“The Law of Similars” and The National Archives (14 cents)

I enjoyed Chris Bohjalian’s The Law of Similars immensely.  Northern Vermont.  Homeopathic healer.  One patient dies.  Another patient falls in love.  Was the death caused by criminal action by the healer?  Does it get more confusing because the patient who is in love with the healer is also the local prosecuting attorney?  And that he has become an arsenic addict, and has helped the healer rewrite her notes on her sessions with her dead patient throw the prosecutors (i.e., him and his co-workers) off the track?  An easy read, an engrossing read.  Truly hard to put down.  Although this book is not reviewed as positively as some of Bohjalian’s other works, I recommend it highly.  [Also, note that there is a statue of Samuel Hahnemann, founder of homeopathic medicine at Scott Circle in Washington DC.]

I did put it down long enough to attend a noon program at the National Archives yesterday.  Three archivists gave a talk (designed for tourists more than scholars) on some of the kinds of things you can find at the Archives.  It was, in fact, a series of vignettes, with no overall pattern, and each was fascinating.

For example, Alexander Hamilton, who had never taken his Revolutionary War pension, because he was on the Board that gave out pensions and thought it would be unethical to receive one.  Four days before his fatal duel with Aaron Burr, he filed for a pension and gave a statement of his assets (meager) and debts (enormous).  It took his wife over twenty years before a pension was granted.  Politics played a role, as Congress debated the issues time and time again, and as his widow kept filing petition after petition.

Another example, prohibition.  Prohibition was in the air, of course, before it became the law of the land, and the dries in Congress thought that D.C. should be the first place to ban alcohol, as it was under Federal control.  Laws were proposed and resulted in, if not the abolition of liquor at first, in making it harder to get a license to sell, and eventually, two years before the national ban, a local ban was passed (if not rigorously enforced).

A third example, Pearl Harbor.  We were taken by surprise, yes, but we also had radar that had tracked and plotted the incoming Japanese planes.  Unfortunately, we thought they were American planes on their way to join the squadrons already on Oahu.

Fourth example, early movements for universal suffrage (following the Civil War) for women as well as men, and the Congressional petitions that were filed.

And more.

A relaxing and humorous and informative presentation.  (And, you can skip the long lines if you are going to the Archives for this sort of program.)


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