Cover image for 20th-century dreams
20th-century dreams
Cohn, Nik.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred Knopf, 1999.
Physical Description:
xvi, xvi, 206 unnumbered pages : illustrations (some color) ; 28 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Added Author:
Format :


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Who introduced Babe Ruth to Albert Einstein, and why? Who was privy to the pact between Lee Harvey Oswald and James Earl Ray, the romance of the artist formerly known as Prince and Princess Di, and the fate of Marilyn Monroe? Behold Max Vail (b. Maxim Valesky, 1900, St. Petersburg; d. 1999, Manhattan)--a middleman of genius who be-strode the realms of politics, entertainment, art, sport, crime and science. "I have witnessed the world," he said simply. Yet the man who knew everyone--kept their secrets, did their deals and never forgot where the bodies were buried--was himself known to virtually none. His private diaries, here made vivid with eighty-six extraordinary computer collages, provide nothing less than the secret history of our century, confirming some long-rumored events and revealing others that are freshly shocking. In all, some two hundred iconic personalities throng these pages, and their sagas--comic, ignominious, tragic, heroic and bizarre--make a strange, compelling narrative from the conflicted desires and obsessions of our times, and a rare gift to the millennium.

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

The casual browser will stare in amazement and some confusion at Peellaert's phantasmagorical computer collages. Freud and Gandhi consult in an English tearoom. Camus and Sartre come to blows in a sanatorium while Bud Powell plays the piano. Jacqueline Kennedy snuggles up to Cassius Clay in the front seat of a convertible. Mao and Nixon share a good cry, and Malcolm X and Lenny Bruce share a jail cell. These sly, cut-and-paste tabloid improvisations on twentieth-century history are accompanied by captions that have allegedly been taken from the private diaries of one Max Vail, a mystery man of great wealth and cosmic connections. Born Maxim Valesky in St. Petersburg in 1900, Vail died in New York in 1999, and though no one knew anything about him, he knew everything about everyone. Vail is a sly and convincing creation introduced by Cohn--who has a gift for chronicling the bizarre, whether it is imagined or observed--in a clever and seductive little tale in which he describes how he met the enigmatic Vail in 1971. He'd been hanging around in Max's Kansas City when John Lennon wandered in with Andy Warhol and Candy Darling. Lennon, who is in a foul mood, insults Robert Mapplethorpe, then announces that he's "off to see the Wizard." The Wizard is Vail, and Cohn and company tag along. Vail later asks Cohn for help in writing his autobiography, but he can't bring himself to reveal anyone's secrets and even blacks out his journals except for the tidbits preserved here in this make-believe photo album. Not only is Peellaert and Cohn's extravagant and provocative fantasy amusing, it provides a welcome antidote for the rash of more portentous end-of-the-century roundups. --Donna Seaman