Secret Parts of Fortune: Three Decades of Intense Investigations and Edgy Enthusiasms

Secret Parts of Fortune: Three Decades of Intense Investigations and Edgy Enthusiasms

by Ron Rosenbaum
     
 

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One part intellectual and one part private eye, Ron Rosenbaum takes readers into "the secret parts" of the great mysteries, controversies, and enigmas of our time, including:

  • the occult rituals of Skull and Bones, the legendary Yale secret society that has produced spies and presidents, including George Bush and George W. Bush.

  • the

Overview

One part intellectual and one part private eye, Ron Rosenbaum takes readers into "the secret parts" of the great mysteries, controversies, and enigmas of our time, including:

  • the occult rituals of Skull and Bones, the legendary Yale secret society that has produced spies and presidents, including George Bush and George W. Bush.

  • the Secrets of the Little Blue Box, the classic story of "Captain Crunch" and the birth of hacker culture.

  • the "unorthodox" cancer-cure clinics of Tijuana.

  • the Great Ivy League Nude Posture Photo Scandal.

  • the unsolved murder of JFK's mistress.

Also including sharp, funny cultural critiques that range from Elvis to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Bill Gates to Oliver Stone, and J.D. Salinger to the Zagat® guide, The Secret Parts of Fortune is a vital record of American culture.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Rosenbaum (Explaining Hitler) has collected some previously published essays that span three decades of his accomplished career as a journalist and illustrate his wide-ranging interests. The sheer breadth of this volume, which covers topics such as politics, conspiracy theory, entertainment, crime, and literature, may overwhelm the casual reader, but Rosenbaum's thorough investigations and decisive voice make for an intriguing collection. In "Turn On, Tune In, and Drop Dead," for example, Rosenbaum critiques Dr. Elizabeth K bler-Ross, leader of what he calls the "death-and-dying movement," arguing that K bler-Ross and her followers are misguided: "Death has claimed another victim, the mind of K bler-Ross." No matter what the subject of his scrutiny, Rosenbaum never fears making judgments, but he never rushes to them either; nor does he shy from examining how his subjects have affected him. His consideration of conspiracy theories surrounding both Watergate and the JFK assassination and his expos of hoax serial killer Henry Lee Lucas are journalism at its finest. Recommended for larger public and academic libraries, particularly those with journalism collections.--Cheryl Van Til, Kent Dist. Lib., Comstock Park, MI Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Luc Sante
[Rosenbaum's voice] is a masterly concoction, a blend of boy reporter, Ancient Mariner, lounge lizard and grandpa by the fireside. . . . The articles are well chosen.
The New York Times Book Review

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060934460
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
07/28/2001
Series:
Harper Perennial
Pages:
848
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.35(d)

Read an Excerpt

Foreword

by Errol Morris

Ron Rosenbaum is one of the great masters of the metaphysical detective story, a nonfiction writer in the spirit of Borges, Nabokov, and Poe. Like Poe, he can take a tabloid story (the death of identical twin gynecologists, a motel suicide, a suicide doctor) and turn it into profound and nightmarish art. And like Dupin, Poe's alter ego, he is a supreme investigator. Yet he goes Dupin one better. Poe, after all, had to disguise himself as an all-knowing detective. In his investigation of historical enigmas, Ron lays his cards on the table—his doubts about the evidence, even his doubts about himself. He appears in his own stories often perplexed, sometimes bemused, occasionally even tortured by his own investigations.

I have been reading Ron's stories for many years, but it wasn't until I saw his pieces assembled that a grand scheme, a master plan became evident. This is a collection in which the many parts are great, and the sum of the parts even greater. Here is a vision, an entire cosmology, or, if you prefer, an anticosmology. Because the central feature of Ron's grand scheme, his master plan, is to squash grand schemes and master plans, to defeat our natural human tendency to retreat into easy answers and bogus explanations. Many of these stories are skeptical examinations of our great need to create grand taxonomies, systems of classification that pretend to comprehensiveness. Take Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, whose effort to provide a definitive chronology of death results in a bizarre evasion of it. There is something immensely appealing about watching someone in combat with the world, wrestling with our attempts tounderstand the world, trying to talk the world into making sense of itself.

Ron provides a clue to his attitude in his metaphor of the lost safe-deposit box, a metaphor for truth that exists but that may be beyond our grasp. These are not essays about the impossibility of knowledge, they're skeptical and hopeful. Borges cites a line from Chesterton: There is nothing more terrifying than a labyrinth without a center. Ron's labyrinth is a labyrinth of theories, evidence, interpretations, and misconceptions—but it has a center, if not some ultimate truth then a sliver of it, a standpoint from which one can at least decide what the untruths are.

And so the reader should look for at least three Rons in these essays.

* Ron, the connoisseur of irrationality and insanity, who savors the astonishing varieties of error for, as he calls it, that "frisson of strangeness" they offer. It is the Ron who manages to evoke that lost-in-the-funhouse feeling, of being odd man out on the psycho ward that is the world.

* Ron, the detective in search of the "lost safe-deposit box," his search for the overlooked connection in the morass of possibilities that might provide an important clue as to what really happened or as to who we really are. (This is the Ron who identifies with those like Alan Bullock who are still wrestling with such knotty subjects as the enigma of evil and the vexing question, Do we know, can we be sure of, anything at all?)

* Ron, the moralist, the guy who makes it absolutely clear that he has standards: that some things won't wash and he won't be toyed with. That we don't live in a world where everything goes, everything is acceptable, all options have equal weight—no, no, no. There is a scale of value that has to be applied. This has produced some of his most powerful and also extremely funny (and by funny, I mean often laugh-out-loud funny) work, something deeper than conventional journalism, an attempt to probe the madness behind the world. His subjects are ostensibly nonfiction, but his real subject is the fictions we project on the world and ourselves.

And yet he is a no glib postmodernist. There is no hint of the claim that we should give up on truth and reality altogether, that we can't possibly hope to know anything about the world when our ability to judge, to perceive, to reason, are hopelessly colored by self-interest, wishful thinking, and self-deception. His work is a powerful attempt to find a way around this dilemma. It's an attempt to recover the world by compulsively examining and reexamining our misconceptions of it.

I remember reading one of his Hitler essays and realizing, Oh my God, he's doing something extraordinary. He's up to something new and unique, chronicling the way people's interpretations of themselves (and others) shape and distort what they project on to history. This is not to say that history itself is subjective but to recognize the way it's often driven by subjectivity.

And so, for Ron truth exists and must be sought after, even if it sometimes can't be known with certainty. There's a terrific moment in "Oswald's Ghost." It illustrates Ron's belief that you can get so lost in a labyrinth of detail you not only lose the forest for the trees, you lose the trees as well. It's when the Kierkegaard scholar-turned-private eye talks about the unreliability of evidence, the fact that some piece of the puzzle may forever be missing. Yet we continue to search for those elusive certainties knowing that the only place to start is usus, the whole mess: the evasions, the confusions, the misconceptions. Ron has made the point better than anybody else I can think of: The proper route to an understanding of the world is an examination of our errors about it.

The great Rosenbaum line, the epigram I love more than any other, the one that repeats itself in my mind again and again, is the one about the underlying mechanism of illusion and belief in the world of unorthodox cancer cures. He's speculating about the way false hope derived from bad science nonetheless seems to work miracles for many of these people. He's worried that by exposing this mechanism, he's done something terribly wrong. He's given away the game. He's deprived them of the one thing that could provide a cure: hope. And then he decides he can't really kill it because, after all is said and done, "False hope springs eternal."

Here is Ron in a nutshell. It is his version of Pandora's box: Is the hope at the bottom of the box a good thing or a bad thing? It is that admixture of principled hopefulness and intense skepticism that characterizes what he does.

Quite simply, I love Ron's work. I believe it will last. I want everybody to read it.

—Cambridge, Mass. January 2000



Meet the Author

Ron Rosenbaum grew up on Long Island, New York. A graduate of Yale with a degree in English literature, he left Yale Graduate School to write full-time. His essays and journalism have appeared in Harper's, Esquire, The New Republic, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker; he's done eight cover stories for the New York Times Magazine. He is the author of four previous books, including one novel and three collections of his essays and journalism, most recently Travels with Dr Death and Other Unusual Investigations.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and historian Thomas Powers called him "one of the few distinctive voices of modern American literary journalism." His work has been characterized by the essayist Phillip Lopate as combining "the skills of a terrific investigative reporter and an accomplished literary stylist with an idiosyncratic streak all his own."

More than ten years ago, he began investigating certain unresolved controversies among Hitler biographers, and ultimately embarked on an odyssey that took him from Vienna and Munich to London, Paris, and Jerusalem. The book that emerged combines original research and dramatic face-to-face encounters with historians, philosophers, psychologists, and theologians as they attempt to account for the elusive figure of Adolf Hitler and the meanings projected upon him by his explainers.

Currently Ron Rosenbaum writes for the New York Times Magazine, and The New York Observer, and teaches a course on literary journalism at the Columbia Graduate School of journalism.

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