THE AZTEC TREASURE HOUSE: New and Selected Essays
These 20 erudite and entertaining historical essays (all but three of which have appeared in previous volumes) highlight Connell's wide-ranging intellect and lucid prose. He revels in unexpected turns of fate and relishes the picturesque, strangely compelling details that historians often miss. Interweaving exhaustive scholarship with winning humor in an essay on astronomy, he recounts how the arrogant Tycho Brahe lost the bridge of his nose during a duel with a rival scientist over "which of them was the better mathematician." A few pieces consider historic clashes between "those traditional opponents Science and Religion." Fascinated by people who probe the outer limits of knowledge and geography, Connell provides a blow-by-blow account of the famous debate between Thomas Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce over evolution and describes the searing conflict between Galileo and the Catholic Church over heliocentrism. "White Lantern"—the best essay of the bunch—passionately (even enviously) details the amazing race to the South Pole between pragmatic Norwegian Roald Amundsen and romantic Englishman Captain Robert Scott, in a narrative even Jon Krakauer would admire. Connell sagely points out that "Amundsen, the victor, is not as renowned as the loser," because a dead hero (Scott died on the return trip) is more likely to captivate the public's imagination. Confessing a hopeless attraction to "buried treasure, monsters, ghosts, derelict ships, inexplicable footprints, and luminous objects streaking through the sky," Connell chronicles journeys of absolute, disastrous futility—the searches for Atlantis, the Seven Cities of Gold and the Northwest Passage. These skillfully crafted essays will please any history, science or adventure buff. (Sept. 30)
Forecast:Connell's Sun of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Bighorn was a much-praised bestseller. This should be widely reviewed and sell handsomely.
Release date: 09/01/2001