to be singing about throwing away my shot. You can bet your ass I can break out into, “Master of the House,” right now.

Verdict: It’s fine. Don’t listen to the hype beforehand and you’ll probably enjoy it.  

If You Liked This Then You Must Watch:

  • Les Miserables

The Nuns of Sant’Ambrogio by Hubert Wolf

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Lesbian nuns. Don’t give me a dirty look. It’s literally true. 

Quick synopsis: It’s 1858 at a convent in Rome. Stuff is about to go down. 

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Lesbian nuns. Am I appealing to the lowest common denominator? Yes. It’s still true. 

Fun Fact for History Nerds: You can get away with a lot in a convent in 1858. I won’t spoil it. 

My Take: This is a very challenging book to review because I don’t want to give anything away. As you can see above there is some salacious stuff in here. It’s just the tip of the iceberg. It gets darker and weirder as you go along. 

The author was allowed to go into the Vatican Archives in order to write this book. It is in depth and can drag at places but stick with it. The payoff is crazy. 

Verdict: If anything mentioned above or historical true crime is interesting to you then take a gander at this! 

If You Liked This Try: 

  • Miriam C. Davis, The Axeman of New Orleans 
  • Skip Hollandsworth, The Midnight Assassin 
  • Gregg Olsen, Starvation Heights 
  • Sinclair McKay, The Lady in the Cellar 

Grand Avenues by Scott Berg

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: This is why Washington, D.C. traffic sucks.

Quick synopsis: The story of Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s efforts to plan out Washington, D.C.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: L’Enfant got hired to plan D.C. and got fired before completing it because of bureaucracy. Yes, D.C.’s problems preceded D.C. itself!

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Washington, D.C. was created as a homage to Paris. L’Enfant also set up many of the roads and causeways in order to maximize the view.

My Take: Anyone who has ever been in Washington, D.C. asks the same question, “Who the hell set up a city like this and why?!” The answers are Pierre Charles L’Enfant and he didn’t get to do it all otherwise it would have been much better.

L’Enfant was a very intelligent man who had wonderful vision and ambition. Unfortunately, he missed the one thing that is truly required in the Capitol. He did not know how to get along with others including the ones actually in charge.

L’Enfant was a personal favorite of George Washington who personally asked him to design D.C. Along the way, however, he decided to make an enemy of Thomas Jefferson which is not a good idea in the early days of the republic.

Berg gives all the gory details. And the myth of “the swamp” was well on its way.

Verdict: The story is a bit thin, but Berg tries to keep it as interesting as possible.

If You Liked This Try:

  • David McCullough, The Great Bridge
  • Eric Jay Dolin, Brilliant Beacons
  • Brantley Hargrove, The Man Who Caught the Storm