Fellow Travelers

fellow-travellersFellow Travelers, my first book, published in 1987, about Russia. A friend compared it to Paul Theroux’s “The Consul’s File,” which is high praise, possibly too high. Like “File,” it is a collection of vignettes from a very foreign land.

“A wonderful book – a slim, artfully written volume that should be required reading for anyone interested in understanding the Soviet Russia that lies behind the daily headlines,” according to Ned Temko, writing in the Christian Science Monitor. Caveat emptor: Ned is a personal friend. That said, I think this is a sweet book, a generally successful attempt to convey my love for Russia, which taught me … everything.

The Americans Are Coming

ABBookcovertoMattThe Americans Are Coming! a glasnost-era homage to Nathaniel Benchley’s charming novel, “The Off-Islanders,” the source for the movie, “The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!”

“Arriving as it does at a time when we are busily congratulating ourselves on our natural superiority, ‘The Americans Are Coming!’ is especially refreshing,” Michael Lewis wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “The best satire offends only those who deserve to be offended. It is a measure of Beam’s abilities that even those whom he offends probably will laugh.”

Gracefully Insane

gracefully-insane-coverGracefully Insane, a classic, of sorts. A “biography” of McLean Hospital, home to the “Mayflower screwballs,” as the poet Robert Lowell called them. A New York Times Best Book, of 2001.

Here is an excerpt from the generous NYT review, “The Thoroughbred Crazies,”by Holly Brubach:

“Louis Agassiz Shaw, a murderer and a snob who inhabited a book-lined suite in Upham Memorial, and Carl Liebman, a paranoid schizophrenic unsuccessfully analyzed by Freud, are cheerfully presented in the context of a cast straight out of a 30’s screwball comedy. Shaw, who had strangled his maid, acquires a sidekick, ”a Bible-thumping companion” by the name of Joan Tunney Wilkinson, daughter of the famous boxer Gene Tunney and sister of Senator John Tunney, accused of killing her husband on Easter Sunday, 1970. ”At McLean,” Beam writes, she ”came under the sway of the Christian revival group the Way. . . . At hall meetings . . . Wilkinson was wont to say, ‘Louis, we must confess our sins.’ His inevitable answer: ‘Oh, Joan, no.’ ” Liebman, whose conviction that he was being followed by detectives was cited by his doctors as evidence of his incurable paranoia, was in fact being followed by detectives, who had been hired by his family.”

A Great Idea at the Time

great-idea-coverA not very reverent history of the Great Books movement. A New York Times Best Book of 2009.