Book report: One of the 25 greatest science books

When I was a kid in a small Wisconsin grade school, one of my favorite subjects was Wisconsin history, taught to me by my sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Lily Reich.

One of our texts was a book called “Men Who Made Wisconsin” or something like that.

The book contained brief profiles of famous folks from BadgerLand.

I remember that one of these folks was the fellow who bred the famous silver mink, which was the greatest mink ever known (with my apologies to PETA).

Another famous Wisconsinite was Curly Lambeau, of the Green Bay Packers.

Another was Babcock, inventor of the test that measured the amount of butterfat in milk produced, by Wisconsin’s most famous citizens, the milch cows.

Ever since reading that book as a wee tad, I’ve been interested in the folks who made their way from Wisconsin, like actress Agnes Moorhead, who hailed from the Kickapoo Valley (unbelievable) and her pal Orson Welles of Racine.

There was air ace Richard Bong from up north and on and on and on.

One who didn’t make the cut but should have is Roy Chapman Andrews (1884-1960), a kid from Beloit.

He saved money by going to Beloit College, known as the “Harvard of the Midwest” and within weeks of his graduation, was hired as a janitor at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, led the world shaking Central Asiatic Expeditions in the Gobi Desert and later became the museum’s head man.

He never returned to live in Beloit, but is buried there.

Before he died, in 1943, he wrote his memoirs, “Under a Lucky Star” published by Viking Press, while recuperating from a broken leg.

Subsequently, it was named one of the 25 greatest science books of all time.

While recuperating from a broken leg, he polished it off in a few months and it became a bestseller.

Back then I was seven years old, too young to pay much attention to the New York Times bestseller list, so I’m so glad that the University of Wisconsin Press has reissued in paperback ($20) this warm and witty and also very modest account of his adventures in the Gobi Desert and elsewhere, which places him in the pantheon of explorers and travel writers like Martin and Osa Johnson and Roald Amundsen and Lowell Thomas, the inventor of the Babcock butterfat test and countless other daredevils who have made given us armchair explorers hours of enjoyment reading their exploits.

Andrews was a true groundbreaker.

His exploration of the Gobi Desert was carried on with camels, of course, but also automobiles.

And here’s the frosting on the cake. According to Ann Bausum, author of the reprint’s afterword, Roy Chapman Andrews is the inspiration for none other than Indiana Jones.

Too bad George Lucas and Steven Spielberg didn’t call him “Wisconsin Jones” which has one less syllable but also had a nice ring to it.

In 1968, Jonathan Cott was London correspondent to the fledgling new magazine, Rolling Stone.

Imagine his surprise when invited him over to John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s flat for a chat and an interview.

The invitation fortified the young journalist’s career and sparked a friendship that lasted until Lennon’s murder in 1980.

He has maintained his friendship with Yoko Ono to the present and interviewed her for the conclusion of his new book, “Days That I’ll Remember” (Doubleday, $25.95).

His final interview with Lennon came just a few days before Lennon met his end outside his Dakota apartment in New York City.

There’s lots of fun and not a little insight into Lennon’s character in the interviews, including Lennon’s assessment about the Beatles and its members’ little chance of success.

“None of us would have made it alone, because Paul wasn’t strong enough, I didn’t have enough girl-appeal, George was too quiet, and Ringo was the drummer,” Lennon said.

Cott adds his memories about concerts he attended.  One of my favorites occurred when the troupe played a Royal Command Performance at the Prince of Wales Theatre with the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret in attendance.

Lennon introduced the song “Twist and Shout” thusly: “For our last number, I’d like to ask your help. The people in the cheap seats, clap your hand.

“And the rest of you, if you’d just rattle your jewelry.”

Editor’s note: Dave Wood is a past vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Phone him at 715-426-9554.

Comments Closed

up arrow