Don’t miss these superbly written books that combine intriguing history with memorable real-life escapades.
For all its sexual perversity, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is at heart a master send-up of the particularities of mid-20th-century American culture. It is a measure of the genius of the non-native English-speaking Nabokov that he crafted the novel’s dazzling prose, of course, but it is just as impressive that this Russian-born writer captured the nuances of an alien culture with such precision and wit. In his new study, Nabokov in America: On the Road to Lolita, Robert Roper focuses on the émigré’s time in the United States and how it gave birth to his most famous book.
Christie Brinkley, Cheryl Tiegs, Jean Shrimpton, Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell: Name a famous model, and more likely than not, she was once represented by Eileen Ford, who started her eponymous modeling agency with husband Jerry in 1947 and built it into an international powerhouse.
Judy, a purebred English pointer born in Shanghai in 1936, was clearly one special dog: The only canine POW of World War II, she survived the grueling experience thanks to her friend and protector, Royal Air Force technician Frank Williams. When the transport ship on which the two were being moved came under attack, Frank pushed Judy through a porthole into the South China Sea to save her life. It was one of many close calls she would endure during more than three years in captivity.
Clearly it’s not just cats that have nine lives. In Robert Weintraub’s exceptionally well researched and engaging No Better Friend, we meet Judy, a purebred English pointer and hero of World War II.
Global and ravenous, modern capitalism has turned American citizens into mere consumers, people who are focused principally on their own gratification and essentially indifferent to the needs of the larger society. This, in a nutshell, is Paul Roberts’ thesis in The Impulse Society.
Journalists typically don’t like to write about themselves. It comes from years of writing in the third person and striving for objectivity. And with so many critics of the press, reporters assume no one likes them. Robert Timberg grapples with this issue in his moving memoir, Blue-Eyed Boy. After nearly 40 years as a journalist and three noteworthy books, perhaps he has a story to tell. But he also has self-doubts. Then he looks in the mirror and sees his disfigured face. It is an image he has been trying to forget since 1967, when as a young soldier in Vietnam, just days away from the end of his tour, he suffered third-degree burns from a land mine explosion. He finally decides to confront this defining moment of his life. “I want to remember how I decided not to die,” he writes. “To not let my future die.”
Robert L. O’Connell’s Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman includes a photograph of the celebrated Civil War general with his staff. While the other men strike classic poses and gaze into the middle distance, Sherman sits slightly slumped, legs crossed, jacket unbuttoned, glittering eyes focused directly on the camera. It fits with the popular notion of Sherman, the man who invented “modern war” and whose soldiers burned a path of destruction through the American South.
BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, May 2014
Robin Roberts took a leave of absence as co-host of “Good Morning America” in 2012 to face a life-threatening battle with a blood disorder, one that likely was caused by the chemotherapy she endured during a bout with breast cancer five years earlier. In Everybody’s Got Something, Roberts manages to “make her mess her message,” as her beloved mother always advised her to do.
One of those guys seemingly born to wear a tux, Robert Wagner proves an expert tour guide in the sometimes dishy, always perceptive You Must Remember This: Life and Style in Hollywood’s Golden Age.