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Banvard's Folly: Thirteen Tales of…

Banvard's Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn't Change the… (original 2001; edition 2002)

by Paul S. Collins

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Title:Banvard's Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn't Change the World
Authors:Paul S. Collins
Info:Picador (2002), Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Your library

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Banvard's Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn't Change the World by Paul S. Collins (2001)



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Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
1.5 stars. Neat idea, but Collins had not yet developed his voice, and so it is much too dry. I admit I did not read it carefully, but I did read at least one sentence from every page, and often much more than that. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
Collins collects stories of mostly-forgotten innovators and fantasists in the arts, literature, agriculture, cosmology, inter alia. We get a man who invented a universal language composed of musical notes (“Beethoven’s 5th begins by saying something about Wednesday”), a polyglot Irish shyster in 18th c. London begging alms in Latin, blue-light baths proffered as an infallible remedy for anything from rheumatism to railway collisions, and a natural theology of universal geometry in accord with the Anthropic Principle that imagined intelligent minds on Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus. Some chapters fascinate more than others, and sometimes the prose falls flat, but overall an entertaining read.

Roy Pitz Best Blonde
Newcastle Brown Ale
  MusicalGlass | Sep 12, 2015 |
Divertissement assai interessante, situato storicamente nei paesi anglosassoni, perlopiù tra il 1600 ed il 1800. R.W.Emerson appare spesso, come comparsa. Chissà se vuol dire qualcosa...Saggio che diventa morale laddove illustra come il genio non sia nulla senza avvedutezza e onestà. Ce lo si augura anche a proposito dei (geniali) finanzieri e dei (geniali) politicanti italioti di ultima razza. ( )
  bobparr | Dec 14, 2014 |
While the book promises biographies of obscure people, I had read about most of the people featured here before; indeed several of them, such as Robert Coates, Delia Bacon and Psalmanazar, are fixtures of books on eccentric people.

What makes "Banvard's Folly" stand out from other studies of eccentrics is that Collins treats his subjects with great sympathy, giving us a more rounded appreciation of Coates, Bacon et al., rather than odd people to be laughed at.

I'm hoping for a sequel. ( )
1 vote MiaCulpa | Jan 10, 2014 |
This was a quite lovely read, about forgotten people in barely forgotten times. Only in America would we consider these gentlemen and gentlewomen to be 'losers', simply because they had an idea that others stole or their achievements have been forgotten by each succeeding generation. Some of them were just plain eccentrics, and I think we can look at the 21st century and see we have the same idealists today.

The title derives from John Banvard, who created grand works of art on rollout canvas, which drew standing-room only crowds in the 19th century. He shone before the age of cinema, which basically made his type of work obsolete. My favorite story was that of Rene Blondlot, a French scientist who 'discovered' the N-Ray, which really was nothing but some changes of light prisms. He believed deeply that he had discovered something extraordinary, and was subsequently laughed out of existence when his theory was disproved.

Here's to the 'losers'...bless them all.

Book Season = YearRound (enjoy!) ( )
1 vote Gold_Gato | Sep 16, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Paul S. Collinsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Kooy, Henne van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312300336, Paperback)

The historical record crowns success. Those enshrined in its annals are men and women whose ideas, accomplishments, or personalities have dominated, endured, and most important of all, found champions. John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage, Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists, and Samuel Johnson's Lives of the Poets are classic celebrations of the greatest, the brightest, the eternally constellated.

Paul Collins' Banvard's Folly is a different kind of book. Here are thirteen unforgettable portraits of forgotten people: men and women who might have claimed their share of renown but who, whether from ill timing, skullduggery, monomania, the tinge of madness, or plain bad luck-or perhaps some combination of them all-leapt straight from life into thankless obscurity. Among their number are scientists, artists, writers, entrepreneurs, and adventurers, from across the centuries and around the world. They hold in common the silenced aftermath of failure, the name that rings no bells.

Collins brings them back to glorious life. John Banvard was an artist whose colossal panoramic canvasses (one behemoth depiction of the entire eastern shore of the Mississippi River was simply known as "The Three Mile Painting") made him the richest and most famous artist of his day. . . before he decided to go head to head with P. T. Barnum. René Blondot was a distinguished French physicist whose celebrated discovery of a new form of radiation, called the N-Ray, went terribly awry. At the tender age of seventeen, William Henry Ireland signed "William Shakespeare" to a book and launched a short but meteoric career as a forger of undiscovered works by the Bard -- until he pushed his luck too far. John Symmes, a hero of the War of 1812, nearly succeeded in convincing Congress to fund an expedition to the North Pole, where he intended to prove his theory that the earth was hollow and ripe for exploitation; his quixotic quest counted Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe among its greatest admirers.

Collins' love for what he calls the "forgotten ephemera of genius" give his portraits of these figures and the other nine men and women in Banvard's Folly sympathetic depth and poignant relevance. Their effect is not to make us sneer or revel in schadenfreude; here are no cautionary tales. Rather, here are brief introductions-acts of excavation and reclamation-to people whom history may have forgotten, but whom now we cannot.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:59 -0400)

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