Archive for Biography & Memoir

The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia

The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, by Masha Gessen (Hb $16.80, Kndl !4.99)

 

Amazon: WINNER OF THE 2017 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD IN NONFICTION

GessenNAMED A BEST BOOK OF 2017 BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEWLOS ANGELES TIMESWASHINGTON POST, AND NEWSWEEK

The essential journalist and bestselling biographer of Vladimir Putin reveals how, in the space of a generation, Russia surrendered to a more virulent and invincible new strain of autocracy.

Award-winning journalist Masha Gessen’s understanding of the events and forces that have wracked Russia in recent times is unparalleled. In The Future Is History, Gessen follows the lives of four people born at what promised to be the dawn of democracy. Each of them came of age with unprecedented expectations, some as the children and grandchildren of the very architects of the new Russia, each with newfound aspirations of their own–as entrepreneurs, activists, thinkers, and writers, sexual and social beings.

Gessen charts their paths against the machinations of the regime that would crush them all, and against the war it waged on understanding itself, which ensured the unobstructed reemergence of the old Soviet order in the form of today’s terrifying and seemingly unstoppable mafia state. Powerful and urgent, The Future Is History is a cautionary tale for our time and for all time.

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The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars

The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars, by Dava Sobel (Kndl $14.99; pb $11.53)

glassAmazon: In the mid-nineteenth century, the Harvard College Observatory began employing women as calculators, or “human computers,” to interpret the observations their male counterparts made via telescope each night. At the outset this group included the wives, sisters, and daughters of the resident astronomers, but soon the female corps included graduates of the new women’s colleges—Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith. As photography transformed the practice of astronomy, the ladies turned from computation to studying the stars captured nightly on glass photographic plates.

The “glass universe” of half a million plates that Harvard amassed over the ensuing decades—through the generous support of Mrs. Anna Palmer Draper, the widow of a pioneer in stellar photography—enabled the women to make extraordinary discoveries that attracted worldwide acclaim. They helped discern what stars were made of, divided the stars into meaningful categories for further research, and found a way to measure distances across space by starlight. Their ranks included Williamina Fleming, a Scottish woman originally hired as a maid who went on to identify ten novae and more than three hundred variable stars; Annie Jump Cannon, who designed a stellar classification system that was adopted by astronomers the world over and is still in use; and Dr. Cecilia Helena Payne, who in 1956 became the first ever woman professor of astronomy at Harvard—and Harvard’s first female department chair.

Elegantly written and enriched by excerpts from letters, diaries, and memoirs, The Glass Universe is the hidden history of the women whose contributions to the burgeoning field of astronomy forever changed our understanding of the stars and our place in the universe.

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Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation

Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation, by Cokie Roberts

FoundingAmazon:  Cokie Roberts’s number one New York Times bestseller, We Are Our Mothers’ Daughters, examined the nature of women’s roles throughout history and led USA Today to praise her as a “custodian of time-honored values.” Her second bestseller, From This Day Forward, written with her husband, Steve Roberts, described American marriages throughout history, including the romance of John and Abigail Adams. Now Roberts returns with Founding Mothers, an intimate and illuminating look at the fervently patriotic and passionate women whose tireless pursuits on behalf of their families — and their country — proved just as crucial to the forging of a new nation as the rebellion that established it.

While much has been written about the men who signed the Declaration of Independence, battled the British, and framed the Constitution, the wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters they left behind have been little noticed by history. Roberts brings us the women who fought the Revolution as valiantly as the men, often defending their very doorsteps. While the men went off to war or to Congress, the women managed their businesses, raised their children, provided them with political advice, and made it possible for the men to do what they did. The behind-the-scenes influence of these women — and their sometimes very public activities — was intelligent and pervasive.

Drawing upon personal correspondence, private journals, and even favored recipes, Roberts reveals the often surprising stories of these fascinating women, bringing to life the everyday trials and extraordinary triumphs of individuals like Abigail Adams, Mercy Otis Warren, Deborah Read Franklin, Eliza Pinckney, Catherine Littlefield Green, Esther DeBerdt Reed, and Martha Washington — proving that without our exemplary women, the new country might never have survived.

Social history at its best, Founding Mothers unveils the drive, determination, creative insight, and passion of the other patriots, the women who raised our nation. Roberts proves beyond a doubt that like every generation of American women that has followed, the founding mothers used the unique gifts of their gender — courage, pluck, sadness, joy, energy, grace, sensitivity, and humor — to do what women do best, put one foot in front of the other in remarkable circumstances and carry on.

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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J. D. Vance ($12.99 Kndl, $16.79 hb)

NY Times Review, and interview with the author.

Hillbilly“A riveting book.”—The Wall Street Journal

“Essential reading.”—David Brooks, New York Times

From a former marine and Yale Law School graduate, a powerful account of growing up in a poor Rust Belt town that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures, Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how upward mobility really feels. And it is an urgent and troubling

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The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain, by Bill Bryson ($13.99 Kndl, $11.45 pb)

DribblingAmazon: Twenty years ago, Bill Bryson went on a trip around Britain to discover and celebrate that green and pleasant land. The result was Notes from a Small Island, a true classic and one of the bestselling travel books ever written. Now he has traveled about Britain again, by bus and train and rental car and on foot, to see what has changed—and what hasn’t.

Following (but not too closely) a route he dubs the Bryson Line, from Bognor Regis in the south to Cape Wrath in the north, by way of places few travelers ever get to at all, Bryson rediscovers the wondrously beautiful, magnificently eccentric, endearingly singular country that he both celebrates and, when called for, twits. With his matchless instinct for the funniest and quirkiest and his unerring eye for the idiotic, the bewildering, the appealing, and the ridiculous, he offers acute and perceptive insights into all that is best and worst about Britain today.

Nothing is more entertaining than Bill Bryson on the road—and on a tear. The Road to Little Dribblingreaffirms his stature as a master of the travel narrative—and a really, really funny guy.

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Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me, by Ta-NeHisi Coates ($14.99 hb, $8.99 Kndl)

Interview with the author here.

CoatesAmazon: #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Hailed by Toni Morrison as “required reading,” a bold and personal literary exploration of America’s racial history by “the single best writer on the subject of race in the United States” (The New York Observer)
 
“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”
 
In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Meclearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

Praise for Between the World and Me
 
“Powerful and passionate . . . profoundly moving . . . a searing meditation on what it means to be black in America today.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times Read the rest of this entry »

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The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester ($11.96 pb, $8.99 Kndl)

professorAmazon:

The Professor and the Madman, masterfully researched and eloquently written, is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the Oxford English Dictionary — and literary history. The compilation of the OED began in 1857, it was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. As definitions were collected, the overseeing committee, led by Professor James Murray, discovered that one man, Dr. W. C. Minor, had submitted more than ten thousand. When the committee insisted on honoring him, a shocking truth came to light: Dr. Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was also an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

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Half-Life: The Divided Life of Bruno Pontecorvo, Physicist or Spy

Half-Life: The Divided Life of Bruno Pontecorvo, Physicist or Spy, by Frank Close ($22.22 hb; $16.49 Kndl)

halflifeAmazon: It was at the height of the Cold War, in the summer of 1950, when Bruno Pontecorvo mysteriously vanished behind the Iron Curtain. Who was he, and what caused him to disappear? Was he simply a physicist, or also a spy and communist radical? A protégé of Enrico Fermi, Pontecorvo was one of the most promising nuclear physicists in the world. He spent years hunting for the Higgs boson of his day—the neutrino—a nearly massless particle thought to be essential to the process of particle decay. His work on the Manhattan Project helped to usher in the nuclear age, and confirmed his reputation as a brilliant physicist. Why, then, would he disappear as he stood on the cusp of true greatness, perhaps even the Nobel Prize?

In Half-Life, physicist and historian Frank Close offers a heretofore untold history of Pontecorvo’s life, based on unprecedented access to Pontecorvo’s friends and family and the Russian scientists with whom he would later work. Close takes a microscope to Pontecorvo’s life, combining a thorough biography of one of the most important scientsts of the twentieth century with the drama of Cold War espionage. With all the elements of a Cold War thriller—classified atomic research, an infamous double agent, a possible kidnapping by Soviet operatives—Half-Life is a history of nuclear physics at perhaps its most powerful: when it created the bomb.physics at perhaps its most powerful: when it created the bomb.

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Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything

Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything, by Barbara Ehrenreich ($18.65 hb, $12.97 pb, $12.99 Kndl)

wildgodAmazon: From the New York Times bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed comes a brave, frank, and exquisitely written memoir that will change the way you see the world.

Barbara Ehrenreich is one of the most important thinkers of our time. Educated as a scientist, she is an author, journalist, activist, and advocate for social justice. In LIVING WITH A WILD GOD, she recounts her quest-beginning in childhood-to find “the Truth” about the universe and everything else: What’s really going on? Why are we here? In middle age, she rediscovered the journal she had kept during her tumultuous adolescence, which records an event so strange, so cataclysmic, that she had never, in all the intervening years, written or spoken about it to anyone. It was the kind of event that people call a “mystical experience”-and, to a steadfast atheist and rationalist, nothing less than shattering.

In LIVING WITH A WILD GOD, Ehrenreich reconstructs her childhood mission, bringing an older woman’s wry and erudite perspective to a young girl’s impassioned obsession with the questions that, at one point or another, torment us all. The result is both deeply personal and cosmically sweeping-a searing memoir and a profound reflection on science, religion, and the human condition. With her signature combination of intellectual rigor and uninhibited imagination, Ehrenreich offers a true literary achievement-a work that has the power not only to entertain but amaze.

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Time Will Say Nothing: A Philosopher Survives an Iranian Prison

Time Will Say Nothing: A Philosopher Survives an Iranian Prison, by Ramin Jahanbegloo ($23.35 hb)

[This book, from University of Regina Press, does not appear to be in eBook format of any sort.  Those dang Canadians.  — rls]

timeAmazon:  Sorbonne-educated and the author of almost 30 books, Ramin Jahanbegloo, a philosopher of non-violence in the tradition of Tolstoy and Gandhi, was arrested and detained in Iran’s notorious Evin prison in 2006.

A petition against his imprisonment was initiated, with Umberto Eco, Jurgen Habermas, and Noam Chomsky among the signatories. International organizations joined in, and media around the world reported his case extensively. Finally, after four months, he was released.

In this memoir Jahanbegloo recounts his confinement, his fear for his life, and his concern for the well-being of his family. With cockroaches his only companions, he is sustained by the wisdom of the great philosophers and by his memories of childhood in Tehran and coming-of-age in Paris.

Now exiled to Canada, Jahanbegloo wryly observes that he “traded the danger and violence of an Iranian prison for the mediocrity and hypocrisy of a late capitalist society” and finds himself struggling yet again–this time against banality–in his continued quest for freedom.

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