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.
It’s a sad truth about the history of Hollywood that many once-legendary Golden Age names and faces have lost their luster, their stardom dimming over time. Not so with “The Duke,” who, 35 years after his death, remains a towering figure. John Wayne: The Life and the Legend, by noted Hollywood biographer Scott Eyman, tells us why.
There are certain years that trigger immediate associations in any baseball fan’s mind. 1903: the first World Series. 1927: Murderer’s Row. 1961: Mantle and Maris. 1994: the players’ strike. Whether 2014 will produce such a season is yet to be written, but a tremendous crop of baseball books guarantees this year to be one for the publishing annals.
Mohandas K. Gandhi was born and raised in India and is best known for his work there as a world-renowned social reformer, political thinker, religious pluralist and prophet. If his life had followed the traditional path for someone of his family and caste, he would have remained in India, served in a prominent position and been unknown to most of the world. But as the noted scholar Ramachandra Guha demonstrates in his eminently readable and exhaustively researched Gandhi Before India, the 20 years that Gandhi spent in South Africa before his return to his home country in 1914 were fundamental to his success.
Was John Updike one of America’s great writers or merely, as Harold Bloom famously said, “a minor novelist with a major style”? In Updike, his meticulously detailed and highly readable new biography—the first full-fledged life of the writer, who died in 2009—Adam Begley makes a convincing case for the former view while providing a rich account of the events that shaped Updike’s fiction.
Twenty years after he recorded “The Letter” at the age of 16—a song that became a mega-hit for the Memphis-based Box Tops—Alex Chilton mused: “I guess my life has been a series of flukes in the record business. The first thing I ever did was the biggest record I’ll ever have." Alex Chilton’s powerful musical legacy shaped bands as diverse as R.E.M. and the dB’s, yet his remarkable life story has never been the subject of a biography—until now. In A Man Called Destruction, music critic Holly George-Warren (The Road to Woodstock) vividly narrates Chilton’s rise to early fame.
On a humid night in Greenwood, Mississippi, on June 16, 1966, 24-year-old Stokely Carmichael exhorted his audience of 600 to start proclaiming “Black Power.”
Wild, irregular and free, Henry Thoreau cut a distinctive figure in 19th-century Concord, Massachusetts, whether carving “dithyrambic dances” on ice skates with Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne or impressing Ralph Waldo Emerson with his “comic simplicity.” More at home in the woods than in society, Thoreau began the first volume of his celebrated journals with a simple word that also functioned as his motto: solitude.
African Americans have been struggling for independence, equality and respect from the moment they were brought to the New World in chains. As that struggle continues today, it’s instructive to look back on our turbulent history to learn from the past and hopefully improve on the future. The five books featured here can help us to do just that, examining historical themes that serve as milestones on the journey of progress.
The 1920s were a decade of profound social change, nowhere more visible than in the rise of the so-called flapper. These rebellious young women shingled their hair and shortened their skirts, used makeup and drugs and stayed out dancing until dawn. They chose to live experimental, emotional lives—with mixed results—as Judith Mackrell reveals in her fascinating and compulsively...