us history

Preorder Now: The Ghosts of Eden Park

The Ghosts of Eden Park by Karen Abbott

In the 2016 movie Genius, the writer Thomas Wolfe (played by Jude Law) is asked to describe his new book. He responds all-too-seriously, “It’s about America—all of it.” My wife and I quote that line to death. Not only because it’s hilarious but also because some of the best books we read these days shed light on some hidden truth about America. Which is a feeling I get whenever I read one of Karen Abbott’s sumptuously written nonfiction books. At first glance, her latest book, The Ghosts of Eden Park, is the true story of the bootlegger who was the real-life inspiration for Jay Gatsby. But it’s also a window into the soul of this great, oh-so-strange nation of ours. The Ghosts of Eden Park is out August 6, and you should preorder it here now.

The first book I ever read of Abbott’s was Sin in the Second City, which was ostensibly about a Chicago brothel in the early 20th century but actually about a particular species of moral hysteria that felt scarily familiar to this modern reader (and still does). All of Abbott’s books—like the one about burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee or the one about Confederate women spies during the American Civil War—are true stories yet read like novels you can’t put down. Back in j-school we dreamed of writing books like this. They were the highest form of our craft; writers like Abbott raise it to an art form.

The Ghosts of Eden Park pubs just ahead of the 100th anniversary of Prohibition. It’s the true story of George Remus: a teetotaling bootlegger, erudite madman, and the strangest, most intriguing character Abbott says she’s ever encountered in history. Remus never wore underwear (quite the scandal in 1920s America), gave away brand-new Pontiacs as party favors, and spoke of himself in the third person: “Remus was in the whiskey business, and Remus was the biggest man in the business.”

Remus rides high until his wife falls in love with the very federal agent who incarcerated him, sparking a love triangle that reaches the highest levels of government—and which can only end in murder. The book is nonfiction with all the twists and turns of a thriller. It’s a tale so much stranger than fiction it has to be true.

One of the cool things about the story is learning about Remus’s nemesis Mabel Walker Willebrandt, the Assistant US Attorney who was the highest ranking woman in the US government at the time. In her private life, Willebrandt wrote about the obstacles and challenges she faced in that position. As I read her words, I was struck again by that same, scarily familiar feeling that things in this nation have perhaps not changed as much as we’d like to believe it has.

I asked Abbott three quick questions about booze and her characters.

Do you have a favorite whiskey?

I am still a whiskey novice, but I’d say The Macallan. A British friend advised me that it’s the only drink that doesn’t cause a hangover, and so far he’s proved right.

Have you tried that new Remus bourbon?

No, I can’t buy it anywhere in NYC! But I look forward to trying it when I’m on tour. George Remus Bourbon is actually sponsoring my events in Cincinnati and Louisville.

How long do you think we will need to wait for a Mabel Willebrandt whiskey?

That’s a brilliant idea, and someone should get on that ASAP. Ironically, Remus was a teetotaler who never drank a drop of alcohol, while Willebrandt, the “czarina of Prohibition” (in Remus’s words) enjoyed her drink. But she preferred California clarets, not whiskey.

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Anyhoo—please check out The Ghosts of Eden Park if you’re looking for a summer read. See Abbott’s website for more cool info on the characters or to read an excerpt of the book. If nothing else, you gotta watch the trailer.

I’ll leave you with one of Remus’s strangest sayings, and the greatest excuse anyone has ever put forth to explain away his bad behavior: “Remus’s brain exploded.” To decide for yourself if a brain explosion actually occurred, you’ll have to read the book.

All I can say is, D’Agnese loved it.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your collection of free ebooks, go here. Thanks!

Listen to My Interview on The Jim Bohannon Show

Photo by  Israel Palacio  via  Unsplash

Last week was really fun, doing promotion for the release of the paperbacks of our two history titles, Signing Their Lives Away and Signing Their Rights Away. I thought I’d share this one interview I did with veteran broadcaster Jim Bohannon. It was a late-night, call-in talk show, something I’ve never done.

If you’re interested, I show up at the 39:33 mark and run until 1:19:00, almost a full hour. “Jimbo” asked great questions, and was a good host to work with. I had to stay up way past my bedtime to record this! Let me know if you can tell I was zonked.

As always, you can investigate what the books are about at this page.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

One Last Video—and Thanks for Watching!

I’m sharing another short video that we shot for a work-in-progress documentary about the lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Before we jump in, just a reminder that you can find out about the two new paperbacks at one of the links right here.

The goal of our video project was to visit all the historic sites associated with the 56 Signers of the Declaration. In this installment, we’re visiting the birthplace of Signer Arthur Middleton. Today Middleton Place is a stunning and thoughtful tourist destination located in Charleston, South Carolina. Well worth visiting if you’re ever in the area.

Just reminder: The road trip URL referenced in the trailer is now defunct. I haven’t had a chance to update it.

I hope you like it. We have a few more videos to share but we haven’t made them public yet. I’ll post them when they’re released. Thanks for watching.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

Day 3—and Another One of My Videos!

So anyhoo—I’m back with another of the videos we shot looking at the lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence. I know, I know: you’re dying to check out our two new paperbacks on the men behind these founding documents. Grab them at one of the links right here.

The goal of our video project was to visit all the historic sites associated with the 56 Signers of the Declaration. This time around, we’re visiting the birthplace of Signer Thomas Lynch Jr. Today Hopsewee Plantation is a tourist destination located in Georgetown, South Carolina.

Just reminder: The road trip URL referenced in the trailer is now defunct. I haven’t had a chance to update it.

I hope you like it and are moved to visit Hopsewee. It’s a lovely place, run by great people who are dedicated to its preservation.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

Book Launch Day—and Here's Another Video!

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Our two history titles are finally out in paperback today! The world rejoices, ‘cuz, geez, it only took eight years. Grab them at one of the links right here.

To celebrate the launch, I’m running some videos of a documentary project we started working on ourselves some years ago. The goal: to visit all the historic sites associated with the 56 Signers of the Declaration. This is a lovely video shot in Charleston. South Carolina, at the home of Signer Edward Rutledge, which is now an inn. Rutledge was all of 26 years old when he signed the historic document. His other claim to fame? He’s an ancestor of actress Goldie Hawn and her daughter Kate Hudson.

Just reminder: The road trip URL referenced in the trailer is now defunct. I haven’t had a chance to update it.

Less comedy this time around, but still interesting.

By the way, the books look fantastic. The publisher, Quirk Books, did a lovely job.


Above photo by Mallory Cash.

Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

My Video: In Search of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence

To celebrate the launch of our paperbacks this week, I’ll be running some videos of a documentary project we developed years ago. The goal: to visit all the historic sites associated with the 56 Signers of the Declaration. This is the first and probably the funniest trailer we put together.

And a quick reminder that if you’re interested in grabbing a copy of the new newly revised and updated paperbacks, you can check out the links to all my titles right here.

Another quick note: the URL referenced in the trailer is now defunct. I haven’t had a chance to update it.

And now, please enjoy, and let me know if you think I have a future in comedy.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

Bobbleheads Agree! Our New Paperbacks are Awesome!

Our new paperbacks came in the mail the other day, and I couldn’t wait to share them with our resident statesmen. Reminder: the books are out April 30, 2019, and you can pre-order them here.

People always ask what the books are about. Here’s the deal: 56 men signed the Declaration of Independence, 39 signed the U.S. Constitution. Our books offer pithy, often-hilarious mini-biographies about every single one of the men, from the famous ones to the most obscure.

Other cool factoids:

* So much of what people know about the Declaration Signers is based on folklore, exacerbated by the Internet about how much they suffered for our freedom. The truth is far more complex. (Example: None of the signers lost his life because he signed the Declaration of Independence.)

* The Signers of both documents are a hilarious mix of great men and scoundrels. A lot of the Signers ended up broke from bad land investments. Two signers of the constitution were outright embezzlers. One was such a crook Congress tried to arrest him—but he skipped town. So their stories are relevant today because they touch on subjects such as political corruption, sex scandals, or being “upside-down” on loans.

* The Signers were fallible men, like our politicians today. Rather than insist on revering them, it’s probably wiser to accept that "imperfect men created a more perfect union.” It is easier to relate to people who had real issues, real faults, and made real mistakes, yet were still part of an incredible moment in history.

* The documents we revere today grew out of debate and compromise. The Signers fought and argued constantly. The Constitution we regard as sacrosanct was viewed as suspect by many Americans in 1787, the year of its presentation to the American public. Modern Americans think that once the Revolutionary War was over, so were our troubles. Not true. The US was a fragile, brand-new country, with serious deficiencies that only a strong constitutional document could resolve.

* Most people can name about five famous signers for each document. For every Adams, Franklin, or Hancock, there’s a Hart, Morton, or Morris that most people have never heard of. History is often made by so many more people than those highlighted in the history books.

I know: The books sound awesome to buy, don’t they? Head on over to this page to pre-order online, or call my local bookstore for autographed copies.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here. Thanks — Joseph D’Agnese

Cover reveal: Signing Their Lives / Rights Away

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More than a decade ago, I challenged my wife to name as many signers of the Declaration of Independence as she could. We managed to name the five or so “big” ones—Franklin, Jefferson, Hancock, and the two Adamses, John and Samuel—but there were a ton of others we either forgot or never knew in the first place. In total, 56 men signed that document, and most of them never went on to do anything else of equal significance in American history.

That conversation inspired us to do a book called Signing Their Lives Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed the Declaration of Independence, and a sequel of sorts, Signing Their Rights Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed the U.S. Constitution.

The books have remained in hardcover all this time. Our publisher, Quirk Books, is finally releasing them in paperback this spring. The covers will be in sprightly red, white and blue, fireworks not included.

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You can preorder copies at the links above. You can order signed copies from the bookstore in our hometown, Malaprop’s. (Best to phone directly to place those orders.) All pre-orders will go out as soon as they’re released April 30, 2019.

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Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here.