What better way to celebrate America's 236th Independence Day than by reading? These five books provide a fascinating look at our Founding Fathers and the birth of our country. Do you have any favorite patriotic reads? Let us know in the comments.
Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton is a "balanced portrait of the man and his many contradictions," writes BookPage reviewer Roger Bishop. In the book, National Book Award-winner Ron Chernow contends that Hamilton was "the foremost political figure in American history who never attained the presidency, yet he probably had a deeper and more lasting impact than many who did." Read more>>
Benjamin Franklin's Almanac by Candace Fleming was technically written for young adults, although readers of all ages will find value in this biography organized as a "scrapbook of fascinating details," writes reviewer Alice Cary. In the book, Fleming explains why she organized the biography as she did, instead of chronologically: "Innovative, vulgar, sometimes heroic, sometimes flawed, the incredibly complex Ben Franklin I discovered beguiled me, and I was no longer satisfied to tell his story in the ordinary way." Read more>>
Did you know that James Monroe served in more public positions that anyone else in U.S. history? Learn details like this and much, much more in Harlow Unger's must-read biography, The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness. Roger Bishop contends that it is "consistently illuminating and a fine introduction to its subject."
Do you like a love story plotline in with your history lesson? We recommend First Family by Joesph J. Ellis, an outstanding biography that describes the relationship between Abigail and John Adams, as well as provides an exploration of early American history. Much of the story is based on the 1,200 remaining letters from the Adams' remarkable correspondence.
Washington: A Life, the winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in Biography, is one of our favorite biographies from recent years. Reviewer Roger Bishop called it "magisterial," "richly detailed" and "always compelling." Want to know more about the "indispensable Founding Father" than his own family and friends did during his lifetime? Read this wonderful book. Read more>>
Happy reading, and Happy Fourth of July!
Just days after winning the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography for his book Washington: A Life (covered in BookPage's October '10 issue), Ron Chernow has signed a deal to write a "comprehensive biography" of Ulysses S. Grant. I thought I'd announce this news today—the deal was published on Monday—because April 27 is Grant's birthday! He would have been 189.
Chernow has previously written about the history of J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller and Alexander Hamilton. Here at BookPage, we love Chernow's biographies because of their incredible detail, fantastic writing and compelling narratives.
On a personal note, I'm looking forward to this biography because I've been immersed in the world of the Civil War thanks to Robert Hicks' The Widow of the South, which I've finally gotten around to reading.
As this year is the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, I have a feeling there will be keen interest in the life of military generals from that period—not that history buffs aren't always interested in the CW. Also, Reconstruction is a fascinating time in American history, but one that I could definitely learn more about. (For some reason those years felt like a blur in my American History courses—anyone else have that feeling?)
Happy Presidents' Day! There are more books about U.S. presidents than I could possibly describe here, but below I've singled out five that are especially good. Since the third Monday of February is a Federal Holiday in honor of George Washington's birthday, I thought it only appropriate to start with two bios of our first president:
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Ron Chernow's Washington: A Life was declared "magisterial" in the October issue of BookPage; "Chernow’s latest accomplishment is historical biography at its best," wrote reviewer Roger Bishop. This is a "magnificently written, richly detailed and always compelling" story of the indispensable Founding Father's life.
Read more in BookPage.
Back in 2004, Alden Mudge interviewed Joseph J. Ellis about His Excellency: George Washington, a page-turner of a bio—Mudge praises Ellis's ability to dramatize historical events. The interview alone is worth a read for Ellis's comments on writing about an "unapproachable" American icon.
Read more in BookPage.
For a fascinating account of our second president's life, read David McCullough's Pulitzer Prize-winning John Adams. In this book, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize (twice each) winner McCullough interweaves stories of Adams's private and public lives. BookPage reviewer Roger Bishop calls the volume "exceptional."
Read more in BookPage.
My history-loving boyfriend talks about Robert Caro's Lyndon Johnson biographies with the same passion that I might use to describe my favorite novel (he'd also tell you they're funnier than David Sedaris). So far, the bios include: The Path to Power, Means of Ascent and Master of the Senate. In January, the New York Times reported that Caro is "deep into the fourth and final installment" of his opus—so there's still time for you to catch up! BookPage reviewed Master of the Senate in 2002.
Read more in BookPage.
John Bemelmans Marciano is Madeline creator Ludwig Bemelmans' grandson—and he is enthusiastically carrying on the family tradition. His latest book, Madeline at the White House, takes Madeline and the gang to Washington, D.C. (Yeah, yeah, I know this isn't a presidential bio, but I wanted to throw in a fun pick for the youngest readers!) Marciano filled out a hand-illustrated Q&A for our February issue.
Read more in BookPage.
Which president is of particular interest to you? What is your favorite presidential bio?
Salon reporter Rebecca Traister's Big Girls Don't Cry (September, Free Press) answers the question: Was the 2008 election good for women?
You may know the ending to John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime (out in paperback last week from Harper Perennial)—but it still manages to be a page-turner.
Of course, President George W. Bush's memoir, Decision Points (Crown), comes out next week. The book may be embargoed, but the Drudge Report has already posted leaked passages (via GalleyCat).
Want to go way back in our political history? Read Ron Chernow's Washington: A Life (October, Penguin Press). BookPage reviewer Roger Bishop writes that it's "historical biography at its best."
When we posted about Ron Chernow's biography of George Washington back in April, we wondered if there is really more to say about our first president, especially after Joseph J. Ellis' 2004 biography, His Excellency: George Washington.
Washington: A Life comes out today, and BookPage reviewer Roger Bishop puts our doubts to rest, writing that the biography is "magnificently written, richly detailed and always compelling."
If you're a history buff, how's this for a recommendation?—"We now know more about [Washington] than his family, friends and other contemporaries did."
For a taste of the book, watch Chernow (winner of the National Book Award in 1990) give some biographical details on Washington:
Will you check out Washington: A Life? What book trailers have you watched recently?
Working at BookPage has a lot of perks, but one of the best, in my opinion, is getting to look at and read great new books before they're even in the stores. This fall will see the publication of plenty of nonfiction sure-to-be-bestsellers. Here are some of the season's highlights:
Laura Hillenbrand, author of the blockbuster hit Seabiscuit, returns on November 16 with a story of adventure and survival during World War II. Unbroken follows young bombardier Louis Zamperini through his incredible ordeal after his plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Hillenbrand's long-awaited follow-up to Seabiscuit will not disappoint her legions of fans.
Several excellent new biographies will hit shelves this fall, including Ron Chernow's Washington: A Life (Oct. 5); Jane Leavy's The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood (Oct. 12); Michael Korda's Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia (Nov. 16); and the Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1, which goes on sale Nov. 15. Twain left instructions that his memoirs should remain unpublished for 100 years after his death, so that he could feel free to speak his mind frankly. Who knows what revelations those pages might contain?
In other nonfiction news, Bill Bryson is back this season with At Home: A Short History of Private Life (Oct. 5), in which Bryson narrows his focus from A Short History of Nearly Everything to the confines of his own house, while Simon Winchester's Atlantic (Nov. 2) calls itself a "biography" of the Atlantic Ocean, weaving in both historical facts and personal details from Winchester's own experiences at sea. And on Oct. 26, Oliver Sacks (Musicophilia) treads new ground with The Mind's Eye, a collection of essays on the interplay between vision and recognition, reading and communication, and other brainteasers, including Sacks' reflections on his own experience with eye cancer.
And finally, for those looking for a lighter read, Nora Ephron once more taps into the thoughts and concerns of "women of a certain age" with I Remember Nothing (Nov. 9), a follow-up to the major bestseller I Feel Bad About My Neck, while Vicki Myron returns to the subject of her beloved "small-town library cat" with Dewey's Nine Lives (Oct. 12), a collection of stories about and inspired by Dewey.
With so many excellent books to choose from, which one will you read first?
If you had to guess which president was being described in those words . . . would you guess George Washington?
Maybe not, but the real man, not the legend, is who Ron Chernow is said to describe in Washington, out on October 5. Though this is also the angle Joseph Ellis took in 2004's His Excellency, Penguin representatives say that Washington is both a "landmark biography" and a "fabulous read." Since, like Ellis, Chernow is one of America's foremost biographers—he won the National Book Award in 1990 for The House of Morgan, his first book—this is likely. But given the high, high volume of "Founding Fathers" biographies published in the last few years, is there anything new to say about Washington? We'll find out when the galleys arrive . . .