Zacks, Richard 1955-
ZACKS, Richard 1955-
ADDRESSES: Home—162 Nyack Ave., Pelham, NY 10803. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Writer and journalist.
History Laid Bare: Love, Sex, and Perversity from theAncient Etruscans to Warren G. Harding, Harper-Collins (New York, NY), 1994.
An Underground Education: The Unauthorized andOutrageous Supplement to Everything You Thought You Knew about Art, Sex, Business, Crime, Science, Medicine, and Other Fields of Human Knowledge, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1997.
Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd, Theia (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor to periodicals, including Atlantic, Time, Village Voice, and others.
SIDELIGHTS: Richard Zacks is the author of two irreverent but strictly true collections of genuine historical facts. His first book, History Laid Bare: Love, Sex, and Perversity from the Ancient Etruscans to Warren G. Harding, presents primary-source accounts of sex, love, and lust throughout history. Covering a period from 1450 B.C. to 1921 A.D., Zacks "has woven together bits and pieces of the amusing sexual thoughts, words, and acts of countless men and women," wrote Domeena C. Renshaw in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association. "The offering is a tongue-in-cheek collection of frothy sexual gossip," Renshaw commented. In the book, Zacks describes crude customs, superstitions, ribald literature, and more. He also describes sexual predilections and escapades of some notable historical figures, including Benjamin Franklin, Nero, Catherine the Great, Lawrence of Arabia, Abraham Lincoln, and King James. Ralph Novak, writing in People called History Laid Bare an "amusing compilation" and "an ideal book for browsing."
In An Underground Education: The Unauthorized and Outrageous Supplement to Everything You Thought You Knew about Art, Sex, Business, Crime, Science, Medicine, and Other Fields of Human Knowledge, Zacks again seeks out primary research sources for first-hand data on topics ranging from misquotes to wrongly credited inventions to general misconceptions about science, medicine, and the way things work. "Richard Zacks isn't interested in the history as taught by high school teachers and doesn't believe that knowledge has to be serious," wrote an interviewer on the Random House Web site. "He is fascinated by the odd, eccentric, and bizarre details that aren't found in today's curriculum." Those types of details abound in An Underground Education, including such historical tidbits as the fact that until the late 1880s, doctors didn't see the need to wash their hands before performing medical procedures; that Brigham Young had more than fifty wives; that enemas were the common cure for colds and headaches in post-Renaissance Europe; and that the flush toilet was invented almost 3,800 years ago in Crete. Mike Tribby, writing in Booklist, called An Underground Education "a delightful collection for those drawn to the underside of history."
More traditional is Zacks's 2002 book, Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd. The book is a true history of William Kidd, hanged for piracy and murder in 1701 and one of the most notorious men ever to take to the seas. In addition, The Pirate Hunter also dispels many myths and misconceptions about Kidd. The Captain was not a murderous pirate after all, according to Zacks, but was instead a privateer hired by the King William III of England and four powerful English lords to hunt down pirates and return stolen goods to the Crown. Kidd was also not a cutthroat barbarian, but was instead a literate and self-reliant Scot, a middle-aged family man with a wife, daughter, and property on New York's Wall Street. Zacks's book delves into the history of Kidd, the development of his reputation, and how he came to perish under trumped-up charges.
In 1696, Kidd launched his warship, the Adventure Galley, with a mandate from the King of England to hunt down pirate ships preying on English trade vessels in the Far East. Kidd and his crew of 152 men—many of them former pirates themselves—searched the sea lanes for signs of pirates and enemy ships. Their efforts met with scant success, and Kidd's increasingly belligerent crew, on the verge of mutiny, abandoned the rules of privateering and turned to genuine piracy, seeking to capture any ship that seemed worth the effort. When Kidd finally did capture two ships heavily laden with goods, they turned out to be legitimate trade vessels belonging to a minister in India's ruling party. Kidd's crew eventually mutinied and most of them joined with his nemesis, Robert Culliford, a pirate who readily committed the acts that Kidd resisted and who, in the end, escaped with his life. Kidd was arrested when he returned to the British colonies, but documents that would prove that he was not a pirate could not be found—they were misfiled, Zacks reported. After months of imprisonment, he was returned to England, where he was tried and hanged. Kidd's remains were left hanging for years at the mouth of the Thames River, as a deterrent to any others considering the merits of piracy. Kidd may not have been a particularly nice man, but, Zacks reported, he was definitely framed and wrongfully executed.
"Zacks's account, told in an informal and compelling manner, is a persuasive one," wrote Steven Martinovich in the Christian Science Monitor. "Quoting directly from Kidd's own letters and notes and those of other contemporaries, the author convincingly places the reader in events that transpired three centuries ago."
"Zacks pieces together, detail by detail, as if assembling a pirates' colorful patchwork sail, the history of a brutal era and a very tough business," wrote Stephanie Zacharek for Salon. "The book is tirelessly researched, and Zacks admirably navigates the bureaucratic intricacies of the seafaring world that, for Kidd, started out as a tangle of messy loops and ended up as a noose." David Pitt, writing in Booklist, called the book "a lively, educational, thoroughly spellbinding trip back in time." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called The Pirate Hunter "entertaining, richly detailed, and authoritatively narrated," concluding that "Zacks's book is a treasure, indeed." A Kirkus Reviews critic called the book "exciting, well told and befitting the wild life of a pirate—even if Kidd wasn't one."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, November 1, 1997, Mike Tribby, review of An Underground Education: The Unauthorized and Outrageous Supplement to Everything You Thought You Knew about Art, Sex, Business, Crime, Science, Medicine, and Other Fields of Human Knowledge, p. 436; July, 2001, Jennifer Hubert and Patrick Jones, review of An Underground Education, p. 1998; April 15, 2002, David Pitt, review of The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd, p. 1368.
Christian Science Monitor, June 27, 2002, Steven Martinovich, "Time for Kidd Myth to Walk the Plank," review of The Pirate Hunter.
Forbes, September 22, 1997, review of An Underground Education, p. S206.
JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, August 17, 1994, Domeena C. Renshaw, review of History Laid Bare: Love, Sex, and Perversity from the Ancient Etruscans to Warren G. Harding, pp. 568-569.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2002, review of The PirateHunter, pp. 481-482.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, June 26, 2002, Anne Bartlett, review of The Pirate Hunter, p. K2482.
People, February 21, 1994, Ralph Novak, review of History Laid Bare, p. 28; February 23, 1998, Steven Long, "Unauthorized Versions," review of An Underground Education, p. 35.
Publishers Weekly, May 6, 2002, review of The PirateHunter, p. 45.
Cody's Books,http://www.codysbooks.com/ (September 27, 2002), interview with Richard Zacks.
Mostly Fiction,http://www.mostlyfiction.com/ (September 27, 2002), review of The Pirate Hunter.
Random House,http://www.randomhouse.com/ (September 27, 2002), interview with Richard Zacks.
Salon,http://www.salon.com/ (September 17, 2002), Stephanie Zacharek, review of The Pirate Hunter.*