Sunday, August 26, 2012

What is Your Favorite Biography?


A. Scott Berg has written a slew of biographies but this is my favorite due to my interest in his subject. Perkins edited three (Fitzgerald, Wolfe and Hemingway) of the finest writers of the 20th Century, perhaps shaping their books. This biography won the National Book Award and deserved to.

What is your favorite biography?

34 comments:

Rob Kitchin said...

I've just spent the last couple of weeks writing 85 short, 100-300 word biographical entries for a book I'm working on. Found it fascinating to do. In the past I've also edited a book with 65 longer 3-4000 word biographical entries. I'd like to do more of this kind of work as it really is interesting stuff charting the working lives of people and their ideas.

My favourite biography is actually of a thing - the first two atomic bombs - which is told as a genealogy of the intersecting biographies of the scientists who created them. Richard Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb which won a Pullitzer prize. It's great at charting the biography of each key scientist and how their lives were intermeshed with others through shared work places, conferences, retreats, research projects, government programmes, etc. A brilliant piece of work.

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - Oh, interesting question. Hmmm... I like David McCullough's biography of John Adams very much. I want to read his bio of Harry Truman, too.

pattinase (abbott) said...

McCullough is a real master biographer.
That one sounds great, Rob. Comparing the backgrounds, strengths, etc. each brought to the project. And how they lived with what they did would interest me. If they felt guilt about it.

Ed Gorman said...

Nixon Agonistes by Garry Wills. Harsh but not always unsympathetic Wills gives us a Nixon forever trapped in a bitter and resentful childhood.

Deb said...

I've enjoyed several of Claire Tomalin's biographies, particularly her book about Samuel Pepys, which made me want to read all 10 volumes of the diary from start to finish. On the fictional side, Colm Toibin's The Master, about Henry James, is excellent. Not every part of it might be factually accurate, but Toibin's insight into James's creative process is excellent.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Phil says that the Wills' biography remains his favorite after reading hundreds of them. (His next book will be Nixon in California so he is into Nixon right now).
I love her bios, Deb. Especially Jane Austen. I want to read her one on Katherine Mansfield. I need to read THE MASTER. I don't think a week goes by without someone mentioning it.

Anonymous said...

Yes to the Wills and the Rhodes books and McCullough on John Adams. If you're interested in James, Leon Edel's five volumes are a must. I liked Michael Reynolds on Hemingway. Al Stump's biography of Ty Cobb is a must - if unpleasant - read.


Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Mickey Mantle does not come off well in his recent bio either.
I guess there are no heroes in this life and we are foolish to expect otherwise.

George said...

OSCAR WILDE by Richard Ellmann. It won a National Book Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have seen so many of his plays over the years, I should read it. He seems like a tragic figure for sure.

Charles Gramlich said...

Good question. Most of the biographies I read are of writers. However, although not just a biography, the book "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" by Shirer contained essentially a biography of Hitler. That book really affected me deeply. The horror, the sadness, the strangeness of Hitler and his political rule. The book was really powerful.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I read that as a teenager. Probably need to revisit it.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN by Benjamin Franklin is a very good read. A truly multifaceted personality....

Kieran Shea said...

I'm more of a slice-of-life memoir guy myself. A to Z biographies, phew, they're tough.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

Plain Speaking by Merle Miller, a bio of Harry Truman I did a FBF post on it years ago: http://www.womenofmystery.net/2009/01/02/america-needs-you-harry-truman/

Adams vs. Jefferson, the Tumultuous Election of 1800 by John Ferling. MY FBF on this book can be found here: http://www.womenofmystery.net/2008/08/08/adams-vs-jefferson/

Adams is my favorite US President. Truman my second favorite.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yeah, memoirs can be fun. Been meaning to read the Patti Smith.
Are you really my husband, Terrie? If we hadn't met, I would think he had a nom de plume.

Anonymous said...

Two by Byron Rogers: The Last Englishman, a life of J.L. Carr, publisher,eccentric, novelist and (very brief) biographer and The Man Who Went into the West, about R. S. Thomas, poet, priest, bird-watcher and ardent Welsh nationalist with a cut-glass English accent.
And A.J.A. Symons' wonderful The Quest for Corvo.

Deb said...

Patti--have you cancelled your trip yet? N.O. has declared a state of emergency. We're waiting to see if they cancel schools in St. Tammany Parish tomorrow and then we're getting' the hell outta Dodge. Seven years to the day since Katrina (with an assist from my neighbor's pine tree) took the roof off my house. Sigh.

pattinase (abbott) said...

No. I am hoping the airline will cancel so we get our money back. After our disastrous trip to DC, which cost us an extra $500 to return early, yikes! We are cursed. Watch out Ireland.

Deb said...

The mayor of N.O. is giving a press conference as we speak and he said that once wind speeds reach 40 mph, airlines will begin cancelling flights. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Boy Patti, Jackie just said that you have the worst luck of anyone she can remember with trips. We were concerned about you and hope it works out with the airline. There is no logical way they should be flying into New Orleans.

Good luck.


Jeff M.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yeah, doubt we will go. I haven't even told you about the year they had fires in southern Ca and we were due to fly into San Diego. Or the year DC had 26 inches of snow and we were stuck there for days. There have been many more.

Brian Busby said...

Gerald Clarke's Capote and Kim Townsend's Sherwood Anderson are two favourites, but the one that has stayed with me the most is HA! A Self-Murder Mystery, Gordon Shepherd's book on the life of Quebec writer Hubert Aquin. Unconventional, it's at once a biography and a long meditation on suicide (Aquin shot himself on the grounds of a Montreal school for girls). Friends who knew nothing of Aquin and his work have liked it - the very sign of a good biography, I think.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Two great writers. I will see in the WSU library has the Aquin book.

Paul D Brazill said...

I did it as a FFB a couple of years ago- Rat Pack Confidential is just great writing.

http://13shotsofgrit.wordpress.com/2010/02/05/fridays-forgotten-book-rat-pack-confidential-by-shawn-levy/

pattinase (abbott) said...

That sounds refreshingly different, Al.

Olivia V. Ambrogio said...

Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature (Linda Lear) and James Tiptree Jr.: The Double Life of Alice Sheldon (can't remember the author). In the second case, it's more for the fascination I have with the subject than for the writing (which becomes excessively academic and/or psychological at times).

pattinase (abbott) said...

Very few books made a bigger impact on me than SILENT SPRING.
I have heard the Alice Shelden one is fascinating. Certainly her life was.

Richard R. said...

Very memorable for me was A.M. Sperber's MURROW: HIS LIFE AND TIMES. Edward R. Murrow has long fascinated me. Also seems to me I read a good biography of Churchill, but can't recall the title or author.

Todd Mason said...

"I guess there are no heroes in this life and we are foolish to expect otherwise."

Only if you want a hero to be a perfect person, or someone who's talented in one way and therefore should be a good person because of that. Certainly those are prescriptions for self-delusion. Look closely at Mohandas Gandhi sometime, and the halo vanishes; Mother Teresa emphatically as well. There have been no presidents of this country who haven't been utter SOBs at times in office, etc.

Cap'n Bob said...

Son of the Morning Star (Custer).

Chris said...

I've recently read Kingdom Under Glass by Jay Kirk, a kind of biography of the taxidermist Carl Akeley. It was fascinating.

Next up is Wolf by James L. Haley, about Jack London. Have high hopes for that one.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Have you ever read the Thomas Lynch ones about being an undertaker. Fabulous.

Chris said...

I have not, Patti.