9780156013239 / 0156013231

Scandalmonger (Harvest Book)


Publisher:Mariner Books



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About the book:

Scandalmonger is the 25th book from William Safire, the prolific, feisty New York Times columnist and word wrangler. It's a historic novel set in 1790s New England, when the Founding Fathers were enduring various crises and humiliations as they scurried to become part of the history books. Always a stickler for the truth--as long as it's uttered in the finest of phrases--the author lets us know right from the start that we're "entitled to know what is history and what is twistery." Based on documents and diaries, and complete with an exhaustive section of footnotes separating fact from fiction, Scandalmonger turns out to be a bona fide page-turner. Safire knows what he's doing; he knows he has a lesson to teach. It's a lesson about how early America wasn't much different from Clinton's America--the temptations of mistresses, the power struggles, the ridiculous debates about purity between corrupt men being just as present. If he has one message, it is this: within every powerful politician, there is a dirty-minded second grader trying to get out. Witness this scene between two outraged congressmen who seem intent on "turning the House into a 'gladiators' arena'":

Griswold's stout cane cracked Lyon on the top of the head, then across his back, again and again. More than twenty heavy blows rained down on his victim, who was groping for help in escaping along the floor, blinded by the blood spurting down from his scalp.
Meanwhile, the title character, James Callender--who gives the fourth estate an early bad name--"looked around frantically for a weapon."

And there's far more in store: Safire's deeply entertaining novel is divided into five scandals, which take place over a period of 10 years, reaching a high point with the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his slave mistress, Sally Hemings. As the story goes, Jefferson loved her for years and she bore many children by him. These days all over America, the descendants of that union keep coming forward for television interviews. As Scandalmonger illustrates, the past is always present. --Emily White

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