Biographies, Memoirs and Autobiographies in 2021

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Biographies, Memoirs and Autobiographies in 2021

Jan 1, 2021, 2:36 pm

What are you reading this year?

Editado: Jan 17, 2021, 4:30 pm

The Secrets of Lost Cats: One Woman, Twenty Posters, and a New Understanding of Love
Dr. Nancy Davidson
3.5/5 stars
Nancy Davidson explores the unusual topic of missing cats and the posters that people make when their cats go missing. Her exploration of this topic came up when her own orange tabby went missing. She made posters to help find him and discovered a myriad of other missing cat posters in her area. She has a degree in clinical psychology and wanted to know the stories of the people who lost their cats. So whenever she found a lost cat poster, she would try to contact the owners. Some were open to her and some were not. This was such an interesting and usual topic that I sped through this book!

Jan 27, 2021, 11:36 am

Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff
Michael Nesmith
3.5/5 stars
Probably best known to older generations as one of The Monkees, Nesmith writes about his life which included his stint on The Monkees. After the show ended, he continued to work in the TV and movie industry but he also fought to find meaning in his life. There is also a CD that has some of Nesmith’s music on it called Infinite Tuesday: Autobiographical Riffs The Music but it doesn’t come with the book.

Editado: Jan 27, 2021, 2:16 pm

Finished Revolution of the Mind: The Life of Andre Breton by Mark Polizzotti this month (3 stars) and in February I'll read Simone de Beauvoir's new biography by Kate Kirkpatrick. No further planning yet, as the idea is to do one each month.

Jan 29, 2021, 2:24 pm

Editado: Jan 30, 2021, 1:29 pm

>6 LynnB: I thought I have read something by Isaacson but when I reviewed my lists, I have not. I've got to add him to my reading list. Hope you enjoy this book!

Fev 1, 2021, 1:28 pm

I finished Ways of Escape by Graham Greene. This book is listed as an autobiography, but I really consider it more a memoir, as Greene here provides us memories and insights into his writing career and his fascinating travel experiences, but leaves out pretty much everything about his personal life. We don't really, then, get a full picture of Greene's life. But that's OK, because what is here is extremely interesting and--not surprising considering the author--sharply written. Greene picks his story up here at about age 27, having already chronicled his earlier life in his book, A Sort of Life. This is perfect for me, as I generally find the early, childhood, part of memoirs/autobiographies tedious to a great or lesser degree.

Greene walks us through the writing of his novels, telling us how much he still liked them (or disliked them) as he was writing this memoir at age 75. More usefully, he tells us about the inspirations and real life events/memories that went into each, which characters are based on real life figures, and how he felt about the critical reception to the works. Greene converted from Protestantism to Catholicism in early adulthood and took his faith seriously. But he was bemused and somewhat dismayed to find that, after he wrote a pair of novels in which Catholicism (The Power and the Glory is the one that comes to mind for me right this second.) and issues of the Church featured prominently, critics began to refer to him as a "Catholic writer," as if that were the key theme of his work or his motivation. His account of the writing of the screenplay for "The Third Man" is almost worth the price of admission in and of itself.

The details about the various novels will be of real interest to fans of Greene's books. I've only read a few, and those quite some time ago, but now I'm thinking I need to read a few more. The book sings when Greene is discussing the creative process, and also when he is reminiscing about some of the fascinating places he took himself to, basically in an effort to get away from himself, usually after arranging a writing assignment. He tells of being in Dien Bien Phu shortly before the battle that drove the French out of Vietnam for good, with descriptions of how incompetently placed the French forces were, and how inevitable their destruction. He was in Havana during the final months of the Batista regime and in Haiti during the darkest days of Duvalier.
The title of this book comes from Greene's notion that the artistic process is often employed by the artist as means of escaping the dark or drab elements of life. Greene speaks of his writing and of his traveling as concurrent means to this end. He speaks of his novel writing as an escape from his own self, and his short story writing as an escape from having to live continually for with the characters of his novels as he was writing them. Very late in the book, Greene wonders how people who do not have some artistic creative process to turn to manage to get themselves through life.

There are certainly unattractive aspects to Greene's character that he makes no effort to hide here, whether from honesty or from a take-it-or-leave-it attitude, it's hard to tell. Either way, he's very matter of fact about them. He speaks often of visiting brothels, mentions (without naming) various mistresses, and describes his foray into opium use in Malaya. His politics were liberal. For instance, after having taken the measure of Batista in Cuba, he gets in trouble with the dictator of Paraguay while on a visit there for speaking highly of Cuba's new revolutionary lead, Fidel Castro.

All in all I found this book a very interesting and valuable reading experience.

Fev 5, 2021, 11:48 am

War Paint: Madame Helena Rubinstein and Miss Elizabeth Arden: Their Lives, Their Times, Their Rivalry
Lindy Woodhead
4/5 stars
I have had this on my reading list for a long time and though it was a long book, it was filled with wonderful details about the lives of these two women rivals in the cosmetics/beauty industry. Author Lindy Woodhead meticulously researched Rubenstein and Arden’s histories which included the beginnings of the beauty industry and their effects on it, their friendships with the rich and the famous and their rivals including Charles Revson. But she also she discussed the 20th century history’s effect on their businesses during the two world wars, Prohibition and the new trends that redefined the industry in the 50’s. The book ends with what happened to the industry in the early 60’s after their deaths. I found it fascinating.

Fev 6, 2021, 7:37 pm

I'll Have What She's Having: How Nora Ephron's Three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy
Erin Carlson
3.5/5 stars
This is a very interesting look at Nora Ephron’s life and career, in particularly focusing on her three most famous film romances - When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. I have always loved film and this book does a nice job in discussing Ephron’s films and has plenty of juicy facts about each of them and how they came about!

Fev 10, 2021, 5:43 pm

>9 JulieLill: I may have to try War Paint. I once worked for a woman who went to NYC as a model and ended up working for Rubenstein some time before the war. They must have had a good relationship because she had a piece of art on her office wall that she had been gifted by Rubenstein. This was in ‘80.

Fev 11, 2021, 5:19 pm

>11 varielle: That's interesting. Rubenstein was known for collecting works of art.

Fev 16, 2021, 3:21 pm

>13 LynnB: Added this book to my reading list. I love all things Jeopardy!

Fev 17, 2021, 8:34 am

>14 JulieLill: Then you will love it! I watched Jeopardy! with new eyes having read this book.

Fev 20, 2021, 4:10 pm

I'm binge-reading the Canada Reads books, which includes one memoir -- Two Trees Make a Forest: In Search of My Family's Past among Taiwan's Mountains and Coasts by Jessica J. Lee.

Fev 20, 2021, 6:54 pm

The Dog Who Could Fly: The Incredible True Story of a WWII Airman and the Four-Legged Hero Who Flew At His Side
Damien Lewis
4/5 stars
This is a heartwarming story about Robert Bozdach, a WWII Czechoslovakian pilot who finds a German Shepard puppy on a mission after he was shot down. He refused to leave the dog to his own devices and he soon became a passenger aboard Bozdach’s plane when the airman went on missions and a friend to the other soldiers wherever Bozdach fought. I thought this was wonderfully written.

Fev 22, 2021, 5:22 pm

Editado: Fev 25, 2021, 1:47 am

Mensagem removida pelo autor.

Fev 25, 2021, 1:01 pm

I finished American Heroines: The Spirited Women Who Shaped Our Country by Kay Bailey Hutchison. Hutchison was a sitting U.S. Senator from Texas and the Vice Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference when this book was published in 2004. The book is a collection of short biographies (from around 8 to 20 pages in length) of influential women in many different fields and many different time periods throughout American history. The bios are presented by category, with one or two of the bios per section followed by one or two short Q&A conversations with category-appropriate contemporary (as per 2004) women.

All in all, the biographies are well written and interesting. There are a decent number of African American, Latina and Native American women represented, as well. Some of the biographies served as good refresher courses for me, but quite a few were women whose stories and accomplishments were entirely new to me. In the acknowledgements, Howard Cohn is acknowledged as researcher and draft writer. I don't know how much of the actual writing is his and how much is hers. I say that not because I doubt Hutchison's abilities as a writer--why should I?--but only because she was a sitting senator at the time, so I'm wondering where she would have found the time. At any rate, as I said, the book is clearly and informatively written.

So I think this is in fact a valuable and interesting volume. I could see it used in a high school or even a college syllabus.

Mar 1, 2021, 4:20 pm

I'm reading an autobiography, Truth Be Told: My Journey Through Life and the Law by Beverley McLachlin, Canada's first female Chief Justice.

Mar 1, 2021, 5:16 pm

>21 rocketjk: this sounds like an interesting book. Will put this onto my Wish List of reads

Mar 10, 2021, 11:31 am

>24 LynnB: That certainly sounds interesting. Love the title!

Mar 16, 2021, 1:12 pm

I'm reading Keep Sweet: Children of Polygamy by Debbie Palmer. Having just finished Balancing Bountiful: What I Learned About Feminism from my Polygamist Grandmothers by Ms. Palmer's niece, Mary Jayne Blackmore, I thought it would be interesting to read a different perspective on the same time and place.

Abr 1, 2021, 7:54 pm

Editado: Abr 1, 2021, 10:30 pm

I am reading The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, which is biographical. She follows just a few families. Magnificently written and an amazing story. I am learning so much about the history of black people migrating from South to North in this country from the early 1900s to the 1970s and how their lives changed. It truly is epic.

Abr 3, 2021, 11:26 am

>29 LynnB: I loved that book! I hope you do too.

Abr 11, 2021, 6:39 pm

The Johnstown Flood
David McCullough
5/5 stars
This is the fascinating look at a flood that devastated Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1889. Johnstown was a small town with mostly workers that worked at the coal/steel plants. It also was the site of a resort that had many famous industry members including Andrew Melon and Andrew Carnegie. Unfortunately, the resort had a dam and that dam was not well maintained and on May 31, 1889 it burst open killing thousands and opening up an investigation into what happened and who was responsible. McCullough does wonderful job relaying the story of the people of the area and what happened after the tragedy.

Abr 18, 2021, 2:35 pm

I finished The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson. Isaacson's latest biography is a long an fascinating account of the development of the science of gene editing, as filtered through the life, experience and accomplishments of Jennifer Doudna, co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020. Isaacson, a clear and straightforward writer, does an excellent job of weaving his narrative between Doudna's life story, the concepts of genetics, the progress of the science as discoveries are made, the many scientists that mentored Doudna and with whom she has collaborated and/or competed.

The story of how, over a period of several decades, Doudna and her colleagues discovered the features of DNA and, especially, RNA that allowed them to understand how these enzymes work, and especially the way that RNA is effective in actually cutting to pieces the DNA of invaders like viruses, is fascinating indeed, and Isaacson tells the story very well. He's adept at providing just enough of the technical description of the processes involved to give a lay reader enough of a general idea of what's going on without getting bogged down in too much detail. I actually experienced an element of "willing suspension of disbelief" during the proceedings that I found wholly appropriate. It was fascinating for me to learn, for example, that the genetic techniques being studied and applied by humans now are essentially the same ones that bacteria have been using to fight off viruses for billions of years.
And then, as Isaacson was doing his obviously years-long research for this biography, the Covid pandemic hit. The final section of the book describes the ways in which the academic scientific community quickly swung into action, cooperating in areas that would have been sources of competition previously, to create the new sort of vaccines--utilizing RNA manipulation for the first time in vaccine technology--that we are now using to combat Covid.

Isaacson does not skip over the fact that, when Doudna was a young woman deciding upon a career, the idea that "women can be scientists" was one that met stiff resistance within the world of science and in the culture in general. Her role as a pioneer, not among the very first women scientists, of course, but in the vanguard of the generation that battered down many (certainly not all) of the roadblocks taken for granted by previous generations, is stressed, as is her role as a mentor.

There is a lot more in this rich and fertile book, which is at once a biography of a fascinating woman, a primer for how science and private industry inter-relate in our society, a history of the science of genetics, a look inside the war against Covid, and an outline of the ethical/philosophical questions that we are going to be grappling with over these new capabilities.

Abr 20, 2021, 12:52 pm

I finished Sgt. Mickey and General Ike by Michael J. McKeogh and Richard Lockridge

This is a short memoir by Michael McKeogh about his time spent as General Dwight Eisenhower's enlisted aide, orderly and driver before and during World War 2. Originally published in 1946, the book is essentially a hagiography. McKeogh quickly begins referring to Eishenhower as "the Boss," and essentially, other than an occasional bought of temper, the Boss can do no wrong throughout McKeogh's narrative. Well, maybe it is McKeogh's narrative. Harry C. Butcher, who was Eisenhower's Naval Aide during the war, says in his 2-page introduction, "Former Naval Lieutenant Richard Lockridge* has caught the spirit of Mickey's story with uncanny perception. When I read some of the manuscript I could hear Mickey talking." So I assume this is an "as told to" situation, and I'd further guess that Lockridge was tasked not just with putting McKeogh's story into clean prose, but also with smoothing out any rough (or interesting) edges portrayed in Eisenhower's character.

So while this memoir provides a mildly interesting picture of the duties of an aide to a commanding general during wartime there are otherwise few particularly interesting historical notes on offer. Don't get me wrong, it certainly looks like McKeogh had a hard job (although mostly a physically safe one, as he freely admits). Mostly the issues were logistical. McKeogh was responsible for, among other things, ensuring that Eisenhower didn't have to worry about day-to-day issues like laundry, lodging or sustenance. That makes sense, as the general would have had plenty of more important items to concentrate on 20 hours a day. But they kept moving command posts, of course, and McKeogh tells about each new search for lodging as they moved. (Item: The more spacious and luxurious the lodging, the less "The Boss" liked it.) There were some interesting aspects of Eisenhower's command style portrayed, mostly to do with his attitudes about the GIs under his command. For example, he refused to use any supplies that he felt had been taken from his soldiers, and he made frequent inspections of the kitchens serving enlisted men and would be critical of any officers who weren't feeding the soldiers adequately. Well, that's assuming these things were true and this isn't more a case of legend building.

But as to the war itself, McKeogh (or Lockridge) reports very little. Toward the end there are some general descriptions of the death and destruction that the members of the command post saw as they moved forward, but by design a command post is in the rear of the action. Also, McKeogh (or Lockridge) tells us that he made a point never to eavesdrop on Eisenhower's conversations with other officers about the progress, plans or execution of the war, thinking that what he didn't know, he couldn't inadvertently let drop in the mess hall. That makes sense, though it doesn't make for particularly interesting reading. And who knows if that is McKeogh talking or Lockridge's explanation for why he's taken most of the intriguing conversations out of the book?

Editado: Abr 23, 2021, 12:01 pm

Homo Mysterious: Evolutionary Puzzles of Human Nature
David P. Barash
3.5/5 stars
Barash explores the history of mankind and why humans do the things that they do. Topics he explores, include religion in culture, how did art develop, the development of consciousness, the different life spans between men and women and much more. While he explores these questions, he also raises more questions that have yet to be answered. Very interesting!

Abr 24, 2021, 10:11 am

>32 rocketjk: This caught my eye because Walter Isaacson was just interviewed about this book on the April 15 episode of Tablet Magazine's podcast, Unorthodox, which I listen to every week. I remember thinking that it sounded fascinating when I was listening to the interview.

Abr 24, 2021, 12:15 pm

>35 Julie_in_the_Library: I found Isaacson's latest to be very readable and interesting: extremely well done overall.

Maio 9, 2021, 2:14 pm

Just finished Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey. Hated it. To me he seemed very self-absorbed. Book was filled with jottings from his diaries over the years: trite aphorisms and other stuff I was not interested in reading. Ended up skimming. Book was a Christmas gift from my daughter. Her husband loves McConaughey but doesn't read much. I like to read but didnt know much about McConaughey (except that I liked him in Time to Kill, based on the Grisham book). She thought it would give us something in common to discuss (though I like my son-in-law and we usually do not have trouble finding things to discuss). I am happy they are not on LT and likely will not read this.

>28 krazy4katz: I read that book many years ago and I enjoyed it. I just started her latest Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.

Maio 10, 2021, 10:42 pm

I’m slowly working my way through Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette.

Maio 13, 2021, 5:21 pm

Nobody's Perfect: Billy Wilder, a Personal Biography
Charlotte Chandler
4/5 stars
Chandler, who had met and had conversations with Billy Wilder, discusses his life and his career as a director, writer and highlights his films. She also discusses his life, surviving WWI and the holocaust though he lost his mother and grandmother in concentration camps. His films and his relationships with actors are discussed. This made me want to re-watch all his films especially the ones I missed.

Editado: Maio 13, 2021, 10:14 pm

>37 jwrudn: I still have to finish it. For some reason my attention span has gotten very bad this last year. I just finished another half-read book, so now I will go back to it. I will be interested to learn if you like the one you are reading now. The Warmth of Other Suns is the first I have read from her.

Maio 14, 2021, 3:42 pm

Maio 15, 2021, 9:39 am

>41 LynnB: I love the title!

Editado: Maio 19, 2021, 11:28 am

Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
by Barack Obama
4/5 stars
Obama writes about his life as a child living with his mother in Hawaii, then working in Chicago as a community organizer and ends the book with his travels to Africa to meet his father’s family in this well written autobiography. I look forward to reading more of his books!

Maio 20, 2021, 2:05 pm

I finished Up from Slavery the famous memoir by Booker T. Washington. On the national stage, Washington was one of the most famous African Americans of his time. As the title tells us, he was born enslaved on a Virginia plantation in 1858 or 1859 (he wasn't sure of the exact date or even year). Through force of will and an impressive work ethic, Washington earned his way into the Hammond Institute, a progressive school of both basic and higher learning for freedmen and their descendants. At age 25, he was recommended for and accepted the post of leader/principal of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (later Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University). When he got to Alabama to take over the school, it turned out there was no school and he had to build it from scratch. The story of this process constituted, for me, the most compelling section of the narrative. Afterwards, Washington's success building the Tuskegee Institute, and his impressive abilities as an orator, brought him an ever growing fame, both nationally and, eventually, internationally. I'm afraid Up from Slavery bogged down for me toward the end, as Washington begins relating the places he went to, the audiences he spoke to and the accolades he received. I can understand why these would have been important to him to include, perhaps to exemplify the ways in which it was possible for a Black man to attain such status and success, but it all became repetitive and impersonal for me. Nevertheless, this is an important book to read for anyone wishing to gain an overall understanding of Black history in America, although his ideas about race relations are somewhat controversial now. (He believed that Blacks as a group needed to gain practical skills and other individual success before working toward social equality, despite, and seemingly ignoring, the fact that White society as a whole was expressly intent upon violently supressing any such advances.) Overall, Washington is a person to admire.

Maio 31, 2021, 12:25 pm

Hugh Martin: The Boy Next Door
Hugh Martin
4/5 stars
This is the very interesting autobiography of Alabama born Hugh Martin. Martin was a composer and song writer for theater and movie productions. Probably best known for writing Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas and The Trolley Song, he worked with Judy Garland and many famous singers of that time period. He also served in WWII as a soldier and died in 2011 at the ripe old age of 97. This is definitely a must read for Hollywood fans.

Jun 1, 2021, 10:04 am

Jun 12, 2021, 9:02 am

>28 krazy4katz: I just finished Caste. Very interesting, but disturbing (at least to me) and a bit depressing.

Editado: Jun 12, 2021, 5:05 pm

>48 jwrudn: Yes, I would imagine so. She is a wonderful writer. I keep telling myself if we want to face the truth and fix what is wrong, we have to read these books, but I haven't finished the one I am reading either. I will definitely finish, but I don't know when.

ETA: Let me know how you like Barack Obama's new book. Thank you.

Jun 16, 2021, 3:04 pm

I'm reading The Erratics, a memoir by Vicki Laveau-Harvie.

Jun 21, 2021, 11:39 am

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted
Suleika Jaouad
4/5 stars
Suleika Jaouad had just finished college and was ready to start her career and life with her boyfriend when she was diagnosed with leukemia. All her plans are dashed and she is thrown into the health care system which will do anything to get rid of her cancer. Well written and very informative on the cancer care she received.

Jun 23, 2021, 1:00 pm

>52 LynnB: That certainly is an interesting title!

Jun 23, 2021, 3:30 pm

It's about three UN workers. Right now, it's 1993 and they are in Cambodia.

Editado: Jun 24, 2021, 3:08 pm

Hi - I haven't posted here in quite some time, but I really liked Man of Tomorrow by Jim Newton. In fact, I love all of Newton's bios (On Earl Warren, on Eisenhower's presidential years, and now Brown. I had the opportunity to ask Newton what he would work on next. He said he didn't know, but it would definitely tie into California history.

( does it work when the Touchstone isn't to the right book? I read Man of Tomorrow by Jim Newton about Jerry Brown).

Editado: Jun 28, 2021, 12:07 pm

The Search For Anne Perry
Joanne Drayton
3/5 stars
This is the biography of Anne Perry, prolific writer of mysteries. However, Anne Perry is not her original name but she was actually born as Juliet Hulme. Her name change came about after she was imprisoned for the death of a young girl and became an author. Drayton covers her life but mostly her writing career and offers samples of Anne’s writings from her books throughout the biography. I enjoyed the book but I thought that the book summaries interrupted the flow of the book and the discussion of her life was not linear. The death of the girl was not discussed till later in the book and contained few details about it.

Jun 29, 2021, 4:55 pm

I don’t know why I keep reading biographies that are massive doorstops. Working my way through TR: The Last Romantic it’s a life of Teddy Roosevelt. I’m only up to his teen age years.

Jul 6, 2021, 12:31 pm

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike
Phil Knight
4/5 stars
What a well written book by Phil Knight, who maps out his journey to build a shoe brand and form his own company, NIKE with the help of his family and friends. This is definitely very inspirational for those building their own company but very readable for those who like a good biography.

Jul 6, 2021, 2:23 pm

I finished We Band of Brothers: A Memoir of Robert Kennedy by Edwin Guthman. In the late 1950s, Guthman was a Seattle journalist who had already won a Pulitzer Prize. When Robert Kennedy came to town as a federal prosecutor to investigate corrupt labor leaders, Guthman, who had been writing about those same issues, decided to cooperate with the investigation, knowing that Kennedy would have subpoena power that would enable him to get at financial records that a journalist could never uncover. The friendship that grew between the two men led to Kennedy, upon becoming Attorney General, inviting Guthman to Washington as special assistant for public information in the Department of Justice. Essentially, he was RFK's chief press representative, as well as a trusted advisor, and as such was present for many important deliberations during Kennedy's time as AG. This book is Guthman's fascinating memoir of those times.

Guthman takes us through those initial investigations and his growing admiration for RFK's intelligence, tenacity and integrity, and then through the JFK presidency, including the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Cuban Missile Crisis and, most compellingly, the Justice Department's involvement, such as it was, in the Civil Rights movement during the JFK years. Most harrowing is Guthman's description of the hour-by-hour negotiations and decisions during James Meredith's attempts to enroll as the first black student at the University of Mississippi.

Guthman also provides a brief but moving picture of Robert Kennedy's intense grief over his brother's death, and goes into some detail about his clashes and eventual enmity with Lyndon Johnson. Guthman stayed on Kennedy's staff through his successful Senatorial campaign in New York, and gives an interesting description of those days, but then went back to his journalism career, and so offers only a few insights into Kennedy's time as a senator. He leaves the details of RFK's death to others to describe.

This is not a "warts and all" biography. Guthman was an unabashed RFK admirer. Given that this admiration comes from a hard-nosed journalist after years of close contact, we might give it some strong credence. But Guthman does not claim to be offering a comprehensive study of Kennedy, and I would guess that he had knowledge of skeletons in RFK's closet that he chose not to reveal.

Jul 9, 2021, 9:48 am

I'm enjoying Chop Suey Nation: The Legion Cafe and Other Stories from Canada's Chinese Restaurants by Ann Hui, which is partly a memoir and partly a road trip and partly a food book.

Jul 9, 2021, 11:56 am

>56 JulieLill:

Perry wasn't imprisoned for the death of a young girl. She was imprisoned for the murder of her friend's mother.

Jul 11, 2021, 4:28 pm

>61 cpg: I watched the film and discovered it was the mother who died after I read the book but unless I skipped some pages they never mentioned who died but only that it was a female. The book mainly covered all the books she wrote and her life after prison.

Jul 19, 2021, 11:59 am

I finished A Promised Land by Barack Obama. I found Obama's memoir of his early political career and, especially, the first term of his presidency to be interesting indeed, and quite well written. In particular, I found the memoir to be a useful trip back through the events and issues of those years (2009-2013). The details of the financial crisis and the TARP program Obama's administration came up with to deal with that situation were enlightening in particular, for me. Throughout the book's 700 pages, we get the background stories on the issues that Obama took on (both those on his planned agenda, like healthcare, and those that got thrown at him, like the Deepwater disaster in the Gulf of Mexico), including all the planning, research, discussion and agonizing over what should be done and what could be done politically. Obama often offers, as well, the perspectives of the people who thought he was acting in error, such as those who thought the TARP bank bailouts were mistakes. Understandably, I think, he gives his own reasons for the actions he did take much more emphasis. If there were times when Obama's explanations seemed not quite convincing in hindsight, I was willing to give him a bit of latitude in terms of the memoir itself. This was meant as Obama's memoir, after all, and not a comprehensive history of the era. His attitude seemed to be, "Here's what I did and here's why I did it. History will have to work out how right or wrong I was." All in all that seems a fair perspective to me.

Jul 20, 2021, 12:20 pm

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride
Daniel James Brown
3.5/5 stars
Daniel James Brown deals with the tragedy of the Donner party and their trek to make it to California. The book revolves around Sarah Graves and her family when her father, mother and 8 brother and sisters decide to try their luck in California. Disastrously, they take the advice of a Stephen Meek who told them a route which would be easier to take. However, this man never took this route but trusting him, the party followed his directions and so begins their harrowing trip followed by starvation, freezing temperatures, snow and death of several members of the party. Well written and thoroughly researched!

Editado: Jul 22, 2021, 11:59 am

The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute
Zac Bissonnette
4/5 stars
This is the story of Ty Warner who created the buzz that fueled the need to own, sell and trade Beanie Babies and oh what an interesting tale the author Zac Bissonnette weaves. I remember that time period, the looking for and buying beanie babies for my daughter though we never sold or traded any. Anyone who remembers that time period would probably be interested in reading this book.

Editado: Jul 25, 2021, 2:28 pm

>49 krazy4katz: Just got back on LT after 6 weeks away. I finally gave up on A Promised Land after reading 550 of the 700 pages. I just wasnt enjoying it and probably would not have read so far if it had not been a gift from my son. Too much of what I already knew and much of what I didn't know I didn's care about. And I found him a little whiny and detached. But I saw that
>64 rocketjk:
liked it. So maybe it is just me. Have you read it yet?

Editado: Jul 25, 2021, 11:40 pm

>67 jwrudn: No, I haven't. Trying to finish Islam: a Short History by Karen Armstrong. Her books on religion are usually very good but this one is too chaotic to follow even though it really is very short. Perhaps that is just the way things were at that time. So I need to decide whether to put it in my "On Hiatus" collection or the "Permanently Unfinished" one. I think some lighter reading would be good for a just a little while.

On the other hand, I just finished Invictus: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation, the book, after watching Invictus, the movie that was made from the book. Both were so good — such inspiring stories about Nelson Mandela bringing South Africa together using the Afrikaans favorite game, rugby. We so very much need him now.

Editado: Ago 1, 2021, 6:12 pm

I finished Scoundrel Time, Lillian Hellman's memoir of her dealings with the Red-baiting McCarthy Era version of the House Un-American Activities Committee. When Hellman was called, in 1952, she refused, essentially, to cooperate. She offered, in a letter to the committee, to answer all questions about herself fully but said she would not answer questions about anyone else. This offer was refused, and so Hellman was forced to take the Fifth. But the committee made the mistake of making this letter public, and the immediate support for her position in the press basically shielded her from further prosecution, meaning no jail time. But she knew her living as an author of plays and screenplays was over, and that her income would be drying up immediately. She instantly put the farm she'd lived on most of her life in Westchester, NY, up for sale. Her life was changed irrevocably, just by the fact of having been called and refusing to throw anybody else under the bus.

At any rate, Hellman was a wonderful writer, and this short memoir (around 115 pages all told), provides an extremely vivid account of the tension, sadness, anger and frustration of those times for her. She waited until 1975 to finally publish an account of the episode, saying early in the book that she'd tried twice before to write about it all but hadn't liked what she came up with. The fear of being called, the dread when the subpoena finally came, the tense weeks when she tried to figure out what to do about it, the fury her longtime lover, Dashiell Hammett, expressed at the strategy she came up with (Hammett was sure the strategy was madness and would result in substantial jail time for Hellman), at the encouragement of her lawyers, the actual experience of testifying and the impact of it all on her subsequent life are all vividly rendered, including not a small amount of dry humor in the telling.

Ago 1, 2021, 4:32 pm

>69 rocketjk: Nice review!

Ago 1, 2021, 6:11 pm

Ago 4, 2021, 1:12 pm

I finished The Corporal Was a Pitcher: The Courage of Lou Brissie by Ira Berkow. This is a fascinating, well-written book biography. Lou Brissie's story is quite something. A teenage pitching phenom in his native South Carolina in the late 1930s, Brissie interrupted his promising baseball career to enlist in the Army after Pearl Harbor. When he went off to war, he already had a commitment from Connie Mack, the longtime owner/manager of the Philadelphia A's. Mack was going to sign Brissie and then pay for him to go to college for three years, an arrangement that provides an idea of how much potential Brissie was seen to have.

But Brissie's leg was shattered during an artillery attack in Italy in 1944 and he had to beg the doctors not to amputate. Luckily for Brissie, he found one Army doctor willing to try to save the leg. Brissie went through multiple operations--his leg bone was essentially fused together from the fragments the exploding artillery shell had left behind--and he had to wear a cumbersome brace to walk, let along pitch in the major leagues. And yet pitch in the major leagues, he did, and quite effectively, despite that leg brace and the essentially constant pain he endured. In fact, Brissie was extremely well known during the post-war years as an inspiration for wounded veterans and kids with handicaps. It's surprising and more than a bit sad that his story has been largely forgotten.

Brissie was comfortable around blacks and happy to be teammates with black ballplayers, not something to be taken for granted in those early days of the integration of Major League Baseball, especially given Brissie's Southern upbringing. During the Depression, Brissie's father, a former daredevil motorcycle rider, had had a cycle repair shop in their small South Carolina town and had a black friend as a full business partner. For this sin, one night the Klan pulled Brissie's father out of their home and beat him severely in their front yard in front of the family, breaking two ribs, then lit a cross ablaze in front of the house. The lessons Brissie took from this was admiration for his father's courage and a hatred of racism.

Brissie was still alive when Berkow was working on the book (the book was published in 2009 and Brissie died in 2013) and sat for extensive interviewing. He comes across as an extremely thoughtful fellow. Berkow, a Pulitzer Prize winning jouralist, is a fine writer who clearly had a strong connection to his subject for this biography. I highly recommend this book for readers with an interest in American history and with even a passing interest in baseball.

Ago 4, 2021, 1:25 pm

Started Tippi: A Memoir by Tippi Hedren

Editado: Ago 8, 2021, 3:17 pm

Travels with Charley: In Search of America
John Steinbeck
4/5 stars
In 1960, Steinbeck at the age of 58 takes off in a camper with his dog, Charley to explore and talk with the people of America. He starts off on the East Coast and travels to the West Coast and back. It was wonderfully written and is an interesting look back at the slices of life in the US in that time period.

Ago 10, 2021, 11:29 am

Tippi: A Memoir
Tippi Hedren
4/5 stars
Tippi Hendren writes about her time in the film industry including problems with working for Hitchcock, her family and her famous daughters, her work in charity and her animal rights advocacy which resulted in starting Shambala, a big cats’ preserve in California. Very interesting!

Ago 11, 2021, 10:40 am

I'm almost finished Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by Suzanne Simard. It is about her research, and about trees, but it is also, in large, part biographical as well.

Ago 11, 2021, 2:21 pm

There is enough memoir in Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer for me to list it here. Also, it ties in nicely with the book Lynn just posted about in >76 LynnB:!

Braiding Sweetgrass is an intriguing and memorable book that effectively melds memoir, Native American history and philosophy, ecology and plant science, with a reverie about nature and a sad, frustrated, pained warning about the destructive nature of Western civilization's highly commodified* nature. Kimmerer is herself a Native American who has melded her people's ancient philosophies of human's integral role and caretaker's responsibilities with Nature to the scientific establishment's perspective as scientist as observer rather than participant via her own academic studies as a botanist and ecologist. Kimmerer takes us through several personal memories, such as making maple syrup with her two daughters from the trees that stand on their own property, and shares a lot of fascinating information about the ways that diverse species of plants and animals cooperate in nature to the benefit of all. Her book is in many ways a plea that humans return to a role of participation in that cooperation rather and discard industrial society's determination to obstruct and destroy these cycles in the service of profit and material comfort for those with the wherewithal to buy it.

Kimmerer is a very good writer, an element that is particularly crucial to an ambitious endeavor like this one. I would think the book would be extremely thought provoking to anyone already inclined to read it. Our own lifestyle choices and even our daily decisions have meaning and consequence, and this book is a very good reminder of those truths. Some of Kimmerer's examples of the destructive nature of industrialized society's policies are heartbreaking, and it's not hard to feel chagrin (to put it mildly) at the degree to which it is all too easy to turn a blind eye to things that are in plain sight before us.

Ago 14, 2021, 12:41 pm

Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express
Christopher Corbett
3.5/5 stars
This was quite an interesting tale of the first Pony Express (which ran from Missouri to California) and the riders who worked the line, unfortunately a lot of the material can’t be backed up and the author discusses that problem. I found it interesting that the first Pony Express did not last long - from April 1860 till October 1861 when the trains took over the route, though other Pony Express routes lasted longer.

Ago 17, 2021, 12:20 pm

I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer
Michelle McNamara
4/5 stars
This is the amazing story of the search for the Golden State Killer (also known as the East Area Rapist) in California. Author and TV consultant Michelle McNamara put her heart and soul into writing this book before dying of an undiagnosed heart condition. Unfortunately, she never lived to see her book come out or the capture of the killer since she died two years before he was caught. This is definitely, a page turner. FYI -

Ago 17, 2021, 5:14 pm

I'm reading Wine Girl, the story of a sommelier, by Victoria James

Set 4, 2021, 10:51 am

Set 21, 2021, 8:19 pm

I finished Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Final Year by Tavis Smiley. Smiley's book about MLK is interesting, indeed. It is also a sad book. That final year of King's life almost exactly encompasses the speech in which he strongly and unequivocally condemned the Vietnam War and the Johnson administration's execution of that war. King was strongly condemned both within and without of the Civil Rights movement for this action. The FBI stepped up their campaign of hounding King and executing their disinformation campaign against him. And at the same time, more radical Blacks in the Panthers and SNCC criticized King from the left, accusing him and his insistence on non-violence of becoming increasingly irrelevant. In all, Smiley portrays King's final year as harrowing and disheartening. King began to muse ever more frequently on his own death, which he assumed was coming soon. And yet King never did fully lose heart, according to Smiley. He continued pushing for his March plan, and insisted on going to Memphis to help out with the long and bitter strike being waged by the garbage men's union there.

All in all, I thought this book was very much worth reading, though frequently depressing. I had tended to think of King's live as mostly single-toned, if that makes sense. King was just King, the great man who sometimes had his missteps but was consistent in the long run. Understanding the that the enormous pressures of the times--the discord, hatred and doubt--had on King during his last year only adds to my esteem for his life and what he was able to accomplish.

Set 22, 2021, 3:36 pm

>82 rocketjk: Nice review!

Set 22, 2021, 8:00 pm

>83 JulieLill: Thanks! I really did find a lot to learn in Smiley's book.

Set 23, 2021, 9:58 am

Set 28, 2021, 12:31 pm

Winchell: Gossip, Power, and the Culture of Celebrity
Neal Gabler
4/5 stars
Gabler does a thorough job tracking Winchell’s career, relationships with his family and friends and his ups and downs in the publishing arena, vaudeville, radio, TV business and the gossip culture against the background of what was going on in America in the time period he worked in. I never realized how prolific he was in his career. Very interesting!

Out 15, 2021, 11:48 am

Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption, and Hollywood
Danny Trejo
5/5 stars
This is the amazing autobiography of Danny Trejo, actor who starred in numerous films and became quite successful. However, his life growing up was not easy. Involved with drugs and gangs, he ended up in jail but he was able to turn his life around. I read this in a few days because I could not put this down. Highly recommended.

Out 23, 2021, 12:36 pm

A. Scott Berg
4.5/5 stars
A. Scott Berg does wonderful job on this comprehensive biography of producer Samuel Goldwyn originally known as Schmuel Gelbfiz who flees from Poland in 1895, walking as he makes his way to America doing odd jobs. He eventually gets hooked up with Jesse Lansky and Cecil B DeMille to make his first motion picture and becomes one of the most powerful men in film.

Nov 1, 2021, 12:07 pm

Silhouette In Diamonds: The Life Of Mrs. Potter Palmer
Ishbel Ross
4/5 stars
This is the fascinating story of Bertha Honore, who in 1871 married millionaire Potter Palmer of the famed Chicago Marshall Field’s and Palmer House. She was very involved in philanthropy and when the Chicago fire destroyed the city, she helped her husband recoup his finances and also helped to restore Chicago. When her husband died, she continued to help others. The book also explores the time period in which she lived and the famous people she met and worked with. I never heard of her but what an intriguing biography and history of that time period.

Editado: Nov 5, 2021, 11:11 am

The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War
Malcolm Gladwell
4/5 stars
Malcolm Gladwell is one of my favorite authors and this book, though short, is a fascinating look at the "Bomber Mafia", strategists who during WWII debated precision bombing - targeting critical infrastructure instead of randomly bombing areas.

Nov 10, 2021, 2:28 pm

Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations
Peter Evans
4/5 stars
Peter Evans interviews Ava Gardener about her life before Hollywood, her movie career and the famous men she loved including Frank Sinatra, Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw and Howard Hughes. Ava wasn't sure she wanted the book published and stopped the interviews but it was eventually published after her death.

Nov 12, 2021, 10:40 am

I recently finished Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision by Barbara Ransby.

This is an excellent biography of a fascinating woman, Ella Baker, an essential and vastly underappreciated figure of the American Civil Rights Movement. (That is, "underappreciated" to Americans in general, not to scholars of the movement or to folks knowledgeable about African American history.) Baker began her work fighting for the equal rights for all in the Harlem of the 1930s. Over the next four decades, Baker worked both within the NAACP and in Martin Luther King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Baker was a moving force in the creation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) despite the fact that she was considerably older than the organization's other founders.

Throughout her decades of work, Baker's operating principle was a faith in the people she wanted to help, in their ability to set their own goals, make their own decisions, to know what strategies were right or wrong for themselves. This put Baker at odds with Martin Luther King during her days at SCLC, where she was never given her full due or the responsibilities that her experience and talents should have allowed. The King/SCLC model was to provide strong leadership role models (always men, although a huge portion of the grassroots work was accomplished by women) and top-down leadership and closely controlled and coordinated programs and events. Also, Baker supported the idea of nonviolence, but only as a tactic to be used when appropriate, one strategy in an arsenal of strategies, rather than as a over-arching dominant paradigm.

Ransby's account of Baker's life is detailed and, mostly, readable. There are times when I felt the accounts bogged down some, but that was only because necessary background information is not always scintillating reading. Baker didn't write much, and although she gave many speeches over her life, the texts of these talks were rarely set down. As a result, we don't get much in Baker's own voice. But all in all this is a compelling study of a very important woman in American history.

Nov 12, 2021, 11:04 am

I'm almost at the end of the second volume of the diaries of Henry 'Chips' Channon edited by Simon Heffer. Henry 'Chips' Channon: The Diaries. One review in the British press was headed "a vile snob reveals himself, and I have to agree he really does come across as a really odious specimen of the human race. Much of the diary is taken up with endless lunches and dinners. He seems to have regarded himself as a person of influence both socially and as an MP but so far (I'm in late 1942) he hasn't achieved much.

Nov 21, 2021, 12:28 pm

Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy
Leslie Brody
3.5/5 stars
This is an in-depth look at the life and times of Louise Fitzhugh, author of Harriet The Spy. I remember reading her famous book as a child and enjoying it, never knowing any of her background until I read this book. Very interesting!

Editado: Nov 25, 2021, 10:18 am

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood
Trevor Noah
4/5 stars
Trevor Noah talks about his life with his mother and family living in South
Africa as a child and the tribulation that living as a child of mixed parentage caused because it was crime at that time. I could not put this book down. Noah does a great job writing about his life.

Editado: Nov 27, 2021, 10:55 am

Harriett Tubman: The Road to Freedom by Catherine Clinton
4.5 stars
I don't remember why I subtracted half a star. Maybe because I thought the writing was a bit dense.

Not just a biography of an amazing woman but also an interesting look at the laws in the North, which, although slavery was prohibited, made it easier for Southerners to recapture slaves.

Nov 26, 2021, 10:25 pm

A Very Punchable Face
Colin Jost
4/5 stars
Colin Jost has been a member of Saturday Night Live since 2005 in which he has written skits, acted on the show and has been the Weekend Update co-anchor. He grew up on Staten Island and in this book, he goes over his life and career at SNL. If you are a fan of SNL, you will definitely enjoy this book!

Editado: Dez 9, 2021, 12:26 pm

Fan Fiction: A Mem-Noir: Inspired by True Events
Brent Spiner
3.5/5 stars
This is a semi-non-fictional story about the time Brent Spiner who played Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation had a stalker. I enjoyed it and am a fan of Star Trek. I am not sure of those not familiar with the series would it enjoy it.

Dez 13, 2021, 12:00 pm

Almost Interesting
David Spade
4/5 stars
Actor David Spade talks about his life and career in Hollywood. He also talks about Saturday Night Live and the hoops that the actors go through to get to perform on the show. I thought this was a funny and interesting read.

Editado: Dez 15, 2021, 4:28 pm

Jamie Wright -- The Very Worst Missionary set in Costa Rica
4.5 stars
Velma Wallis -- Raising Ourselves - set in the Gwitch'in Indian Nation in Alaska
4.5 stars

In 2022 I'll be traveling to these two places pandemic permitting. I like to read memoirs as well as books set in my travel destinations.

The Worse Missionary takes a very honest approach to her life and decisions while providing info about Costa Rica.

Velma is one of 13 kids in a dysfunctional Gwitch'in family Coming from a large family myself, I empathize with the having many siblings and parents who can't control everything. Her story about growing up there is fascinating and informative.

Both are paperback I prefer e-books so I really want to read them! Both are engaging enough to make me keep reading.

Dez 16, 2021, 6:48 am

Este utilizador foi removido como sendo spam.

Dez 18, 2021, 1:00 pm

A Carnival of Snackery: Diaries 2003-2020
David Sedaris
4.5/5 stars
This book contains excerpts from his diaries from 2003-2020. I really enjoy his humor and was sorry when I finished his book.

Dez 19, 2021, 3:40 pm

Brat: An '80s Story
Andrew McCarthy
4/5 stars
Andrew McCarthy talks about his start in Hollywood and the roles he played in the 1980's. I enjoyed it.

Dez 19, 2021, 4:03 pm

I finished In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History by Mitch Landrieu. Landrieu was finishing up his second term as Mayor of New Orleans when he published this memoir in 2018. Landrieu was the mayor who made the very fraught decision to remove four Jim Crow Era statues from public spaces in the city, an obelisk called the Liberty Place Monument commemorating an 1874 riot by White supremacists against the city government, and statues of Confederate figures Jefferson Davis, P.T. Beauregard and, most famously, Robert E. Lee. In this book's beginning and ending, Landrieu provides an account of the vociferous, increasingly nasty and sometimes violent fights around the decision, and Landrieu's reasons for taking the political risk to make that call. What we also get in the interim is a political and family memoir by Landrieu, and an account of his terms in the Louisiana legislature, as lieutenant governor of the state, and as mayor for two terms, all tied in with Landrieu's growing consciousness of the power and debilitating effects of systemic racism.

Dez 26, 2021, 10:51 am

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History
Robert M. Edsel
4/5 stars
I had seen the film based on the book years ago and enjoyed it but the book is so much better and interesting than the film as the author follows the men and women as they search for the hidden treasures stolen by Hitler's men during and after the last months of WWII.

Jan 1, 2022, 11:18 am


I have been off LT for a while, but I read a number of biographies, memoirs and autobiographies in 2021.

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey: adolescent drivel.

A Promised Land by Barack Obama: long-winded and self-serving. did not finish. Needed a good editor.

I Came as a Shadow: An Autobiography by John Thompson: surprisingly good. Interesting insights into black experience in America as well as college basketball.

Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in An American City by Andrea Elliot: terrific. Although it ends on a hopeful note, a heartbreaking story of what it is like to grow up black and poor in America and how government agencies that are supposed to help and protect children often do the opposite.

Now reading Three Girls from Bronzeville A Uniquely American Memoir of Race, Fate and Sisterhood by Dawn Turner: Oft to a good start.

Happy reading in 2020.