Monday, December 22, 2014

Gotham is Dutch: my take in The Monocle

For those of you in the United Kingdom, I have an essay in The Monocle's "Forecast" edition on New York City and how its having been founded by the Dutch has determined so much about the city it has become and will continue to be. It's an idea developed further in American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, a book that should have a U.K. edition but, alas, doesn't (though the U.S. one can be bought from

There's no digital tease or online version, bless their hearts, beyond this little bit on the issue, so you'll have to actually get it in the newsstands.

Monday, December 15, 2014

When the Wabanaki ruled the waves...with European vessels

In this week's Maine Sunday Telegram you'll find my piece on a little-known aspect of early American colonial history: the dominance of the Gulf of Maine and the nearshore waters of the Maritimes by the region's native inhabitants, the Wabanaki, who include the Micmac, Passamaquoddy, Penobscots, and other nations.

The fascinating element: that the very first explorers in the Gulf of Maine encountered Indians using captured European sailing vessels with great skill, and that later colonial fishermen and mariners would find themselves on the losing end of maritime raids by Indians using both native and European vessels.

The essay is occasioned by a new and somewhat flawed academic paper in the Journal of American History -- one that tries to place the Wabanaki story within the "hot" academic field of Atlantic World studies, arguing that the tribes had geopolitical ambitions to block the creation of the British mercantile world. As you'll see in the piece, that's rather a stretch, but the topic at hand is a fascinating one.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Selling (other people's) books with some great Maine authors, Portland, Nov. 29

I hope the Americans among you enjoyed your Thanksgiving holiday. Our part of Maine was stricken with widespread power outages, but prior investment in a generator saved Thanksgiving dinner for twenty-some-odd at our house. It's still running out there, 36 hours after we lost power, noisily keeping the 19th century at bay.

For those with power or without who are looking for a more soulful way to participate in our country's crazed celebration of retail purchasing this weekend, Longfellow Books in Portland is hosting a genuinely fun event as part of the "buy local" effort in our region.

It all takes place tomorrow, Saturday Nov. 29. First, children's author-illustrators Chris Van Dusen and Scott Nash will be competing in a "draw off" against one another from 11 am to 1. This, I expect, will be quite amusing.

Then, from 1 to 3pm, authors Richard Russo, Monica Wood, Brock Clark, Genevieve Morgan and myself will each have some of our own handpicked titles of other people's works, and try to outsell one another in singing the praises of said titles.

Come on by; it should be a lot of fun.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Shedding light on New Brunswick's powerful, secretive Irving family

In today's Maine Sunday Telegram I write about New Brunswick's Irving family, who over four generations have built a powerful vertically-integrated conglomerate that controls much of that province's economic and informational life, including Irving Oil and forestry entity J.D. Irving (Maine's largest private landholder and the 10th largest on the planet, excluding monarchs), all of the province's English-language dailies, most of its weeklies, railroads, shipyards, oil tankers, hardware store chains, bus companies, paper mills, a refinery and an LNG terminal.

It's also an enormously secretive clan whose company spokespeople rarely respond to media requests and whose own control of the provincial media market ensures little scrutiny at home. But a new book by New Brunswick author and journalist Jacques Poitras -- Irving vs Irving -- has pulled the curtain back a bit. I talk to him about the book, the Irvings, and their sway over that province.

I last wrote about the Irvings for the Christian Science Monitor in 2008; nobody outside its newspaper division would return calls. Ditto for this 2011 Monitor story on tidal energy, which the Irvings had just pulled away from. They didn't respond to inquiries for this story either.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Talking Blackbeard on Smithsonian Channel's "Secrets", Nov. 17

The next episode of the Smithsonian Channel history documentary series "Secrets" features Blackbeard's flagship, the Queen Anne's Revenge and, yes, yours truly as an on-air source.

The show, produced by the Toronto-based Pier 21 Films, also airs as "Treasures Decoded" on History Television (in Canada), Channel 4 (UK), France 5, and Australia's SBS.

You can get a taste of the show from these online clips over at Smithsonian Channel's website. The full story of Blackbeard and the golden age pirates is told in my work of history, The Republic of Pirates, a New York Times bestseller which is available in local editions all the aforementioned markets save France. It was also the inspiration for the NBC drama "Crossbones" and helped inform the making of Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Speaking on Blackbeard and the Bahamas Pirates, Portland, Maine, Nov. 13

For those of you in southern Maine, I'll be speaking about Blackbeard and the great Caribbean pirate gang in Portland on November 13 at 6:30 pm.

The event -- keyed off my history, The Republic of Pirates, which was made into an NBC series starring John Malkovich -- is at Letterpress Books at the Northgate shopping plaza and is free and open to the public. A signing will follow.

Here's a preview of the talk -- and an interview with me -- from The Portland Daily Sun.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Talking American Nations with Iowa Public Radio

Let the 2016 presidential speculation begin: I'm speaking on American Nations in Iowa tonight. The event -- part of Des Moines' World of Words Festival and the Iowa History Center's speaking series -- kicks off at 7pm at Simpson College in Indianola. It's free and open to the public.

For those who can't make it: in anticipation of the talk, I had this enjoyable and extended conversation with Iowa Public Radio's "River to River" program yesterday. The Des Moines Register's emeritus editorial page editor, Richard Doak, joined the conversation in the second half.