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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday Funday List: Top 10 Biographies to Read

Happy Sunday everyone!! It's been a busy one, including dumping a bucket of ice water on my head for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. So while I'm drying off I'm going to curl up with a good book, including one off of this week's list! This week's Sunday Funday List is the Top 10 Biographies to Read. I haven't done a non-fiction list and I think this would be a great way to start. On this list are biographies I want to read and ones that are highly rated/reviewed/recommended. Also big shout out and thank you to Tamra for helping me to come up with this list! In no particular order, here they are! (All synopses from Goodreads)

1. Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France by Evelyne Lever
"In MARIE ANTOINETTE, Evelyn Lever draws on a variety of resources, including diaries, letters, and firsthand accounts, to write this sumptuous, addictive delight. From family life in Vienna to the choke of the guillotine, this gripping work combines a fast-paced historical narrative with all the elements of scandalous fiction: Marie's wedding at Versailles to Louis XVI, the French court, boredom, hypocrisy, loneliness, allies, enemies, scandal, intrigue, sex, peasant riots, the fall of the Bastille, mob rule in Paris, imprisonment, and, finally, execution.

From primary source documents Lever fashions an insightful glimpse into the French court at Versailles. The characters of court are expertly drawn. There is the dashing Axel Fersen, Marie's great love; Maria Theresa, the scheming mother trying to place her daughter on the Hapsburg throne; the legendary Madame du Barry, lover to Louis XV; and, of course, Marie herself.

Luxuriously evocative of the Versailles court, historically sharp and witty, and detailing the compelling story of Marie Antoinette's life, Evelyn Lever's biography entrances readers."

 
I chose this novel as Marie Antoinette is my favorite Queen. I love reading anything fiction and non-fiction about her. For those of you who don't know much about Marie Antoinette, this looks like it would be a great place to start!

2. J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets by Curt Gentry
"Shocking, grim, frightening, Curt Gentry s masterful portrait of America s top policeman is a unique political biography. From more than 300 interviews and over 100,000 pages of previously classified documents, Gentry reveals exactly how a paranoid director created the fraudulent myth of an invincible, incorruptible FBI. For almost fifty years, Hoover held virtually unchecked public power, manipulating every president from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Richard Nixon. He kept extensive blackmail files and used illegal wiretaps and hidden microphones to destroy anyone who opposed him. The book reveals how Hoover helped create McCarthyism, blackmailed the Kennedy brothers, and influenced the Supreme Court; how he retarded the civil rights movement and forged connections with mobsters; and what part he played in the investigations of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. A New York Times bestseller. 'This massive new study promises to be the most extensive and controversial yet. . . . A chilling look at the darker side of American politics,' Library Journal."

Tamra suggested this one and it looks very interesting! I don't know a whole lot about J. Edgar Hoover and I think this biography would be a great way to learn more about him!

3. Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson
"How did his mind work? What made him a genius? Isaacson's biography shows how his scientific imagination sprang from the rebellious nature of his personality. His fascinating story is a testament to the connection between creativity and freedom.

Based on newly released personal letters of Einstein, this book explores how an imaginative, impertinent patent clerk; a struggling father in a difficult marriage who couldn't get a teaching job or a doctorate; became the mind reader of the creator of the cosmos, the locksmith of the mysteries of the atom, and the universe. His success came from questioning conventional wisdom and marveling at mysteries that struck others as mundane. This led him to embrace a morality and politics based on respect for free minds, free spirits, and free individuals.

These traits are just as vital for this new century of globalization, in which our success will depend on our creativity, as they were for the beginning of the last century, when Einstein helped usher in the modern age."


Having learned a lot about him in my seminar on cosmologies class and written a 20 page paper on him I still don't feel I can begin to scratch the surface. Walter Isaacson is known as one of THE biography writers and I can't wait to read what he's written about one of the greatest minds of our time.

4. Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
"More than a million readers have thrilled to Bill O'Reilly's Killing Lincoln, the page-turning work of nonfiction about the shocking assassination that changed the course of American history. Now the anchor of The O'Reilly Factor recounts in gripping detail the brutal murder of John Fitzgerald Kennedy—and how a sequence of gunshots on a Dallas afternoon not only killed a beloved president but also sent the nation into the cataclysmic division of the Vietnam War and its culture-changing aftermath.

In January 1961, as the Cold War escalates, John F. Kennedy struggles to contain the growth of Communism while he learns the hardships, solitude, and temptations of what it means to be president of the United States. Along the way he acquires a number of formidable enemies, among them Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, and Alan Dulles, director of the Central Intelligence Agency.  In addition, powerful elements of organized crime have begun to talk about targeting the president and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

In the midst of a 1963 campaign trip to Texas, Kennedy is gunned down by an erratic young drifter named Lee Harvey Oswald. The former Marine Corps sharpshooter escapes the scene, only to be caught and shot dead while in police custody.

The events leading up to the most notorious crime of the twentieth century are almost as shocking as the assassination itself. Killing Kennedy chronicles both the heroism and deceit of Camelot, bringing history to life in ways that will profoundly move the reader.  This may well be the most talked about book of the year."


Though this isn't about JKF's whole life, I'm very interested to read it. I've heard nothing but good things about this book (and Bill O'Reilly's other books), so this along with other JFK bios are on my list!

5. The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir
"The tempestuous, bloody, and splendid reign of Henry VIII of England (1509-1547) is one of the most fascinating in all history, not least for his marriage to six extraordinary women. In this accessible work of brilliant scholarship, Alison Weir draws on early biographies, letters, memoirs, account books, and diplomatic reports to bring these women to life. Catherine of Aragon emerges as a staunch though misguided woman of principle; Anne Boleyn, an ambitious adventuress with a penchant for vengeance; Jane Seymour, a strong-minded matriarch in the making; Anne of Cleves, a good-natured and innocent woman naively unaware of the court intrigues that determined her fate; Catherine Howard, an empty-headed wanton; and Catherine Parr, a warm-blooded bluestocking who survived King Henry to marry a fourth time."

I'm a huge Tudor fan and have been especially interested in them after going to London, where I bought this book.  I'm a fan of Alison Weir's fiction and know I'll love her non-fiction as well.

6. Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman
"With a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, Piper Kerman barely resembles the reckless young woman who delivered a suitcase of drug money ten years before. But that past has caught up with her. Convicted and sentenced to fifteen months at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, the well-heeled Smith College alumna is now inmate #11187–424—one of the millions of people who disappear “down the rabbit hole” of the American penal system. From her first strip search to her final release, Kerman learns to navigate this strange world with its strictly enforced codes of behavior and arbitrary rules. She meets women from all walks of life, who surprise her with small tokens of generosity, hard words of wisdom, and simple acts of acceptance. Heartbreaking, hilarious, and at times enraging, Kerman’s story offers a rare look into the lives of women in prison—why it is we lock so many away and what happens to them when they’re there."

I have to watch the show, since I've been told to a million times, so I figured I should also read the book! Thank you Tamra for showing me that a book even exists! If you like the show and you're not a reader, this might be a good way to start!

7. The Mystery of Lewis Carroll: Discovering the Whimsical, Thoughtful, and Sometimes Lonely Man Who Created Alice in Wonderland by Jenny Woolf
"Lewis Carroll was brilliant, secretive and self contradictory. He reveled in double meanings and puzzles, in his fiction and his life. Jenny Woolf’s The Mystery of Lewis Carroll shines a new light on the creator of Alice In Wonderland and brings to life this fascinating, but sometimes exasperating human being whom some have tried to hide. Using rarely-seen and recently discovered sources, such as Carroll’s accounts ledger and unpublished correspondence with the “real” Alice’s family, Woolf sets Lewis Carroll firmly in the context of the English Victorian age and answers many intriguing questions about the man who wrote the Alice books, such as:

• Was it Alice or her older sister that caused him to break with the Liddell family?

• How true is the gossip about pedophilia and certain adult women that followed him?

• How true is the “romantic secret” which many think ruined Carroll’s personal life?

• Who caused Carroll major financial trouble and why did Carroll successfully conceal that person’s identity and actions?

Woolf answers these and other questions to bring readers yet another look at one of the most elusive English writers the world has known."


I love Alice in Wonderland and I read a novel about Lewis Carroll and the girl that inspired Alice entitled Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin that I really enjoyed. Once I saw this biography I knew I had to read it. Authors have so many interesting back stories that inspire their works and I can't wait to read more about Lewis Carroll's.

8. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
"From best-selling author Walter Isaacson comes the landmark biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

In Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography, Isaacson provides an extraordinary account of Jobs' professional and personal life. Drawn from three years of exclusive and unprecedented interviews Isaacson has conducted with Jobs as well as extensive interviews with Jobs' family members and key colleagues from Apple and its competitors, Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography is the definitive portrait of the greatest innovator of his generation."


Being a Mac and Apple girl (other than my Samsung Galaxy S5, sorry not sorry) I'm intrigued by the innovator behind the trademark apple with the bite out of it. Again Walter Isaacson writes about a powerhouse in another applauded biographical novel.

9. Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life by Justine Picardie
"Sleek. Chic. Notoriously guarded. Welcome to the secret world of Gabrielle Chanel.

The story of Chanel begins with an abandoned child, as lost as a girl in a dark fairy tale. Unveiling remarkable new details about Gabrielle Chanel's early years in a convent orphanage, and her flight into unconventional adulthood, Justine Picardie explores what lies beneath the glossy surface of a mythic fashion icon.

Throwing new light on her passionate and turbulent relationships, this beautifully constructed portrait gives a fresh and penetrating look at how Coco Chanel made herself into her own most powerful creation. An authoritative account, based on personal observations and interviews with Chanel's last surviving friends, employees, and relatives, it also unravels her coded language and symbols, and traces the influence of her formative years on her legendary style.

Feared and revered by the rest of the fashion industry, Coco Chanel died in 1971 at the age of eighty-seven. But her legacy lives on. Justine Picardie brings Gabrielle Chanel out of hiding and uncovers the consequences of what Chanel covered up, unpicking the seams between truth and myth in a story that reveals the true heart of fashion."


I don't know much about Coco Chanel, but see references to her on a daily basis and I think it would be interesting how she turned into the legacy that she is. Tamra found this novel and the synopsis hooked me! Can't wait to read it!

10. The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn by Alison Weir
"The imprisonment and execution of Queen Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's second wife, in May 1536 was unprecedented in English history. It was sensational in its day, and has exerted endless fascination over the minds of historians, novelists, dramatists, poets, artists and film-makers ever since.

Anne was imprisoned in the Tower of London on 2 May 1536, and tried and found guilty of high treason on 15 May. Her supposed crimes included adultery with five men, one her own brother, and plotting the King's death.

Mystery surrounds the circumstances leading up to her arrest. Was it Henry VIII who, estranged from Anne, instructed Master Secretary Thomas Cromwell to fabricate evidence to get rid of her so that he could marry Jane Seymour? Or did Cromwell, for reasons of his own, construct a case against Anne and her faction, and then present compelling evidence before the King? Or was Anne, in fact, guilty as charged?

Never before has there been a book devoted entirely to Anne Boleyn's fall. Alison Weir has reassessed the evidence, demolished many romantic myths and popular misconceptions, and rewritten the story of Anne's fall, creating a richly researched and impressively detailed portrait of the dramatic last days of one of the most influential and important figures in English history."


Anne Boleyn is another one of my favorite Queen's. I'm intrigued by her story and her portrayal in modern culture. Thanks to Tamra for showing me this one as well. Looks like Alison Weir has done it again!

Bonus!: Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart by John Guy
"The eminent British historian John Guy has unearthed a wealth of evidence that upends the popular notion of Mary Queen of Scots as a femme fatale and establishes her as the intellectual and political equal of Elizabeth I.
Guy draws on sources as varied as the secret communiqu├ęs of English spies and Mary’s own letters (many hitherto unstudied) to depict her world and her actions with stunning immediacy. Here is a myth-shattering reappraisal of her multifaceted character and prodigious political skill. Guy dispels the persistent popular image of Mary as a romantic leading lady, achieving her ends through feminine wiles, driven by love to murder, undone by passion and poor judgment. Through his pioneering research, we come to see her as an emotionally intricate woman and an adroit diplomat, maneuvering ingeniously among a dizzying array of powerful factions — the French, the English, duplicitous Scottish nobles, and religious zealots — who sought to control or dethrone her. Guy’s investigation of Mary’s storied downfall throws sharp new light on questions that have baffled historians for centuries, and offers convincing new evidence that she was framed for the murder for which she was beheaded.
Queen of Scots, the first full-scale biography of Mary in more than thirty years, offers a singularly novel, nuanced, and dramatic portrait of one of history’s greatest women."


Mary Stuart is quickly becoming my second favorite Queen behind Marie Antoinette. I've seen a lot of her in modern pop culture, but haven't read much about her historically. Can't wait to check this one out!

Any of these historical figures someone you'd want to read about? Anyone you'd add to the list?

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