Brothers in arms

With brothers Jim and John Harbaugh pitted against each other this Super Bowl Sunday – Who will the parents root for? (Just kidding. They have to be neutral.) – we thought you’d enjoy hearing a bit about the new book “Brothers: George Howe Colt on His Brothers and Brothers in History” (Scribner, $30, 465 pages). Frankly, I enjoyed the historical brothers more than his own bros. There’s poignant stuff on Vincent and Theo van Gogh, who were devoted to each other but not without strain on either. And there’s high drama regarding Edwin and John Wilkes Booth, who, too, were devoted but remained at odds temperamentally and, of course, politically.

A little-known fact about Edwin Booth: As he was traveling by train to Washington, D.C. with John Ford in 1864, he saved the life of a young man who had fallen through the space between the train and the Jersey City platform. The young man, a Harvard student on his way home to Washington to see his parents, recognized the famed interpreter of Hamlet and other classic roles and thanked him by name.

The student’s name was Robert Lincoln – Abraham Lincoln’s eldest son.

One Booth saved a Lincoln life while another took one. How do you account for the difference? Colt has his theories. But let’s just say that Edwin Booth wanted to be a star only onstage whereas John Wilkes Booth was more interested in starring in the drama of his own life.

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