Since his death in 2005, Richard Pryor has been named as the No. 1 comedian of all time by Comedy Central and continues to influence the American comedy scene to this day. In Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him, authors David and Joe Henry draw from a wide range of sources and personal experiences, including conversations with Pryor himself, in their exploration of the man behind the comedy legend.
While the Henry brothers' admiration for Pryor certainly shines through, Furious Cool does not shy away from the darker details of Pryor's rise to fame—his turbulent upbringing, emotional conflicts and drug abuse are all essential details in this story, making this a very honest and engrossing read.
Watch the great documentary-style trailer from Algonquin below:
Are you interested in reading Furious Cool? Any other biographies on your list?
Forty years after the murder of Sharon Tate, it would seem that everything about Charles Manson has already been reported. Jeff Guinn proves this all wrong in his new book, Manson, which uncovers never-before-heard stories and follows Manson's entire life, from childhood to adulthood.
With exclusive interviews and photographs, Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Mason goes beyond previous biographies to provide a well-written and complete study of a man who has perplexed many for decades.
Read our review here and watch the trailer below from Simon & Schuster to learn more about the research and writing of Manson.
What do you think, readers? Will you be reading Manson?
Journalist Masha Gessen is working on a book about the Tsarnaev brothers for Riverhead.
The book will explain who the brothers were, where they came from, what shaped them, and how they came to do what they appear to have done. From their displaced beginnings, as descendants of ethnic Chechens deported to Central Asia in the Stalin era, it will follow the brothers from strife-ridden Kyrgyzstan to war-torn Dagestan, and then, as new émigrés, to the looking-glass, utterly disorienting peace and order of Cambridge, Mass. Most crucially, it will reconstruct the struggle that ensued for each of the brothers, between assimilation and alienation, and their alleged metamorphosis into a new breed of home-grown terrorist, with their feet on American soil but their loyalties elsewhere, a split in identity that can be the breeding ground for a deadly sense of mission.
A publication date has yet to be set.
On Tuesday, my personal favorite book of 2011, Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie, came out in paperback. I love the regal red touch they added to the cover.
But wait—there's more! Modern Library has reissued new versions of Massie's previous books on the Romanovs: the book that started it all, Nicholas & Alexandra (1969); Pulitzer Prize-winner and my personal fave biography of all time, Peter the Great (1980); and The Romanovs: The Final Chapter (1995), written after the discovery of the royal bones in a mass grave in Siberia. (via)
These editions have beautiful matching covers with typography that looks vaguely Cyrillic without being obnoxious (doesn't the small "a" recall the Russian "?"?) and the double-headed eagle that was the royal family's symbol. Their appeal is almost enough to make me consider buying new versions, even though I got my well-loved copies signed when Massie visited Nashville last fall and therefore will never, ever consider giving them up.
Do reprints ever tempt you into buying multiple copies of old favorites? Is anyone with me in the RKM fan club? :)
As part of our Best Books of 2011 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list.
When it comes to reading about the lives of the Romanovs, Robert K. Massie is the ne plus ultra of biographers. Combining top-notch writing with a deep understanding of Russian culture and a knack for sussing out the most interesting tidbits of a life, Massie has created a compassionate and compelling portrait of one of history’s most maligned rulers.
Read our interview with Robert K. Massie about Catherine the Great. Check out our full list of the Top 50 Books of 2011.
Big news for book nerds: Robert A. Caro's fourth book* about Lyndon Johnson is coming out in May 2012, reports the AP.
The first three books were called The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power (1982); The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Means of Ascent (1990); and The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate (2002).
The fourth book will be called The Passage of Power. According to Knopf, who has published all of the LBJ books, this one will "focus on the years 1958 to 1964, from the time Johnson began seeking the presidency, through his years as vice president under John F. Kennedy, to becoming president after JFK's assassination." (Wow.)
So far, Caro's LBJ books total more than 2,000 pages and have sold more than 1.5 million copies. Master of the Senate won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003, as well as the 2002 National Book Award.
I haven't read Caro's biographies myself, but my boyfriend feels the same way about them as Trisha feels about Robert K. Massie. Let's just say that I've been treated to many a read-aloud from Caro's books through the years. My favorite tidbit? Our 36th president was apparently as vulgar as he was ambitious, and enjoyed giving dictation and conducting other business while sitting on the toilet.
Have you been holding out for this day since 2002, when the last LBJ installment came out? Are you looking forward to reading The Passage of Power?
*Edited to add: I originally reported that this will be the fourth and final book in Caro's series, but in fact there will be a fifth volume.
The title of his memoir was Dreams From My Father, but Barack Obama has never hidden the debt he owes to his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham (the quote in the title of this post is his). In the new book A Singular Woman, biographer Janny Scott tells the story of Dunham's life, from her early years in Kansas to her time in Indonesia and her untimely death at 52 in Hawaii.
"To describe Dunham as a white woman from Kansas is about as illuminating as describing her son as a politician who likes golf. . . . [t]he label obscures an extraordinary story," says Scott in her introduction. She spoke with Dunham's uncle and both of her children, as well as hundreds of other family members, to compile this exhaustive biography.
More books about mothers and motherhood can be found in our Mother's Day feature.
As a girl who got her first pair of glasses at the tender age of 7, I've been a fan of Dorothy Parker since my early teens. So it's a crime that I've only just now gotten around to reading Marion Meade's 1989 biography of the Twenties' pithiest critic, playwright, short story writer and poet. I've already written about my tendency to get caught up in biographies, and Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This? is utterly gripping.
Any reader of Parker's work would assume she was no ordinary woman, but the reader of Dorothy Parker discovers a true larger-than-life personality. She brought her dachshund Robinson with her to the speakeasies in the 1930s. A hopeless housekeeper, she preferred to live in hotels but seldom paid the bill (and you could forget about her picking up the tab in restaurants). Her cynical writings about romance hid a heart that weathered many bitter disappointments. Despite her success, Parker never felt that she had accomplished anything particularly notable in the literary world (composing "News Item," the two-line piece about girls who wear glasses that she is perhaps most remembered for today, was among her biggest regrets). She suffered terribly from writers' block.
Since Parker's circle of friends included most of the period's most illustrious wits and authors, the reader is also treated to mini-sketches of figures like F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald; Ernest Hemingway and various wives/girlfriends; Robert Benchley; and Norman Mailer (blacklisted by Parker after his dog attacked one of hers in the 1960s).
Rereading her work along with the biography—Parker was notorious for using events from her life and the lives of her friends as fodder for her writing—is pretty much compulsory. The black humor of poems like "Resumé" has more depth once you read about Parker's suicide attempts. And it's nice to have confirmation that the smart, wry, inner monologues in stories like "The Little Hours" and "The Waltz" are basically Dorothy Parker's brain processes transcribed.
Meade is sympathetic to Parker, but she doesn't shy away from showing the less attractive aspects of the author's personality. Like many geniuses, Parker was complicated and difficult. Ever the entertainer, she lost friendships because she spared few from her scathing wit; her codependency and alcoholism were both legendary. As a professional, she wasn't much better: She was fired from Vanity Fair; her contract to write a novel for Viking Press was the longest unfulfilled contract on the company's books (she never wrote a novel) and her days as a screenwriter were turbulent to say the least.
The current literary climate is quite different from Parker's time, and it's interesting to think about how she might have fared were she alive today. Though she is considered the epitome of the Roaring '20s—her spot-on dialogue in particular brought the period to life—the ideas and subjects explored in her work also read as extremely modern. One thing is for certain: She'd be killing it on Twitter.
Read any good biographies lately?
"Angry Young Women of the Jazz Age" from our June 2004 issue, featuring books about Parker and her time.
One of the books I'm most looking forward to this fall is—surprise!—not a novel. It's the latest biography of a Russian ruler from Robert K. Massie. His last few books have been on World War I, so it's exciting to see him returning to the subject that made him famous. Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (Random House) will be published on November 29.
Though Catherine's eventful life would be a gripping read in any case, I have high hopes for Massie's version: his 1981 book, Peter the Great won the Pulitzer and is pretty much the best bio ever. The first time I read it, while taking a European history class in college, I peppered my friends with tidbits about Peter for weeks. (Roach problem? Peter the Great was afraid of roaches! Your dorm room is too small? The cabin Peter built for himself was only about 700 square feet, and his bedroom was barely large enough for him to lie down! Hate your boyfriend's beard? Take a page from Peter and tell him if he enters your presence wearing one, you'll rip it out!)
By the time you finish, you feel as though you know this temperamental, 6-foot-7 red-headed Russian tsar personally—maybe that's why I hopped straight into his lap when we met inside the Peter & Paul Fortress almost two years ago.
Catherine the Great is possibly the only ruler whose life story can equal Peter's. We're lucky that Massie is planning on telling it! Apologies in advance to my colleagues and friends if my conversation this fall centers on a former German princess who was more beloved by the Russians than her native-born husband, whose assassination she may or may not have participated in . . .
Edited to add: I interviewed Robert K. Massie about this book—check it out here.
Most of our impressions of Cleopatra come from Shakespeare or Elizabeth Taylor—and, as author Stacy Schiff says in this book trailer, "all of those fabulous paintings with all those naked breasts."
But to understand the real Queen of Egypt—"the very commanding, very clever, very quick-witted ruler"—we have to get past all that:
In her new book, writes BookPage reviewer Anne Bartlett, "Cleopatra is not the sexually voracious, treacherous poisoner who seduced Julius Caesar and destroyed Mark Antony. Rather, she is an intelligent, able ruler who did nothing that male kings didn’t do routinely."
Cleopatra: A Life comes out November 1. Will you pick it up?
What book trailers have you watched recently?