The second dud, all of my own choosing at a book sale is "Scandalmonger" by William Safire, published in 2000, and a New York Times Notable book of the year winner., 430 pages, followed by a 12 page Epilogue documenting what happened to the various historical characters appearing in the novel, and 51 pages of notes which are very detailed history and information. This sounded like just my kind of book, well researched by a respected author, but another selection that I repeatedly sat aside, returned to from time to time when I finished reading another book or two and finally gave up at page 103. The novel was alluring with various chapter headed about Scandals in colonial times, involving Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and so many other historical men and women. An opening page, "note to the Reader" begins, "The reader of historical fiction wonders, "What's true and what's not?" As docudramas blur the line between fact and fiction, the reader is entitled to know what is history and what is twistery....." The novel opens December 17,1792 in Philadelphia with "Prologue." "The man now in jail who got me into all this trouble says he has enough on the Treasury Secretary to hang him." The note from his former clerk startled Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg, .....,"the member of Congress from Pennsylvania--about to begin his second trm as Speaker of the House of Representatives read on: Reynolds claims to have proof showing that Hamilton secretly engaged in speculation in government securities.. Alexander Hamilton corrupt?" So the opening stirred my curiosity and reflection how yes, political scandals have always been with us. The author states that quotations of Jefferson, Washington and Madison are almost verbatim. Chapter 8 opens with a sketch of the "Congressional Pugilists" Lyon vs. Griswold in 1798 depicting the intense argument where Matthew Lyon, an Irishman spit at Griswold and anti immigrant sentiments made others squirm. I have to admit, it must have been quite a scene and perhaps such vociferous expression shows how far we have come in manners, or have we?
Page 88 has an interesting observation, "Even if Hamilton is telling the truth about his financial purity and I presume he is, a claim of sexual immorality is no defense. Adultery is just a different manifestation of dishonesty." Yes there are many similarities with politicians of today with the scandals abounding in this novel. The writing is very good, of course for someone of Safire's stature as an author, that is expected. However, I could not continue to read anymore of this tale. I was fascinated by some words that are no longer used today. Page 446, explains "contemelious" I learned this archaic word was a favorite Hamilton synonym for slanderous and "flagitious for villainous. Some anachronisms have lasted through time, such as "boozy and tipsy." Nevertheless this book returns to the collection I will donate to our next month's local Library book sale.
Both books prove that old adage, you cannot judge a book by it's cover.