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The Newsboys' Lodging-House: Or the Confessions of William James [Paperback]

Jon Boorstin

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It is all too easy to make a successful life appear as an in march toward achievement, in which ill chance may briefly deflect one's progress but the momentum of superior character and intellect unerringly rights the course. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Romp through the Psyche of James and Late 1800's NYC. 29 Jan 2005
By Bohdan Kot - Published on
The gifted philosopher and psychologist William James suffered a mental collapse at age thirty. This fact is well known by anyone familiar with James' works, but what remains unclear is what happened during his convalescence. "Twenty-one pages (as much as forty-two pages of writing)" were cut from James' diary that surely held some answers about his dark hour. Thankfully we have Jon Boorstin who writes so well from James' point of view that we need to be reminded these writings are actually not James' confessions but historical fiction. "The Newsboys' Lodging House" brilliantly extrapolates upon the missing pages to form a cohesive and believable account of what led James to become the renowned modern thinker and progenitor of Pragmatism and the Will to Believe.

The novel jumpstarts in 1908 Cambridge with a stranger imploring an attention-grabbing question, "Is you my father?" That teaser grabs the reader's unequivocal attention as James elegantly recalls how one chance encounter at McLean Asylum in 1872 with Horatio Alger, a writer of boys' stories, inspires him to leave the asylum and research "the question of evil" among the poor newsboys of New York City.

Boorstin has magically crept into James' psyche and delights us page after page despite many somber expositions that detail James' anguish over evil's place in the world. Reading in fact becomes compulsory as we eagerly await an answer to the stranger's aforementioned question. In the meantime, Boorstin expresses James' ideations in an entertaining manner and more succinctly than several philosophical tomes.

Bohdan Kot
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Will Make You Excited About Your Every Breath & Choice! 5 Jun 2003
By Billucy - Published on
"Newsboys'" boasts a page-turning plot as well as the wonderful ability to make you think about important life questions. I read the entire novel during one ten-hour stretch of business travel ... and it made what could have been a grueling day of planes and airports a day of pure joy. The plot kept me entertained, but the philosophical elements kept me both hooked on the book and repeatedly pondering my own life and choices. "Newsboys'" may not be in the same literary league as E.L. Doctorow's "Ragtime," but it's much better than the current crop of historical novels typified by "Carter Beats the Devil" -- a lot of research in search of a purpose. I finished the book feeling enriched, invigorated and determined to do better at all things. Any work of art that leaves you feeling like that is a great and rare gift.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A strange psychological story of an eminent psychologist! 4 May 2004
By Kevin Currie-Knight - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As a lover and student of philosophy, I have a prediliction toward pragmatism. And as I have a prediliction toward pragmatism, I have a fondness for James. And as I have a fondness for James, I found this fictionalized account of a 'missing period' of James's life interesting (if not a bit strange and obviously fabricated).
In this novel, John Boorstin is envisioning James in his thirtieth year. This is when he experienced his mental breakdown leaving him an inch from suicide and in complete emotional paralysis. He had spent quite a few months, we know, in a mental institution, but here, the diary stops - the pages referring to this few-month period have been cut out of his diary, leaving the period a complete mystery.
Boorstin imagines a scenario that as far-fetched as it is (and the author acknowledges that) is interesting and at very least entertaining. James goes to New York with little money where, in fascination with Horatio Alger, volunteers to instruct children at a Lodging House for orphaned kids. It is there he meets a 9-year-old boy called Jemmie and becomes determined to save this child (who James is convinced is good at heart, but slipping into street-life) from the cold and hard world of the streets. Therein, James finds himself ensnared in quite a few 'plots' that gradually help him become his own person (as we know that when the 'missing period' was over, James was remarkably more directed and focused).
As I do not know how many people reading this will be as familiar with William James as us philosopher types, there is one part of the novel I think that may get lost on those not as familiar with James. Though one need not at all be a philosopher to like this novel, the story very much ties into the meaning of James' philosophy of pragmatism wherein 'truth' is said to be dictated sometimes by the 'facts' and sometimes by 'what we personally need to believe'. So as not to get too philosophical here, I will copy one paragraph from the novel that beautifully explains:
"Until this moment, I had thought true belief to be absolute and beyond one's control, the inevitable expression of one's fundamental knowledge of the workings of the world. Now I saw that we created our beliefs even as we cherished their eternal permanence. All of us are bound up in beliefs which express not only our deepest truths but our deepest needs."
This is very much a part of James (both as a psychologist and a philosopher, James being equally adept at both). Boorstin's goal, in this fantastic but quite engrossing tale, is in part to give us a 'real live shot' of what James' pragmatism looks like in practice through James' very own eyes. The result is a very good novel that will at once entrhall you and capture your philosophic imagination.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Back in the Old Days of New York 14 Mar 2003
By B Erickson - Published on
I totally enjoyed getting lost in the late 19th century world of New York with James as my guide, both emotionally and visually. The trials and tribulations of the protagonist held me entranced. I was hooked the entire way through. I highly recommend this book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Newsboys Lodging House gets a rave 14 Mar 2003
By A Customer - Published on
This is an intelligent and engrossing book. It both a "page-turner" and extremely thoughtful. It gives both a fascinating portrait of a brilliant man - William James - and a fascinating portrait of New York in the late 19th century. I give it my highest recommendation.
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