A Crime Story Too Good to be True – Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine

LIZZIE BORDEN’S SECRET, screamed a front-page headline in the Boston Daily Globe’s morning edition for Monday, October 10, 1892. The fourteen-column article that followed rolled out shocking new evidence about the axe murders of Borden’s parents in Fall River, Massachusetts, a crime that transfixed America that year.

There was, however, a problem with the blockbuster story. Hardly a word of it was true.

Welcome to a bizarre tale of fake news in the Gilded Age.


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Book Review: Ken McGoogan's Flight of the Highlanders: The Making of Canada – The Scotsman

In a time of rising intolerance toward minorities and immigrants, Flight of the Highlanders is a much-needed reality check. Ken McGoogan’s chronicle of how impoverished but tenacious Scots built new lives in Canada – and transformed their new country – is a reminder that all of us, regardless of origin or race, want the same things: A better life and a brighter future.

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Master of Schlock and Awe: A review of Robert Wilson's Barnum – Chicago Review of Books

It’s impossible to read Barnum: An American Life, Robert Wilson’s impressive biography of the infamous nineteenth-century showman, without detecting echoes – and perhaps some of the origins – of today’s political turmoil and voyeuristic popular culture. The bombast and hype, the careless disregard for the truth, the nauseating bravado and self-promotion that was Phineas Taylor Barnum – it all hits close to home in the age when a hate-filled tweet or bogus claim of “fake news” is enough to divert the attention of an already distracted public.


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'One of the Most Fantastical Missions in Military History' was Doomed from the Start: A review of Christopher Klein’s When the Irish Invaded CanadaThe Irish Times

The idea sounds as implausible and foolhardy today as it did more than 150 years ago. Assemble a small army of Irish men at the northern border of the US, conquer Britain’s neighbouring Canadian colonies, then swap them for the real prize – the independence of their long-suffering homeland. What could possibly go wrong?


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Revisiting the Crime of the Century: A Q&A with Nina Barrett, author of The Leopold and Loeb FilesChicago Review of Books

What prompted the teenaged sons of two wealthy, respected Chicago families to kidnap and kill a fourteen-year-old neighbor in cold blood on a spring afternoon in 1924? “A sort of pure love of excitement,” Nathan Leopold told his interrogators in a chilling explanation of an inexplicable crime, “the imaginary love of thrills, doing something different.” The murder of Bobby Franks by Leopold and his friend Richard Loeb was dubbed the Crime of the Century – an overused title that fits this Jazz Age tale of murder, wealth and privilege. An interview with Evanston bookseller Nina Barrett, who revisits the case in The Leopold and Loeb Files: An Intimate Look at One of America’s Most Infamous Crimes.


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Book Review: David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon is a Gripping Tale, Masterfully Told – The Globe and Mail

Between 1921 and 1925, two dozen members of the Osage tribe in oil-rich northern Oklahoma were murdered. In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann meticulously excavates the lost history of the Osage and the oil boom that made them rich – and, in turn, made them targets. 

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A century later, why do people continue to fall for Ponzi schemes? – The Globe and Mail

It’s an elaborate fraud named for Charles Ponzi, who sparked a stock-buying frenzy in 1920s Boston by promising to double investors' money in just three months. By then, Chicago stock promoter Leo Koretz had raked in millions of dollars as investors scrambled for shares in his bogus Panamanian oilfields. Almost a century later, annual losses worldwide from Ponzi schemes are estimated to total $35 billion. Why do people continue to fall for such a notorious scam?

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Click here to read my commentary in The Globe and Mail