Sometimes her mother, Eileen, claimed noble Welsh ancestry. An accomplished painter and pianist who said she had studied at London's Royal Academy of Music, she decorated the family's San Francisco-area home with Old World furnishings. Ambitious for her daughter, she pressed Cowan into crack-of-dawn violin lessons, hired a private handwriting tutor and insisted she learn to spell in the Queen's English ("theatre" not "theater"). Publicly charming, she flew into rages at home, once throwing Cowan's dollhouse against a wall. Cowan rebelled, never sure what was wrong.
One day, though, Cowan found her mother writing a name on a notepad: Dorothy Soames, Dorothy Soames, Dorothy Soames. It was her first clue.
This is a big book, 425 pages before the notes, about the big changes that transformed New York over the last five decades: spiritually, by making it “more like America and less like what it had always been”, and physically amid “the most dramatic peacetime transformation” of any city “since Haussmann rebuilt Paris”.
“I dictate the picture,” Hitchcock once said. To consolidate his power, he created a personal myth that became a lucrative commercial brand. When asked for an autograph, he often scribbled a silhouette: a blobby head with wispy hair, its plump curves interrupted by a concave nose and two puckered lips. Hitchcock made an icon of himself using nine economical pencil strokes; Edward White’s study of his “variegated legacies” disassembles him into 12 separate facets, each exposing an aspect of “the public entity he crafted”.
Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War” is a kind of love song to the United States Air Force, which is surprising, because it is the least romantic of our armed services, with leaders who focus on technology, not tradition. Also, the air arm tends to be regarded by the other services as suspiciously civilian-ish — as in the soldiers’ one-liner, “I have a lot of respect for the U.S. military, and also for the Air Force.” But in Gladwell’s deft hands, the Air Force generals of World War II come back to life as the stirring 20th-century equivalent of Adm. Horatio Nelson and his band of audacious captains from the age of fighting sail.
Not so bad, I thought for a while—
these quiet hours, newly found.