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July 2015 | Volume 10 | Number 5
Lee’s Biography of
Penelope Fitzgerald
Wins Plutarch Award
Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life
by Hermione Lee won the
Plutarch Award for best
biography of 2014, as
selected by members of
Biographers International
Organization. The winning
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We're Here
to Help
Need help tracking down a
source for your biography or
have another question related to
the craft? This month we begin
offering a new service:
Author’s Queries. Our first
comes from BIO Vice
President Cathy Curtis:
Does anyone have contact
information for the Knopf editor
who dealt with Elaine de
book was announced at the
Sixth Annual BIO Conference
in Washington, DC.
Among Lee's other books is Biography: A Very
Short Introduction.
“I am absolutely delighted
to have been awarded this
prize, especially when I look
at the competition!” said
Dame Hermione Lee when she heard the news. President of Wolfson College,
Oxford, England, Lee was not present at the announcement of the winner.
who dealt with Elaine de
Kooning’s autobiography
proposal in the late 1980s, or,
failing that, for Knopf editors
who were employed by the
publisher at that time?
If you can answer this question
or have a query of your own,
let us know.
The three Plutarch finalists were:
The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandria by Helen Rappaport
From the Editor
The Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941-1942 by Nigel Hamilton
Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh by John Lahr
From the preconference research
Named after the ancient Greek biographer, the prize is the genre’s equivalent of orientations to the awarding of
the Oscar, in that BIO members chose the winner by secret ballot from nominees
selected by a committee of distinguished members of the craft. This year marked
the third time BIO bestowed the award. Previous winners were Linda Leavell for
Holding on Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore and Robert
Caro for The Passage of Power.
Conference Roundup
Branch Keynote Talk and
Biographers in Conversation
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the third Plutarch Award, the
annual BIO conference last month
was a winner. Each year I hear
attendees say “This is the best
one yet,” and somehow the
conference planners manage to
outdo themselves the following
On behalf of all BIO members,
let me say a big thank you to our
officers, Brian Jay Jones, Cathy
Curtis, M arc Leepson, and Barbara
Burkhardt; Kitty Kelley for once
again graciously opening up her
home for Friday’s cocktail
reception; Program Committee cochairs Kate Buford and Bill Souder;
biographer, as he used the life of King and others to tell the story of the civil rights
chairs Kate Buford and Bill Souder;
Site Committee co-chairs Barbara
Burkhardt and Robin Rausch; Will
Swift, who chaired both the
Coaching Committee and the BIO
Award Nominations Committee; the
members of the Plutarch
Nomination Committee and all the
other committees involved in
putting on the conference; and
the panelists and moderators for
sharing their knowledge. I’d also
like to thank members who had
kind words for what we do here at
As you might expect, this issue
has plenty of conference
coverage, along with most of our
usual features (the M ember
Interview will return next month).
Looking ahead, next issue has our
annual review of biography on film,
both documentaries and biopics,
along with our look at some of this
fall’s most anticipated biographies.
As always, please let me know
about stories you’d like to see,
and perhaps even write, in future
movement, which he called “the last great uprising of citizens’ idealism that really
Highlight BIO Conference
Almost 200 established and
aspiring biographers
immersed themselves in their
craft at the Sixth Annual
Biographers International
Organization Conference, held
June 6 at the National Press
Club in Washington, DC.
Amidst the various panel
sessions, attendees also saw
Taylor Branch receive the
BIO President Brian Jay Jones presents the 2015
BIO Award to Taylor Branch.
2015 BIO Award. Branch is
best known for his trilogy about Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights
movement, known collectively as America in the King Years.
The Accidental Biographer
In his keynote address, Branch called himself an accidental and partial
changed the direction of history.” Branch wanted to better understand the
movement and address what he saw as problems with the existing books on it:
M ichael Burgan
They were “analytical and abstract” with an emphasis on interpretation. Branch
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wanted to “feel its power, which for me was personal and quite deep.”
But before and while immersing himself in what would become a 24-year
endeavor to better understand and then write about the movement and its makers,
Branch worked as journalist, ghost wrote the memoirs of Watergate figure John
Dean and basketball star Bill Russell, and spent hours recording the thoughts of an
old friend who just happened to become US president: Bill Clinton. Branch
recounted some of the recording sessions that would form the basis of Branch’s
The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President. Clinton wanted to
document the history of his presidency as it unfolded, and his sessions with
Branch remained secret through the president’s two terms. For Branch, the
sessions gave him the chance “to get the fullest record that historians will one day
have” of what daily life was like for Clinton in the White House.
Clinton and Branch had worked together in Texas during George McGovern’s
Please Keep
Your Info
Making a move or just
changed your email? We ask
BIO members to keep their
contact information up to date,
so we and other members
know where to find you.
Update your information in the
Member Area of the BIO
1972 presidential campaign, and they often discussed political idealism. Branch
thought he “had a better chance to influence [US politics] toward integrity as a
writer than in politics.” With his King books, he explored the citizens’ idealism he
saw in the civil rights movement, the reaction to it, and its lasting effects. He said,
“The civil rights movement set things in motion that are still benefiting our country
today, including same-sex marriage…. The civil rights movement forced people to
break down their emotional barriers against dealing with what equal citizenship
really means in everyday life.”
Branch chose to depict the movement in as personal a way as possible, to fight
the urge in the United States to “reinterpret history wherever race relations are
involved.” As an example, he cited the textbooks he read growing up in Atlanta,
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Membership Up
for Renewal?
Please respond promptly to
your membership renewal
notice. As a nonprofit
organization, BIO depends on
members’ dues to fund our
annual conference, the
publication of this newsletter,
and the other work we do to
which taught that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery. Many history
books, Branch believes, deal with what a culture is comfortable talking about.
Telling the personal stories of the people of the civil rights movement in a narrative
history, Branch hoped, would preserve some of the uncomfortable facets of race
relations in the United States, thus providing a more accurate history.
and the other work we do to
support biographers around the
world. When renewing, please
make sure the contact
information we have for you is
up to date.
Thomas and Brinkley in
The conference events kicked
off in the morning with a
plenary breakfast session
called “The Art and Craft of
Biography: Evan Thomas and
Douglas Brinkley in
Conversation.” Between
Are You a
Or do you know one who is
interested in biography? BIO
now has a special student
membership rate. Visit the BIO
website to find out more.
them, the two have authored
Brinkley and Thomas discuss their craft.
biographies on a wide range
of figures who helped shaped
the twentieth century, from
presidents to Walter Cronkite. They engaged in an easy dialogue as they explored
some of the challenges they’ve faced during their careers.
For Brinkley, one challenge came when writing about Rosa Parks. When she
made her historic refusal to leave her bus seat, about a dozen or so people rode
with her. But when Brinkley did his research, he interviewed 55 people who
Sold to Publishers
William C. Davis
Looking for Lauretta: The Elusive Life
of a Pioneering Female Confidence
Artist and the Confederacy’s
Only Media Celebrity
sold to Southern Illinois
University Press
claimed to be on the bus that day. “Everybody in Montgomery was on Rosa
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Parks’s bus,” he joked. “I had no idea who to trust.” Brinkley also had personal
access to his subject and saw firsthand her willingness to help others, something
that made writing the Parks book “probably the most moving personal biography”
he’s done.
Following that observation, Evan Thomas said he had just finished a biography
of Richard Nixon, and the president “was not a Rosa Parks.” But Thomas did
come to appreciate how hard it was to be Richard Nixon, who was socially
awkward and “a powerfully lonely guy.” Nixon’s experiences intersected with the
life of another of Brinkley’s subjects, Walter Cronkite. CBS News played a big part
in bringing Watergate to the public’s attention, and Nixon wanted to “get”
Cronkite, who personally liked Nixon. Cronkite also interacted with another of
Thomas’s subjects, Robert F. Kennedy. The newsman, Brinkley said, crossed the
line of journalistic ethics when he urged Kennedy to run for president in 1968
because of the morass in Vietnam.
Another topic Brinkley and Thomas covered was how to get the biography
subject’s family on board, which can be hard when relatives, especially children,
want to preserve their loved one’s image, and their truthfulness might be suspect.
Thomas also mentioned the difficulty at times of sorting out key details from
extraneous facts—“I wish I had a magic formula to help you figure out what’s
important and what isn’t.” Another concern for biographers today: plagiarism, or
the accusation of it. One strategy, Thomas said, is to footnote extensively and
acknowledge the work of experts in the foreword. Brinkley cited a slightly
different problem, of anecdotes that get passed along as truth but without sources
to back them up. He relies on double sources when possible to verify information.
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John Oller
American Guerrilla
(Francis M arion)
sold to Da Capo
by Jim Donovan at
Jim Donovan Literary
Ronin Ro
Dark Knight: Frank Miller, Batman,
and the Superhero Movie
sold to University Press of New
by James Fitzgerald at
James Fitzgerald Agency
Todd Purdum
Untitled biography of
Rodgers and Hammerstein
sold to Henry Holt
by Robert Barnett of
Williams & Connolly
Jon Pessah
(Yogi Berra)
sold to Little, Brown
by David Black at David Black
Literary Agency
Alan Friedman
After discussing some of the nuts and bolts of the craft, Brinkley ended the
session on a loftier and inspiring note. He called biography “the most indispensable
art form because in America, we live by individuals… that’s how we process
history, through people.”
Preconference Events
While Saturday, June 6, saw most
of the conference’s events and
festivities, on Friday some attendees
explored the Library of Congress on
sold to Hachette Books
by Caroline M ichel at PFD
William Hazelgrove
The Presidency of Edith Wilson and
The Last Cowboy: How the West
Created Teddy Roosevelt
sold to Regnery
by Leticia Gomez of
Savvy Literary Services
Danika Cooley
When Lightning Struck: The Story of
Martin Luther
sold to Augsburg Fortress Press
by Chip M acGregor at
M acGregor Literary
private tours. In the evening, BIO
members gathered at the
Georgetown home of board member
Kitty Kelley, where Thomas Mann,
formerly of the Library of Congress,
M ichael Tomasky
Bill Clinton
sold to Henry Holt
by Chris Calhoun of the
Chris Calhoun Agency
received BIO’s Biblio Award.
Established in 2012, the award
recognizes a librarian or archivist
who has made an exceptional
contribution to the craft of
biography. Mann retired from the
Library in January 2015 after 33
Enjoying the preconference reception, from
left to right, are Kate Buford, Barbara
Burkhardt, Robin Rausch, Abigail
Santamaria, and Sarah Dorsey.
years of service.
M ark Cohen
American Impresario: The Life and
Times of Billy Rose
sold to Brandeis University Press
Also at the reception, board
member Will Swift announced that Jonathan Segal will receive BIO’s Editorial
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Charles Casillo
Marilyn: Her Genius, Her Madness,
Excellence Award this November. Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Carl
Bernstein will present the award and the evening’s events will also include a panel
discussion. Look for more details on this event in upcoming issues of TBC.
Marilyn: Her Genius, Her Madness,
Her Magic—Exploring the Psychology
of Marilyn Monroe
sold to St. M artin’s
by Tom M iller at Sanford J.
Greenburger Associates
BIO Conference Coaching
Program a Resounding Success;
New Mentoring Program
Launches in September
By Will Swift, Cathy Curtis, and Linda Leavell
During the June 6 BIO conference in Washington, DC, 20 BIO members met for
half-hour coaching sessions with experienced biographers. The nine coaches (Kai
Bird, William Souder, Kate Buford, Justin Martin, Anne Heller, Irv Gellman, Cathy
Curtis, Linda Leavell, and Will Swift) read materials submitted by their “coachees”
prior to the convention.
Participants rated their coaches on preparation, organization, focus, interest in
the coachees’ concerns, and the quality of advice given. Ninety percent of the
coaches received excellent ratings in all categories.
These three written comments are typical of the response to this program:
“I would not have traveled from Oklahoma to this conference if it wasn’t for
the opportunity to meet with a well-known biographer face-to-face, an unheard of
opportunity in my neck of the woods. Bill Souder was very helpful and
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Ann M cElhinney and Phelim M cAleer
(Dr. Kermit Gosnell)
sold to Regnery
Anshel Pfeffer
Untitled biography of
Benjamin Netanyahu
sold to Basic Books
by Philippa Brophy at Sterling Lord
Literistic in conjunction with Deborah
Harris at The Deborah Harris Agency
Philip Gefter
Richard Avedon
sold to Harper
by Adam Eaglin at
Elyse Cheney Agency
Duncan Hamilton
For the Glory
(Eric Liddell)
sold to Penguin Press
by Grainne Fox at Fletcher & Co.
“Kai Bird was outstanding…. We talked about how to engage ethical questions
that are contemporary... and productively about narrative pace, possible published
models, and style.”
“Kate Buford offered a wonderful blend of kind, encouraging, and practical
advice that both reassured me of my sanity and helped me focus on the necessary
next steps for crafting a proposal, and, ultimately, a book. I’m so grateful.”
In September, BIO will offer a new mentoring program for members. This
program is designed to be helpful for biographers at all levels of experience: a BIO
member writing a first biography or a veteran biographer who would like to share
pages or a writing dilemma with a colleague.
Ten highly experienced and prize-winning authors of literary, political, artistic,
historical, and popular culture biographies will offer coaching sessions to help
writers in such areas as:
preparing pitch letters for potential agents
shaping a book proposal and sample chapter
improving interview skills
using libraries and archives effectively
dealing with subjects’ families and associates
creating a narrative out of your facts
promoting your book
You may sign up for one or more mentoring sessions. Based on your interests, the
coaching committee (Will Swift, Cathy Curtis, and Linda Leavell) will select three
available mentors whose expertise suits your subject area and your specific
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Walter Brown
Lithium: The Biography of a Doctor, a
Drug, and a Breakthrough
sold to Liveright
by Jessica Papin at Dystel & Goderich
Literary M anagement
John Shaw
Transition of the Ages
(Dwight Eisenhower and John
sold to Pegasus
by Jonathan Lyons at Curtis Brown
Diane Simmons
The Courtship of Eva Eldridge
sold to University of Iowa Press
by Jessica Papin at Dystel & Goderich
Literary M anagement
David Kertzer
Untitled narrative history of Pope Pius
IX and the European revolutions of
sold to Random House
by Wendy Strothman of
The Strothman Agency
Bruce Hillman
A Plague on All Our Houses: Big
Medicine, Hollywood, and
the Discovery of AIDS
concerns, and provide you with their bios. For example, if you are writing about
Mary Todd Lincoln, you might be presented with three mentors, one of whom has
expertise in nineteenth-century American women, another who is a presidential
biographer, and a third who has written about mental illness. You then select one
of these.
The fee will be $100 per hour. Most of that fee will be paid directly to the
mentor; a portion will cover BIO’s administrative costs. The mentors will be paid
for time spent reading submitted materials and for the time they spend in
You can begin the process by sending an email to Will Swift with a brief
summary of your project and a statement about your goals for the mentoring
sessions. You will then receive instructions about payment and a list of three
mentors with their bios. Once we receive your payment and choice, you will be
given instructions for setting up phone, email or Skype sessions, according to your
the Discovery of AIDS
(Dr. M ichael Gottlieb)
sold to ForeEdge
by Claire Gerus at Claire Gerus
Literary Agency
Daryl Sanders
Thin, Wild Mercury: The Making of Bob
Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde
sold to Chicago Review Press
by Janet Rosen at
Sheree Bykofsky Associates
Ryan White
His Own Damn Fault: Jimmy Buffett
and the Search for Margaritaville
sold to Touchstone
by The Schisgal Agency
mutual preferences.
Conference Sessions Roundup
The TBC staff and our guest correspondent, Patricia Albers, attended six of the
nineteen conference sessions; here’s a capsule review of each of them.
Lessons Learned from Four Decades of Hunting Facts
His years of experience as a journalist and nonfiction author have given James
McGrath Morris a wealth of tips for gathering and organizing research, and he
shared them in this session.
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Jon Kelly
The Hit: Greed, Violence, and the Tackle
that Changed Football Forever
(Darryl Stingley and Jack Tatum)
sold to Blue Rider Press
by David M cCormick at
M cCormick Literary
Andy Furillo
The Steam Room: Bud Furillo and the
Golden Age of LA Sports
sold to Santa M onica Press
by Chip M acGregor at
One point he mentioned several times was looking for “bread crumbs” in any
given document a biographer uncovers. The content of the individual document is
important, but so too are the tidbits of information that lead to more sources. One
example from Morris’s own work came from his experience while researching his
biography of Joseph Pulitzer. An obituary had the name of a Pulitzer relative, and
by Chip M acGregor at
M acGregor Literary
by contacting that person Morris made contact with another relative whom he
never would have found through an online search. The source, in turn, had
valuable information for his book.
Another tip, again from his Pulitzer experience, was to look for the archived
papers of people a subject interacted with. Morris found glowing letters written to
Pulitzer in the publisher’s papers, but when Morris tracked down the papers of
one of the writers, he learned the writer’s true feelings about Pulitzer. Using
Census records as a starting point, Morris also was able to track down a butler
who worked for Pulitzer and found that some of his letters were archived. They
offered private views on Pulitzer Morris might not have found elsewhere.
Looking at research from a larger perspective, Morris said. “Research and
writing are symbiotic twins, not separate tasks.” While biographers have to do
initial research before writing, what they actually decide to include in the beginning
will drive them to research other topics and personalities. For Morris, the research
never ends, even as more of his time is spent on the writing.
When working in archives, Morris suggests keeping track of every box and
folder that biographers explore, making a brief note on its contents. Since writers
don’t know what might become important later on the writing process, the notes
will make it easier to go back and review material that suddenly becomes relevant.
Morris’s other tips included:
Talk to archivists, who might know about papers held in other archives that
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A Letter from the
Vice President
A Book Talk in a Villa
A wealthy woman who was
friendly with my subject, artist
Grace Hartigan, during the last
years of her life offered to host a
talk about the biography.
Although my interview with this
woman a few years earlier had
its disappointing moments—she
relate to a subject.
Use remote researchers, who are often eager graduate students, to access
information held in distant locations.
When using databases such as ProQuest, check if the library has access to
all the periodicals available; some libraries might not subscribe to the
complete package of newspapers.
Keep a small notebook handy to jot down ideas for future research topics.
Contact newspaper morgues for articles that might not be available online.
Consider performing a “truth test” to gauge the reliability of memoirs; for
its disappointing moments—she
claimed to have forgotten all the
confidences Grace had imparted
—I was delighted. This would be
my first book talk, and the
audience would likely include
many people who knew the
The woman did not offer to
Morris, this means seeing how the writer treats an embarrassing moment in
pay my coast-to-coast airfare,
his or her life and then comparing it to other sources’ depiction of the
but she said she would be happy
event. The more open the autobiographical account, the more Morris is apt
to pick me up at the airport and
to trust other emotional truths (though memoirs can be unreliable for
historical facts).
The Doctor Is In
Neurasthenia, alcoholism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, heart failure: how can
biographers best research and address their subjects’ medical conditions?
Heath Hardage Lee discussed her subject, Winnie Davis (the daughter of
Confederate President Jefferson Davis), who suffered from a cluster of ailments
diagnosed in Davis’s lifetime as neurasthenia. Lee said that the nineteenth century’s
neurasthenia is the twenty-first century’s anxiety and depression. Medical
conditions are social constructions and thus don’t easily translate from one culture
to another. Neurasthenia, for one, is a gendered social construction. For Theodore
put me up for two nights. She
also planned to purchase 30
copies of my book from the
publisher, which I would sign for
some of her guests.
A few weeks before my talk,
the woman emailed me: She was
very sorry, but I would have to
stay in a hotel and make my own
way from the airport. Unhappy
about the mounting costs of this
Roosevelt and other men, Lee pointed out, the cure for ailments was the active life; trip—nothing was said about
for Davis and other women, it was passivity.
reimbursing me—I booked
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Joshua C. Kendall’s most recent biography presents seven well-known
Americans whose self-induced obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, he
argues, made them the super-achievers they were. According to Kendall, both
psychiatry and biography are hermeneutic. Biographers must summon up
convincing interpretations of their subjects’ mental conditions. There will always
be competing interpretations. Biographers have to make a strong case.
Lawrence K. Altman, MD, a clinical professor of medicine at New York
University, surveyed the pitfalls of writing about illness in both medical and nonmedical biographies. Altman offered suggestions for biographers seeking medical
information about their subjects. Although medical records are confidential, there is
more and more transparency about medical conditions. Possible sources of
information include doctors, some of whom break confidentiality, and family
members, though biographers must be wary. It’s also possible to read subjects’
correspondence looking for comments about the effects of health problems, from
which biographers can work backwards.
Moderator Robin Rausch then opened the discussion. One audience member
inquired about helpful publications. Altman mentioned the Merck Manual of
Diagnosis and Therapy, the Merck Index, medical textbooks, and the website of
the US National Library of Medicine. Another audience member recommended
medical school professors, especially at universities like Stanford that have
programs to explore the connections between medicine, the arts, and the
humanities. The session ended with a discussion of terms like alcoholism, which
can be more cover-up than explanation.
—Patricia Albers
Writing About Writers
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myself into the smallest room in
a B&B down the road from her
villa, the former estate of opera
singer Rosa Ponselle.
The woman promised to pay
for the taxi rides, and to pick me
up for lunch. As we chatted over
deli sandwiches purchased by
her housekeeper, the subject of
reimbursement didn’t come up—
though I did hear some good
stories about Grace, now that
there was no danger of including
them in my book. So I smiled
brightly and handed the woman
my $75.50 taxi receipt. With a
sigh, she poked through her
wallet and came up with $140 in
That evening, while the
guests chatted and munched on
hors d’oeuvres, I quelled my
nervousness with a glass of
sparkling wine proffered by a
waiter. Finally, it was time for
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Panelists Valerie Boyd, Brian Jay
Jones, and Martha Nell Smith and
moderator Deirdre David explored
the challenges of writing literary
biography. To facilitate the
discussion, David handed out a list
of nine quotes related to the topic,
and the panelists came back to
several of them a few times.
Two of the quotes discussed the
idea that biographers are somehow
Boyd is currently editing the journals
of Alice Walker.
competing with their usually betterknown subjects and their literary
achievements, with the biographers
sometimes offering “pedestrian”
prose to describe the creators of
“words of genius.” Valerie Boyd, who wrote a biography of Zora Neale Hurston,
dealt with that issue as she contemplated how to write about Hurston’s life. “I
spent months trying to figure out, how do you write a book that is worthy of a
great writer.” She didn’t see herself in competition with Hurston, but Boyd did
want her words to stand up to her subject’s. Overall, Boyd said, “biographers need
to raise the standard of narrative to the point where we are not simply relying on
facts”—though, of course, facts are important.
For Brian Jay Jones, his biography of Washington Irving was less about
Irving’s words than what he did away from the page: Irving created a public
persona for himself, focused on the business of writing to maximize control over
his words, and traveled in upper echelons of society. Documenting that story for
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waiter. Finally, it was time for
everyone to assemble in the
baronial living room for the talk.
As I recounted the high and low
points of Grace’s life, I noted
disparagingly that her third
husband had tried to cozy up to
the “wealthy, brass-buttoned
blazer types” of Southampton,
New York. Only afterward did it
dawn on me that similar “types”
were sitting right in front of me.
I was so caught up in my
story that I related the verbatim
response of a curator whom I
had asked for advice before
starting my research. He
suggested that I stick with the
1950s, when Hartigan was “f---- all those guys.” As I circulated
among the guests later, I heard
that someone referred to as “the
old admiral” was upset by such
frank language. I can only
assume that, like the First Lord
the first time left Jones feeling he was not competing with his subject.
Doing the research for a literary biography, Boyd and Smith agreed, means
separating the writer’s public voice from his or her private one. Reading the
subject’s letters is one way to do this. Smith, who has written extensively about
Emily Dickinson, is now working on a biography of the poet’s sister-in-law and
editor, Susan Dickinson. One of the literary biographer’s goals, Smith said, is to
find “a personal voice that’s not in the fiction.” Smith’s subject does not have a
well-known public voice, but she still wants to find the personal, through both
Dickinson’s writings and something as simple as sitting in her home.
Smith is also dealing with a subject who is not well known but played a key
role in literary history through her relationship with Emily Dickinson. One of her
challenges is dealing with an “ancillary figure” while not letting the huge figure of
the poet dominate the story.
Other topics that came up in both the panelists’ discussions and the questions
that followed included:
Is the literary biographer’s responsibility to the subject or to posterity? The
consensus seemed to be to posterity, though Boyd suggested they are
necessarily in conflict and the equation could be a little different if the
subject is still alive.
Can you write an interesting biography about a dull life? In response, Smith
asked, “Is anyone’s life really uneventful?” Boyd countered by asking, is
anyone’s life really that exciting? Especially if the subject spent most of his
or her life in front of a typewriter? The biographer has a challenge to
“choose a writer who has a balance” of interesting external events and
literary accomplishment.
How much of the subject’s output should the biography touch upon? Boyd
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assume that, like the First Lord
of the Admiralty in Gilbert and
Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore, he
has never been to sea.
This was a unique
experience, in more ways than
one. From now on, I’m going to
insist on full reimbursement for
travel expenses, no matter how
keen I am to spread the word
about my book.
Cathy Curtis
BIO Vice President
BIO's Board of
Brian Jay Jones, President
Cathy Curtis, Vice President
Marc Leepson, Treasurer
Barbara Burkhardt, Secretary
Lois Banner
Carol Berkin
Carol Berkin
said she felt a need to at least mention all of Hurston’s work, though she
explored major works in greater detail.
Literary biographers should correct false stories or try to address past
biographies of their subject that may have created a false impression. Jones
felt an obligation to do this with Irving, as the previous biography of him
was 75 years old and the biographer had an obvious bias against Irving.
Smith, though, doesn’t think a current biography should be strictly reactive
to other biographies and past myths.
What happens if there are limited “private voice” sources? Smith suggested
taking the evidence from the sources that are available and synthesizing
them to get at the truth, “knowing that something is lost.”
Biographer for Hire
Chip Bishop
Kate Buford
Deirdre David
Gayle Feldman
Beverly Gray
Kitty Kelley
Joshua Kendall
James McGrath Morris
Hans Renders
William Souder
Will Swift
Realizing that not everyone wants to write a full-length biography or that some
writers need work between large projects, moderator Charles J. Shields introduced
this panel by noting that a biographer’s skills can be used in other ways. The four
Advisory Council
panelists then explored some of the possibilities.
One of them is acting as a personal historian, documenting the lives of
Debby Applegate, Chair
everyday people. That’s what Dalene Bickel does with her company, Lasting
Deirdre Bair
Legacies. Some clients seek a record of their lives for family members, while
Douglas Brinkley
others want a biography for their business or a corporate history. Bickel called it a
Catherine Clinton
privilege “to sit with individuals and in some cases entire families and preserve their
Amanda Foreman
stories.” Often subjects are more willing to recount their lives’ experiences with an
outsider than with a relative, and Bickel’s finished products often surprise relatives
who learn details they never knew before.
Marian Carpenter’s work often has her documenting life stories of an entire
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Doris Kearns Goodwin
Joan Hedrick
Michael Holroyd
Eric Lax
community, particularly in African American towns of the Mississippi Delta. As a
public historian, she works with local museums and other organizations that
preserve a particular community’s history. She collects oral histories to prepare
exhibits and helps communities preserve artifacts they’ve gathered. Carpenter
stressed the need to talk to clients to see who the target audience is for their
presentation and what they want to focus on. “Learn to listen and listen to learn” is
one of Carpenter’s mantras, both as she determines the scope of the project and
collects the oral histories.
Eric Lax
David Levering Lewis
John Matteson
William S. McFeely
Jon Meacham
Marion Meade
Nancy Milford
Interviewing subjects is just one part of the job for Adam Nemett, creative
Andrew Morton
director at The History Factory. As a “heritage management firm,” the company
Martin J. Sherwin
prepares corporate histories for companies of all sizes, especially when they want
T. J. Stiles
to mark a milestone anniversary. The finished products include books, exhibits,
documentaries, and online material. Rather than write a sanitized history, Nemett
and his collaborators strive to convince clients to take a warts-and-all approach. A
William Taubman
Terry Teachout
company’s failures and challenges add drama to the narrative The History Factory
wants to tell. While the company does most of the research and writing in-house,
Nemett said it does have some freelance opportunities, and there are other
companies in the field doing this kind of corporate history.
The Biographer's Craft
The last panelist was Raphael Sagalyn, a literary agent whose clients include
several well-known biographers. Complementing Nemett’s presentation, he said
that writing company histories “is a major opportunity for writers today” because
companies “need storytellers to tell their story.” Sagalyn also talked about
ghostwriting opportunities. In some cases, a publisher might go to an agent that
specializes in ghostwriting projects; in others, the subject and the writer already
have a relationship.
Starting and sustaining a career in any of these fields requires marketing. Bickel
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M ichael Burgan
Consulting Editor
James M cGrath M orris
Copy Editor
Kay Bird
relies, in part, on word-of-mouth contacts and her website. She also targets
individuals and organizations that can afford the services of a personal historian
and might be celebrating an important event, such as an anniversary. The History
United Kingdom
Andrew Lownie
Factory does the same kind of targeted outreach, though its clients usually have a
significantly larger budget—sometimes reaching seven figures.
Summing up the session, Shields said that the take-aways of the panel included
targeting potential clients, doing your homework before meeting with them, and
listening to the stories they tell.
Does Gender Matter?
Moderator Abigail Santamaria
and panelists Kitty Kelley,
Linda Lear, and James
McGrath Morris answered
this session’s titular question
with a collective
For Lear, it definitely did
as she tried to expand a
doctoral dissertation on New
Dealer Harold Ickes into a
Moderator Santamaria stands behind panelists
biography. Going through
Lear, Kelley, and Morris.
private papers she had not
seen before, Lear discovered
traits in her subject that made it hard to empathize with Ickes—abusing his
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Hans Renders
Ashok R. Chandran
Australia/New Zealand
Todd Nicholls
United States
Sandra Kimberley Hall
Pat M cNees
(Washington, D.C.)
Dona M unker
(New York)
To contact any of our correspondents,
click here.
children and cheating on his wife in particular. And to Lear, empathy for a subject
is crucial for a biographer. “It is the fundamental empathy for the life… that is
lived that carries the biographical relationship.” Learning what she did about the
private Ickes made her “finally admit total failure of empathy with Harold. And so I
left him.” Lear turned over years of research to another biographer—a man—who
wrote the Ickes biography she felt she could not write. While a female subject
might have had the same unpleasant traits as Ickes, for Lear his gender was a
reason why she could no longer empathize with her subject.
For Kelley, the gender of her subject has had varying impacts. Writing about
Jackie Kennedy Onassis, for example, Kelley was perhaps more likely than a male
biographer to note the social importance of Onassis eschewing stockings during
the 1950s—something women of her station rarely did at the time. That little detail
suggested the young Jackie’s willingness to flout convention.
When writing about Frank Sinatra, who famously sued Kelley to stop her work
on the unauthorized biography even before she wrote a word, gender was an issue,
Kelley said, “because I was a woman writing about a powerful man who was
alive.” But her and her subject’s genders did not shape the research and writing
process. Kelley did say that women biographers might have an advantage when
interviewing subjects, since studies show they tend to be better with relating to
others than men.
Morris had never tackled a female subject before undertaking his biography of
pioneering African American journalist Ethel Payne. With Payne, both gender and
race were an issue for the white biographer. Morris realized, though, that in a way
he was facing a similar challenge Payne did when she was writing about mostly
white, male politicians. While differences of race, gender, and class can’t be
changed or ignored, Morris could still strive for the standard he thought Payne
applied to her writing—to be fair. And despite the differences with his subject,
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Morris definitely had empathy for her. He admitted, though, that as a man he failed
to notice something a woman might have noticed early on: Payne wore wigs.
Morris stressed the importance for him of having women read his book to look for
gender issues he might have missed. And he noted that coming from a different
gender or background from a subject does not have to be an issue, because
biographers have “an unlimited license to ask people questions.” The answers
sources provide can help fill in the holes in the biographer’s experiences. Overall,
Morris, said, “The presumption that we shouldn’t write about the ‘other’ is not a
healthy one.”
Santamaria, whose recently published first biography was of Joy Davidman,
said that in some cases, even being the same gender as your subject can be an
issue, if the biographer and the subject have fundamentally different values.
Santamaria was pregnant during the writing process, and her own emerging
maternal instincts conflicted with Davidman’s lack of them, which made it harder
for Santamaria to empathize with her.
The panelists’ repeated references to empathy sparked discussion on that topic
after the formal presentations. Lear said a writer can have empathy for a subject
who was unpleasant. Kelley said that when writing about the sexist Sinatra, “I had
no problem with empathy; empathy didn’t even enter in to it,” despite his often
despicable behavior. To Morris, a subject’s bad habits may not be excusable, but
empathy can help “provide you the understanding of why they did something.”
The Biographer’s Voice
Moderator Beverly Gray opened the session by quoting Stacy Schiff in her keynote
address to last year’s BIO conference: “You can write without theme but not
without voice.” How do biographers find the right distance and the right
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relationship with their subjects? How can they use voice to engage readers and
gain their trust?
Linda Leavell opened her presentation with the first sentences of three
biographies of Emily Dickinson, each with a different agenda and, thus, a different
voice. Voice exists, whether a writer intends it or not. A compelling and
convincing biography requires a strong voice. Leavell’s goal in writing her life of
Marianne Moore was to re-establish Moore as a major poet; her challenges were to
tell a good story and inspire trust. Biographers must do both. They are like the
detectives in mystery novels: Readers are as interested in understanding the
detectives as they are in unraveling the mysteries. Leavell also spoke about specific
decisions she made (no first person except in the preface) and problems she faced
(finding the right voice in her interpretations of Moore’s poetry).
Evelyn Barish argued that one’s subject should determine one’s voice.
Moreover, Barish said, the writer’s voice should shift as the narrative evolves. She
presented examples from her biography of literary theorist and once highly
respected scholar Paul de Man, in which she pulled skeletons out of de Man’s
closet, including his collaborationist articles during World War II.
Amanda Vaill first became aware of voice as a girl discovering the work of
Charles Dickens. Vaill is looking to cast the kind of spell she felt in reading
Dickens, but believes that the subject should guide the biographer’s voice. In her
double biography of Lost Generation expatriates Gerald and Sara Murphy, Vaill
aimed for an F. Scott Fitzgeraldian voice with bits of jazz. Her Hotel Florida,
which entwines the stories of three couples in and out of Madrid’s Hotel Florida
during the Spanish Civil War, required a more thriller-like and cinematic approach.
That approach made it all the more important that her sources be impeccable. In
that same book, some chapters are twenty pages long; others are only three.
Pacing is another element in voice.
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During the lively discussion that followed, Vaill told the audience that taking
command of one’s book means avoiding most short quotes. Leavell pointed out
that fudge words like perhaps can also weaken a biographer’s voice. Notes are
valuable tools for explaining problems and doubts and including information that
would undermine the narrative. It’s your subject’s life but it’s your life of the
Research in the Digital Age
By Carl Rollyson
I have been using computers to research and write my books since the mid-1980s,
when I purchased my first machine. It was an unnerving experience to begin with.
I remember I could not somehow grasp what “save” meant in my Word Perfect
processing program. Each time I “saved,” I renamed the file. I don’t know why. I
wasn’t trying to preserve different drafts. But somehow I thought I was
obliterating history in a way I never did when working on a typewriter. I was a
keyboard man, having taught myself to touch type. Soon enough, I got the hang of
word processing.
Ever since those early days of transitioning to word processing, I have made all
sorts of accommodations to PCs and Macs, to laptops and iPads. I never write
longhand. I don’t print out what I write. I google, use databases, make iMovies for
book trailers, and consider myself reasonably adept at learning new technological
skills. A recent research experience made me wonder, though, if I have quite left
behind the paper files, index cards, and the panoply of tools I used in the analog
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To complete the updated biography of Susan Sontag that my wife and I
published in 2000, I went to UCLA to look at the emails she had stored on her
computer (actually several different computers). UCLA had put all this material
onto a laptop—as I knew from reading several articles about the thousands of her
emails now available to researchers.
When I arrived, I took a cursory look at the finding guide, but I had only a few
days to complete my task and I just went to the file folders Sontag had set up. The
UCLA archivists assured me that everything was there on that one laptop and that
no material had been removed except for two items that the Sontag estate had
withheld before delivering the material to the university.
So I began going through the file folders systematically, believing that as with
paper files, I could quickly skim through and even ignore trivial or repetitive
material and get to the heart of her collection. I was shocked to find that most of
the file folders were empty. I asked an archivist again if everything was indeed on
the laptop. He assured me it was. By the end of the day, I did find some good
items, but overall I was perplexed. The articles I had read about the Sontag
collection had alluded to much more revealing emails than I had found.
I left feeling suspicious. Sontag had given my wife and me a hard time while
we were working on her biography, and she also had an authorized biographer
who, I suspected, had exclusive access to some of the evidence I wanted to
peruse. But then I re-read the articles about the UCLA collection and noticed that
all of them mentioned keyword searches. I had not thought about simply doing key
word searches because I thought that I would miss material by not systematically
going through the files.
Before I returned the next day to the Sontag collection, I sent emails to the
archivists once again—this time asking about those empty file folders. I was
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assured the UCLA archivists had removed nothing and were just keeping Sontag’s
file folder structure intact—kind of odd, I thought, since looking through file
folders was mainly a waste of time. At any rate, when I did key word searches for
important figures such as Annie Leibovitz, what I was looking for turned up.
I still marvel that it did not occur to me earlier to dispense with the files and do
the keyword searches. But then, I have always systematically worked my way
through files. I still think the keyword searches were an odd way of getting to
research gold. I can see why the archive did not want to tamper with Sontag’s file
folder structure, but those blank folders now stand for the ruins of what was once
Sontag’s way of organizing her world.
Are you, too, still held back by certain habits of the analog world?
Carl Rollyson’s biography of Walter Brennan will be published in September.
Biographer Battles Website
Biographer Ashlee Vance did not take kindly to Business Insider’s liberal use of
quotes and summations of facts from his Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the
Quest for a Fantastic Future. The website used the material in a series of articles
published soon after the book was released. As Fortune described it, Vance used
Twitter to inform Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget that he thought the content
featured on the website went beyond fair use. Blodget disagreed but offered to take
down some of the offending material. Fortune noted that while Vance may have
had a moral case against Business Insider, he probably did not have a legal one.
Some of the material lifted, one legal expert suggested, probably was not content
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that falls under copyright law, and the total amount of material Vance could claim
ownership of was too small to violate the fair use doctrine. As
reported, Vance later learned that Business Insider normally posts content from
books until an author complains.
“How Much is Too Much? Excerpts of Elon Musk Bio Raise Copyright Questions”
Unauthorized Bios Get Legal Approval in Brazil
Brazil’s Supreme Court last month unanimously overturned a 2002 law that let the
subjects of unauthorized biographies move to block a book’s publication or have it
removed from store shelves. The court ruled that the law was a form of
censorship that violated Brazilians’ constitutional rights to freedom of expression, a
right that trumps the claims of a right to privacy that defenders of the law
asserted. The most famous legal battle involving the now-overturned law featured
the Brazilian singer Roberto Carlos, who in 2007 forced biographer Paulo Cesar
Araújo and his publisher to remove an unauthorized biography from Brazilian
stores. TBC reported in 2013 on the experience of journalist Isabel Vincent, whose
biography of Brazilian philanthropist Lily Safra was banned from being published in
Brazil, though it did appear in other countries.
Research Tip
Carl Rollyson shared this tidbit on the BIO Facebook page: The University of
Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center has completed Project REVEAL, which
offers free online access to almost 23,000 documents related to US and British
writers. During the yearlong project, the center digitized 25 manuscript
collections, including those of Thomas Hardy, Joseph Conrad, and Jack London.
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Some of the documents available include Oscar Wilde’s handwritten draft of
Salomé, in French; Robert Louis Stevenson’s list of his favorite books; and letters
by Julia Ward Howe.
Longford Prize
Ben Macintyre won the Elizabeth Longford
Prize for Historical Biography for A Spy Among
Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal.
The £5,000 ($7,805 US) prize is one of several
awarded each year by the Society of Authors, a
UK organization that protects the interests of
professional writers. The Longford Prize is
sponsored by Flora Fraser and Peter Soros and
is named for Elizabeth Longford, an acclaimed
biographer whose subjects included Wellington,
Churchill, and Queen Victoria.
Lionsgate has optioned the TV
Lambda Literary Awards
rights to MacIntyre's book.
Biographies took several honors at the Lambda
Literary Awards. John Lahr was one of two
winners in the Gay Biography/Memoir category. His Tennessee Williams: Mad
Pilgrimage of the Flesh shared the honor with Richard Blanco’s memoir, The
Prince of Los Cocuyos. The winner of the Lesbian Biography/Memoir award was
Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building
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with Barbara Smith, edited by Alethia Jones and Virginia Eubanks, with Barbara
Smith. Martin Duberman’s dual biography Hold Tight Gently: Michael Callen,
Essex Hemphill, and the Battlefield of AIDS took the honor for best LGBT
Cross British Sports Book Awards
Matt Dickinson’s Bobby Moore: The Man in Full won in the Biography category
of the 2015 Cross British Sports Book Awards, while Alone: The Triumph and
Tragedy of John Curry by Bill Jones took the General Sports Writing award. Those
victories made the books eligible for the overall Best Sports Book, which went to
the autobiography of rugby star Gareth Thomas.
Carey Institute Residencies
The first five recipients of the Carey Institute for Global Good’s nonfiction
residencies include Jefferson Morley, who is working on the first biography of
James Jesus Angleton, the long-time chief of counterintelligence at the CIA. The
residencies last from two weeks to three months and include lodging, meals, and
mentoring, if needed. The institute is still accepting applications for the first
residency session, which begins October 15, through July 15. You can find more
information here.
Call for Entries
PEN Center USA Accepting Applications
PEN Center USA is accepting application for its Emerging Voices Fellowship
through August 10. The eight-month fellowship is open to poets and writers of
fiction and creative nonfiction. Fellows receive a $1,000 stipend and must live in
the Los Angeles area or be willing to relocate there for the duration of the
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fellowship. For more information and to apply, go here.
University of Virginia Press Seeks Submissions
The University of Virginia Press plans to publish a collection of essays
commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of William Styron’s The
Confessions of Nat Turner, which was published in 1967. So that the
commemorative book can be published in 2017, essays of 6,000 to 10,000 words
must be submitted no later than February 15, 2016, to editor Michael Lackey.
One possible topic is Styron’s work as an example of the biographical novel, a
genre that has only increased in popularity since the publication of Nat Turner.
For more information on the types of essays sought, go here. Please use the UVA
Press’s style and guide sheet for formatting your submission.
The Writer's Life
So You Want a Review in the New York Times
If you’ve ever wondered how the New York Times Book
Review goes about choosing its books, a recent Book TV
interview with Review editor Pamela Paul and preview
editor Parul Seghal provided some answers. Seghal noted that the percentage of
books reviewed is small, compared to the number the paper receives, and editors
have to give a written reason for passing on a book. Paul said that certain big-name
authors will almost always be reviewed, even if their latest book is not stellar. The
Washington Post had excerpts of the interview, which you can read here. The
entire interview is available here.
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Be your own editor/critic. Sympathetic but merciless!
—Joyce Carol Oates
Robots in the Newsroom
Will robots highly skilled in conducting research and writing scintillating prose one
day be competing for BIO’s Plutarch Award? We’d like to think not, but
automated writing software is already writing copy for news outlets such as the
Associated Press. As reported by CNNMoney, the AP uses computer algorithms
developed by Automated Insights to cull through data and turn it into sentences
good enough to use in thousands of news reports. The AP says no journalists have
lost their jobs because of the robo-reporting, which is best suited for combing
through such things as corporate earning numbers and sports statistics. Giving that
task to the computer frees up human reporters to do more analysis and
investigative reporting, the AP said. No news on whether the software is adept at
putting together newsletters.
“Robots Write Thousands of News Stories a Year”
No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting.
—Lady M. W. Montagu
The Regretful Biographer
With success in various literary fields, Neil Gaiman hardly seems like a writer who
would have regrets. But the author of graphic novels, books, poems, etc., recently
admitted to one regret about his career: Writing The First Four Years of the Fab
Five, a quickie biography of the ‘80s band Duran Duran (he turned down the
chance to write about Def Leppard or Barry Manilow). As Gaiman described in a
talk at the Hay Festival, a UK festival of ideas, in the days before the Internet he
had to rely on press clippings from the BBC as the main source of information.
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The book was a best-seller for a week, then the company that published it went
out of business. Gaiman did not make the fortune he hoped to from the book, but
he’s done all right since.
“Neil Gaiman: ‘The Book I Wish I’d Never Written’”
“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large
matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
―Mark Twain
Graham Lord
Graham Lord, a journalist, novelist, and biographer, died June 14. He was 72.
Lord began his journalism career while still a boy, writing weekly and monthly
magazines and then a daily paper at his private school in Rhodesia, where he was
born. He attended college in England and began his professional career there in
1965 with the Sunday Express. He became the paper’s literary editor and launched
its annual book prize in 1987. During this time, he also wrote several novels. Lord
left the paper in 1992 to write biography. His first was Just The One: The Wives
and Times of Jeffrey Bernard. He wrote six more biographies, and his subjects
included James Herriott, David Niven, and Joan Collins.
Barbara F. McManus
Barbara F. McManus, a professor, biographer, and BIO member, died June 19 at
her home in Rye, New York. She was 73.
The following is a tribute to McManus by BIO member Dona Munker, who like
McManus was also a member of Women Writing Women’s Lives:
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Barbara F. McManus was a professor of classics emerita at the College of New
Rochelle in New York and on the steering committee of Women Writing Women’s
Lives, serving for many years as our web manager. Right from the beginning, she
was an enthusiastic member of BIO—I think she attended every conference but
this year’s—and some members may remember her splendid presentation on
Scrivener at the 2013 conference panel on research software in New York.
She was also a biographer of extraordinary courage, intellectual generosity,
perseverance, and humor. For years, she seemed able to simply ignore the fact that
she had stage 4 colon cancer and needed to be in and out of chemotherapy to keep
it at bay. When she had to go to Sloan-Kettering for yet another treatment on the
day of her Scrivener presentation, she went off lamenting that she couldn’t go to
all the panels she had hoped to attend.
Barbara’s greatest ambition was to complete the biography she had been
working on of Grace MacCurdy, a pioneering woman classicist. To everyone’s
amazement, she succeeded, in spite of being unable to see well enough at the end
to read what was on her computer screen. Not long ago, the WWWL steering
committee received a weak but jubilant message from her that the manuscript was
under serious consideration by a university press and awaiting peer review.
In addition to being an absolutely dedicated scholarly biographer, Barbara was a
superb, award-winning teacher and lecturer who knew how to bring her subject
alive and an incredibly generous researcher who, until very recently, continued to
help and advise her less technologically gifted fellow biographers with the
challenges of online research and organization. Even though she couldn’t live to
see her book published, those of us who knew her will never forget how high she
set the bar for humanity, scholarship, and courage in the writing of biography.
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News and Notes
This month’s listing of new books includes the latest
from Irwin Gellman, whose expertise as a
presidential biographer was noted several times
during the recent BIO Conference. His new book is
The President and the Apprentice: Eisenhower and
Nixon, 1952-1961. Just out in paperback is
Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of Marty
Robbins by Diane Diekman. In 2013, the book
Gellman was one of the
won the Best Book on Country Music Award from
Belmont University. Under this month’s Sold to
coaches at the annual BIO
Publishers, we feature William C. Davis and his upcoming biography of a woman
who went by the name Madame Loreta Janeta Velasquez, but as William told us, it
was certainly not her birth name, though no one knows for sure what it was.
William wrote, “She used several aliases as a New Orleans prostitute, then posed
as a man as Lieutenant Harry Buford of the Confederate Army, then was briefly a
Union secret agent, Venezuelan settler, fortune hunter in the gold and silver fields
of Nevada and Utah, newspaperwoman, occasional social reformer, diplomatic
aide, and confidence artist.” Also making a recent sale was John Oller, with a
biography of American Revolution hero Francis Marion, known as the Swamp
Fox. The American Library Association’s Booklist recently featured the top ten
biographies it reviewed between June 2014 and May 2015, and heading the list was
James McGrath Morris’s Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, The First Lady of
the Black Press. You can see the complete list here. Also on it is Jonas Salk: A
Life by Charlotte DeCroes Jacobs. That book was also recently named an
Editors’ Choice selection by the New York Times Book Review. Last month,
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Catherine Reef talked about her The Bronte Sisters on the Australian book blog
Read Me. You can read the interview here. Also last month, Megan Marshall
delivered one of the Seven Lectures at Seven Gables, held at the House of the
Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts. Margaret discussed her Pulitzer Prizewinning biography of Margaret Fuller. Nigel Hamilton recently had a piece in the
Huffington Post called “On Being American,” which you can read here. Producers
Laurie MacDonald, Walter Parkes, and Evan Hayes are turning Kai Bird’s The
Good Spy, the story of CIA operative Robert Ames, into a movie. Kai will be a
consultant on the film. On Independence Day, Carol Berkin appeared on Book
TV to discuss her new book, The Bill of Rights: The Fight to Secure America's
Liberties. The program was a repeat of an interview she originally did in May,
which you can see here. The July 5 edition of the New York Times Book Review
included a positive review of Emily Bingham’s Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of
Henrietta Bingham, and Amanda Foreman contributed a review of the latest
biography of Joan of Arc. The issue also had a letter from Laura Claridge
addressing a previous review of the new William Shirer biography. Laura’s current
subject, publisher Blanche Knopf, had encouraged Shirer to keep the journals of his
time in Nazi Germany that led to his famous Berlin Diary. Abigail Santamaria
will be discussing her debut biography Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who
Captivated C. S. Lewis with Anne Heller on Tuesday, August 4, at Hunter
College’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, 47-49 East 65th Street in New
York. The free talk begins at 6 p.m. and will be followed by a book signing and
reception. RSVP by emailing here.
Send us your news!
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In Stores
The President and the Apprentice:
Eisenhower and Nixon, 1952-1961
The Street of Wonderful Possibilities:
Whistler, Wilde & Sargent in Tite Street
by Irwin F. Gellman
by Devon Cox
(Yale University Press)
(Frances Lincoln)
Civil Rights in the Texas
The Chamberlains: The Legend Behind
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The Lancaster
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by Will Guzman
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Anthems and Minstrel Shows: The Life
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Out of Line: The Art of Jules Feiffer
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Ringo: With a Little Help
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O. D. Skelton: A Portrait
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The Billion Dollar Spy: A True Story
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Vendetta: Bobby Kennedy Versus
Jimmy Hoffa
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Motherless Child: The Definitive
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First Principles: The Official
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They Fought Alone: A True Story of a
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Under the Wing of a Patriot: The Life
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by Paul Scott
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Crowded by Beauty: The Life and Zen
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Our Man in Charleston: Britain’s
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Sarkar and His Empire of Truth
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Arthur Lydiard: Master Coach
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The Reign of King Henry: How Graham
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Benjamin Franklin and the Ends of
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Big Science: Ernest Lawrence and the
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The Calling of History: Sir Jadunath
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Lois McMaster Bujold
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The Existentialist Moment: The Rise of
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Domhnall Ua Buachalla: Rebellious
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Antonio Pedro: Just a Story
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Samuel M. Gore: Blessed with Tired
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The Rebel of Rangoon: A Tale of
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Genius At Play: The Curious Mind of
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The General and the Genius: Groves
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Hit the Target: Eight Men who Led
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The Mistresses of Cliveden: Three
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John Fogerty: An American Son
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Homage to a Broken Man: The Life of J.
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Political Wings: William Wedgwood
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A Very Private Celebrity: The Nine Lives
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The Acid Bath Murders: The Trials
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The Duke’s Assassin: Exile and Death of
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and Liquidations of
John George Haigh
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Abbé Sicard’s Deaf Education:
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Harnessing the Sky: Frederick
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Diane von Furstenberg:
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Stagg vs. Yost: The Birth of
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by Stefano Dall’Aglio, translated by
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Becoming a Romanov: Grand Duchess
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Enoch Powell: The Outsider
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The Unexpected Story of Nathaniel
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Admiral Collingwood:
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Sniper of the Skies: The Story of
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Jack Kemp: The Bleeding-Heart
Beurling, DSO, DFC, DFM
Conservative Who Changed America
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by M orton Kondracke and Fred Barnes
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(Pen and Sword)
Fighter Pilot: The Life of Battle of
The Private Life of General
Britain Ace Bob Doe
Omar N. Bradley
by Helen Doe
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The Trip: Andy Warhol’s Plastic
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W. E. B. Du Bois: An American
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M-Mother: Dambuster Flight
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Fear and the Muse Kept Watch: The
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One Man Against the World: The
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Steel Gate to Freedom: The Life of
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Liu Xiaobo
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Aftermath: The Makers of the Post-War
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William Dobell: An Artist’s Life
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Murder in the Family: The Dr. King Story
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Edward Thomas: from Adlestrop to
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by Jean M oorcroft Wilson
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Living in Squares, Loving in
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Brave as a Lion: The Life and Times
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Being Berlusconi: The Rise and Fall
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Omar Al-Bashir and Africa’s Longest
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Florida Founder William P. DuVal:
Frontier Bon Vivant
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(University of South Carolina Press)
Twentieth Century Drifter: The Life of
The Last Love of George Sand:
Marty Robbins
A Literary Biography
by Diane Diekman
by Evelyne Bloch-Dano
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(University of Illinois Press)
(Arcade Publishing)
The Secret History of Wonder Woman
Beyond the Cross Timbers: The Travels
by Jill Lepore
of Randolph B. Marcy
by W. Eugene Hollon
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Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three
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Ned Wynkoop and the Lonely Road from
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Sand Creek
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The First American Evangelical: A
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Licoricia of Winchester: Marriage,
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The Short and Tragic Life of Robert
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Left Newark for the Ivy League
Richard III: England’s Black Legend
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Chosen for His People: A Biography
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Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound
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by Robin Brodhurst
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A Most Unusual Life: Dora van
Joseph Goebbels: The Nazi Leadership
Gelder Kunz: Clairvoyant,
Theosophist, Healer
at Rest and Play
by Curt Riess
by Kirsten van Gelder
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and Frank Chelsey
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Martin Leake: Double VC
by Ann Clayton
Balanchine and the Lost Muse:
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Revolution and the Making of a
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Thomas Varker Keam: Indian Trader
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The Complete Muhammad Ali
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Operation Mexico! Carl Kiekhaefer vs.
the 1951-1953 Pan American Road Race
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by Karl Pippart III
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The Many Faces of Herod the Great
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Henry Mancini: Reinventing Film Music
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Bearing Witness: The Remarkable Life
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War Correspondent
Kings & Queens of Wales
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by Peter Rees
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Prendergast: Legal Villain?
Chopin’s Prophet: The Life of Pianist
Vladimir de Pachmann
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Jim: The Life and Work
John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary
of James Griffiths
in Fourteenth-Century Italy
by D. Ben Rees
by William Caferro
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(Johns Hopkins University Press)
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Double Agent: The First Hero of
Isaac and Isaiah: The Covert
World War II and How the FBI
Punishment of a Cold War Heretic
Outwitted and Destroyed
a Nazi Spy Ring
by David Caute
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by Peter Duffy
Tigress of Forli: The Life of
Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the
Caterina Sforza
by Elizabeth Lev
Pulse of History
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by Rhonda K. Garelick
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Woody Guthrie, American Radical
by Will Kaufman
Landslide: LBJ and Ronald Reagan at
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the Dawn of a New America
by Jonathan Darman
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George Gershwin: An Intimate Portrait
by Walter Rimler
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Angry Optimist: The Life and Times of
Jon Stewart
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Marcel Mauss: A Biography
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Jane M arie Todd
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Kierkegaard: Great Thinkers on
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Nature’s Oracle: The Life and Work of
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W. D. Hamilton
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The Existentialist Moment: The Rise of
Sartre as a Public Intellectual
Constantine, Divine Emperor of the
by Patrick Baert
Christian Golden Age
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by Jonathan Bardill
(Cambridge University Press)
Cecily Neville
by Amy Licence
Raymond Carr: The Curiosity of the Fox
by M aría Jesús González
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Kanye West
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Keep On Fighting: The Life and Civil
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Rights Legacy of Marian A. Spencer
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Richard III’s ‘Beloved Cousyn’: John
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Howard and the House of York
by John Ashdown-Hill
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Dave Grohl: Times Like His: Foo
Fighters, Nirvana and Other
Dirty Bertie: An English King
by M artin James
Made in France
by Stephen Clarke
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(Random House UK)
The Death of Marco Pantani: A
Kitty’s War: The Remarkable Wartime
Experiences of Kit McNaughton
by M att Rendell
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
by Janet Butler
(University of Queensland Press)
Young Lawrence: A Portrait of the
The Life of Schumann
Legend as a Young Man
by Anthony Sattin
by M ichael M usgrave
(John M urray Publishers)
(Cambridge University Press)
Henry Cowell: A Man Made of Music
Gudinski: The Godfather of
Australian Rock
by Joel Sachs
by Stuart Coupe
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(Oxford University Press)
(Hachette Australia)
Hazel Wolf: Fighting the
Diego Costa: The Art of War
by Fran Guillen
by Susan Starbuck
(Arena Sport)
(University of Washington Press)
Pixie Annat: Champion of Nurses
Glorious Misadventures: Nikolai
Rezanov and the Dream
by Colleen Ryan Clur
of a Russian America
(University of Queensland Press)
by Owen M atthews
William Cullen Bryant:
Author of America
Gustave Whitehead: First in Flight
by Gilbert H. M uller
by Susan Brinchman
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Sex, Lies and Handlebar Tape: The
Slats: The Legend and Life of Jimmy
Remarkable Life of Jacques Anquetil,
the First Five-Times Winner of the
Tour De France
by Rich Blake
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by Paul Howard
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Barbara Gittings: Gay Pioneer
Teacher of Civil War Generals: Major
by Tracy Baim
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General Charles Ferguson Smith,
Soldier and West Point Commandant
Crossing Swords: Mary Baker Eddy vs.
by Allen H. M esch
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Victoria Claflin Woodhull and the Battle
for the Soul of Marriage
by Cindy Peyser Safronoff
Surgeon in Blue: Jonathan Letterman,
(This One Thing)
the Civil War Doctor Who Pioneered
Battlefield Care
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Battlefield Care
by Scott M cGaugh
(Arcade Publishing)
Michelangelo: A Life in Six
by M iles J. Unger
(Simon & Schuster)
Amanuensis: A person whose employment is to write what another dictates, or to
copy what another has written: Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
The Life of Johnson is assuredly a great, a very great
work…. We are not sure that there is in the whole history
of the human intellect so strange a phenomenon as this
book. Many of the greatest men that ever lived have
written biography. Boswell was one of the smallest men
that ever lived, and he has beaten them all. He was, if we
are to give any credit to his own account or to the united
testimony of all who knew him, a man of the meanest and
feeblest intellect…. Beauclerk used his name as a
proverbial expression for a bore. He was the laughingopen in browser PRO version
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stock of the whole of that brilliant society which has
owed to him the greater part of its fame….such was this
man, and such he was content and proud to be. [more]
Thomas Macaulay, “Selection from Macaulay’s Essay on
Croker’s Edition of Boswell’s Life of Johnson”
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