The final two sentences of “Millions” by Frank Cottrell Boyce are: Sometimes money can leave your hand and fall like water from a pipe onto the hot ground, and the dusty earth swallows it up and bursts into food and flowers for miles and miles around. And all the seeds and roots and lives that were lying dead in the ground spring all the way back to life. I don’t mind admitting that I cried twice while reading “Millions” — and I knew the story.
Twenty years ago, a friend of mine, Steve Swanson, recommended Lytton Strachey’s “Eminent Victorians” as a classic in the field of biography — and a delightful read as well. I’ve owned a copy for nearly that long, but only now have come to make my way through it, and I find that everything Steve said about the book is true. Even more so. If you’re interested in history — in reading history and learning about history — you will relish “Eminent Victorians” for its psychological insights, its clear understanding of the landscape of a particular society, its honesty and courage, and Strachey’s skill at crafting sentences and turning phrases.
What happened two centuries ago on Aug. 15, 1812, on the Lake Michigan shore near what is now 18th Street has long been called the Fort Dearborn Massacre. But it wasn’t a massacre. It was a battle in two simultaneous wars.
Back in the 1990s, I saw a movie, set in a big city, that focused on a small group of people who wore very distinctive uniforms. This group wasn’t carrying out its mission very well. The members of the group were portrayed in the film stereotypically. One was gullible. One prayed too much. One was really, really dumb. But then they were saved when someone came from completely outside the group, someone totally unexpected. She got everyone working together. And the group was suddenly successful. The actress who portrayed that woman was Whoopi Goldberg. And the film was? No, it wasn’t “Sister Act.”