Non-Fiction Book Group
Wednesday, May 19 at 4:00 PM
Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X
by Deborah Davis
The subject of John Singer Sargent's most famous painting was twenty-three-year-old New Orleans Creole Virginie Gautreau, who moved to Paris and quickly became the "it girl" of her day. A relative unknown at the time, Sargent won the commission to paint her; the two must have recognized in each other a like-minded hunger for fame.
Unveiled at the 1884 Paris Salon, Gautreau's portrait generated the attention she craved-but it led to infamy rather than stardom. Sargent had painted one strap of Gautreau's dress dangling from her shoulder, suggesting either the prelude to or the aftermath of sex. Her reputation irreparably damaged, Gautreau retired from public life, destroying all the mirrors in her home.
Drawing on documents from private collections and other previously unexamined materials, and featuring a cast of characters including Oscar Wilde and Richard Wagner, Strapless is a tale of art and celebrity, obsession and betrayal.
Non-Fiction Book Group
Wednesday, June 16 at 4:00 PM
Homicide at Rough Point: The Untold Story of How Doris Duke, The Richest Woman In America, Got Away With Murder
by Peter Lance
In the fall of 1966, Eduardo Tirella, close confidant of billionaire Doris Duke,informed the possessive and vindictive heiress that he was leaving her employ as chief designer and art curator to return to Hollywood where his career as a set designer was just catching fire.
Minutes later, she crushed him to death under the wheels of a two-ton station wagon as they were leaving Rough Point, her Bellevue Avenue estate in Newport, RI, the storied resort.
In a murderous quid-pro-quo, the local police quickly ruled the incident “an unfortunate accident” and Doris began giving a fortune to Newport, restoring 70 colonial-era homes that quickly turned it into a tourist Mecca. In 2018, Lance, who started his career as a cub reporter for The Newport Daily News eight months after Tirella’s death, began a re-examination of the case and proved that the mercurial tobacco heiress got away with murder.
In a riveting, doggedly researched book with 105 illustrations -- including never-before seen forensic files -- Lance, a five-time Emmy winner, rewrites history and finally restores the reputation of Eduardo Tirella, a gay Renaissance man and war hero whom Duke went to great lengths to erase from the history of her troubled life.
Non-Fiction Book Group
Wednesday, July 21 at 4:00 PM
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
by Isabel Wilkerson
The Pulitzer Prize–winning, bestselling author of The Warmth of Other Suns examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped America and shows how our lives today are still defined by a hierarchy of human divisions.
“As we go about our daily lives, caste is the wordless usher in a darkened theater, flashlight cast down in the aisles, guiding us to our assigned seats for a performance. The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power—which groups have it and which do not.”
In this brilliant book, Isabel Wilkerson gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America as she explores, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.
Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people—including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others—she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.