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Starr Center for the

Study of the American Experience

George Howe Colt On His Brothers… and Brothers in History

Date: 5:30pm EST February 26, 2013

A masterful blend of memoir and history featuring both the author’s three brothers and iconic brothers in history—the Booths, the Van Goghs, the Kelloggs, the Marx Brothers, and the Thoreaus.

Cain and Abel started it: the jealous – and in their case, fatal – rivalry between brothers. But the blood bond between male siblings is far richer and more complicated than mere rivalry. In an upcoming talk, author George Howe Colt will share the stories of famous and infamous male siblings across the centuries – and how their family dynamics shaped both individual lives and the larger course of history.

The event, sponsored by the C.V. Starr Center for the American Experience, will take place on February 26 at 5:30 p.m. in Litrenta Lecture Hall, John S. Toll Science Center, on the Washington College Campus. It is free and open to the public and will be followed by a book signing.

In his new book, Brothers: On His Brothers and Brothers in History (Scribner, 2012), Colt examines the multifaceted relationships between iconic brothers, including the Kennedys; John Wilkes and Edwin Booth; the wildly dysfunctional Marx brothers; the James boys (both the outlaws and the writers); the aeronautical Wrights, and more. In alternating chapters, Colt examines how his evolving relationships with his own brothers – close and sometimes contentious – shaped his life.

Published in November, Colt’s book has drawn widespread positive reviews. “Anyone who’s had the pleasure of reading Colt’s previous, National Book Award-nominated work, The Big House, will know his delicate, detailed, ironically self-mocking way with prose, and his lucid, affectionate fair-mindedness,” wrote the essayist Philip Lopate in The New York Times Book Review. “His skill at storytelling is such that each [story] is transformed into something fresh, dramatic, and emotionally piercing.”

Colt explores how Edwin Booth grew up to become the greatest actor on the 19th-century American stage while his younger brother John grew up to assassinate a president. How Will Kellogg worked for his overbearing older brother John Harvey as a subservient yes-man for two decades until he finally broke free and launched the cereal empire that outlasted all his brother’s enterprises. How Henry David Thoreau’s life was shadowed by the early death of his older brother, John, who haunted and inspired his writing. And how the Marx Brothers collaborated onscreen but competed offstage for women, money, and fame.

“Colt brilliantly conjoins history and memoir, insight and humor – not to mention Cain and Abel, Groucho and Harpo,” says Adam Goodheart, Director of the C.V. Starr Center. “Every page of this book is a pleasure.”

A former staff writer for Life magazine, George Howe Colt is the author of November of the Soul: The Enigma of Suicide (1991) and National Book Award finalist The Big House (2003), his memoir about his last summer with his family at their summer house on Cape Cod. His articles have been published in The New York Times, Civilization, and Mother Jones, among others. Colt is married to the author Anne Fadiman and lives with his family in rural Massachusetts.

The “Brothers” event is cosponsored by the American Studies Program, and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. 

“Colt is an acute observer and sensitive chronicler of male emotion…Searingly poignant.”
– Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe

“The brotherly counterpoint between fierce rivalry and stalwart affection is teased out in this absorbing meditation on family dynamics…No one writes better than Colt about families and the strange alchemy that binds them, and the way siblings make each other what they are even as they become distinct, even estranged, personalities.”
Publishers Weekly