The Faithful Executioner -- Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century by Joel F. Harrington, Farrar, Straus & Giroux '13, $28, 283 pages, ASIN #0809049929. Index, notes, no bibliography, b&w images sprinkled through text.
Sometimes you get lucky, as did historian Joel F. Harrington, by stumbling upon the journal of Nuremberg's Meister Frantz Schmidt, who writes of his 45 years as a professional executioner; a lot luckier, in fact, than the 394 individuals Schmidt put to death by beheading, strangulation, fire, and hanging in the 16th century.
The job (profession, if you will) of executioner was not only considered unsavory; it was downright dishonorable, perhaps little better than a hod carrier. But hey, a man has to support his family, doesn't he? What is most remarkable about the journal Harrington discovered was that his subject was literate and sensitive enough to pen a literate daily entry after each execution and torture session.
With the author, "we encounter brutal highwaymen, charming swindlers, and tragic unwed mothers accused of infanticide, as well as patrician senators, godly chaplains, and corrupt prison guards.... (The author) "teases out the hidden meanings and drama of Schmidt's journal, uncovering a touching tale of inherited shame and attempted redemption for the social pariah and his children," all the while struggling "to reconcile his own bloody craft with his deep religious faith."
Joel F. Harrington teaches history at Vanderbilt University. Residing with his family in Nashville, Tennessee, Harrington is the author of three previous books.
Karl Marx -- A Nineteenth-Century Life by Jonathan Sperber, Liveright '13, $35, 648 pages, ASIN #0871404672. Index, bibliography, notes, grouping of b&w glossy images.
From the book jacket:
"Between his birth in 1818 and his death 65 years later, Karl Marx became one of Western civilization's most influential political philosophers. Two centuries on, he is still revered as a prophet of the modern world, yet he is also blamed for the darkest atrocities of recent history. But no matter in what light he is cast, the short, broad-shouldered, and bearded Marx remains -- as a human being -- distorted on a Procrustean bed of political 'isms,' either perceived through the partially distorting lens of his chief disciple, Friedrich Engels, or understood as a figure of 20th century totalitarian Marxist regimes.
"Returning Marx to the Victorian confines of the 19th century, Jonathan Sperber, one of the United States' leading European historians, challenges many of our misconceptions of this political firebrand turned London emigre' journalist. In this deeply humanizing portrait, Marx no longer is the Olympian soothsayer, divining the dialectical imperatives of human history, but a scholar-activist whose revolutionary Weltanschauung was closer to Robespierre's than to those of 20th century Marxists."
Jonathan Sperber teaches history at the University of Missouri and has written extensively on the social and political history of 19th century Europe.