Insider: Thanks for the Memories: Biographies and Memoirs

New and notable biographies and memoirs. Published every other month.

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by Eileen Myles

The author writes an account of her relationship with her pit bull Rosie. Starting from the emptiness following Rosie's death, the author launches a heartfelt and fabulist investigation into the true nature of the bond between pet and pet owner.

by Jed Perl

Alexander Calder is one of the most beloved and widely admired artists of the twentieth century. Anybody who has ever set foot in a museum knows him as the inventor of the mobile, America's unique contribution to modern art. But only now, forty years after the artist's death, is the full story of his life being told in this biography,which is based on unprecedented access to Calder's letters and papers as well as scores of interviews. Jed Perl shows us why Calder was--and remains--a barrier breaker, an avant-garde artist with mass appeal.

by Cherry Lewis

A colorful and absorbing portrait of James Parkinson -- after whom Parkinson's disease is named -- and the turbulent, intellectually vibrant world of Georgian London. Author Cherry Lewis examines Parkinson's three seemingly disparate passions: medicine, politics, and fossils. As a political radical, Parkinson was interrogated over a plot to kill King George III, putting himself in danger of being exiled. He helped Edward Jenner set up smallpox vaccination stations across London, saving countless lives. He also wrote the first scientific study of fossils in English, jump-starting a craze for fossil hunting in Britain. Parkinson was truly one of the intellectual pioneers of 'the age of wonder,' forgotten to history -- until now.

by William Taubman

A comprehensive biography of the final leader of the Soviet Union chronicles Gorbachev's rise from peasant to politician and describes how his liberal policies ended the Cold War and unintentionally provoked the breakup of the USSR.

by Adam Begley

The Great Nadar is a brilliant, lavishly illustrated biography of a larger-than-life figure, a visionary whose outsized talent and canny self-promotion put him way ahead of his time.

by Laura Dassow Walls

Drawing on Thoreau's copious writings, published and unpublished, Walls presents a Thoreau vigorously alive in all his quirks and contradictions: the young man shattered by the sudden death of his brother; the ambitious Harvard College student; the ecstatic visionary who closed Walden with an account of the regenerative power of the Cosmos. We meet the man whose belief in human freedom and the value of labor made him an uncompromising abolitionist; the solitary walker who found society in nature, but also found his own nature in the society of which he was a deeply interwoven part. And, running through it all, Thoreau the passionate naturalist, who, long before the age of environmentalism, saw tragedy for future generations in the human heedlessness around him.

by Benjamin Taylor

After John F. Kennedy's speech in front of the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth on November 22, 1963, he was greeted by, among others, an 11-year-old Benjamin Taylor and his mother waiting to shake his hand. Only a few hours later, Taylor's teacher called the class in from recess and, through tears, told them of the president's assassination. From there Taylor traces a path through the next twelve months, recalling the tumult as he saw everything he had once considered stable begin to grow more complex. Looking back on the love and tension within his family, the childhood friendships that lasted and those that didn't, his memories of summer camp and family trips, he reflects upon the outsized impact our larger American story had on his own.

by Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and bodies, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as "wildly undisciplined," Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she casts an insightful and critical eye on her childhood, teens, and twenties--including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life--and brings readers into the present and the realities, pains, and joys of her daily life.

by Armistead Maupin

n this long-awaited memoir, the beloved author of the bestselling Tales of the City series chronicles his odyssey from the old South to freewheeling San Francisco, and his evolution from curious youth to ground-breaking writer and gay rights pioneer.

by Eric Metaxas

On All Hallow's Eve in 1517, a young monk named Martin Luther posted a document he hoped would spark an academic debate, but that instead ignited a conflagration that would forever destroy the world he knew. Five hundred years after Luther's now famous Ninety-five Theses appeared, Eric Metaxas, acclaimed biographer of the bestselling Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery , paints a startling portrait of the wild figure whose adamantine faith cracked the edifice of Western Christendom and dragged medieval Europe into the future. Written in riveting prose and impeccably researched, Martin Luther tells the searing tale of a humble man who, by bringing ugly truths to the highest seats of power, caused the explosion whose sound is still ringing in our ears. Luther's monumental faith and courage gave birth to the ideals of liberty, equality, and individualism that today lie at the heart of all modern life.

by Elaine M. Hayes

Queen of Bebop brilliantly chronicles the life of jazz singer Sarah Vaughan, one of the most influential and innovative musicians of the twentieth century and a pioneer of women's and civil rights. Sarah Vaughan, a pivotal figure in the formation of bebop, influenced a broad array of singers who followed in her wake, yet the breadth and depth of her impact--not just as an artist, but also as an African-American woman--remain overlooked. Drawing from a wealth of sources as well as from exclusive interviews with Vaughan's friends and former colleagues, Queen of Bebop unravels the many myths and misunderstandings that have surrounded Vaughan while offering insights into this notoriously private woman, her creative process, and, ultimately, her genius. Hayes deftly traces the influence that Vaughan's singing had on the perception and appreciation of vocalists--and not to mention women--in jazz.

by Michelle Kuo

A memoir of race, inequality, and the power of literature told through the life-changing friendship between an idealistic young teacher and her gifted student, jailed for murder in the Mississippi Delta.

by Ariel Levy

In 2012, at age 38, when she left on a reporting trip to Mongolia, Ariel Levy thought she had figured it out: she was married, pregnant, successful on her own terms, financially secure. A month later, none of that was true. 'People have been telling me since I was a little girl that I was too fervent, too forceful, too much. I thought I had harnessed the power of my own strength and greed and love to a life that could contain it. But it has exploded.' In gorgeous, moving, humorous, sharp, and unforgettable prose, with pointillist portraits of a girl and then a young woman coming of age, Levy describes her own ill-fated assumptions: thinking that anything is possible, that the old rules do not apply; that marriage doesn't have to mean monogamy; that gender and sexuality are fluid; that aging doesn't have to mean infertility. This is a searing story, written with humor, brilliance, and insight, that is at once personal and universal--a story about realizing that life is so often beyond our control, and how we forge ahead despite that. In telling her own story, Levy has captured a portrait of our time, of the shifting forces in values, women and gender in American culture, of what has changed and what has remained.

by Thomas J. Brennan and Finbarr O'Reilly

A unique joint memoir by a U.S. Marine and a conflict photographer, whose unlikely friendship helped both heal their war-wounded bodies and souls War tears people apart, but it can also bring them together. Through the unpredictability of war and its aftermath, a decorated Marine sergeant and a world-trotting war photographer became friends, their bond forged as they patrolled together through the dusty alleyways of Helmand province and camped side by side in the desert. It deepened after Sergeant TJ Brennan was injured during a Taliban ambush, and both returned home. Brennan began to suffer from the effects of his injury and from the fallout of his tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. But war correspondents experience similar rates of post-traumatic stress as combat veterans. The causes can be different, but guilt plays a prominent role in both. For Brennan, it's the things he's done, or didn't do, that haunt him. Finbarr O'Reilly's conscience is nagged by the task of photographing people at their most vulnerable while being able to do little to help, and his survival guilt as colleagues die on the job. Their friendship offered them both a shot at redemption.

by Clare Mulley

Despite Hitler's dictates on women's place being in the home, two fiercely defiant female pilots were awarded the Iron Cross during the Second World War. Other than this unique distinction and a passion for flying that bordered on addiction, these women could not have been less alike. One was Aryan Nazi poster-girl Hanna Reitsch, an unsurpassed pilot, who is now best-known for being the last person to fly into Berlin-under-siege in April 1945, in order to beg Hitler to let her save him. He refused and killed himself two days later. The other pilot was her antithesis, a brilliant aeronautical engineer and test-pilot Melitta Schenk Grafin von Stauffenberg who was part Jewish. She used her value to the Luftwaffe as a means to protect her family. When her brother-in-law, Claus von Stauffenberg, planned the Valkyrie attack to assassinate the Fuehrer, she agreed to provide the transport. Both women repeatedly risked their lives to change the history of the Third Reich--one in support of and the other in opposition. Mulley shows, through dazzling film-like scenes suffused in glamour and danger, that their interwoven dramas are a powerful forgotten story of conformity and resistance and the very strength of women at the heart of the Second World War.

by Thomas S. Kidd

enowned as a printer, scientist, and diplomat, Benjamin Franklin also published more works on religious topics than any other eighteenth-century American layperson. Born to Boston Puritans, by his teenage years Franklin had abandoned the exclusive Christian faith of his family and embraced deism. But Franklin, as a man of faith, was far more complex than the "thorough deist" who emerges in his autobiography. As Thomas Kidd reveals, deist writers influenced Franklin's beliefs, to be sure, but devout Christians in his life--including George Whitefield, the era's greatest evangelical preacher; his parents; and his beloved sister Jane--kept him tethered to the Calvinist creed of his Puritan upbringing. Based on rigorous research into Franklin's voluminous correspondence, essays, and almanacs, this fresh assessment of a well-known figure unpacks the contradictions and conundrums faith presented in Franklin's life.

by Richard Ford

A stirring narrative of memory and parental love, Richard Ford tells of his mother, Edna, a feisty Catholic girl with a difficult past, and his father, Parker, a sweet-natured soft-spoken traveling salesman, both born at the turn of the twentieth century in rural Arkansas. For Ford, the questions of what his parents dreamed of and how they loved each other and him became a striking portrait of American life in the mid-century. With his celebrated candor, wit, and intelligence, the award-winning storyteller and creator of the iconic Frank Bascombe delivers an unforgettable exploration of memory, intimacy, and love.

by John Oates and Chris Epting

Daryl Hall and John Oates have over 20 albums together, more than 60 million records sold, and 29 Top 40 hits. They are the most successful pop duo in the world and members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And yet John's story has never been told. Relying on his many hand-written journals, he brings to light many fascinating stories spanning his entire life with a journalist's eye and a poet's heart.

by Manal Al-Sharif

A memoir by a Saudi Arabian woman who became the unexpected leader of a movement to support women's rights describes how fundamentalism influenced her radical religious beliefs until her education, a job, and legal contradictions changed her perspectives.

by Stephane Gerson

A haunting chronicle of what endures when the world we know is swept away. On a day like any other, on a rafting trip down Utah's Green River, Stephane Gerson's eight-year-old son, Owen, drowned in a spot known as Disaster Falls. That same night, as darkness fell, Stephane huddled in a tent with his wife, Alison, and their older son, Julian, trying to understand what seemed inconceivable. 'It's just the three of us now,' Alison said over the sounds of a light rain and, nearby, the rushing river. 'We cannot do it alone. We have to stick together.' Disaster Fallschronicles the aftermath of that day and their shared determination to stay true to Alison's resolution.

by Cree LeFavour

As a young college graduate a year into treatment with a psychiatrist, Cree LeFavour began to organize her days around the cruel, compulsive logic of self-harm: with each newly lit cigarette, the world would drop away as her focus narrowed on the blooming release of pleasure-pain as the burning tip was applied to an unblemished patch of skin. Her body was a canvas of cruelty; each scar a mark of pride and shame. In sharp and shocking language, Lights On, Rats Out brings us closely into these years. We see the world as Cree did--turned upside down, the richness of life muted and dulled, its pleasures perverted. The heady thrill of meeting with her psychiatrist, Dr. Adam N. Kohl--whose relationship with Cree is at once sustaining and paralyzing--comes to be the only bright spot in her days. Lights On, Rats Out describes a fiercely smart and independent woman's charged attachment to a mental health professional and the dangerous compulsion to keep him in her life at all costs.

by Claire Dederer

From the New York Times best-selling author of Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses , a ferocious, sexy, hilarious memoir about going off the rails at midlife and trying to reconcile the girl she was with the woman she has become.

by Tatiana de Rosnay

As a bilingual bestselling novelist with a mixed Franco-British bloodline and a host of eminent forebears, Tatiana de Rosnay is the perfect candidate to write a biography of Daphne du Maurier. As an eleven-year-old de Rosnay read and reread Rebecca, becoming a lifelong devotee of Du Maurier's fiction. Now de Rosnay pays homage to the writer who influenced her so deeply, following Du Maurier from a shy seven-year-old, a rebellious sixteen-year-old, a twenty-something newlywed, and finally acantankerous old lady. With a rhythm and intimacy to its prose characteristic of all de Rosnay's works, Manderley Forever is a vividly compelling portrait and celebration of an intriguing, hugely popular and (at the time) critically underrated writer.

by Heinz Schilling and Rona Johnston Gordon

No other German has shaped the history of early-modern Europe more than Martin Luther.In this comprehensive and balanced biography we see Luther as a rebel, but not as a lone hero; as a soldier in a mighty struggle for the universal reform of Christianity and its role in the world. The foundation of Protestantism changed the religious landscape of Europe, and subsequently the world,but the author chooses to show not simply as a reformer, but as an individual.In his study of the Wittenberg monk, Heinz Schilling - one of Germany's leading social and political historians - gives the reader a rounded view of a difficult, contradictory character, who changed the world by virtue of his immense will.

by Kay Redfield Jamison

The best-selling author of An Unquiet Mind now gives us a groundbreaking life of one of the major American poets of the twentieth century that is at the same time a fascinating study of the relationship between manic-depressive (bipolar) illness, creative genius, and character. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry, Robert Lowell (1917-1977) put his manic-depressive illness into the public domain. Now Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison brings her expertise to bear on his story, illuminating the relationship between bipolar illness and creativity, and examining how Lowell's illness and the treatment he received came to bear on his work. His New England roots, early breakdowns, marriages to three eminent writers, friendships with other poets, vivid presence as a teacher and writer refusing to give up in the face of mental illness.

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