March 23, 2005: Reading Room
to the past
By Justin Nyberg ’01
For years, W.B. “Bart” Marsh ’58 was a pack rat for history. Starting in 1980, he began to scribble down historical dates he’d happen upon, first using an outdated 1979 day planner, then a jumbled card file.
“I just kind of did it for the fun of it,” Marsh says.
But about five years ago, Marsh, an English major who worked in advertising, decided to compile his scattered notes into something more formal. What began as a casual, if slightly eccentric, hobby evolved into 365: Your Date With History, a 652-page collection of some 800 colorful vignettes describing dramatic events that have occurred on every day of the calendar year sometime in human history. The events include births, deaths, marriages, coronations, assassinations, convocations, scandals, battles, and treaties.
To help with the project, Marsh enlisted his childhood friend and classmate Bruce Carrick ’58, whose interest in military and American history complemented Marsh’s own love of European history and antiquity. Carrick, a history major who spent his career in publishing, says he had no idea whether the book would find its way into print when they began writing the quirky essays.
“You’ve got two authors nobody has ever heard of. You have a book without any plot,” Carrick says. “We spent four years doing this as a hobby, thinking, ‘If you have a good time doing it, who needs a publisher?’ ”
But Icon Books of England snapped up the rights, and the book hit the shelves in bookstores across the United Kingdom in October 2004 (and is available through www.amazon.co.uk).
The book starts, of course, with Jan. 1, the day Samuel Pepys, an English naval administrator, started his famous diary in 1660. It ends on Dec. 31 with the Reign of Terror execution in 1793 of a French nobleman, Armand-Louis de Gontaut, whose genteel request for “another dozen oysters” to forestall his lunch date with the guillotine is one of the anecdotes the authors use to bring each date to life.
On a timeline, the book stretches from the day Pharaoh Ramses II took power in 1229 B.C., on what would have been June 25, to May 7, 1954, when communist troops in Vietnam overran the French base at Dien Bien Phu. “Bruce and I concluded anything that happened in the last 50 years isn’t really history, it’s really current events, at least to us old folks,” Marsh says.
The pair worked separately, Carrick from his home in Somers, N.Y., and Marsh from London, e-mailing the stories across the Atlantic to each other for review. They leave out events that most people know, like the bombing of Hiroshima, in favor of lesser-known moments that make for good, quick reads.
They also include one fictional date, the death of Sherlock Holmes, on May 4, 1891, just for kicks. “Obviously, it shouldn’t strictly be in a history book, but who cares? This book isn’t for a Princeton history professor, except to entertain him,” says Marsh.
Justin Nyberg ’01 is a freelance writer in Santa Fe, N.M.
The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (a Little) Craziness and (a Lot of) Success in America — John D. Gartner ’79 (Simon and Schuster). The author explores hypomania, a mild form of mania that endows certain people with energy, creativity, and a propensity for risk-taking. He argues that many Americans, including Alexander Hamilton and Andrew Carnegie, may have had the condition. Gartner is a psychotherapist.
Little Earthquakes — Jennifer Weiner ’91 (Atria). Weiner’s latest novel focuses on four new mothers — Becky, an overweight chef; Ayinde, the beautiful wife of an NBA star; Kelly, an overachieving events planner; and Lia, a young actress — and their friendship and sometimes messy lives as they deal with raising kids. Weiner is also the author of the novels Good in Bed (2001) and In Her Shoes (2002), which was made into a movie that will be released in October.
The Supreme Court and Religion in American Life, Volume I: The Odyssey of the Religion Clauses; and Volume II: From “Higher Law” to “Sectarian Scruples” — James Hitchcock *65 (Princeton University Press). The author traces the history of the Supreme Court’s approach to religion by examining religious-liberty cases, including Mormon polygamy cases and public support of religious schools. Hitchcock is a history professor at St. Louis University.