Other Interests

(Related to Literature, History, and Chemical Sensitivity)

Biographies by Alison Johnson

The Eleventh Hour Can’t Last Forever


“In a sad way, I enjoyed reading the account of your life and that of your father. It’s a saga relating how an obsession with money can really mess up a family.”-Warren E. Buffett

“I have read with great interest your very good memoir and think there might be a larger market for it.”-Chip McGrath, Former fiction editor at The New Yorker, Former head editor of the NYT Book Review

“It is an astonishing story. It is a very sad story. Very funny in places. Tragic-comic, I guess. And you maintain for the most part that complexly mixed tone of disaster and almost burlesque–farce?–very well.”-Wayne Carver, William H. Laird Professor of the Liberal Arts, Carleton College

To learn more, see 45 photos, and purchase, visit www.alisonjohnsonmemoir.com.

Also available on Kindle.

This highly unusual family memoir opens in this way:

“Two tons of silver and gold coins, hundreds of thousands of nickels, dimes, quarters, and gold pieces. They were under our beds, in the kitchen cupboards, up in the attics, in the bottom of dresser drawers, in holes in the ground. My father was obsessed with gathering up these coins and hiding them away in any likely spot in the houses and garages and store buildings he owned in our tiny town on the mid-Western prairie. Nothing could shake his belief that the total collapse of the American economy and government was just around the corner, a collapse that would bring anarchy and rioting in the streets.” 

“With this shadow of Armageddon always hanging over him, Dad believed that he could save his family from disaster only by collecting as much gold and silver as he could lay his hands on.

“This fear of a future calamity that might leave his family penniless so dominated Dad’s thoughts that he failed to see how his blind absorption in amassing wealth created family problems that would lead to his oldest son’s hopeless alcoholism and his wife’s mental collapse.   My sister grew up so insecure that she eventually turned to the stars for answers to the frustrations of her life, immersing herself in the study of astrology. In the fairy tale, King Midas’s daughter was miraculously restored to life after she had been turned to stone by her father’s desire for gold, but Dad’s destructive influence on his family could not be so easily reversed.”

 Louis XVI and the French Revolution

Contact Alison Johnson to buy this biography for only $19.99, compared to $29.95 on Amazon.

“I found the description of your biography of Louis XVI and the enclosed sample chapters to be very interesting indeed and to make fascinating reading.”Louis XVI and the French Revolution.jpg

 Joanna Hitchcock
Executive Editor, Humanities
Princeton University Press

“Ms. Johnson is certainly a fine writer, and her treatment of Louis XVI and his reign is balanced, and mercifully interesting and readable.”

Britt Hilander
E. P. Dutton

“A weak king.” The phrase echoes across two centuries to condemn the man who happened to be king when the French Revolution erupted. Those who admire the Napoleons of history will find little to interest them in the character of Louis XVI, a gentle man whose abhorrence of bloodshed and refusal to use military force against his opponents contributed to the loss of his throne.

Louis XVI may have been a weak monarch, but his personal courage was undeniable.  On the day the Bastille fell the Parisian mob murdered two of his officials and paraded their heads through the streets of Paris on pikes, but only a few days later Louis rode from Versailles to Paris with no protection to meet with the protesters. During the first invasion of the Tuileries palace two years later he faced armed assassins only a few feet away with unflinching resolve and refused to capitulate to their demands for the deportation of priests unwilling to break with Rome.  

Louis did not want to be king. A quiet life spent in pursuit of his interests in locksmithing and geography would have been more to his taste than the luxury and intrigues of Versailles. He accepted the responsibility to rule, however, and attempted to work for the welfare of his people until his government was engulfed by the violent upheavals of the Revolution. Perplexed by the course chosen by so many of his subjects, Louis hesitantly gave way, step by step, to the policies they demanded. Few rulers have acquiesced in such startling changes of government within such a brief span of time as did Louis XVI.

Louis remains above all else a very private man. Except for a handful of official letters, he left almost no record of his thoughts and feelings. We get a clear impression of him as a person only at the end of his life through the sensitive record left by the valet who served him in the months he was imprisoned before he was guillotined. During this same period an artist painted a portrait which shows the haunting face of a man who has suffered, contrasting sharply with the impassive and impenetrable visage in the official portraits painted earlier in his reign.

Perhaps no one has offered a more sensitive appraisal of Louis XVI than Malesherbes, a leading liberal intellectual who served him as minister:

He is a worthy prince . . . but in certain situations . . . the qualities that are virtues in a private citizen become almost vices in a person who occupies the throne; they may be good for the other world, but they are worth nothing in this one.

Henry James: His Life Revealed Through His Letters

This is the only biography of Henry James that has been sold at Lamb House, his home in Rye, England.


Available on Kindle or contact Alison Johnson directly for a discounted price of $8.99.

Henry James was not only a prolific novelist who wrote over twenty novels and more than a hundred novellas and tales, but also a voluminous correspondent. Even today, more than ten thousand of his letters are still extant. The letters between Henry James and his highly intelligent and perceptive parents and siblings present the biographer with a wealth of information about what was happening in his life and how he viewed it. In addition to this important family correspondence, thousands of letters that James wrote to friends and colleagues over his lifetime offer a rich source for exploring the life behind this literary genius.

Those who want to learn more about the life of Henry James but do not have time to read one of the multivolume biographies written about him will find Alison Johnson’s biography of a few hundred pages an enticing introduction to one of the world’s finest novelists. To enable readers to experience his mind and sensibility at work, Johnson includes long quotations from James’s letters and his autobiographical works. One intriguing section of the biography concerns his very close relationship to the novelist Constance Fenimore Woolson (expatriate niece of James Fenimore Cooper). Johnson includes excerpts from Woolson’s letters to James that indicate she was deeply in love with him and was saddened that his affection for her was not of a nature to lead to marriage. After Woolson jumped to her death from her apartment in Venice during a period of illness and depression, James rushed there from London and spent a few months helping her relatives close up her affairs, while at the same time availing himself of the opportunity to destroy any letters he had written to her that were still in her apartment.

Some of the passages Johnson includes from James’s correspondence also contain evidence about the nature of his infatuations in his later years with several much younger male artists and writers and the extent to which these infatuations may have led to actual sexual experience. Henry James’s own words may be the best summation of his struggle to understand his own feelings for those with whom he established intimate relationships: “Never say you know the last word about any human heart!”

Wallace Stevens: A Dual Life as Poet and Insurance Executive

In this accessible biography filled with fascinating glimpses behind the routine of Wallace Stevens’s daily life, Alison Johnson helps readers to understand the man who was not only one of America’s leading poets, but also the dean of surety bonds in the American insurance world and a vice president at the Hartford.wallace-stevens-biography.jpg

Alison Johnson’s biography offers extensive insight into the creative processes of this prolific poet, who jotted down ideas and phrases for many of his poems as he walked the two-mile route between his home and his office in downtown Hartford.

In her exploration of the psychology of this private poet, Johnson delves into his great disappointment in the woman he married, examining three bitter poems he wrote about their failed relationship, poems he chose not to include in his books of poetry. Unwilling to divorce his wife, perhaps in part because of her emotional problems, Stevens nevertheless moved beyond his marital frustrations to focus upon the good in his life, finding joy not only in writing poetry, but also in nature, fine food, music, and art, as is clear in the memorable passages Johnson chooses from Stevens’s voluminous, engaging, and witty correspondence.

Although Stevens generally led a well-ordered and quiet life, Johnson also shows it was not without an occasional surprising incident. She relates how the executive, whom colleagues remembered as a man who dressed and spoke in a formal manner, once started a fistfight with Ernest Hemingway in Key West. Biographer Alison Johnson succeeds in presenting a well-rounded and believable portrait of a man whose poetry, as he had so fervently desired, gives pleasure to the world.

Visit  wallacestevensbiography.com to learn more, see photos, and purchase.

The World of Wallace Stevens: A Documentary


Contact Alison Johnson to buy at a discounted price of $14.99. Excerpts may be viewed on YouTube or Vimeo.

“I love this film.  It offers an intimate presentation of one of our most self-protective poets.  The result for me is that I like the person much better–especially as a father.  And I admire his abstractness even more than I had because its protective aspect begins to leak, and the film thereby establishes the life force dialectically driving and being driven by what abstraction can do.”-Charles F. Altieri, Rachael Anderson Stageberg Chair, Department of English, University of California/Berkeley

“Johnson’s documentary/interpretive film on Wallace Stevens is nothing short of brilliant. She makes Stevens, arguably the best American poet of the 20th century, come to life as a person and, as both poet and person, one who matters to our lives. In particular, her revelations about Stevens’ thwarted love for a young woman named Sybil Gage reveal a very human Stevens, with whom most of us will identify and sympathize. In addition, the concrete readings and discussions by major Stevens scholars bring his poetry into a fiercely focused relevance to his time. And our own. That said, Johnson has produced a deep unfolding of this poet and his poetry that is itself of the highest lyrical quality. This work shines– like Stevens’ own ‘highest candle that lights the dark.'”-Jacqueline Vaught Brogan, Department of English and American Literature, University of Notre Dame

“I know that the ‘life’ a man leads is a separate element from his poetry. Still, I found what you brought out—particularly about his marriage—to be of much interest. I had also known nothing about his “muse,” or Sybil, and found that part of the film especially intriguing.”-Thomas Benet, Son of Stephen Vincent Benét, Former head, editorial page, San Francisco Chronicle

“I find your exploration of my grandfather’s relationship to Sybil Gage, who may have inspired some of his greatest poetry, to be fascinating. You’ve got a sound perspective on the poet’s need to displace so much of his social and intellectual energies, and for the young Stevens, his inevitable erotic and romantic urges.”-Peter (Zeke) Hanchak,
Wallace Stevens’s grandson

The following Stevens scholars are featured in this documentary:

Glen MacLeod is a Professor of English at the University of Connecticut/Waterbury. He is the author of Wallace Stevens and Company: The “Harmonium” Years, 1913-1923 and Wallace Stevens and Modern Art: From the Armory Show to Abstract Expressionism. He has edited a book titled Wallace Stevens in Context, which was published in 2016.

Paul Mariani is the University Professor of English at Boston College. He has published seven volumes of poetry and is the author of biographies of William Carlos Williams, John Berryman, Robert Lowell, Hart Crane, and Gerard Manley Hopkins. His biography titled The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens was published in 2016.

John Serio, a professor emeritus at Clarkson University, served as the editor of the Wallace Stevens Journal for twenty-eight years. He also edited The Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens and Wallace Stevens: Selected Poems. In 2015 he published a corrected edition of Wallace Stevens’s Collected Poems.

Alison Johnson, producer, director, and scriptwriter of this documentary, is the author of the biography Wallace Stevens: A Dual Life as Poet and Insurance Executive.

Alison Johnson’s Books about Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

Amputated Lives


The condition of multiple chemical sensitivity has been rapidly growing with the proliferation of new, untested chemicals in our environment. In recent decades, people from many walks of life have developed a new intolerance for the chemicals found in perfume, air fresheners, cleaning products, fabric softeners, diesel and auto exhaust, new carpet, paint, and other products. Their ranks include large numbers of Exxon Valdez cleanup workers, Gulf War veterans, 9/11 First Responders, and FEMA trailer residents. Part I of Amputated Lives analyzes the development of chemical sensitivity in these various groups and its consequences. Part II illustrates with stories from various individuals how this condition can quickly wreck what was once a good life.

Amputated Lives is a brilliant culmination of over a decade of work by Alison Johnson, author of landmark books, publications, and documentaries on multiple chemical sensitivity. Everyone should read Amputated Lives. It provides an unparalleled perspective on the causes and consequences of toxic exposures, which have devastated far too many lives.”-Anne Steinemann, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Washington

“This book elegantly defines the health crisis from our daily exposure to complex mixtures of toxic chemicals and the political barriers to research and appropriate treatment for the myriad health problems that result. The philosophy that for every ill there is an expensive pill must be changed. For many ailments, we need to remove the stricken from the chemical environment rather than pump them full of expensive pharmaceuticals.”-William Meggs, M.D., Ph.D., Professor, Brody School of Medicine,    East Carolina University

Visit www.alisonjohnsonmcs.com  to learn more or to purchase. Also available on Kindle.

Gulf War Syndrome: Legacy of a Perfect War



“Alison Johnson has successfully captured on paper the plight and pain of these heroes.”-Congressman Christopher Shays (R-CT), Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs, and International Relations

“Extensive scientific research has now documented the fact that Gulf War veterans have been affected by a wide range of unexplained health problems. This book champions their cause, providing compelling information on these conditions and their possible connection to chemical injury and sensitivity. The powerful stories of individual veterans provide firsthand accounts of the myriad exposures encountered during the war and the many challenges that ill veterans have faced in the years since Desert Storm.”-Lea Steele, Ph.D., Scientific Director of the VA Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses

“Alison Johnson’s knowledge of the field of chemical injury and chemical sensitivity has enabled her to present a careful analysis of the various toxic exposures that have contributed to Gulf War syndrome. Her inclusion of stories from the veterans whose lives have been devastated by their health problems gives the issue a reality that no official statistics and rhetoric can convey.”-Gunnar Heuser, M.D., Ph.D., Neuromed and NeuroTox Associates, Agoura Hills, California

Visit www.alisonjohnsonmcs.com to learn more, view the video, or purchase.

Casualties of Progress

Casualties of Progress: Personal Histories from the Chemically Sensitive

This collection contains the personal histories of 57 people with MCS. One story comes from a nurse who won a case with her state Human Rights Commission concerning a series of emails that fellow employees sent each other to plan to all wear heavy amounts of perfume on a designated day and to spray perfume in the bathroom and stairway she would use. 

“The book is next to impossible to put down. These chronicles of courage, caring, injustice, suffering, persistence, and triumph are told in such depth and with such honesty that their truth is unmistakable. They are truly tales to open eyes and hearts.”-Lynn Lawson, Staying Well in a Toxic World              

Selected passages from the stories:

“I remember when I met my new attorney in December 1998, I asked him what they pay someone who loses a limb on the job. He told me. Then I asked him what they do for someone with an amputated life.”-Lizbeth, Computer Systems Engineer

“Just last week I started to read a magazine, and it turned out it had a perfume strip in it. I got nauseated immediately and got a headache; I felt so sick I had to go to bed. The next morning I was still nauseated and was wheezing, so I had to go to the hospital. They kept me there a couple of days.”-Terry, ex-marine with Gulf War Syndrome

“I can no longer keep a cherished dog or go to a concert or joyfully join in fun and games. I haven’t done much of anything in four and a half years except lie around a lot and try any medication, treatment, or protocol that holds promise. This is a reality understood only by those who have experienced it. Those who have no such experience may or may not be sympathetic, but by and large they have their doubts. I know these doubts because when I practiced law I had a client whose case rested on whether she really suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome. I knew she was suffering, but at the same time I always felt she could pull out of it if only she would tug harder at those proverbial bootstraps. Believe me, bootstrap yanking doesn’t work. I’ve tugged at everything I could get my hands on, and such tugging often only makes matters worse.”-Rand, lawyer

“I once read a study that said the average American spends 98% of the day inside. I’ve reversed that proportion and spend 98% of my time outdoors, sleeping on my patio and cooking there on a hot plate. I use my house as an oversized closet, storage area, and bathroom. I’ve been basically living outdoors for twenty years now.  I have been told that early retirement is the American dream. Early retirement because of disability and a chronic, progressive illness is nothing but a bad dream, involving the loss of family, home, career, friends, mobility, income, and one’s health–almost everything one holds precious.”-John, college professor

Visit www.alisonjohnsonmcs.com to learn more or to purchase. 

Alison Johnson’s Documentaries on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

The Toxic Clouds of 9/11

Direct TV aired The Toxic Clouds of 9/11 nationwide in late 2007 and early 2008.

Visit www.alisonjohnsonmcs.com to learn more, play this video, or purchase it.

“I wish every politician and policymaker could see this moving and powerful film. It is a wake-up call. Thousands are already sick and thousands more may become ill in the months and years to come. As a nation, we have the moral and ethical obligation to mobilize the resources necessary to respond effectively to this looming public health crisis.”-Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)

“This documentary provides an excellent overview of health problems among New Yorkers exposed to the WTC toxins, including the often neglected issue of the risk of developing a condition known as multiple chemical sensitivity.”-Christine Oliver, M.D.,
Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine,
Harvard Medical School 

Gulf War Syndrome

GWS_cover_new“More than 100,000 of the American forces who fought in the Gulf War returned home suffering from a variety of illnesses and to a nation indifferent to their problems. It was a war fought in a cesspool of toxic agents. These veterans are the delayed and forgotten casualties of Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Producer Alison Johnson has successfully captured on film the plight and pain of these heroes.”-Congressman Christopher Shays (R-CT), Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs, and International Relations.

Large numbers of soldiers who risked their lives in the Persian Gulf have developed Gulf War syndrome. Some must use canes or wheelchairs; others are struggling with devastating illnesses like lupus or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Veterans’ symptoms include severe and frequent headaches, debilitating fatigue, muscle and joint pains, memory problems, asthma, chronic diarrhea, and loss of bladder and rectal control. Their chronic health problems and the extreme sensitivity they have developed to common, everyday chemicals make it difficult or impossible for them to work.

This documentary explores the principal toxic exposures soldiers faced:

  • Low levels of sarin and other nerve gases released from the bombing of Iraqi chemical weapons factories and the destruction of bunkers like Khamisiyah where these weapons were stored
  • PB pills, themselves quite toxic, given to soldiers in an effort to protect them from nerve gas attacks
  • Smoke and soot from hundreds of oil well fires
  • Excessive use of pesticides
  • Radioactive dust from depleted uranium munitions
  • Anthrax and other vaccines given in a compressed time frame

Multiple Chemical Sensitivity

MCS_cover_new.jpgThe enormous increase in the use of new chemicals since World War II has led not only to the pollution of the outdoor environment but also to a sharp decrease in the quality of indoor air in the home and workplace. As a result, more and more people are developing a condition known as multiple chemical sensitivity, or MCS. These people experience symptoms upon exposure to even low levels of the chemicals found in perfume, air fresheners, cleaning products, fabric softeners, diesel and auto exhaust, new carpet, paint, and other products. This documentary illustrates the devastating effects that MCS has had on the lives of over a dozen people from various backgrounds and also includes discussion from leading physicians in the field.

“There is no question in my mind that multiple chemical sensitivity is a very serious and growing problem affecting many, many Americans. Your video does an excellent job in explaining current thinking about the causes of the problem.”-Senator Bernard Sanders, I-VT

Visit  www.alisonjohnsonmcs.com to learn more, play the video, or purchase it.