Thursday, April 24, 2014

Theme: Biography

  • I just finished reading a fascinating appetizer to John Carlin’s new book on Nelson Mandela, Knowing Mandela, and it set me wondering what might be the place of solitude in the narration of South African history. Some of the details of the failure of Nelson’s marriage to Winnie are public knowledge while others are revealed for the first time by Carlin: she a 22-year-old social worker meets him, then 38, and “strikes him with lightning”, as he wrote in one of his many letters to her.Read more
  • On May 31, two weeks after his death, and the day before Orlando was sent to the printer, Woolf noted his death as follows: “Gosse is dead, & I am half reconciled to him by their saying in the papers that he chose to risk a dangerous operation rather than be an invalid for life. This kind of vitality always gets me”. The comment is atypically generous, as, of all his detractors, Woolf was one of the strongest, both in public and in private.Read more
  • In The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, author Brad Stone claims that although Amazon founder Jeff Bezos ultimately supported the book, “he judged that it was ‘too early’ for a reflective look at Amazon.” By some measures, Bezos is right: Amazon is less than 20 years old, but its history contains so many rapid changes that books published about it never manage to be quite current.Read more
  • The Ketchup Bottle Holdup was the point where the five-year-old Manson’s life veered from hard luck to horror show. His mother and uncle went to prison in Moundsville, West Virginia. He was taken in by his aunt Glenna, in nearby McMechen, where his uncle Bill was a railroad engineer. On the boy’s first day at school, his teacher humiliated him and he ran home crying. His uncle wouldn’t stand for such sissyish behaviour, and sent him back the next day in a dress of his cousin Jo Ann’s to teach him a lesson. Read more
  • The art of biography, we say — but at once go on to ask, is biography an art? The question is foolish perhaps, and ungenerous certainly, considering the keen pleasure that biographers have given us. But the question asks itself so often that there must be something behind it. There it is, whenever a new biography is opened, casting its shadow on the page; and there would seem to be something deadly in that shadow, for after all, of the multitude of lives that are written, how few survive!Read more
  • Ray Monk discusses whether or not the biography of a philosopher is relevant to better understanding their philosophy.Read more
  • Historians are notoriously reluctant to give yes-or-no answers to any question, and this one is a particularly apt candidate for an ambivalent response. Marx certainly made lots of hostile comments about Jews in his correspondence, whether about his encounters with obscure individuals or in regard to his relations with his pupil and rival Ferdinand Lassalle. In his 1844 essay “On the Jewish Question,” he denounced Judaism as a religion encouraging haggling, greed, obsession with money and a whole host of obnoxious capitalist attitudes.Read more
  • Kerouac was susceptible to film—a sucker for its promise of riches as well as its flickering poetry—and he imagined an iconic adaptation of On the Road. Not long after the book’s publication, in September 1957, he wrote to Marlon Brando asking him to buy the book and get it made:Read more
  • Margaret Talbot reads a passage from her book The Entertainer, about Lyle Talbot, her Hollywood actor father.Read more
  • One of the more frequent comments made – approvingly or disapprovingly – about my recent biography of that international superstar of Baroque Europe, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, concerns its scandalous content. Why so much scandal, some of it quite shocking, about Bernini, his family, his patrons, and in general, the Rome of his lifetime?Read more
  • Stanley Corngold seems to have established himself as the doyen of American Kafkaists. Ruth V. Gross’s preface to Kafka for the Twenty-First Century, co-edited with Corngold, sets the tone.Read more
  • In himself, Jobs believed, the tensions between technology, art, and commerce were resolved: a judgment to which Isaacson accedes. As Isaacson tells it, Jobs’ commitment to simple, self-evident design serendipitously reaped staggering corporate gains, without compromising on quality or belittling the customer. Read more
  • On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. On that day he was also made anew—the first of a series of personal makeovers. He left earth’s atmosphere a human being (at the rank of senior lieutenant). He returned to earth a national icon (at the rank of major, a heavenly promotion).Read more
  • A right thumb, a finger, a tooth. These were the contents of a reliquary acquired several years ago by a collector at an auction in Florence. Little did he know that for centuries the remains had been objects of profane devotion. Read more
  • Tolstoy spent years on a four-volume, 700-page ABC and reading primer, a work he regarded more highly than War and Peace. (Upon its publication in 1872 it received neither good reviews nor official approval, but with its republication thirteen years later it became a bestsellerRead more
  • If we are to believe the Beethoven mythology, which is based mostly on his letters and reports from his inner circle, Beethoven had an unshakeable sense of his own importance.Read more
  • “Find Madame Wagner, and you will find yourself,” the man told me. It wasn’t quite the spiritual quest I had been expecting as I sat waiting for the U-Bahn to arrive.Read more
  • The wedding of Kurt Vonnegut's parents, Edith Sophia Lieber and Kurt Vonnegut Snr. on November 22, 1913, in Indianapolis, Indiana, was spectacular.Read more
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