Books of the Region

August 22, 2004|By James H. Bready | James H. Bready,Special to the Sun

The nonfiction book of this summer (dalliance division) is Eleanor Herman's Sex With Kings: 500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry and Revenge (Morrow, 287 pages, $25.95). Herman, native to Baltimore (and a history student while at Towson University), now lives in Virginia. She has been prowling the archives; she knows where the bodies were before burial; she writes and you are shocked! and giggling, and in favor of royalty -- so long as it keeps its full oceanic distance.

The author, alas, seems to have nothing on Queen Victoria. But up and down the British, French, Bavarian, Austrian, Russian, Portuguese and other monarchical lines -- what a habit. In the familiar progression, court, courtier, courtesan. And what payoffs made in titles, jewels, estates and wrong-side-of-the-blanket babies.

Then came Wallis Warfield, a flower of old-family Baltimore society, and "the ultimate social climber," Herman says. Moving to London, she pulled off a triple -- marriage to a businessman, "dangling the Prince of Wales" and "having a torrid affair with a handsome car salesman" all three at once.

She had a cobra wit, in compensation for a face that Herman says "resembled the metal part of a garden shovel and her body the wooden handle." But then the prince (by many accounts, a lifelong dimwit) became Edward VIII -- only to abdicate his throne, so as to become her third husband. (They honeymooned in Nazi Germany.) Poor Wallie! She did become duchess of Windsor; but Her Royal Highness? No.

(A contemporary note: Camilla Parker-Bowles, apple of the present British heir apparent's eye for 34 years now, Herman rather likes.)

The title of the oldest continuously operating health care facility in Maryland belongs to an institution known, upon its founding at Biddle and Madison streets in 1774, as the Asylum. Two locations and many name changes later, it is the pride of southeast Baltimore: the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

For much of those 230 years, on a 240-acre Eastern Avenue campus, it was known as Baltimore City Hos-pitals, reflecting continued dependence on City Hall. But in the later 1900s, the publicly owned and operated municipal hospital as a civic institution was fading; Baltimore's, for one, was running a yearly $6 million debt. In 1984, in a no-money deal that business schools may think of as a classic, the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions took over.

As the 20th anniversary of that deal arrives, so does Centuries of Caring: The Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center Story, by Neil A. Grauer (Johns Hopkins Medicine Health, 148 pages, $29.95). A hundred million dollars in new construction, the Chesapeake Physicians Professional Association, proximity to Johns Hopkins Broadway, greater numbers of patients attended to, an additional 1,800 employees, and specialties from the Children's Medical and Surgical Center to the Geriatric Assessment Center -- it's an enthusiastic story that Grauer tells.

And what about all the center's still unused land? In the wings, Grauer notes, is a promised half-million-square-feet National Institutes of Health building.

Five years ago, Baltimoreans were worked up over the choice of a new mayor. Who, among two black and one white Democratic men, was the best prospect? For 12 years, City Hall had been run by an elected African-American mayor, the first ever; majority-black voters hoped this would continue, despite the split in their allegiances. In the end, though, confidence in both Lawrence Bell and Carl Stokes waned, and Martin O'Malley topped his opponents' combined totals.

Gerard Shields relives that noisy summer in The Content of Their Character: Race and Baltimore's 1999 Mayoral Election (Hilliard Harris, 147 pages, $16.95 softbound). A Sun reporter working the City Hall beat at that time (now another newspaper's Washington correspondent), Shields writes with authority. In retrospect, the reasons for the outcome are unchanged. But Shields' this-just-in style brings the campaign to life again (though usage and punctuation would have profited from a good copyediting). This was, never forget, where and when O'Malley entered the spotlight.

Shields gets in your face, but pleasantly. In six vivid pages, he pictures his own upbringing, in a blue-collar section of Philadelphia that was "one of America's most racist." He also looks at the historical treatment of blacks by "Baltimore whites": "In a word, 'merciless,' " he writes. As for the situation today, Shields terms it "apartheid."

The Baltimore riots of 1968 -- a follow-up to the faraway slaying of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and to rioting in Washington -- still burn in some memories. But Baltimore has never lived through as violent a confrontation as the later rioting in York, Pa. There, on separate July nights in 1969, amid wide turbulence, a white police officer and then a black woman were shot and killed.

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