Author: Ulrich Boser
Title: The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft
Publication Info: Smithsonian (2009)
For the 20th anniversary of the theft of 13 priceless art works from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, I read this book detailing the heist. The first chapter gives a blow-by-blow of all the known details of the heist itself in the early-morning hours of March 17, 1990. Next, Boser introduces Harold Smith, an art detective who dedicates many of the remaining years of his life gathering clues and following leads about the heist. After Smith dies in 2005, Boser himself picks up Smith’s casebook and begins immersing himself in the case to the point of obsession. The trail of the crime leads Boser to look into various Boston underworld characters such as a noted art thief, Whitey Bulger and his mob cronies, and even the Irish Republican Army. At one point the obsession gets ridiculous as Boser visits a town in Ireland thinking he’ll be able to pick Bulger off the street. In the end, there’s no solution yet for the mystery of missing art, but Boser gives some interesting insights into how art theft is perpetrated and how that art may hopefully be returned.
Recommended books: Dead Certainties : Unwarranted Speculations by Simon Schama, Legends of Winter Hill: Cops, Con Men, and Joe McCain, the Last Real Detective by Jay Atkinson, and Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob by Dick Lehr
Author: Alain De Botton
Title: The Art of Travel
Publication Info: Recorded Books, LLC (2002), Audio CD
Previously Read by Same Author: The Architecture of Happiness
This book reflects on travel focusing on the little things such as the novelty of the commonplace in a new place, disorientation, the boredom of travel, and even ponders whether travel for pleasure is even a necessity. Along the way he shows travel through the eyes of various artists: Van Gogh, Wordsworth, Flauber, Von Humboldt and others. He even details how artists create the vision we have of the destinations we wish to visit. This is all written in the intellectual vein of someone who attends a literary salon, so if that’s not your thing, you won’t like this book. I found it brain-teasingly good, but I think that de Botton is meant to be read more than heard so I don’t recommend the audiobook.
With the first day of spring upon us and Boston officially thawing out, it’s time to get out and do something! There are many things to do and sites to see right near home that I always find a way to procrastinate, some for several years running now. Here are ten things to do in metro-Boston that I’ve never done before that I would like to do between now and Thanksgiving.
- Finally visit The Museum of Bad Art in Dedham
- Tour an old house like the Loring-Greenough House in JP, the Gibson House Museum in Back Bay, the Nichols House Museum in North End, the Shirley Eustis House in Roxbury and/or the oldest of them all the James Blake House of Dorchester.
- Walk through the Mapparium at the Mary Baker Eddy Library.
- Check out the new Institute of Contemporary Art.
- Check out the view from the observation deck on the Customs House tower.
- Walk the African-American Heritage Trail.
- Get back to nature at the Boston Nature Center. (completed 5/25/09)
- Take in a vintage baseball game, preferably on Georges Island.
- Sample the beers at the Samuel Adams Brewery Tour.
- Commune with the fuzzy pigs at Drumlin Farm. (completed 8/26/09)
Of course, I’d like to get out of town and do some things outside of Boston as well. Here are five things in greater New England that I’ve never done before that I’d like to do in the same time period:
- Watch the second largest St. Patrick’s Parade in America in Holyoke, MA. (completed 3/22/09)
- Journey through a world of art and culture at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA
- Get my public transit geek on at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport, ME (completed 6/21/09)
- Visit the literary landmarks of Hartford, CT: the Mark Twain & Harriet Beecher Stowe houses
- Stroll around historic Providence, RI and perhaps witness WaterFire.
If I do any of these things, I will of course blog about it here. Come join me if you want to do these things too!
Great Fortune : The Epic of Rockefeller Center (2003) by Daniel Okrent is a lively and engaging popular history of the origins of the most famous urban development in the world. It’s chock-full of facts that I never knew.
For example, the land Rockefeller Center is built upon was originally the “Upper Estate” of Columbia University, something of an albatross on the university’s neck especially after it moved further uptown. The university collected rent from the Rockefellers into the 1980’s. The plan for Rockefeller Center was originally to construct a new opera house for the Metropolitan Opera, a plan that fell through as the greater plan for a commercial development stormed through into the Great Depression. There were scandals of the Communist Diego Rivera painting a mural in the RCA building, and the Facist Benito Mussolini giving his blessing to a building for Italian commerce. The most famous element of Rockefeller Center – the skating rink – was something of an afterthought to bail out a failed plan for a shopping plaza. The opening of Radio City Music Hall was an overlong, over-the-top bomb that resulted in the venue being used as a movie theater for the next four decades.
Okrent also weaves in the biographies of the various characters involved in creating Rockefeller Center. Most obvious of course are the Rockefeller family including the introspective John D. Rockefeller, Jr. who spent his life trying to atone for Senior’s greedy excess, and Nelson Rockefeller a steamroller of a personality who took charge of the Center in the later years of development. Architects, designers, artists, corporate executives & businessmen all get their fair share as well. Okrent writes of these people sympathetically without being adulatory, and shows their warts (not to mention having a few laughs at their expense) without it being a hatchet piece.
This is a very enjoyable historical work which I believe does a good job of capturing an era through the myriad people who worked on and at Rockefeller Center.
Great fortune : the epic of Rockefeller Center by Daniel Okrent. New York : Viking, 2003.