My account of the 103-year-long exile of suspected lepers to the island prison of Molokai, in the Hawaiian Islands. The book grew out of an article I was developing at Outside Magazine, but the story was too rich and broadly compelling to tell in short form. (It’s possibly the only book to ever receive raves from both The Onion and The New England Journal of Medicine.)
The colony was the longest and deadliest instance of medical segregation in American history, made all the more unsettling by the fact that half of the almost 9,000 people who were exiled should never have been sent away. This is an almost unbelievable tale of ruthless manhunts, thrilling escapes, bizarre medical experiments, and tragic, irreversible error — populated by a cast of characters that includes the martyred Father Damien, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack London, Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt, John Wayne, and more. Imagine the movie Papillon crossed with an especially good episode of House — but entirely true.
- This is what the New York Times had to say about the book
- This is NPR’s Terry Gross interviewing me about The Colony, for Fresh Air
- This is me on NPR’s Morning Edition, talking about the book
- This is me on CSPAN’s BookTV, discussing the book with Congressman Ed Case
- The Los Angeles Times picked The Colony as a finalist for their Book of the Year. (I lost to this, which was indeed the better book.)
Some touts from the critics:
“Tayman’s understated and unadorned presentation…achieves a quiet greatness. [His] noble account makes you want to stand and applaud.” — New York Times Book Review
“A gripping history of the leper colony at Molokai…An utterly engrossing look at a heartbreaking chapter in Hawaiian history.” — Booklist, Starred Review
“Fascinating. Tayman brings dignity to the 150-year history of a heavily burdened (but hardly defeated) population.” — Entertainment Weekly
“Riveting. Tayman can stand toe-to-toe with Erik Larson (Devil in the White City) in his ability to weave meticulously researched material into a fascinating narrative. He certainly can keep a reader up at night.” — Detroit Free Press
“Tayman brings a meticulous, compassionate eye to the saga. It’s a must read…[a] riveting account. Grade A.” — San Francisco Magazine
“Tayman’s story transcends traditional histories and takes flight as one of the most riveting documents of Hawai’i history in years.” — Honolulu Advertiser
“A must-read.” — Time
“Fascinating” — The New Yorker
“At once eye-opening, shocking, and inspiring. The kind of book readers are sure to tell their friends about.” — Rocky Mountain News
“A morality play illuminating the best and worst of human nature, a page-turning narrative, and a deeply sympathetic drama featuring a fascinating cast of characters.” — The New England Journal of Medicine
If all this sounds interesting, you can purchase the Kindle edition of The Colony and begin enjoying it within minutes!
. . . . .
This book, which I worked on with Daniel Okrent, is a remnant of my New England Monthly days as well as my time as a picture editor. It grew out of a cache of photographs I found tucked away in the University of Louisville archives. Commissioned in the 1940s and early 1950s by the Standard Oil Company, the photographs were taken by some of the giants of photojournalism, including Gordon Parks, Berenice Abbott, and John Vachon — all of whom were working under the direction of Roy Stryker.
Dan and I spent a few weeks on the road tracking down the people in the photographs, to tell the tale of what had unfolded in their lives and in the country in the four-plus decades since they had been photographed. Dan wrote the essay that forms the bulk of the book; I worked on the brief interstitial personal stories. Sadly, The Way We Were is long out of print, but it’s worth hunting down a used or collectible copy.
. . . . .
And now, as a bonus, a few excellent books that were written by friends and which should be purchased immediately. I had little or nothing to do with most of these, other than perhaps offering general encouragement or a pre-publication reading — although in the case of the first two books I did come up with the titles. So there’s that.
- Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer
- The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup, by Susan Orlean
- F5, by Mark Levine
- Last Call, by Dan Okrent
- Cheerful Money, by Tad Friend
- The Lost Painting, by Jonathan Harr
- Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder
- The Devil’s Teeth, by Susan Casey
- All the Devils Are Here, by Joe Nocera
- The Thing Itself, by Richard Todd
- Guts, by Robert Nylen
- Half Empty, by David Rakoff
- The Town On Beaver Creek, by Michelle Slatalla