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The Genetic Strand

by Edward Ball

The Genetic Strand is the story of a writer's investigation, using DNA science, into the tale of his family's origins. National Book Award winner Edward Ball has turned his probing gaze on the microcosm of the human genome, and not just any human genome -- that of his slave-holding ancestors. What is the legacy of such a family history, and can DNA say something about it? In 2000, after a decade in New York City, Ball bought a house in Charleston, South Carolina, home to his father's family for generations, and furnished it with heirloom pieces from his relatives. In one old desk he was startled to discover a secret drawer, sealed perhaps since the Civil War, in which someone had hidden a trove of family hair, with each lock of hair labeled and dated. The strange find propelled him to investigate: what might DNA science reveal about the people -- Ball's family members, long dead -- to whom the hair had belonged? Did the hair come from white relatives, as family tradition insisted? How can genetic tests explain personal identity? Part crime-scene investigation, part genealogical romp, The Genetic Strand is a personal odyssey into DNA and family history. The story takes the reader into forensics labs where technicians screen remains, using genetics breakthroughs like DNA fingerprinting, and into rooms where fathers nervously await paternity test results. It also summons the writer¹s entertaining and idiosyncratic family, such as Ball¹s antebellum predecessor, Aunt Betsy, who published nutty books on good Southern society; Kate Fuller, the enigmatic ancestor who may have introduced African genes into the Ball family pool; and the author¹s first cousin Catherine, very much alive, who donates a cheek swab from a mouth more attuned to sweet iced tea than DNA sampling. Writing gracefully but pacing his story like an old-fashioned whodunit, Edward Ball tracks genes shared across generations, adding suspense and personal meaning to what the scientists and Nobel laureates tell us. A beguiling DNA tale, The Genetic Strand reaches toward a new form of writing<the genetic memoir.

The Inventor and the Tycoon

by Edward Ball

From the National Book Award-winning author of Slaves in the Family, a riveting true life/true crime narrative of the partnership between the murderer who invented the movies and the robber baron who built the railroads. One hundred and thirty years ago Eadweard Muybridge invented stop-motion photography, anticipating and making possible motion pictures. He was the first to capture time and play it back for an audience, giving birth to visual media and screen entertainments of all kinds. Yet the artist and inventor Muybridge was also a murderer who killed coolly and meticulously, and his trial is one of the early instances of a media sensation. His patron was railroad tycoon (and former California governor) Leland Stanford, whose particular obsession was whether four hooves of a running horse ever left the ground at once. Stanford hired Muybridge and his camera to answer that question. And between them, the murderer and the railroad mogul launched the age of visual media. Set in California during its frontier decades, The Tycoon and the Inventor interweaves Muybridge's quest to unlock the secrets of motion through photography, an obsessive murder plot, and the peculiar partnership of an eccentric inventor and a driven entrepreneur. A tale from the great American West, this popular history unspools a story of passion, wealth, and sinister ingenuity.

Peninsula of Lies: A True Story of Mysterious Birth and Taboo Love

by Edward Ball

Peninsula of Lies is nonfiction mystery, set in a haunting gothic locale and peopled by fascinating and eccentric characters. Its hero and heroine is Dawn Langley Simmons, a British writer who lived in Charleston, South Carolina, during the 1960s and became the center of one of the most unusual sexual scandals. Born in England, Dawn began life as a boy named Gordon Langley Hall, the son of servants at Sissinghurst Castle, the estate of Vita Sackville-West. In his twenties he made his way to New York, where he wrote about and befriended great society ladies. A small fortune inherited from Isabel Whitney allowed him to buy and decorate a mansion in Charleston. But Gordon's world changed in 1968 when at The Johns Hopkins Hospital he underwent one of the first sexual reassignment surgeries, scandalizing the Southern community that had welcomed him. Months later Gordon shocked Charleston again. Gordon -- now Dawn -- married a young black mechanic, soon appeared to be pregnant, and shortly thereafter became the mother of a young girl. National Book Award-winning author Edward Ball has written a detective story that unwraps Dawn's many mysteries. The result is an engrossing narrative of a person who tested every taboo, as well as the confidence of observers in their own eyes.

Slaves in the Family

by Edward Ball

Writer Edward Ball opens Slaves in the Family with an anecdote: "My father had a little joke that made light of our legacy as a family that had once owned slaves. "There are five things we don't talk about in the Ball family," he would say. "Religion, sex, death, money and the Negroes." " Ball himself seemed happy enough to avoid these touchy issues until an invitation to a family reunion in South Carolina piqued his interest in his family's extensive plantation and slave-holding past. He realized that he had a very clear idea of who his white ancestors were--their names, who their children and children's children were, even portraits and photographs--but he had only a murky vision of the black people who supported their livelihood and were such an intimate part of their daily lives; he knew neither their names nor what happened to them and their descendents after they were freed following the Civil War. So he embarked on a journey to uncover the history of the Balls and the black families with whom their lives were inextricably intertwined, as well as the less tangible resonance of slavery in both sets of families. From plantation records, interviews with descendents of both the Balls and their slaves, and travels to Africa and the American South, Ball has constructed a story of the riches and squalor, violence and insurrection--the pride and shame--that make up the history and legacy of slavery in America.

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