Archive for the ‘Biography’ Category

Remembering Maya Angelou

Monday, September 26th, 2016

Coming to theaters Oct. 14, is a documentary about Maya Angelou, titled And Still I Rise.

Deadline reports, “From her upbringing in the Depression-era South to her swinging soirees with Malcolm X in Ghana to her inaugural speech for President Bill Clinton, we are given special access to interviews with Dr. Angelou whose indelible charm and quick wit make it easy to love her.”

The trailer was released last week:

Comic-Con: SNOWDEN

Monday, July 25th, 2016

There were plenty of famous characters at Comic-Con this weekend, from Gal Gadot the latest actress to play Wonder Woman, to various cosplay incarnations. But a handful of people got to pose questions, via satellite, to the real Edward Snowden, at the end of a private screening of Oliver Stone’s upcoming movie, Snowden. In the movie, he is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. According to reports, the actor bears an uncanny resemblance in voice and mannerisms to the real person he portrays.

Stone, who has never appeared at Comic-Con before, injected a rare note of seriousness into the weekend, speaking during a separate Snowden panel about privacy. He also addressed the hot new game Pokemon Go, warning that it represents a “new level if invasion” into privacy, and that it is part of “survellience capitalism” that will lead totalitarianism (that discussion comes at the end of the panel, beginning at time stamp 41:03 in the video below).

A new trailer for the movie was also released.

9781101972250_8a27aStone’s movie is partially based on Luke Harding’s The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man, to be released as a movie tie-in next month (PRH/Vintage).

Another film about Snowden, titled Citizenfour, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2015.

TARZAN And George?

Friday, July 1st, 2016

MV5BMzY3OTI0OTcyMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjkxNTAwOTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_Amid mixed to downright terrible reviews, and questions about whether it’s possible to make a non-racist version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan, the latest incarnation, The Legend of Tarzan is bringing new attention to a fascinating real-life character, 19th C black human rights advocate, George Washington Williams. Played by Samuel L. Jackson in the movie, which opens on Friday, he travels with Tarzan to Africa.

Williams actually did travel to the Congo in 1890 (but did not encounter the fictional Tarzan). Appalled by what he saw there, he tried to shame King Leopold of Belgium in a long open letter about the horrors the Congolese were suffering under Belgian rule (more on Williams from MoviePilot).

Both Jackson and director David Yates tell Variety that Williams deserves a film of his own. Unfortunately, however, this movie may not make the best case for it. The LA Times writes, “Part comic relief, part valued ally, Williams is an altogether puzzling script component, and Jackson’s habit of sounding like he just stepped out of Pulp Fiction does not help things.”

For more about Williams and this period, two backlist titles are available:

GWW  9780618001903

George Washington Williams: A Biography, written by the Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient John Hope Franklin (Duke UP, 1998)

King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Adam Hochschild (HMH/Mariner; OverDrive Sample)

An award-winning best seller, it was the basis for a 2006 documentary.

Costco Joins the HAMILTON Party

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

9781594200090_4ee8fThe newest pick from Costco book buyer Pennie Clark Ianniciello is far from new, but it is certainly all the rage: Ron Chernow’s biography, Alexander Hamilton (PRH/Penguin, 2004).

In making her choice Ianniciello says:

“From mentions on podcasts to small talk at the salon, that name is on many people’s lips. So, I thought I’d go back to the book responsible for all the hubbub … What I love most about the rekindled popularity of this book is that its brains and newly found street cred make it a book the whole family can enjoy.”

In a feature  in the Costco Connection, Chernow recounts his meeting with the Broadway sensation’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, saying he was “flabbergasted” when Miranda told him “that as he was reading my book, ‘hip-hop songs started rising off the page.’ ”

Chernow also describes what it is like to live in the wake of the Broadway hit: “Every time I see the show and these enormous crowds, I pinch myself with wonder that I somehow triggered off this Hamilton mania.”

The award-winning historian (who trained as an English major) has been experiencing that wonder often, as we wrote earlier, he told the The Wall Street Journal “I never dreamed that I would be autographing Playbills … [this year has been] a biographer’s wish-fulfillment fantasy.”

9780743288781_d9ab0Also featured this month is Annie Proulx’s Barkskins (S&S/Scribner, S&S Audio), which Costco calls “her magnum opus, a literary force majeure.”

The glowing review tracks the long germination of the novel, begun 30 years ago and mulled over and researched for decades. The writing of it, according to The Wall Street Journal, took close to a decade as well. The end result is, says the Costco reviewer,a “novel that howls, grieves, lilts and erupts with urgency, authority and something that looks a lot like hope.”

It is also the pick of several summer reading lists, catching the eye of Amazon’s Editors, B&N, BuzzfeedSt. Louis Post-Dispatch, and USA Today. Canadian librarians agree, selecting it as the #1 title in their June Loan Stars picks.

Queen of Katwe, Trailer

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

“Disney has its sights set on Oscar,” writes Vanity Fair about Queen of Katwe, set for release on Sept. 23.

Starring Lupita Wyong’o, who won an Oscar for 12 Years a Slave, it is directed by Mira Nair and is based on the book by former senior editor for Sports Illustrated, Tim Crothers,  The Queen Of Katwe: A Story Of Life, Chess, And One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream Of Becoming A Grandmaster, (S&S/Scribner, 2012).

The first trailer was released last week.


The Queen of Katwe: One Girl’s Triumphant Path to Becoming a Chess Champion, Tim Crothers. 9/9/16
Trade pbk, (S&S/Scribner)
Mass Market, (S&S/Pocket Books)
Audio CD, (S&S Audio)


Presidential Memories

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

9781476794136_20f2fFollowing a feature on the Today show, Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford, Clint Hill with Lisa McCubbin (S&S/Gallery Books; S&S Audio; OverDrive Sample) has risen on Amazon sales rankings to #16.

The memoir, written by the former secret service agent who was assigned to Mrs. Kennedy and threw his body across the President’s on the day of the assassination, offers anecdotes and reflections on his time working with five Presidents and the historical and personal moments he witnessed.

People has been running anecdotes from the book online. One focuses on Elvis’s meeting with Nixon, another on the effect of the death of the Kennedys’ infant son on JFK, and a final feature on JFK’s efforts to protect Jackie’s public image.

Hill’s previous two books were NYT best sellers. Five Days in November spent two weeks on the Hardcover Nonfiction in 2013, debuting at #3. Mrs. Kennedy and Me, 2012, was on for six weeks, hitting a high of #2.

Queen of Katwe Gets a Release Date

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

Jacket.aspxWith its eye on awards season, Disney has set a the release dates for Queen of Katwe, beginning with a limited release on Sept. 23, 2016, expanding to more theaters the next week. IndieWire comments that the “awards-friendly release date suggests that the studio is confident that the Uganda-set drama has strong potential to make its presence felt come awards season.”  Perhaps next year, the Academy Awards will be a bit more diverse.

The film is based on Tim Crothers’s book, The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster (S&S/Scribner, 2012).

The book itself was based on Crothers’s ESPN The Magazine article which tells the true-life story of Phiona Mutesi who grew up in the slums of Kampala, Uganda to became a chess champion.

The film stars Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), David Oyelowo (Selma), and newcomer Madina Nalwanga. Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) directs.

Tie-ins (in trade, mass market, and audio) are forthcoming from S&S (currently planned for September). The regular paperback edition is still in print (Scribner, 2013, ISBN 9781451657821).

A trailer has not yet been released, but several documentary shorts have been made about Mutesi. Below is an example:

GENIUS, The Trailer

Monday, March 21st, 2016

Max PerkinsThe movie based on A. Scott Berg’s National Book Award-winning bio,  Max Perkins: Editor Of Genius, (Dutton, 1978; available in trade pbk. from PRH Berkley) with the title pared down to simply Genius, is set to open on June 10th.

The trailer just debuted online, to an apt comment by the Hollywood trade Deadline, “A movie about the work of a book editor seems on paper as promising as a movie about the drudgery of investigative reporting — until a Spotlight or an All The President’s Men comes along to challenge our preconceptions.”

It boasts a marquee cast, including Colin Firth as Perkins, Jude Law as writer Thomas Wolfe, Nicole Kidman as Wolfe’s lover Aline Bernstein and Laura Linney as Perkins’ wife. Other famous clients are Dominic West as Ernest Hemingway and Guy Pearce as F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Are YOU Ready To See Your
Fixer Upper?

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

9780718079185_a0cf7The hosts of HTGV’s popular design show Fixer Upper, Chip and Joanna Gaines, have teamed up with New York Times bestselling collaborator Mark Dagostino on a memoir.

The Magnolia Story (Thomas Nelson) is due out on Oct. 18 (Magnolia is the name of their various businesses).

People offered a “first look” at the cover and reports the memoir starts long before the couple became famous for their 360-degree restorations of houses in need of repair.

Casual viewers of Fixer Upper may be surprised that the book is published by Christian publisher Thomas Nelson, not known for design books. Although they don’t talk about it on the show, the Gaines have a strong Christian faith (the Billy Graham web site published a story last fall titled, “How God Used Billy Graham to Influence Fixer Upper Family“) and The Magnolia Story is primarily a memoir.

Joanna Gaines is also working on a design book, as noted in a press release, to be published by Thomas Nelson Gift Books in early 2017.

Expect an extensive media campaign for the memoir closer to pub. date.

HAMILTON Goes Off Broadway

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016

Screen-Shot-2015-12-31-at-10.04.01-AMThe hip hop musical Hamilton is sweeping the box office and every award it encounters. Yesterday, the Broadway sensation headed off-Broadway, all the way to the White House.

It was actually a return performance. Seven years ago, rapper and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda gave the president a taste of a “concept album based on the life of I someone I think embodies hip hop: Treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton.” Yesterday, the full cast performed songs from the resulting musical.

In this first clip, the President talks about the musical and then the cast performs the opening number, “Alexander Hamilton.”

Here the cast performs “My Shot.”

There was a even a Rose Garden rap session, which, fulfilling POTUS’s prediction, immediately went viral.

Miranda’s preview of the work in progress seven years ago brought the President to his feet.

The Ten-Dollar Founding Father

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

One of the year’s most unlikely success stories is that of a Broadway musical about one of the Founding Fathers, in rap.

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 10.04.01 AMHamilton: An American Musical hit Broadway in August following its Off-Broadway success. So hot are tickets that it’s even getting coverage in the UK, where it has yet to be staged, The Telegraph reports,

“It’s being billed as a game-changer in Broadway history, the first musical since Rent to bring the kind of popular music people are actually listening to in clubs, on the radio, at home, to the Broadway stage.”

The show album is also breaking records. Playbill reports that it has gone “where no other Broadway score has gone before: #1 on the Billboard chart of rap albums.” This month, it was announced as one of the nominees for a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album.

As Hamilton the man is getting more attention, so is Ron Chernow, the historian and biographer who wrote the National Book Award winning Alexander Hamilton (Penguin, 2004), which is central to the show’s creation. Rapper Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the Broadway musical In the Heights, read it on vacation and instantly saw its potential as a musical. It was a six-year trip to realization with Chernow serving as the show’s historical adviser.

The Wall Street Journal features the author in a Christmas Day article on the show and its effect on the his celebrity. Says Chernow, “I never dreamed that I would be autographing Playbills … [this year has been] a biographer’s wish-fulfillment fantasy” adding, “With any piece of writing, you’re hoping that it will change something, and it seldom does. Between the book and the show, we really changed the perception of Alexander Hamilton.”

As part of a Time special edition, Alexander Hamilton: A Founding Father’s Visionary Genius—and His Tragic Fate, Chernow explains that Hamilton’s reputation is seeing a revival partly because,

“America has grown into the contours of the country of [Hamilton’s] imagination … We have caught up to his prophetic vision.”

Readers are also catching up. Chernow’s biography of Hamilton has been on the NYT Paperback Nonfiction list for the last six weeks, reaching a high of #2 and holds are growing in many libraries we checked.

9781594200090_4ee8fWhile not actually a tie-in, the trade paperback edition now features the logo from the show on the cover.

The Wall Street Journal posted a video with clips from the show.

Before it moved to Broadway, CBS Sunday Morning featured a story on Hamilton, Chernow, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

More is coming, including road show versions, a likely Tony Award, and a book about the musical.

9781455539741_0d3dcHamilton: The RevolutionLin-Manuel Miranda with Jeremy McCarter, (Hachette/Grand Central Publishing; Hachette Audio and Blackstone Audio). Playbill, quoting a release, reports,

“The book will be designed to look like an object from Hamilton’s era and will include photos and artifacts in addition to interviews, essays and sidebars to accompany the central narrative of Hamilton’s life story and how and why Miranda crafted that life into the stunning stage work over the course of six years.”

Chernow told The Wall Street Journal he is currently working on a biography of Ulysses S. Grant, which the paper says, he is writing “faster than usual, energized by the impact of 2015.”

On the Dowager

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

9781250081483_24d0dJust in time for Sunday’s debut of the final season of Downton Abbey in the U.S., a new biography of one of the show’s favorite stars, Maggie Smith by Michael Coveney (Macmillan/St. Martin’s; Macmillan Audio) is published today.

Like it’s subject, says the Washington Post review, it reveals little about her personal life, but much about her acting career, pointing readers to some of her lesser-known, but “superb” films like A Private Function (1984), the “heartbreaking” The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1987) and her monologue, Bed Among the Lentils for the 1988 BBC TV series Talking Heads. Quite different from her role on Downton Abbey, it shares its dry humor.


Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

9781400067657_373ddAn embargo prevented pre-pub reviews for Jon Meacham’s newest Presidential biography, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush (Random House; BOT; OverDrive Sample).The media managed to get their hands on the book, however, and the story that the elder President Bush called Dick Cheney an “iron-ass” became the talking point of last week’s 24-hour news shows. As a result, holds are generally topping 5:1 in places we checked, with local spikes running much higher.

Now that the book has been released, reviews have begun to appear. The newest daily NYT reviewer, Jennifer Senior, calls the biography “absorbing” and “artful” and says that Meacham is “clearly possessed of the same judiciousness and diplomatic skills as his subject.”

But Senior pulls no punches when Meacham “turns a blind eye to unflattering events,” offering a number of examples including the following about  the fallout after Katrina:

“Forget whether this blistering attack was justified. What’s interesting here is the incident Mr. Meacham does not mention: that the former first lady Barbara Bush, after touring the Houston Astrodome and seeing thousands of evacuees living in squalor, told NPR, “So many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them.” How could he have left that out?”

Jim Kelly reviews the book for the NYT’s Sunday Book Review saying:

“Meacham’s access and lack of ideological fervor allow him to paint Bush the man in unusually subtle colors … Destiny and Power reflects the qualities of both subject and biographer: judicious, balanced, deliberative, with a deep appreciation of history and the personalities who shape it. If Meacham is sometimes polite to a fault, Destiny and Power does not suffer for it. His kinder, gentler approach succeeds in making George H. W. Bush a more sympathetic — and more complex — figure.”

We highlighted the title in Books to Know and Recommend the week of Nov. 9.

Holds Alert: RBG on the Rise

Monday, November 16th, 2015

A book with an unlikely beginning, as a Tumbler blog about an unlikely subject, a Supreme Court Justice, is now an unlikely hit.

9780062415837_589bf Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik (Harper/Dey Street Books; OverDrive Sample), is on the rise, reaching #52 on the Amazon rankings.

Holds are well beyond a 3:1 ratio in many libraries we checked as well, with at least one spiking over 7:1.

A collection of images of Ginsberg, The New York Times describes it as “cheery curio, as if a scrapbook and the Talmud decided to have a baby,” but one with a serious start and a serious heart:

Notorious RBG began in 2013 as a saucy Tumblr blog by Shana Knizhnik, then a law student, shortly after the Supreme Court decided Shelby County v. Holder, which discarded a crucial provision of the Voting Rights Act. (For the hip-hop unlettered, Notorious RBG is a play on the Notorious B.I.G., the rapper who was murdered in 1997.) Justice Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench, which in the genteel, marbled universe of the Supreme Court, is most unusual — the equivalent of shaming your spouse in front of dinner guests.”

Coverage of the title was widespread upon release and is still going strong. Sunday’s NYT featured Ginsburg and Gloria Steinem in an interview about women’s rights, starting the conversation with the book (curiouslyhe piece leads the “Fashion & Style” section) and New York Magazine listed it as one of the “9 Books We’re Reading Right Now.”

Nancy Pearl on Graphic Bios

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 12.32.35 PMOn her weekly radio appearance on Seattle’s NPR affiliate KUOW, librarian Nancy Pearl talks about Jessie Hartland’s Steve Jobs: Insanely Great (RH/Schwartz & Wade).

It is a graphic biography Nancy thinks would be perfect for middle and high school students, making it an alternative tie-in to the upcoming biopic based on Walter Isaacson’s 600+ page tome about the computer legend.

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 12.33.48 PMFilled with black, white, and gray free-flowing images and text that often breaks out of speech bubbles, the nonfiction work details Jobs’s achievements and personality. Hartland’s website gives a quick glimpse of her style.

When asked by host Marcie Sillman, Nancy said that she thought Jobs would adore it, as she did, putting her on the hunt for Harland’s previous graphic biography, Bon Appétit!: The Delicious Life of Julia Child (RH/Schwartz & Wade, 2012).