Given the endless parade of biographies of Founding Fathers and Tudor monarchs, one might be forgiven for wondering whether there are any fresh candidates for a lengthy life study left. Canadian writer Rosemary Sullivan (Villa Air-Bel) proves the answer is yes with Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva, the masterfully told and meticulously researched story of a truly remarkable life.
Not long after his family moved from Memphis to rural Mississippi, young Harrison Scott Key began to notice how out of step he was with his surroundings. Willing to rise at 4 a.m. to accompany his father and brother on hunting trips, he nevertheless preferred to read, or bake, or simply not shoot things. With The World’s Largest Man for a parent, though, those options often took a backseat to a day spent in camouflage with gun at the ready.
From the time she was 5 years old, Deborah Voigt was singing with all her heart, joyously belting out hymns like "His Eye is on the Sparrow" in church. In this sanctuary of spiritual sweetness, she discovered her tremendous vocal gift, as well as her love of performing for an attentive crowd. By the time she was a teenager, music possessed Voigt; she was immersed in piano lessons, singing Broadway tunes and eventually discovering and tuning into the pop music of Bobby Sherman and Donny Osmond. It was the voice of Karen Carpenter, however, who helped her realize she could have a career in music, and the voice of God, who told her, "you are here to sing" one morning and propelled her on the path to becoming an acclaimed operatic soprano.
In 1971, 10-year-old Allen Kurzweil arrived at a Swiss boarding school called Aiglon. He was a Jewish boy from New York; his father had died, and his mother was “test-driving her third husband.” Kurzweil was happy to be back in the Alps—his Viennese father had brought him there for winter holidays and imbued him with a love of alpine hiking and skiing.
There are many reasons to love a good misery memoir: In my case, reading about other people’s dysfunctional childhoods offers a sense of community, a sisterhood of resilient Gen Xers who survived a 1970s childhood. Cea Sunrise Person’s engaging new memoir, North of Normal, evokes both the miserable excesses and occasional beauty of growing up in a counterculture family in the wilderness of the Me Decade.
John Quincy Adams was devoted to literature, and had he been able to pursue his ideal career, he wrote in 1817, “I should have made myself a great poet.” He did write poetry throughout his extraordinary life, but, from a very young age, his parents strongly encouraged him toward life as a leader in the new republic. His literary skills, however, were not wasted.
From the Duke boys’ car named the General Lee on the “Dukes of Hazzard” TV show to his appearance on a U.S. postage stamp, Robert E. Lee has come to “embody and glorify a defeated cause,” Michael Korda asserts in a monumental new biography, Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee.
When Warren G. Harding died in office in 1923, in the midst of scandalous behavior by some members of his administration, his relatively little-known vice president, Calvin Coolidge, assumed the presidency. With a strong commitment to service and the dignity of the office and a core belief that less government was better, he restored trust and confidence. Coolidge went on to win a landslide...
Reading Agatha Christie’s autobiography is like sitting down to tea with an especially chatty, good-natured auntie; one would never suspect her of slipping arsenic in your drink. The Queen of Crime, it turns out, was also a gifted and engaging memoirist, and readers who missed out on the 1977 publication of An Autobiography will be delighted with its reissue, timed to celebrate the 120th...
T.E. Lawrence had conflicting feelings about his own fame. In the 1930s, film producer Alexander Korda owned the movie rights to Lawrence’s popular book Revolt in the Desert, about the Arab fight for independence from Turkey during World War I. But “Lawrence of Arabia” persuaded Korda not to make the movie during his own lifetime; ultimately, Korda sold the rights to Sam...