Saturday, November 03, 2018

A Rock of Many Pieces

By Paul Beston
November 3, 2018

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In 1976, in front of a fireplace at his rustic training camp in Deer Lake, Pa., Muhammad Ali sat with Howard Cosell for a Wide World of Sports special on great heavyweight champions. As black-and-white footage ran of his illustrious predecessors, Ali was mostly dismissive: Jack Dempsey had no science; Joe Louis was too slow afoot; fighters from the turn of the century were too primitive. Then Cosell got to Rocky Marciano.

“Marciano!” Ali exclaimed. “Ooh, he hit hard! . . . I did a computer fight with him, when he was an old man just pretending, and my arms were sore just from joking with him.” Released in movie theaters in early 1970, the Ali–Marciano “fight” had been filmed in summer 1969, not long before Marciano died in a plane crash. The idea was that Ali, then 27 and exiled from boxing due to his refusal to be inducted into the Army, and the retired Marciano, 45, would act out scenarios for a match as devised by an NCR-315 computer. The choreography was staged, but inevitably some real punches landed, and each man emerged from the experience with deepened respect for the other.
In his new biography, Unbeaten: Rocky Marciano’s Fight for Perfection in a Crooked World (Henry Holt, 400 pp., $32), Mike Stanton helps readers understand why even so proud a man as Muhammad Ali came to view Rocky Marciano, the pride of Brockton, Mass., as something like a force of nature. Stanton, author of the best-selling The Prince of Providence: The Rise and Fall of Buddy Cianci, is well positioned, geographically and professionally, to write the definitive Marciano biography, and that’s what Unbeaten appears to be. Stanton’s treatment of his subject is what you might expect from a longtime newspaperman who shared a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting at the Providence Journal: He runs down every source, providing rich detail — and fresh discoveries — about Marciano’s career.
The general outlines of that career are well known: Born in Brockton in 1923, Rocco Marchegiano dreamed of major league baseball stardom but lacked the skills, and, after a stint in the Army during World War II, resolved on boxing at the late age of 23. It was a last-ditch attempt to avoid the fate of his father, Pierino, who toiled in the city’s famous shoe factories. Linking up with uber-connected boxing manager Al Weill and resident-genius trainer Charley Goldman, Marciano had the right team to get him to the top, but he never would have made it there without the ferocious dedication that became his hallmark. Cursed with the shortest arms of any heavyweight, clumsy and unpolished, Marciano looked like the roughest of diamonds when Goldman got hold of him. “You’ve got so much to learn it ain’t funny,” the trainer warned.
But Marciano was single-mindedly determined to succeed. “I’ve been in this boxing business fifty years, and I’ve never seen anyone like you yet,” Goldman told the fighter after he became champion. “Work. Work. Work. Train. Train. Train. Sometimes I suspect you’re not even human.” Marciano’s work ethic and what Stanton calls his “indomitable will to win” were the key elements of his rise, along with a final ingredient, the only one supplied by nature: a right-hand punch that put even superior boxers to sleep. Marciano’s men called it the Suzy Q, and it delivered one of the sport’s central moments, in September 1952, when challenger Marciano planted the right on the chin of heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott in the 13th round, knocking him out cold and winning the title. He reigned for a comparatively brief three and a half years, defending his crown six times before retiring in April 1956 with a perfect 49–0 record, still the only undefeated heavyweight champion. His fighting style, which depended on extraordinary physical conditioning, was often derided as crude, but it always got the job done. One opponent likened it to battling against an airplane propeller.
Stanton’s descriptions of Marciano’s signature battles against Walcott, Joe Louis, Ezzard Charles, and Archie Moore are engrossing and gritty, uncluttered with attempted literary flights of fancy. Though the author’s shoe-leather approach at times bogs down the pace, his doggedness mostly serves the story well, and it also makes some news: We learn that Marciano did not serve uneventfully in the Army during World War II, as long believed, but instead spent nearly two years in the brig, the result of a court-martial conviction for a drunken misadventure with a buddy, in which they were charged with the assault and robbery of two Englishmen. (Marciano secured an honorable discharge by rejoining the Army after serving his sentence.) A smaller surprise concerns Marciano’s end-of-life musings about the abolition of boxing, a prospect that he seemed to welcome. “As people get more civilized,” the ex-champ said, “they’re going to ban boxing. . . . A hundred years from now we’ll be like the gladiators, something out of history.” He worried that his grandchildren, in looking back over his life and career, might see him as “a brutal ruffian.”
These speculations sound surprising coming from such a rough-and-tumble fighter, but Unbeaten shows that Marciano was much more complicated than most people knew. His reputation as gracious sportsman and hard-working, clean-living family man made him an emblem of 1950s popular culture — “a poster boy for the Greatest Generation and a symbol of American masculinity,” as Stanton puts it — just as heavyweight champions before and after him would resonate with their own eras. But the spotless image obscured darker impulses, including fraternizing with mobsters, especially in retirement, and, also in retirement, indulging an insatiable appetite for women. His lifelong fear of going broke and distrust of non-cash money metastasized into a mania for squirreling away greenbacks in curtain rods and light fixtures around the United States. When he died on August 31, 1969, he hadn’t told any of his family where the money was, and they never found a dollar. Stanton’s depiction of Marciano’s retirement years is consistent with what earlier writers, such as Russell Sullivan and the late William Nack, uncovered, but his treatment is deepened by the context he provides on the younger Marciano — the one who spent time in an English stockade before rising to the heights of American sports. These early- and late-life bookends frame a boxing career that now looks like the orderly middle of a life otherwise dominated by restlessness.
That Stanton would find something new to say about Marciano is impressive considering that two fine biographies of the fighter already exist. Everett Skehan’s 1977 Rocky Marciano: Biography of a First Son provides deep local color, with firsthand testimonies from multiple Brockton insiders, while Sullivan’s Rocky Marciano: The Rock of His Times combines scrupulous biography with insightful social commentary. Published in 2002, Sullivan’s book looked to be the last word on the Rock, until Stanton came along.
Writing about Marciano in Sports Illustrated in September 1955, Budd Schulberg asked: “Are we too close to his shortcomings to recognize his incomparable virtues?” The question lingers, because, even with his perfect record, Marciano remains somewhat underappreciated. Whatever the Rock lacks in public memory, though, he now has, in Unbeaten, a Suzy Q of a biography.

Today's Tune: Bruce Springsteen Full Concert (24 July 2013, Leeds)

Friday, November 02, 2018

Bob Dylan’s First Day with “Tangled Up in Blue”

By Jeff Slate
October 31, 2018

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The New York sessions for Bob Dylan’s 1975 album, “Blood on the Tracks,” have always been ground zero for Dylan’s reputation as a cipher and a curmudgeon in the recording studio, intent on speeding through the proceedings and capturing lightning in a bottle, quality control be damned. As the story has been told—mostly by musicians who no doubt felt that they didn’t get a fair shake during the biggest moment of their careers—Dylan started sessions for “Blood on the Tracks” on September 16, 1974, on Rosh Hashanah, with a band of New York session “cats” who couldn’t hear what Dylan was doing on songs that he hadn’t bothered to teach them. He waved them off, one by one, as the day wore on, essentially firing them before they had a chance to prove themselves. The problem is, it simply isn’t true.

As the author of the liner notes for “More Blood, More Tracks,” the latest entry in Dylan’s “Bootleg Series,” I was one of the first people to hear the raw session tapes in chronological order. I listened while perusing Dylan’s fabled “red notebook,” in which he’d written the lyrics to the ten songs on “Blood on the Tracks” in his tiny, precise scrawl. What I quickly realized turned the legend upside down: Dylan entered the studio early on the sixteenth, long before any of the session musicians had arrived, intent on cutting an acoustic album—a sort of “Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” for the mid-seventies. Contrary to most accounts, Dylan was supremely prepared, and immediately went about delivering aching versions of some of the best—and most intimate—songs that he had ever written. In the era of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell and so many others unjustly or unfortunately dubbed “the New Dylan,” and after a clutch of albums that fans had found less than satisfying, Dylan was throwing down the gauntlet, showing himself once again to be the master singer-songwriter and performer.

By the time the musicians who’d been hired to back Dylan arrived that afternoon, he had already cut eleven songs. Dylan would record another fifteen that day—including five takes of “Idiot Wind,” alone again, save for the bassist Tony Brown—for a total of thirty-six, an epic amount by any standard. But it’s clear as you listen that instead of things getting better as the sessions progressed, with the musicians finding their groove with Dylan, the atmosphere in the room degenerated. Most interesting, while Dylan gamely puts the band through their paces on the seemingly easy blues of “Call Letter Blues” and “Meet Me in the Morning” (after attempts at “Simple Twist of Fate” failed miserably), he never lets them near what he surely senses must be his latest masterpiece: “Tangled Up in Blue.” And so, on the afternoon of September 17th, Dylan steps up to the microphone and delivers a hushed, intense, and powerfully intimate version of that song, accompanied only by Brown on bass.

There’s a plaintiveness in that very first version of “Tangled Up in Blue” that’s unusual. It’s the earliest version we have of the now-familiar tale—of the star-crossed couple and their travels and travails, that jumps from the first to third person and back again—and while Dylan doesn’t necessarily sound tentative, the way he often did on “The Cutting Edge: 1965-1966,” the “Bootleg Series” entry that chronicled his “thin wild mercury music” years, he does seem more vulnerable than he ever had before, or ever would be again. “There’s a lot of honesty there,” Jeff Burger, the author of “Dylan on Dylan,” said. “It’s raw and heartfelt, with less posing than he’d done on some of his earlier songs. Of course, many great songs had come before, like ‘Desolation Row’ and so many others, but he was showing off his way with words and painting a picture of another world, not necessarily telling a whole lot about himself. But here he really gets down to the personal, even if it isn’t completely direct.”

While he was writing the songs for “Blood on the Tracks,” Dylan had taken up painting classes with the New York artist Norman Raeben. By all accounts, Raeben was a taskmaster, but he imparted in his students a sense both that life itself was the art, with their creations being merely the by-product of that experience, and, significantly for Dylan, that past, present, and future could all coexist in their work. “He put my mind and my hand and my eye together, in a way that allowed me to do consciously what I unconsciously felt,” Dylan told Rolling Stone in 1978, of Raeben’s influence on his songwriting approach.

While Dylan is known to endlessly and brutally edit his lyrics until the very last minute in the studio, and the epic “Idiot Wind” transformed in the course of the “Blood on the Tracks” sessions, “Tangled Up in Blue” is the one song in Dylan’s vast catalogue that he has never seemed to be finished with. There are eight takes from the New York sessions, and the slightest lyrical change, shift in tempo, or variation in delivery causes the song to reveal itself in unexpected ways. When Dylan launches into take two of the song, it’s bouncy, with punchy vocals and organ flourishes, making it, already, a different tale altogether. Further takes seem to split the difference between dark and light. By the time Dylan and Brown attempt the song for the last time in New York, in a remarkable version recorded at the eleventh hour of those sessions, Dylan has seemingly wrung all he can out of “Tangled Up in Blue.”

Still, Dylan would revisit the song just three months later—this time in Minneapolis—in the version that we would all come to love and obsess over. His voice was already transformed, more akin to the carnival-barker delivery that he’d employ on 1975’s “Desire” and the Rolling Thunder Review tour. The version Dylan performed less than a year later on that tour was yet again vastly reworked, and he would continue tinkering with it over the years. A decade later, in 1984, on the album “Real Live,” Dylan felt he’d finally found the song he’d been looking for. “On ‘Real Live’ it is more like it should have been,” Dylan toldRolling Stone in 1985. “I was never really happy with it. I guess I was just trying to make it like a painting where you can see the different parts, but then you also see the whole of it. With that particular song, that’s what I was trying to do . . . with the concept of time, and the way the characters change from the first person to the third person, and you’re never quite sure if the third person is talking or the first person is talking. But as you look at the whole thing it really doesn’t matter. On ‘Real Live,’ the imagery is better and more the way I would have liked it than on the original recording.”

Dylan has performed “Tangled Up in Blue” 1,546 times during his Never Ending Tour, which began in 1988 and is still going. Like any good Dylan obsessive, I’ve seen many of those performances. It’s a guilty pleasure of Dylanologists to trainspot the tweaks—both large and small—that Dylan makes to the lyrics from year to year, or sometimes from night to night. Still, when I was presented with Dylan’s latest revision, written in his own hand—which is part of the “Mondo Scripto” exhibition of his art currently on display at the Halcyon Gallery in London— it was like seeing an old, dear friend, whom you know intimately, but who’s no doubt changed and grown over the years, adapting with the times.

Fans who have seen Dylan in concert recently will recognize some of the changes, of how “he let the law take its course” has taken the place of using “a little too much force,” or how instead of “fishing outside Delacroix,” “everybody’d gone somewhere.” Of course, the past is still close behind, “following me like a shadow that couldn’t get out of my mind / sticking like glue / Tangled up in blue,” but she isn’t working in a topless bar anymore but at the Moonlight Lounge, “where men put money in her hand.” “There’s always been a certain truth about money that I never did understand,” this new version of Dylan’s classic tells us. “You put things to bed and you’ll call it a day / Sometimes you go along for the ride / You pick your brains and you bury the hatchet / Then you walk on the wild side / Towns are ruined and cities burns and images disappear / Weep with all of your heart if you would / I too cried a tear / Nothing you can do / If you’re tangled up in blue.” It recasts the song in the spirit of our times, in the same way the original was so much a product of the Vietnam and Watergate era.

While researching the sessions for “Blood on the Tracks,” I spoke to the writer Larry (Ratso) Sloman, who got to know Dylan around the time and has remained friends with him ever since. He told me a fascinating story of an artist who is perhaps oblivious to how seriously we all take him, but also at peace with his creative process. “I was around during the sessions for ‘Infidels,’ and I fell in love with the song ‘Blind Willie McTell,’ ” Sloman said, referring to a song that’s considered one of Dylan’s best but didn’t find a home on a release until the first volume of his “Bootleg Series,” in 1991. “When the album was finished, Bob called me up and asked me if I wanted to come over to hear it. He played it for me, but no ‘Blind Willie McTell.’ I asked him, ‘What gives, Bob? Where’s ‘Blind Willie McTell?’ And, without missing a beat, he goes, ‘It’s no big deal, Ratso. It’s just an album. I’ve made twenty-two. And I’ll make more.’ ”

Unlike, say, Paul Simon, a presenter who toils over his records, perfecting every nuance until everything is just so, Dylan is restless, visceral, mercurial, always seemingly on the way to his next creation. “More Blood, More Tracks,” and especially its centerpiece, the constantly evolving, shifting, changing “Tangled Up in Blue,” is pure Dylan, a portrait of an artist who never seems to tire of the chase.

“Tangled Up in Blue” copyright © 1974 by Ram’s Horn Music, renewed in 2002 by Ram’s Horn Music. Additional lyrics copyright © 2018 Ram’s Horn Music. Courtesy of the MondoScripto exhibit at the Halcyon Gallery, London.

On ‘More Blood, More Tracks,’ Familiar Bob Dylan Songs Cut Closer to the Bone

By Jon Pareles
October 30, 2018

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Bob Dylan had crucial second thoughts just as he was about to release “Blood on the Tracks,” the indelible 1975 album filled with songs of separation, heartache, sorrow, rage and regret. Now it’s getting a revealing close-up. “More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series Vol. 14,” due Friday, unveils all of the initial sessions: the solo, duo and small-group versions of songs that Dylan replaced, for half of the album, with more extroverted full-band recordings. There are an exhaustive deluxe six-CD version with every surviving take and a one-CD compilation of alternate versions of the album’s 10 songs plus one that was omitted, “Up to Me.”
The songs from “Blood on the Tracks” are artfully multifaceted: romances, travelogues, tall tales, parables and possibly memories, all at once. Although it was written and recorded while Dylan’s marriage to the former Sara Lownds was disintegrating — she filed for divorce in 1977 — he later insisted that its songs, including “Tangled Up in Blue,” “Idiot Wind” and “Shelter from the Storm,” were by no means confessional. In“Chronicles: Volume One,” his elliptical 2004 memoir, he claimed that the lyrics had been inspired by Anton Chekhov short stories.
While making the album and tinkering with lyrics, Dylan pared away obvious references to his own career. He set aside “Up to Me,” a song about artistic ambition versus small-mindedness, and he replaced lines from an early take of “Idiot Wind” that complained, “Imitators steal me blind.” Regardless of its origins, listeners through the decades have been riveted by the album’s pain and longing; it’s one of Dylan’s masterpieces.
The album Dylan had initially planned to release was recorded in four days in September 1974, in the New York City studio where he had made his first albums: A&R Studios, formerly Columbia Studio A. In that familiar setting he recorded solo, with his acoustic guitar and harmonica, and for one session with a band of folk-rooted sidemen, Eric Weissberg and Deliverance. They finished only one song that satisfied Dylan, “Meet Me in the Morning.”
He whittled the band down to just its bassist, Tony Brown, who shadowed Dylan’s idiosyncratic timing with uncanny grace through the remaining sessions, yielding the reflective, almost conspiratorial performances of“Simple Twist of Fate” and “Buckets of Rain” on the original album, along with the busker’s bounce of “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” a song about blissful love that can’t help envisioning its end. Dylan brought in two other studio musicians, Paul Griffin on keyboards and Buddy Cage on pedal steel guitar, to add ghostly overlays.
Almost all of the songs were in the same key and performed with a bare minimum of backup. So the original “Blood on the Tracks” would have been nearly as sparse as Dylan’s early 1960s solo recordings and his lean, pointedly ascetic 1967 “John Wesley Harding.”
But while LP jackets were being printed and advance vinyl pressings were sent out, Dylan decided to revisit the songs with a pickup band of local Minneapolis musicians who were hastily assembled during the last week of December 1974. He had rewritten (and improved) some lyrics, and with more musicians in the room and, perhaps, more distance on the songwriting, he delivered the songs more forcefully, facing them outward rather than inward.
When “Blood on the Tracks” was released in January 1975, half of the New York City recordings were replaced with the Minneapolis sessions (although with album covers already printed, that studio band went uncredited). Meanwhile, to give the music a subliminal edge, Dylan had the tracks sped up by 2 to 3 percent, shortening the running times by a few seconds and very slightly raising the pitch. Insiders who had heard the original album mourned what they considered to be a push toward pop. A handful of songs from the New York sessions that trickled out on Dylan’s first Bootleg Series compilations suggested they had a point.
“More Blood, More Tracks,” strips away any gloss. In the six-CD package, the takes that appeared on the original album are returned to accurate speed and mixed more austerely, with considerably less reverb around Dylan’s voice and guitar and different balances on band tracks. (The six CDs include all the takes recorded in New York; there are no surviving outtakes from the Minneapolis sessions, but the master tapes are remixed.) The pricey full package also includes a hardcover volume featuring a trove of Dylan lore: a page-by-page reproduction of a spiral notebook of lyrics, full of cross-outs and alternatives. The one-CD version is a well-chosen playlist among many that could traverse the New York sessions.
From the beginning, none of the performances on the complete set is tentative or demo-like. Dylan had clearly thought through the songs beforehand, chosen his guitar strategies and decided where the dramatic peaks were. His first performances in the studio were apparently so incandescent that the engineers didn’t pay attention to the sound of his vest buttons clacking against his guitar — the only distraction in his very first take of “Simple Twist of Fate,” which rises from and falls back to a stoic near-whisper, like a startling rumor being passed along.
The New York recordings, solo or close to it, bring out the solitude in the songs: The singer endlessly wandering, bereft of the woman he loved, wondering what could have been different, coming to terms with it all. Stripped of arrangements that have been familiar for decades, Dylan’s voice comes through as more insistent, while the lyrics land more sharply. The complicated storyline of “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” becomes more immediately comprehensible in a solo performance. And without the Minneapolis band’s organ crescendos, “Idiot Wind” becomes a more private attack, as much plaint as indictment: “You’ll never know the hurt I suffered nor the pain I rise above/And I’ll never know the same about you, your holiness or your kind of love.”
But in the end, Dylan knew best. The Minneapolis versions unleashed the suppressed anger in “Idiot Wind” and brought the momentum of a band to the long quasi-narratives of songs like “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.” The New York versions of the songs were monochromatic and slightly forbidding, and they played down Dylan’s dry humor: “She was married when they first met, soon to be divorced/He helped her out of a jam, I guess, But he used a little too much force,” he sang in early versions of “Tangled Up in Blue,” a song in which he continues to juggle pronouns (I/he) and personae.
The Minneapolis arrangement of “Tangled Up in Blue” that opens “Blood on the Tracks” — switched to first-person, transposed to a higher key and ornamented with glimmering guitar strumming — doesn’t telegraph the troubles to come. Instead, it entices an unsuspecting listener into the album’s emotional labyrinths.
Dylan was right the first time about his decision to re-record half of “Blood on the Tracks.” But years later, it’s fascinating and illuminating to hear what might have been.

Book Reviews: 'Napoleon: The Man Behind the Myth' by Adam Zamoyski

By Gerard DeGroot
13 October 2018

Napoleon Bonaparte became a brigadier-general at the age of 24. At 30, he was first consul of France, then emperor five years later. He was a brilliant military commander, an enlightened political leader, an intellect and a sexual colossus. He was, quite simply, a genius.
Or so he would have us believe.
Adam Zamoyski doesn’t buy the Napoleon hype. “He was in many ways a very ordinary man,” he argues, “the product of his times.” The turbulence of post-revolutionary France provided opportunities for men of gargantuan self-belief. “In war . . . people quickly rally to the person who gives the impression of knowing what they are about, and Bonaparte’s self-confidence was magnetic.” In truth, his brilliance was nine-tenths illusion. “I find it difficult,” Zamoyski writes, “to credit genius to someone who . . . presided over the worst (and entirely self-inflicted) disaster in military history” — by which he means the long string of defeats from Moscow to Waterloo. He was also, by the way, terrible at chess and no great shakes in bed.
The French are going to hate this book. Napoleon has, for the most part, enjoyed an easy ride from historians, who are usually too intoxicated by his daring military victories to notice his serious flaws. The conventional narrative is ably represented by Andrew Roberts, whose mammoth 2014 biography (Napoleon the Great) describes a military genius and enlightened political leader, while glossing over Napoleon’s taste for empire and autocracy. Paul Johnson’s 2002 biography takes a more negative view, emphasising parallels between Napoleonic France and the totalitarian regimes that plagued Europe a century later. What distinguishes Zamoyski from Johnson and Roberts, however, is Zamoyski’s willingness to doubt the image of greatness. Zamoyski argues that Napoleon’s genius was in large part the creation of his own propaganda machine.
As Zamoyski argues, the narrative that Napoleon spun eventually “deformed his sense of reality, leading him to believe that he really did have the power to make things happen simply because he willed it”. He forgot the special skills that had once made him formidable, relying instead on simple self-belief. The one-time master of technology was defeated by commanders more adept at exploiting technological progress. They had learnt from him, but he refused to learn from them.

At Waterloo the Napoleon of old might have probed Wellington’s weaknesses before executing a devastating flanking manoeuvre. Instead, he opted for a brutish frontal assault, fuelled by French arrogance. What resulted was “not just a military defeat . . . [but] a morale-shattering humiliation”. The man who relied so heavily on war to generate grandeur became rather lousy at waging war.
Napoleon’s success is often attributed to his awareness of his soldiers’ needs — his understanding that an army marches on its stomach. Yet, as Zamoyski shows, this too was hype. In 1798 he was in such a hurry to capture Cairo that he failed to take account of the heat of the Egyptian desert in July. Deprived of water bottles, his troops died of heat stroke, or were driven to suicide. One soldier cut his own throat in front of Napoleon, yelling: “This is your work!”
Mistakes were repeated on the march to Moscow in 1812, when his soldiers starved or died of dehydration. Some became seriously ill from drinking contaminated water or horse’s urine. Those that survived the advance suffered the retreat, when temperatures plunged to minus 20C. They ate horses, dogs and cats, or axle grease mixed with melted snow. Food froze so hard that animals had to be sliced up while still alive.
The myth of Napoleon was, Zamoyski argues, mostly his own creation. In the production of propaganda, he was indeed a genius. During the Italian campaign, more than 500 images were produced to publicise his exploits. The official account of the Battle of Marengo, writes Zamoyski, “reads like a bad novel”. His “mendacious dispatches” were quickly printed, then posted on walls throughout France for the public to read. “The hyperbolic language . . . created a subliminal sense of the supernatural, of the miraculous, of an adventure being enacted by men who appeared as superhuman as the heroes of The Iliad.”
A famous portrait by Antoine-Jean Gros shows Napoleon, with battle standard and sword, leading his troops over the Bridge of Arcole in 1796. In fact, he never got anywhere near that bridge. After getting knocked off his horse by an artillery volley, he fell into a drainage ditch and sank up to his neck in water. Echoing Gros, Jacques-Louis David painted Napoleon crossing the Alps in 1802. The great commander sits astride a massive white steed, his red cape and gold breeches oozing gallantry. In the actual crossing, however, Napoleon rode a mule and his uniform was covered with a drab oilskin to keep him from getting wet.
Stripped of the heroic embroidery, Napoleon seems a rather pathetic creature, one “bedevilled by a mass of insecurities, social, intellectual, physical and sexual”. He was a tempestuous little man, prone to tantrums, who amassed a huge fortune by stealing from the state. Contrary to myth, women found him quite resistible. His wife, Josephine, cheated on him relentlessly and often made fun of the febrile frenzy of his boyish ardour. Not particularly keen to give him a child, she convinced him that he was infertile. When Gros arrived to make sketches for the Arcole portrait, Napoleon, like a hyperactive child, was unable to sit still. Josephine took him on her lap and stroked his head, calming him down long enough for the sketches to be completed.
Napoleon did not, apparently, command an epic snowball fight at his school in 1783. Nor is there any evidence that he played with swords as a child. The story about a comet appearing at his birth and his death is also false. Zamoyski rejects all these myths, substituting instead his own “solid facts”. The only problem, however, is that those myths were fun. This book is, to an extent, the victim of its own sober honesty. Zamoyski’s research is meticulous, his writing sublime, but the story suffers because of his admirable refusal to indulge in romantic fantasy. This is probably one of the truest biographies of Napoleon, but unfortunately the truth can sometimes be dull. That qualification aside, this book undoubtedly needed to be written.
Arrogance carried Napoleon a long way, but was also the cause of his downfall. He came to believe the propaganda he wrote. As Zamoyski argues, he was “sidetracked by the lure of aristocratic grandeur” with the inevitable result that “human vanity . . . triumphed over the so-called age of reason”. In other words, the liberator became the oppressor. At the Battle of Wagram in 1809, Napoleon turned to General Mathieu Dumas and asked whether he was “one of those idiots who still believed in liberty”. When Dumas replied that he was, Napoleon ridiculed his naivety. Ambition, he argued, was a more important driver of history than liberty. Yet who, in truth, was the idiot?
As one contemporary observed, his power “rested on an authority whose foundations were in opposition to the irresistible march of the human spirit”. That was what doomed him. Liberty eventually overwhelmed Napoleon’s pathetic quest for omnipotence. His most brilliant achievement was perhaps the resilient myths he created.
Napoleon: The Man Behind the Myth by Adam Zamoyski, William Collins, 727pp, £30
By Adam Zamoyski
Basic Books, $40, 784 pages
Military genius or a war-obsessed tyrant? Few readers of history are neutral about the dynamic Frenchman Napoleon Bonaparte, whose name is reflexively attached to the incessant wars that wasted Europe in centuries past.
War gripped the continent long before a young Napoleon began his rise from young artillery officer to commander of a powerful military while still in his 20s, and thence emperor.
Why all the fighting? As Adam Zamoyski writes in his engaging and highly readable account, nations sensed “a need to keep up with rivals and seek security through a ‘balance of power.’ If one state made a gain others felt they must make an equivalent gain.”
What sets Mr. Zamoyski apart from countless other biographers is his ability to (1) provide context to the factors that made Napoleon a constant warrior and (2) to explore his restoration of order to post-revolutionary France(1792-1812). His account goes far beyond military matters.
Napoleon’s primary foe was Britain, which competed with France for colonial powers in new-world America and the Indies as well as in Europe.
The French Revolution had sent a shiver down British royal spines — especially after its new rulers issued an “Edict of Fraternity” pledging support for any people struggling against feudal oppression.
Britain pictured “Boney” as “degenerate, vicious and ridiculous.” France sided with Britain’s “toiling masses,” billing them as pawns of “vampires of the sea” who must be exterminated lest they rule the globe.
Intelligence wars raged as well. British operations against Napoleon ranged from assassination plots to fostering internal revolts. Napoleon narrowly escaped death from explosives planted along his carriage route; four bystanders died.
Napoleon’s dominant adviser, Charles de Talleyrand, created “a web of intelligence-gathering, all over Europe,” consorting with “most of France’s and Bonaparte’s enemies.”
Once he established primacy in battle, Napolelon declared “that effective government required a dictator.” In a plebiscite, voters endorsed him as emperor by a vote of 3,569,885-8,374. A suspicious margin, to be sure, but Mr. Zamoyski contends that “there is no real evidence of manipulation.”
“In three years, Napoleon declared, “I shall retire from public affairs.” (He soon pushed the date forward a decade.)
An early act was to “take controls of the levers of public opinion.” As he stated, “If I give free rein to the press, I won’t survive in power for three months.” His secret police chief, Joseph Fouche, agreed. He called newspapers “the tocsin of revolution.” Within days, 60 out of 73 papers were closed.
Concurrently, he launched broad social reforms. He wrested control of education from the Catholic Church, creating, by decree, some 23,000 schools for pupils between ages 7 and 11. These were joined by 45 lycees for the classics and mathematics.
A proud initiative was the codification of laws into what was known as the “Code Napoleon,” which Mr. Zamoyski terms “a kind of rulebook for a new society.”
But Napoleon’s private life was a painful muddle. Several early love affairs floundered. Then, at the peak of his career, he married a vivacious divorcee named Josephine de Beauharnais, a decade his elder, with two children. She was no beauty; her horribly rotten teeth led one man to opine that she was “growing preciously decrepit.” But she charmed a smitten Napoleon.
And she cuckolded him from the beginning, often with junior officers while he was off at war. With much agony in his heart, he finally cast her out.
Although Napoleon coaxed his nation to grant him the title of “hereditary emperor for life,” the public gradually soured on him. He launched a lavish building program mindful of the excesses of the ousted royals, driving France into debt.
Continued continental turmoil drove him into an invasion of Russia (undertaken reluctantly), which failed miserably. His “grand army” now depended on mercenaries and impressed soldiers from 10 nations besides France. He was driven back to Paris, and thence into exile.
A brief return brought him back to leadership two years later but ended in crushing defeat at Waterloo. He died in solitude on a remote island in the South Atlantic.
What was Napoleon’s cost to France — and the rest of the world? Mr. Zamoyski puts French battle losses alone during the 15 years of his rule at 800,000 to 900,000 dead, wounded and missing. Carnage among other combatants is not stated, but were surely several times as great.
Yet, as he states, every European state was “breaking treaties and betraying allies shamelessly.” Napoleon was born into a world at war. “[T]o condemn the lust for power is to deny human nature and political necessity.”
Perhaps because my reading of past decades centered on British-centric historians, I loathed Napoleon as a general who drenched a continent in blood. Mr. Zamoyski, of Polish descent, tells a convincing “other side of the story.” An inclusive life of a historical dynamo.

Want a healthier heart? Eat a steak

By Bret Scher
September 19, 2018

Image result for steak

Ethan Calabrese (Delish)
I'm a cardiologist — and I encourage patients to eat red meat.
This advice defies conventional wisdom. For decades, nutritionists and physicians have urged people to limit consumption of red meat and other fatty foods, which were thought to cause heart disease.
But new studies debunk this conventional wisdom. Indeed, it now looks like low-quality carbohydrates — not saturated fats — are driving America's heart disease epidemic. It's time to stop demonizing steak.

The medical community frowns upon the kinds of saturated fats found in meat, dairy and coconut oil. The American Heart Association recommends avoiding red meat — and if people insist on eating it, they should “select the leanest cuts available.” Federal nutritional guidelines suggest that less than 10 percent of one's daily calories come from saturated fats, while the AHA recommends even less.
These recommendations have never been supported by rigorous research. The idea that saturated fats cause heart disease stems from decades-old observational studies. Researchers asked participants to complete lengthy questionnaires about their eating habits and then tracked their health over time.
Researchers noticed that people who ate lots of saturated fats were more likely to contract heart disease. They concluded that meat and dairy were the root of all our chronic diseases, especially heart disease. Yet subsequent researchers found that in many cases, scientists cherry-picked data to support that conclusion.
More importantly, these kinds of observational claims are weak science. In 2011, a comprehensive analysis of 52 separate claims made in observational studies concluded that none — that's right, zero — could be confirmed in a clinical trial — a more rigorous type of science.
Observational studies can only show correlation, not prove causation. Vegetarians, for example, have lower rates of heart disease. Is this due to their meatless diet? Or because they smoke less and exercise more regularly than people who eat large amounts of meat? Observational studies cannot sort out these kinds of issues.
In recent years, numerous teams of researchers worldwide have reviewed all the data on saturated fats — and concluded that these fats do not have any effect on cardiovascular mortality.
A recent, comprehensive review of two dozen high-quality studies conducted by Purdue University researchers found no link between red meat intake and any negative cardiovascular outcome. In a separate 2014 analysis that examined 72 different observational and clinical trials involving more than 650,000 people, the lead researcher concluded that “[I]t’s not saturated fat that we should worry about.
So what should we worry about? Carbohydrates.
Consider how the American diet has evolved. The most recent government data reveals that from 1970 to 2014, the availability of red meat fell 28 percent. Whole milk availability declined 79 percent. And animal fats — like butter and lard — dropped 27 percent.
If saturated fats were truly unhealthy, then obesity, diabetes and heart disease rates should have plummeted alongside this drop in saturated fat consumption.
Instead, disease rates have skyrocketed — largely because Americans replaced saturated fats with carbohydrate-rich grains. From 1970 to 2014, grain availability surged 28 percent. The body converts these carbohydrates to glucose, thereby raising blood sugar levels which — over time — can contribute to obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
New research supports this idea. The largest-ever analysis of diet, which included 135,000 people in 18 countries, revealed that people who consumed high-carb diets were 28 percent more likely to die during the study than people with lower carbohydrate intake. By contrast, those who consumed the highest amounts of saturated fats had the lowest rates of stroke.
While this is observational data, it’s not alone in contradicting government recommendations.
Even more revealing is a recent controlled clinical study on people with Type 2 diabetes conducted with high-quality evidence. Researchers from Indiana University found that minimizing carbohydrates while encouraging fat — including saturated fat — actually reversed diabetes in 60 percent of patients after 1 year. The diet also reduced inflammation and triglycerides, and increased HDL — so-called good cholesterol — all strong indicators of improving cardiac and metabolic health.
Additional research points specifically to the potential benefits of eating red meat while decreasing carbs. Two studies led by researchers at the University of Western Australia found that substituting carbohydrate-rich foods with red meat reduced inflammation and blood pressure.
Medical experts have long dispensed unproven advice about meat. But newer, better research indicates that red meat and saturated fats aren't harmful when combined with a lower carbohydrate diet.
So if you're looking to safeguard your heart, fire up the grill and cook that burger — but skip the bun and the pasta salad.
Bret Scher is a cardiologist in San Diego.