Biography and Memoir
Rescued from ISIS: The Gripping True Story of How a Father Saved His Son by Dimitri BontinckIn 2013, author Dimitri Bontinck, a former Belgian Army soldier, learned that his 18-year-old son Jay had gone to Syria to join ISIS. This gripping and astonishing memoir chronicles what Dimitri learned about Jay's conversion to Islam in the context of the intense level of Islamic radicalization occurring in Belgium. Bontinck then details his risky efforts to trace his son in Syria, and the conclusion of his odyssey. The "loving and revealing tribute to the father-son bond" (Publishers Weekly) adds inspiration to his sobering account.
Shooting Ghosts: A U.S. Marine, a Conflict Photographer, and Their Journey Back... by Thomas J. Brennan and Finbarr O'ReillyIn Shooting Ghosts, Marine veteran Thomas Brennan and battle photographer Finbarr O'Reilly team up to offer insight into their experiences in Afghanistan. Both of them were psychologically traumatized by their ordeals -- Brennan by his wounds from an explosion and O'Reilly's from the intensity of what he witnessed. Though civilian O'Reilly found help relatively easily, Brennan had to negotiate the complex military bureaucracy as well as the Marine culture of machismo. In this account, they defy the tradition that psychological trauma is a source of shame and make an appeal for mental health treatment for veterans.
The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine... by Jason FagoneDuring World War I, Elizebeth Smith, a brilliant Shakespeare scholar, met her future husband, William Friedman, at the Riverbank research facility in Chicago. Both became highly successful codebreakers, breaking German codes during the war, cracking liquor smugglers' communications during Prohibition, and deciphering Nazi signals in World War II. Elizebeth's work was so top-secret, it was easy for male officials (notably J. Edgar Hoover) to take credit for her work, but journalist Jason Fagone has stripped away the secrecy that had obscured her contributions. If you enjoyed The Woman Who Smashed Codes, check out Liza Mundy's recently published Code Girls.
The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek by Howard MarkelBrothers John Harvey and Will Kellogg made Battle Creek, Michigan famous for their work in promoting health (and healthy breakfast cereal) from the 1870s to the mid-20th century. Ironically, they hated each other! In The Kelloggs, Dr. Howard Markel, a professor of the history of medicine, details the brothers' lives, careers, and intra-family warfare. Business history, medical history, and legal history combine in this "superb warts-and-all" (Kirkus Reviews) presentation of two radically different personalities whose success depended on their sibling rivalry.
Playing Hurt: My Journey from Despair to Hope by John Saunders with John U. BaconSports journalist John Saunders started his professional life in hockey, but switched to sportscasting in his early twenties and was acclaimed for his work on ABC and ESPN television. In Playing Hurt, he reveals his abusive childhood, his struggles with addiction, and his battle with major depression. Introducing his affecting life story, he states his goal of breaking a major taboo: "the taboo that tells men they must never confess that they suffer from mental illness." Saunders died in 2016 of natural causes shortly after completing the first draft of this book.
Award-Winning Biographies and Memoirs
The Fry Chronicles by Stephen FryAcclaimed British actor and novelist Stephen Fry was a convicted criminal, an alcohol addict, and a failed suicide when he entered Cambridge University as an undergraduate. He thought he would be sent away immediately, but instead found his niche in acting, in addition to excelling academically. Revealing many of his personal struggles, praising his actor colleagues, especially comedy and writing partner Hugh Laurie, and wittily describing his student and professional triumphs, Fry's engrossing memoir won the 2010 Biography/Autobiography of the Year from the British Book Awards (the "Nibbies").
Jack London: An American Life by Earle LaborWidely celebrated American author Jack London was also a social activist who included some of his views on workers' rights in his stories and novels. In this Spur Award-winning biography, Earle Labor, curator of the Jack London Museum in Shreveport, Louisiana, explores London's life and philosophy in addition to his writing. Drawing on London's personal papers and those of his wife, as well as on interviews with people who were close to London, Labor distinguishes the legends about the larger-than-life man from the facts (which are equally impressive). Fans of American literature won't want to miss this impressive life study.
The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom ReissIf you've ever wondered where the 19th-century French novelist Alexandre Dumas, père learned to swashbuckle, biographer Tom Reiss has the answer in The Black Count. The novelist's father, called Alex, was born in Santo Domingo to a black slave and a French aristocrat. Later brought to France, Alex rose through the ranks in the French Army and eventually served in Napoleon's Egyptian campaign. However, he was captured by enemies, languished in prison, and died before his son was four. Alexandre idolized his father and used parts of his life's story in his novels, including The Count of Monte Cristo. Reiss' Pulitzer Prize-winning biography completes the picture of Alex's actual life.
The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606 by James ShapiroWhile William Shakespeare's career first flourished in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, he continued writing and producing plays under her successor, James I. During this period, political tensions dominated thoughts of commoners and aristocrats alike, and Shakespeare took advantage of this turmoil in three major plays (Antony and Cleopatra, Macbeth, and King Lear). In The Year of Lear, Columbia University professor James Shapiro looks at Shakespeare's life in the historical context of 1606, when Lear first appeared on the stage. Offering scholarly and accessible insights into Shakespeare's handling of dangerous political opinions, this book won the 2015 James Tait Memorial Prize under its original title, 1606.
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette WintersonWhen English novelist Jeanette Winterson was a child, her adoptive mother limited her activities to a narrow religious framework. Winterson responded by finding ways to take refuge in creativity -- especially in writing, after her mother burned her books -- and by running away at age 16 to live on her own. Her first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, won a Costa award and received acclaim for its depiction of a lesbian's coming of age. In her Lambda Literary Award-winning memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, Winterson reveals her own coming-of-age struggles -- which gradually led her to understand what it means to love.
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