biography

Jun 24, 2018

In her immigrant's memoir told in graphic novel form, Thi Bui explores the saga of her family's escape from Vietnam in the 1970's to the United States.


Her debut opens with the birth of her first child in 2005. Will she be a good mother? How is she different from her mother? What was her mother's experience? How was her mother shaped after losing family, her country? How did her father's childhood shape his fathering abilities? And how has her own experience as a refugee, coming to a country she had to assimilate into that she was culturally so different from, as well as being confronted

Oct 14, 2017

We know the media story of the West African Ebola outbreak of 2014, but we don’t know the other story. Author, Dr. Steven Hatch focuses less on the virus itself, which was the subject of Hot Zone by Richard Preston, and instead focuses on stories of daily life under the stress of the epidemic. Less is mentioned about the specific symptoms, and more time is spent on the remarkable strength of those touched by the virus: those confirmed with it, those who help them, and everyone else affected by its contagion.


Inferno adds a steady voice to a subject that needs a calm and clear telling. That

Sep 18, 2017

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes is not what I expected, but I wasn't disappointed, either. The twelve previously published magazine stories are similar to Holmes mysteries, but not all involve crimes. Grann immerses himself in his work, reporting on his subjects’ history, and detailing his own interactions with them.


While I initially anticipated a series of murder-mysteries, the people in The Devil and Sherlock Holmes are what piqued my curiosity. Each tale focuses on the backstory of the character and provides some context to Grann’s interviews and interest in them. There are enough facts

Love & Mercy DVD

By Paul Dano
5
Rated by Brent W.
Aug 26, 2017

In portraying Brian Wilson of Beach Boys fame, Love & Mercy perfectly evokes the Southern California of 1967. I left the theater deeply affected by the sweep of Wilson’s tumultuous life. Paul Dano is superb as the young Brian, and John Cusack is very moving as the deeply troubled middle-aged Brian. In fact, all the actors are superb. While I wasn’t a fan of either the man or the group before, I am now. This is a great movie and I’ve watched it at least five times.

My favorite scenes depict the recording of Brian's masterpiece, Pet Sounds. Highly recommended.

May 5, 2017

In July of 2007, Catherine Tidd lost her husband, Brad, in an accident and suddenly found herself a 31-year-old widow with three small children. In Confessions of a Mediocre Widow, Tidd chronicles her experience with sudden widowhood and the journey of self-discovery her husband's loss prompted. 


The first half of the book focuses on the loss and immediate aftermath of Brad's death. Tidd discusses her last moments with Brad, the shock of his death, how her mind (like so many other widows) could only process the loss in pieces, the crowds of people in the days after, and her new relationship

Soul Surfer

By Bethany Hamilton
5
Rated by Bre H.
Mar 12, 2017

Bethany Hamilton loves surfing. Her biography, Soul Surfer, is the  story of how she became “the bearer of hope for those who have been handed a bad deal in the card game of life.” When she was only thirteen years old she was attacked by a shark and lost her right arm.

She not only escaped death, she came back as strong and faithful as ever to become a champion surfer.

Pictures of Bethany, her family and friends, and even the shark that attacked her add to the interest of Soul Surfer. This is an amazing read and it definitely inspired me.

Aug 16, 2016

Surely you’ve read one of Agatha Christie's detective novels, or seen a movie, TV show or play based on one of her stories. At the very least you are familiar with the one the Guinness Book of World Records lists as THE best-selling novelist of all time – Agatha Christie. I recommend you take a little bit of time and learn more about her in this new graphic biography by the talented trio of Anne Martinetti, Guillaume Lebeau and Alexandre Franc.


Agatha: the Real Life of Agatha Christie begins with her planned “disappearance” in 1926, but you also learn about her childhood on the coast of

Hamilton

By Lin-Manuel Miranda
5
Rated by Rachel C.
Nov 5, 2015

I recently found myself saying something I never would have thought I might say: "I'm so in love with George Washington right now."


The reason for such a strange statement?  Hamilton.  It's an odd concept, a hip-hop musical about the guy on the ten dollar bill, most famous for having been killed in a duel with the current Vice President, based on the 800+ page biography by Ron Chernow.  And it's magnificent.  Lin-Manuel Miranda earned his MacArthur Genius Grant with this work.


There are a number of reasons that this is a perfect storm of a musical. Narratively, it's a story with

Dec 1, 2014

This is the story of Paul Rosenberg, one of pre-World War II France’s most influential and knowledgeable art dealers, as told by his granddaughter, Anne Sinclair. Rosenberg was hailed as a pioneer in the world of modern art, exhibiting artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Braque and Leger at his Paris gallery. With the German occupation of France in 1942, Rosenberg, as a Jew, was forced to flee France, leaving his artwork behind to be confiscated by the Nazis. The story is historically significant, but it is also interesting to see the man and his life discovered and revealed through the eyes of

A Long Way Home

By Saroo Brierley
4
Rated by Colleen O.
Sep 18, 2014

It's 1986 and five year old Saroo has made a last minute decision to accompany his older brother on a short train trip to a nearby town in rural India. Instructed to wait on the platform by his older brother, young Saroo is scared and confused when his older brother fails to return in the specified time. Not sure what to do next, he hops onto a waiting train, taking him far away from his family.
Saroo lives on the streets of Calcutta, just trying to survive, for several weeks before being rescued by a caring woman who runs a nearby orphanage. Although attempts are made to locate Saroo's

May 21, 2014

This memoir recounts the story of Malika Oufkir, whose father was the closest aide to the King of Morocco. We follow Malika from the age of five, as she is raised in the palace as the princess’ companion. While life in the harem is a kind of imprisonment itself, it is nothing compared to what awaits her, her mother, and her siblings after her father is executed for an attempt to assassinate the King.


She and her family spend the next 20 years in prisons. Sixteen years into their ordeal, sickly, starving, and desperate to the point of suicide, Malika and some of her siblings manage to dig a

May 21, 2014

Holly George-Warren’s new biography on Alex Chilton, A Man Called Destruction: the Life and Music of Alex Chilton From Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man, is a true cautionary tale, especially if you’re planning on becoming a rock star. Talent and hard work don’t always translate to success. What you do, no matter how good it is, can be so anachronistic as to render your hard work audience-less for decades. Drugs and alcohol can really mess things up (duh). You only have a small amount of control over success, recognition and financial rewards. But despite all this, you may still be

Jul 17, 2013

Frontman for bands Galaxie 500 and Luna, Dean Wareham chronicles his life before, during and after the breakup of both of his bands, as well as his first marriage. Black Postcards is written simply, honestly, and Wareham is up front about drug use, tempers, and infidelity. He is neither cagey about these things, nor does he glorify them. Things just are. They happened and he relays it all in a very matter of fact voice.

The first portion of the book focuses on Dean’s early life: his childhood and family life. Also featured are copious lists of bands he saw in concert during his early years. I

Jun 3, 2013

Blood, Bones, and Butter—the title piqued my curiosity.  For the audiobook, Hamilton has a pretty straight tone as a reader, which made me hesitant at first, but it’s true to her personality and works surprisingly well for me as a listener.  I generally enjoy biographical pieces, and this was no exception.  Hamilton begins by recounting various trials that influenced her skills and approach as a chef, then her focus shifts more to her wavering, nontraditional relationship with her “Italian Italian” husband and in-laws.

Readers who appreciate deep emotional reflection may find this to be

Mar 8, 2013

You may remember Sally Mann from a book of photographs published in the 1990s. The book includes a number of photographs of Mann’s children hanging out, without clothing, near the family’s cabin beside a lake. The photographs were hailed by art critics as a tremendous achievement while criticized by many, many others because they put her children on display. I rented What Remains because I was curious about how Mann’s career had developed and whether or not her adult children had mixed feelings concerning their mother’s success. The topic is brought up only once in the documentary when Mann

Dec 2, 2012

Jeni Decker, mother of two and independent filmmaker has found herself living a life she never imagined: raising two sons both with diagnoses on the autism spectrum, the wife of a husband who doesn’t know what to do with these boys who aren’t interested in Little League or Yankees games, a dog and an albino frog. Decker’s memoir is a laugh out loud hilarious, though often unbelievable look at her daily life and the way she has chosen to embrace the unusual and unexpected that each day brings with her boys. Decker focuses on her sons’ abilities and uniqueness rather than on their differences

Nov 30, 2012

Beautifully written, Spoken from the Heart is aptly named, as it tells the life story of first Lady Laura Bush in her trademark soft spoken, sophisticated way.  It reads like a letter from home.  As expected, she describes her early life and family, courtship and marriage, and children.  But even more fascinating is her attention to detail as she travels to other countries, and her skill in transporting the reader to that very place and time.  The emotion she feels and conveys as she talks about the impact of her visits to countries around the world is palpable.  A lover of books and reading

Oct 16, 2012

Grant Morrison is something of a divisive figure in the world of comics. Some people love him, while others can't stand him, finding him pretentious and deliberately obtuse. I'm one of the people who think he's brilliant. I love his comics, especially when he writes superheroes, so I jumped on Supergods as soon as it came out.

Supergods is part overview of the history of superheroes, focusing mostly on the two big comics companies, DC and Marvel, and part autobiography/memoir. Morrison gives a broad history of superheroes, interjecting his own opinions on various trends, characters and

Sep 5, 2012

Susan Vreeland is known for her recurring use of art-related themes in her historical fiction books.  She makes a real painting the center of her writings.  Vreeland’s other books include Clara and Mr. Tiffany, Luncheon of the Boating Party and Girl in Hyacinth Blue

The Passion of Artemisia is a loose biography of an extraordinary female Baroque painter living in the times of Caravaggio, Artemisia Gentileschi.  Artemisia was the first woman to be accepted as a member to the Academy of Arts in Florence.  

The story, set in the 17th century, opens with Artemisia as a girl of 18.  She is

Aug 29, 2012

Alan Alda's insightful autobiography Never Have Your Dog Stuffed gives us a peek into the highs, lows, and adventures of an actor's life.  Growing up among a family of burlesque performers, perhaps Alda was fated for acting, but his journey had its fair share of bumps.  He laces candid humor throughout the telling of his trials and tribulations, from growing up with a schizophrenic mother to enduring emergency surgery in the remote Chilean mountains, but his successes are equally exciting.  And yes, his father really did take his childhood dog to a taxidermist. I have a fond appreciation for

Jun 25, 2012

In his book, Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson provides a fascinating fly-on-the-wall view of many of the defining moments in Steve Jobs life.  The author thoroughly researched his subject, conducting 40 in-depth interviews with Jobs and interviewing over a hundred people who were associated with Jobs – family, friends, colleagues, and peers.  From these many pieces of information, Isaacson has masterfully woven a detailed account of a person who was highly successful and deeply flawed.   The book, with Notes and Index is 630 pages long; the CD audio book consists of 20 disks.

Isaacson brings Jobs

Jun 23, 2012

I was so excited to see this book!  Sister Queens is a carefully researched, dual biography of two of Isabella and Ferdinand’s daughters - Katherine became a queen by marrying the heir to the English throne, later crowned Henry VIII, after the death of her 1st husband, Henry’s brother, Prince Arthur.  Juana became Queen of Spain by inheriting that crown from her mother, Isabella.  What correspondence lay hidden in archives in Spain and England?  What might these two Sister Queens have shared?   What comforts did they give each other as their lives began to go “off script”?

Isabella and

May 13, 2012

If you like movies like The Maltese Falcon, Key Largo, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Asphalt Jungle, The African Queen, Moulin Rouge, Moby Dick, The Misfits, Night of the Iguana, and The Man Who Would Be King, you’re probably going to like this book.

When told as a child by his doctor that he would be bedridden for the rest of his life, John Huston jumped into the rapids for a swim. Going for broke and defying the odds was a common theme of his films and of the life of the director who made great films and bad films, who made fortunes and lost them, and who had several marriages and

May 1, 2012

A biography of Agatha Christie has been on my list to read for many years. I was also interested in learning what were the sources of inspirations for her stories, settings and characters in her writings.  I was also intrigued by Christie’s mysterious disappearance that turned her into one of the characters of her own books. All of these questions and much more were answered in this unauthorized biography with spicy details.  This engaging and fascinating book retells the life of Agatha Christie as taken from correspondence and helps us understand who was behind the genius of Agatha Christie. 

Apr 27, 2012

Perhaps the title should be Beautiful and Brainy. Beautiful is a readable account of the life of “the most beautiful woman of the first half of the Twentieth Century”, a film star of 1930s and 1940s, and the namesake of Austria’s annual invention award.

Born to an upper middle class Viennese banker and a Jewish mother, Hedy Kiesler became a movie star in Europe as a teenager, soon afterwards married one of Europe’s wealthiest arms manufacturers, and fled her husband and Vienna as Austria was joining the Third Reich.

Shearer tells the story of an actress who arrives in America with no English

Apr 25, 2012

This very enjoyable and engaging non-fiction book is a detailed biography of one of the great female rulers, Catherine the Great of Russia.  She was born Sophia, a minor German princess, and was just 14 years old when she was summoned by the Russian court. She took control of her own destiny, determined to save herself and her adopted country.  Intelligent as well as charming, Catherine recognized the importance of learning Russian as well as embracing the rituals of the Orthodox religion. Although she did not have any Russian blood circulating in her veins, she came to embody Russia and

L'Amour Fou (DVD)

0
Rated by Magda B.
Feb 21, 2012

This movie is a documentary and a biography of Yves Saint Laurent, one of the most influential fashion designers. L'Amour Fou was made shortly after YSL’s death in 2008, for the occasion of Christie’s long awaited auction of YSL’s spectacular estates and his priceless art collection.  It is set up as an interview with his long-time life and business partner Pierre Berge, as he discusses their turbulent four decades together. It starts with YSL’s retirement speech in 2002, followed by recapitulation of his interesting life story, early beginnings with Christian Dior and his later great public

Nov 21, 2011

My husband recently took our daughter to Science City.  I was pleased to hear she loved it, but I had to set my husband straight when he proclaimed, “Everybody loves science.”  Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.  Who is my husband kidding?  Most kids I know graduate from high school without knowing how to spell the word “science” let alone how to love it.

I was always a fan of humanist science—biology, physical anthropology, psychology—the fields of science which attempt to explain how people work.  But I largely ignored the fields of science that attempt to explain how the

Aug 31, 2011

“Pimps make the best librarians. Psycho killers, the worst. Ditto con men…This is at least what I’m told. I wouldn’t know. I’m not a pimp. I’m in a different sort of racket. My name is Avi Steinberg, but in the joint, they call me Bookie.”

While helping a friend of his family look for a job, Avi Steinberg comes across a Craigslist ad for a prison librarian. Out of curiosity, and against the advice of everyone he knows, Avi applies for the job. Rabbi Blumenthal is especially disapproving. Avi should be involved in the Jewish community. Why would he waste time working in a prison? Is prison

Jun 21, 2011

I usually like funny, fast-paced reads only if they’re poking fun at our society or have some deeper cultural undertones. But occasionally even I get sick of dwelling in life’s neurotic muck and want something to read that’s light-hearted and escapist, but still realistic enough that my eyeballs don’t get strained from rolling too far back into my head.

My mom has been on my case to read Lisa Scottoline’s legal thrillers, but I’m allergic to adrenaline, or at least anything with the word “thriller” in it. Then one day my mom emailed me the link to Scottoline’s “Chick Wit” column from the