Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


WE’RE USED to sound bites, minutely clear and succinct, satisfying despite their brevity. Curiously, there have also been literary counterparts. And, wouldn’t you know, I have a modest collection of these.


Grosset & Dunlap, founded in 1898, is now part of British Pearson PLC through its American Penguin Group.

Grosset & Dunlap, New York publishing house founded in 1898, is perhaps best known for its Young Adult series of Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins and others. The company also arranged with Little, Brown to reprint the classic animal stories of Thornton Burgess.

In the 1930s, Grosset & Dunlap published a series of “Minute Books.”


Minute Biographies, by Samuel Nisenson and Alfred Parker, Grosset & Dunlap, 1931. This and others in the series are listed at both and

Published handsomely with Art Deco touches, each book in the series consists of brief articles, hence the Minute titles. Each micro-essay in  Biographies is no longer than 100 carefully chosen words accompanied by black-and-white illustration.

A typical

A typical page of Minute Biographies.

Personages range from the fabulist Aesop to Thomas Alva Edison.

Others in the series are more specific in their focus.


Minute Stories of the Opera, by Paul Grabbe and Paul Nordoff, Grosset & Dunlap, 1932.

Though still one-pagers, the Opera entries tend to be longer; this, necessary to describe wonderfully complex operatic plots.


The treatment of Richard Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” is a beautiful example of economical prose.

The book also gives single-page bios on the important—and even a few obscure—composers of this art form. Czech composer Ernst Krenek, for example, is credited with the first internationally successful jazz opera, Jonny Spielt Auf, 1927. Alas, Scott Joplin’s 1907 Treemonisha didn’t gain recognition until 1971. George Gershwin’s 1935 Porgy and Bess was a tad too late for consideration.


Minute Glimpses of American Cities, by Herbert S. Kates, foreward by Dr. John H. Finley, Grosset & Dunlap, 1933.

The topic of American cities is perfect for the Minute format. Seventy-one U.S. cities are included, Akron, Ohio, to Wilmington, Delaware; four Canadian cites, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec and Toronto, make the cut as well.

This one of the series adopts a two-page format, a page of text summarizing the city’s history and current (c. 1930) importance, an accompanying full-page illustration of a significant feature.



My native Cleveland.

The description of Cleveland has personal resonance: “Severance Hall, the new home of the orchestra, is adjacent to the campus of the Western Reserve University, one of the oldest collegiate institutions in Ohio, where nearly 15,000 students attend classes.” Thirty-six years after the book’s publication, I was awarded my Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve at a convocation in Severance Hall.

Others in the series, some of which lurk somewhere around the manse, include Minute Stories of Famous Explorers, Minute Sketches of Great Composers, Great Moments in History, Wigwam and Warpath: Minute Stories of the American Indian, Minute Stories from the Bible, Great Moments in the Life of George Washington and Minute Epics of Flight: A Pictorial History of Man’s Conquest of the Air.


Minute Epics of Flight: A Pictorial History of Man’s Conquest of the Air, by Lumen Winter and Glenn Degner, Grosset & Dunlap, 1933.

The series’ tribute to aviation retains a single-page format for each of its entries. Published in 1933, this volume is the most dated, of course, but also fascinating in citing often overlooked lore.

I’m reminded that Louis Blériot was hobbling on crutches—from a previous hard landing—when he got aboard his Type XI for his epic 1909 flight across the English Channel (

Six years before Italo Balbo’s armada of 24 Savioa-Marchetti SM.55Xs visited Chicago (, Italian colleague Col. Francesco de Pinedo piloted Santa Maria, another Savoia-Marchetti flying boat, to Morocco, Brazil, Argentina, Cuba and on to the U.S.


The saga of the latter-day Santa Marias.

The Santa Maria was destroyed by a careless refueling fire on Lake Roosevelt, near Phoenix, Arizona. A replacement, the Santa Maria II, was shipped to Pinedo so he could continue his U.S. tour. He eventually returned to Rome with yet other adventures.

Indeed, more than a minute’s worth. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2013

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