Biography/History/Memoir | Barbara’s Nonfiction Picks, Oct. 2017


Aldous, Richard. Schlesinger: The Imperial Historian. Norton. Oct. 2017. 448p. ISBN 9780393244700. $29.95. BIOGRAPHY
Key adviser and so-called court historian to President John F. Kennedy, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. aldouswas a two-time Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner whose work exemplified the presidential biography. He’s getting a biography of his own from Bard historian Aldous (The Lion and the Unicorn), who draws on interviews, archives, and Schlesinger’s papers to give us his subject’s life and roiling times.

Blunk, Jonathan. James Wright: A Life in Poetry. Farrar. Oct. 2017. 528p. ISBN 9780374178598. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780374717377. BIOGRAPHY
To tell the story of influential American poet James Wright, a Pulitzer Prize winner whose boundary-breaking poetry limned loneliness and the environs of his Midwestern childhood, poet/critic Blunk plumbs not only the usual archival resources but Wright’s public readings, translations, and journals, and of course the poems themselves. An authorized biography that will introduce readers to one of the greats.

Isaacson, Walter. Leonardo da Vinci. S. & S. Oct. 2017. 576p. ISBN 9781501139154. $35; ebk. ISBN 9781501139178. CD: S. & S. Audio. BIOGRAPHY
What do Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Leonardo da Vinci have in common? Isaacson, a best-selling, always-in-the-book-pages biographer, once editor of Time and currently University Professor of History at Tulane. Here he takes on the master artist/inventor/genius-for-all-seasons by drawing on recent revelations about his life and work and studying his voluminous notebooks.

Rowland, Ingrid & Noah Charney. The Collector of Lives: Giorgio Vasari and the Invention of Art. Norton. Oct. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9780393241310. $29.95. BIOGRAPHY
Readers of the New York Review of Books will recognize Rowland as the author of penetrating essays that wake one up to the meaning of art, and she has written several well-received works on early modern Europe as well. This biography of a biographer celebrates Giorgio Vasari, a painter/architect in his own right whose Lives of the Artists established the Renaissance greats, argued successfully for painting as more than technique, and launched the very idea of writing about the creative act. Smart but not solemn; the Renaissance was a rowdy time.

Stern, Ellen. Hirschfeld: The Biography. Sarah Crichton: Farrar. Oct. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780374280574. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780374709556. BIOGRAPHY
Al Hirschfeld’s caricatures of key figures in politics, in film, and especially, gloriously, on Broadway graced the pages of the New York Times and other publications for more than 75 years. But there was more to his life than the pen, as shown by writer/editor Stern (Threads). He threw dinner parties twice a week, drove a car until age 98, visited smoky jazz joints with Eugene O’Neill, and lived in a pink New York townhouse where multitudinous famous friends like Gloria Vanderbilt and Elia Kazan visited. Even if you have never seen a Hirschfeld caricature—pretty much impossible—this book should be fun.


Ackroyd, Peter. Revolution: The Battle of the Boyne to the Battle of Waterloo. (History of England). Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2017. 416p. ISBN 9781250003645. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466880160. HISTORY
Busy, busy Ackroyd, the author of award-winning fiction, poetry, biography, and history, here ackroydgives us the fourth volume in a series unfolding the story of England. He opens with William III’s accession to the English throne with victory at the Battle of the Boyne and takes us through the founding of the Bank of England and the strengthening of both Parliament and the Church of England right up to Wellington’s victory at Waterloo and the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

Applebaum, Anne. Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine. Doubleday. Oct. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780385538855. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780385538862. Downloadable: Random Audio. HISTORY
Author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Gulag and the National Book Award finalist Iron Curtain, Applebaum reveals her purpose in her subtitle. The terrible famine that followed Stalin’s 1929 agricultural collectivization left at least five million people dead by 1933 and stands out among Stalin’s crimes against humanity. Applebaum aims to provide evidence that the famine was not the result of cruelly misguided policy but was deliberately engineered to punish rebellious Ukrainian peasants. Scholars have long suspected as much, but it’s still shocking to read.

Gordon, Linda. The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition. Liveright: Norton. Oct. 2017. 256p. ISBN 9781631493690. $27.95. HISTORY
Hooded Klansmen terrorized the South in the later 1800s, but as shown here by NYU historian Gordon, winner of two Bancroft Prizes and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize as well, the Ku Klux Klan that arose during the 1920s was a different breed altogether. Spreading north to states like Indiana, Michigan, and Oregon, this Klan pulled in the middle class with crusades against perceived urban vices like drinking and prostitution and the reputedly scary influx of Catholic and Jewish immigrants. With a seven-city tour to New York; Washington DC; Chicago; Portland, OR; Bloomington, IN; Ann Arbor, MI; and Madison, WI.

Schama, Simon. The Story of the Jews. Vol. 2: Belonging: 1492–1900. Ecco. Oct. 2017. 512p. ISBN 9780062339577. $39.99. HISTORY
In 2014, renowned historian Schama (Citizens; An Embarrassment of Riches) published the first of a three-volume history of the Jews that serves as a tie-in to a BBC/PBS series originally aired in March 2013. This follow-up opens with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, offering eerie resonance to the refugee crisis of our time, then moves on to the Enlightenment, emancipation by Napoleon in France, emigration to the New World, and the rise of sects like the Hasidism even as a new type of anti-Semitism emerges. With a 60,000-copy first printing.


Chast, Roz. Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York. Bloomsbury USA. Oct. 2017. 176p. ISBN 9781620403211. $28. GRAPHIC NOVEL/MEMOIR
If you know celebrated New Yorker cartoonist Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More chastPleasant?, the National Book Critics Circle Award winner and National Book Award finalist that dwelled on the New York Times best sellers list for more than 100 weeks, you’ll know how this “love letter” to New York will look and how it will make you laugh in that bittersweet way. Here, native Brooklynite Chast recounts her shock upon moving to the suburbs (you have to drive) and her children’s awe whenever they visit the city (where they see “those West Side Story things,” generally called fire escapes). Like a visit to the Big Apple, without the subway delays.

Guo, Xiaolu. Nine Continents: A Memoir In and Out of China. Grove. Oct. 2017. NAp. ISBN 9780802127136. $26. MEMOIR
Named one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists and author most recently of I Am China, an NPR Best Book also long-listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, Guo turns to nonfiction with a fierce, eye-opening portrait of coming of age in 1980s–90s China. Abandoned by her parents, raised by illiterate grandparents, and the victim of hunger and sexual abuse from an early age, Guo went from university in Beijing, where a wild art scene coexisted with strict censorship, to Europe. Rave British reviews generally compare this work to Jung Chang’s Wild Swans, though the Times notes, “Guo is a bolder, angrier and more ambitious figure than her forebears.”

Maupin, Armistead. Logical Family: A Memoir. Harper. Oct. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9780062391223. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062391230. MEMOIR
How did Lambda Pioneer Award winner Maupin get from strait-laced North Carolina to San Francisco, which he details so lovingly in his best-selling “Tales of the City” series? How did he find his “logical family,” those with whom he felt he belonged? Who helped him become the groundbreaking author that he is? Maupin here gives some heady answers. With a 75,000-copy first printing.

Tan, Amy. Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir. Ecco. Oct. 2017. 224p. ISBN 9780062319296. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062319302. lrg. prnt. MEMOIR
In her first nonfiction work, The Opposite of Fate, the fabled Joy Luck Club author discussed the memories that have shaped her fiction. That book was published over a decade ago, and her new book digs deeper, revealing greater details about a difficult childhood, her pained correspondence with her mother, her never-before-discussed relationship with her father, family secrets (e.g., why her parents lied about their education), and how all these experiences led inevitably to her becoming a writer. With a 200,000-copy first printing and a five-city tour.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.

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