Exclusive: Decoding the Numbers in Eric Hanson’s A Book of Ages


“When I was in my late 20s I wondered if you could draw a roadmap from the accumulated events of people’s lives,” explains Eric Hanson, author of A Book of Ages: An Eccentric Miscellany of Great and Offbeat Moments in the Lives of the Famous and Infamous, Ages 1 to 100

. “So I began collecting data. When explorers and scientists made their great discoveries. When artists created their great works. When poets met their muses. I organized it all by year of age and it turned into a book.” His picks for some of the most interesting ages in cultural history after the jump.


Sigmund Freud sees his mother naked, 1859.


Mick Jagger meets Keith Richards, 1947.


Hank Williams learns to drink liquor while living for a year with his cousins’ family in Fountain, Alabama, 1933.

AGE 11

In 1934 Charles Schulz’s family gets a new black and white dog. His name isn’t Snoopy.

AGE 15

Susan Sontag buys her first copy of Partisan Review at a newsstand on Hollywood Boulevard, 1948.

AGE 16

John Lennon meets Paul McCartney for the first time at a church fete in Liverpool, 1957.

AGE 18

Allen Ginsberg meets Jack Kerouac, June 1944.

AGE 19

Jerry Lewis meets Dean Martin, March 1945, on the sidewalk at Broadway and 54th.

AGE 21

Dylan Thomas meets his muse, Caitlin Macnamara, on April 12, 1936. She is sitting on a barstool in The Wheatsheaf, a pub in the Fitzrovia neighborhood of London. He puts his head in her lap, tells her she’s beautiful and that he’s going to marry her.

AGE 22

Salvador Dali meets Picasso, 1926. Picasso tells him he was wise to visit him instead of the Louvre.

AGE 23

Sylvia Plath meets Ted Hughes at a party in Cambridge, February 1956. They embrace in a bedroom. He takes off her earrings and her headband. She bites his cheek hard enough to make it bleed. Four months later, on June 16, Bloomsday, they are married at St. George the Martyr in London.

Woody Allen begins seeing a psychiatrist, 1959.

AGE 24

Johnny Cash meets June Carter for the first time backstage at the Grand Ol’ Opry in Nashville, 1956. As is so often true in country music, she is already married.

AGE 25

Eric Clapton records the song Layla with his newest band, Derek and the Dominos, 1970. The song is about Mrs. George Harrison, with whom Clapton is in love. It will take two years for the song to be a hit, five for Mrs. Harrison to get a divorce, and seven before she marries Eric Clapton.

AGE 26

John Lennon meets Yoko Ono on November 9, 1966. Her art is in a show at the Indica Gallery in London.

AGE 27

In 1924, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda, and daughter Scottie sail for France. They visit Paris, then settle into a house on the Riviera, where they meet Gerald and Sara Murphy. Zelda has an affair with a French aviator. Scott writes to Maxwell Perkins recommending a young writer named Hemingway, whom he hasn’t met. He also writes a novel he decides at the last minute to call The Great Gatsby.

AGE 29

Gertrude Stein moves to Paris, 1903. She and her brother Leo take an apartment at 27 Rue de Fleurus, on the Left Bank. Their apartment quickly becomes a salon for artists and writers, including Guillaume Apollinaire, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Ezra Pound.

AGE 30

Elvis Presley receives a visit from the Beatles at Graceland, August, 1965. Because he can’t tell them apart and doesn’t know their names he addresses each of them individually as “Beatle.”

AGE 31

Carl Jung meets Sigmund Freud for the first time, in Vienna, 1907. Their initial conversation lasts over 13 hours. It’s about word association.

Julia McWilliams meets fellow spy Paul Child on the verandah of a tea plantation in Ceylon, 1944. She doesn’t know how to cook yet.

AGE 32

James Thurber meets E. B. White at a party in New York, 1927. White introduces him to Harold Ross, who immediately hires him to work at a new magazine called The New Yorker. “I’ll hire anybody,” Ross is heard to say.

AGE 34

Fred Astaire meets Ginger Rogers on the set of Flying Down To Rio, 1933.

AGE 35

In the midst of the Depression, Walt Disney spends a million and a half dollars to make a feature-length cartoon about a young woman living with seven men, 1937.

AGE 37

James Barrie meets the Llewellyn-Davis children in Kensington Gardens, 1897. Peter is still in a pram. Barrie begins telling them a story about a boy who escapes from his mother and never grows up.

Marcel Proust takes a bite from a madeleine which unleashes the memories that will become A la recherchez du temps perdu, 1909. A madeleine is like a Twinkie without the crème filling.

AGE 39

Duke Ellington meets a 17 year-old composer named Billy Strayhorn, December 1938.

Ian Fleming vacations in Jamaica with the wife of a friend, 1948. While there he purchases a copy of the 1947 Macmillan Field Guide to the Birds of the West Indies by the ornithologist James Bond.

AGE 40

In 1922, Virginia Woolf reads Marcel Proust for the first time. She writes in her diary: “There’s no doubt in my mind, that I have found out, at 40, how to begin to say something in my own voice.” She starts writing Mrs. Dalloway. She also meets and has a brief love affair with Vita Sackville-West.

AGE 42

In 1947, Graham Greene begins his fifteen-year adultery with Catherine Walston. Their code word for sex is “onions,” which turns up in the novel The End Of The Affair.

AGE 46

In 1966, Dr. Timothy Leary has lunch with pop-culture guru Marshall McCluhan at the Plaza Hotel in New York. McCluhan advises Leary that the key to spreading his ideas is advertising, and advertising requires a catchy jingle. At a conference at Berkeley, Leary introduces his now famous slogan: “Turn on. Tune in. Drop out.”

Ernest Hemingway divorces third wife Martha Gellhorn for laughing at him, 1945.

AGE 47

Undaunted by his growing blindness, James Thurber begins an extramarital affair with a secretary at the New Yorker. To assist him with the complicated deception he is given a flunky from the art department, an eighteen year-old youth named Truman Capote.

Raymond Chandler meets fellow novelist Dashiell Hammett for the first time at a party, on January 11, 1936. Hammett, 42, wrote his last detective novel four years earlier; Chandler won’t write his first for another three years.

AGE 53

In 1972, reclusive novelist J. D. Salinger has a year-long love affair with eighteen year-old writing prodigy Joyce Maynard, at the Cornish, New Hampshire home which he shares with his children, some of whom are almost Maynard’s age.

AGE 57

In 1900, Henry James finally writes a letter to Edith Wharton, who has been wanting to know him for years. James has avoided friendships with women admirers ever since one of them fell in love with him and subsequently killed herself.

AGE 58

In 1958, Alfred Hitchcock directs the film Vertigo which is about an older man who persuades a younger woman to change the way she wears her hair.

AGE 62

Mark Twain meets Sigmund Freud, 1898.

AGE 69

When Dorothy Parker’s husband dies in 1963, a West Hollywood neighbor asks if she can get her anything. Parker says “Get me a new husband.”

AGE 72

Benjamin Franklin meets Voltaire at the French Academy in Paris, 1778. The moment they embrace is seen by many as the high point in the Enlightenment.

AGE 74

Japan’s Emperor Hirohito visits Disneyland, 1975.

AGE 75

On June 3, 1964, T. S. Eliot sends a car to London’s Savoy Hotel to bring Mr. and Mrs. Groucho Marx to dinner. Eliot tells Groucho that their friendship has greatly enhanced his credit with the grocer across the street.

AGE 78

Grandma Moses exhibits some of her paintings at Thomas’s Drugstore in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., and is discovered by art dealer Louis Caldor, 1938. In 1939 her art is exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art.

AGE 80

Alice Hargreaves, the Alice of Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland, meets Peter Llewellyn Davis, the Peter of James Barrie’s Peter Pan, at a Lewis Carroll Centenary, in New York, 1932.