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Biography/Memoir

1791 Mozart's Last Year - (H.C. Robbins Landon, 1999) The last month of the year 1791 witnessed what Robbins Landon calls "the greatest tragedy in the history of music" - the premature death of the 35-year-old Mozart. The event was surrounded by enigma and intrigue, allegations of poisoning and sexual scandal. 

Alexander Hamilton, American - ( Richard Brookhiser, 1999) In these pages, Alexander Hamilton sheds his skewed image as the "bastard brat of a Scotch peddler," sex scandal survivor, and notoriously doomed dueling partner of Aaron Burr. Examined up close, throughout his meteoric and ever-fascinating (if tragically brief) life, Hamilton can at last be seen as one of the most crucial of the founders.

 American Sphinx - (Joseph Ellis, 1996) Thomas Jefferson may be the most imporatant American president; he is certainly the most elusive. Following his subject from the drafting of the Declaration of Independence to his retirement in Monticello, Joseph Ellis unravels the contradictions of the Jeffersonian character. Winner of the National Book Award.

America's First Woman Lawyer: The Biography of Myra Bradwell - (Jane M. Friedman, 1993) During her lifetime, Myra Bradwell (1831-1894) - America's "first" woman lawyer as well as publisher and editor-in-chief of a prestigious legal newspaper - did more to establish and aid the rights of women and other legally handicapped people than any other woman of her day. Her female contemporaries - Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone - are known to all. Now, it is time for Myra Bradwell to assume her rightful place among women's rights leaders of the nineteenth century. With author, Jane Friedman's discovery of previously unpublished letters and valuable documents, Bradwell's fascinating story can at last be told.

Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir - (Frank McCourt, 1996) McCourt’s account of his parents’ return to Ireland from New York when he was four chronicles a childhood through extreme poverty and “swerves flawlessly between aching sadness and desperate humor…a work of lasting beauty.”

Autobiography of a Yogi - (Paramahansa Yogananda, 1946, 1998) Yogananda, a recognized saint, takes us into the world of yogis, enlightenment, meditation, and miracles.  He reveals his life with saints (Therese Neumann), poets (Nobel laureate Tagore), and world leaders (Mahatma Gandhi and President Wilson).

Balm in Gilead, Journey of a Healer - (Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, 1988) The author recounts the extraordinary life of her mother, Dr. Margaret Morgan Lawrence, one of the first African-American women to graduate from Cornell University and Columbia University School of Medicine. This book captures both the life of an inspiring woman and the social, cultural, historical, and psychological forces that shaped the destinies of four generations of African-American women and their families.

Bread Givers - (Anzia Yezierska, 1925) Sara Smolinsky, the youngest daughter of an Orthodox rabbi, watches as her father marries off her sisters to men they don’t love. But Sara rejects this conception of Jewish womanhood. She wants to live for herself and to marry for love. Set during the 1029’s on New York’s Lower East Side, the story of Sara’s struggle toward independence and self-fulfillment - through education, work, and love – is universal and resonates with a passionate intensity that all can share.

Burning the Days: Recollection - (James Salter, 1997) James Salter commemorates his life with a precision of thought and language that is at once clarifying and intoxicating. His descriptions of attending a military academy, flying in the Korean War, learning about the naivete of a mistress, making movies, or relishing the smile of a girl in a skimpy dress in a Roman café – they are all made by an incomparable observer and storyteller.

Catfish & Mandala - (Andrew X. Pham, 1999) In a search for cultural identity and personal history, Vietnamese-American Pham sets out on a solo bicycle voyage around the Pacific Rim to Vietnam.

The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother - (James McBride, 1996)  As an adult, McBride finally persuaded his mother to tell her story as a rabbi’s daughter, born in Poland and raised in the South, who fled to Harlem, married a black man, founded a Baptist church, and put twelve children through college. McBride’s tribute to his remarkable, eccentric, determined mother is also an eloquent exploration of what family really means.

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance - (Barack Obama, 2004) Years before becoming the 44th President-elect of the United States, Barack Obama published this lyrical, unsentimental, and powerfully affecting memoir. This book tells the story of Obama’s struggle to understand the forces that shaped him as the son of a black African father and white American mother—a struggle that takes him from the American heartland to the ancestral home of his great-aunt in the tiny African village of Alego.

Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood - (Fatima Mernissi, 1994) In an exotic and rich narrative of a childhood behind the iron gates of a domestic harem, Mernissi weaves her own memories with the dreams and memories of the women who surrounded her in the courtyard of her youth, women who, deprived of access to the world outside, recreated it from sheer imagination.  A provocative story of a girl confronting the mysteries of time and place, gender and sex in the recent Muslim world.

Eat Pray Love - (Elizabeth Gilbert, 2006) An intensely articulate and moving memoir of self-discovery, Eat, Pray, Love is about what can happen when you claim responsibility for your own contentment and stop trying to live in imitation of society's ideals. It is certain to touch anyone who has ever woken up to the unrelenting need for change.

Education of Little Tree, The - (Forrest Carter, 1976) The Education of Little Tree tells of a boy orphaned very young, who is adopted by his Cherokee grandmother and half-Cherokee grandfather in the Appalachian mountains of Tennessee during the Great Depression.

Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm - (Davis Mas Masumoto, 1996) An eloquent, humorous memoir of one critical year in the life of an organic peach farmer.  Masumoto reflects on saving a family and a way of life, and the market values that threaten both. An author with “a farmer’s calluses and a poet’s soul.”

Favored Daughter, The: One Woman's Fight to Leave Afghanistan into the Future - (Fawzia Koofi and Nadene Ghouri, 2012) The nineteenth daughter of a local village leader in rural Afghanistan, Fawzia Koofi was left to die in the sun after birth by her mother. But she survived, and perseverance in the face of extreme hardship has defined her life ever since. Despite the abuse of her family, the exploitative Russian and Taliban regimes, the murders of her father, brother, and husband, and numerous attempts on her life, she rose to become the first Afghani woman Parliament speaker. Here, she shares her amazing story, punctuated by a series of poignant letters she wrote to her two daughters before each political trip—letters describing the future and freedoms she dreamed of for them and for all the women of Afghanistan.

Fierce Attachments, A Memoir - (Vivian Gornick, 1987) Gornick “takes her readers deep into that primitive no-man’s-land where mothers and daughters struggle, separate, reconcile, try to talk, try to understand and, sometimes, devour one another alive,” according to The Boston Globe.

The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin(Brands, H.W., 2000) Drawing on previously unpublished letters to and from Franklin, as well as the recollections and anecdotes of Franklin's contemporaries, H. W. Brands has created a portrait of the eighteenth-century genius who was in every respect America's first Renaissance man, and arguably the pivotal figure in colonial and revolutionary America. 

The Glass Castle – (Jeannette Walls, 2005) Gossip columnist Jeanette Walls dishes the dirt on her own troubled youth in this remarkable story of survival against overwhelming odds. The child of charismatic vagabonds who left their offspring to raise themselves, Walls spent decades hiding an excruciating childhood filled with poverty and shocking neglect. But this is no pity party. What shines through on every page of this beautifully written family memoir is Walls's love for her deeply flawed parents and her recollection of occasionally wonderful times.

Growing Up - (Russell Baker, 1982) Winner of the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for biography/autobiography, this is Russell Baker’s story of growing up in America between the world wars. It is a story of adversity and courage, of the poignancy of love and the awkwardness of sex, of family bonds and family tensions. We meet the people who influenced Baker’s early life, and the everyday heroes and heroines of the Depression who faced disaster with good cheer and usually muddled through.

Guests of the Sheik:  An Ethnography of an Iraqi Village – (Elizabeth Warnock Fernea, 1965) A delightful, well-written, and vastly informative ethnographic study, this is an account of Fernea's two-year stay in a tiny rural village in Iraq, where she assumed the dress and sheltered life of a harem woman.

The Hemingway Book of Kosovo
- (Paula Huntly, 2004) One year after the 1999 NATO bombings, an American woman accompanied her husband to Prishtina, Kosovo.  Paula Huntley ended up teaching English to a group of Kosovo Albanian refugees and formed an American-style book club with them to study Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea.

Home Before Morning: The Story of an Army Nurse in Vietnam - (Lynda Van Devanter, 2001) A suspenseful autobiography that gives a painfully honest look at war through a woman’s eyes. Feel the fatigue, rain, mud, heat and personal danger that Van Devanter felt as she is assigned to an evacuation hospital near the Cambodian border.

Hunger of Memory, An Autobiography: The Education of Richard Rodriguez - (Richard Rodriguez, 1982) Here is the poignant story of a “minority student” who pays the cost of his social assimilation and academic success with a painful alienation – from his past, his parents, his culture – and so describes the high price of “making it” in middle-class America.

Infidel – (Ayaan Hirsi Ali, 2007) In this profoundly affecting memoir from the internationally renowned author of The Caged Virgin, Ayaan Hirsi Ali tells her astonishing life story, from her traditional Muslim childhood in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya, to her intellectual awakening and activism in the Netherlands, and her current life under armed guard in the West. Raised in a strict Muslim family and extended clan, Hirsi Ali survived civil war, female mutilation, brutal beatings, and adolescence as a devout believer during the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, and life in four troubled, unstable countries largely ruled by despots.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - (Maya Angelou, 1970) Writer and actress Maya Angelou gives a glimpse of her upbringing and rise out of poverty in the segregated south during the 1930's.

James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights - (Richard Labunski, 2006) Today we hold the Constitution in such high regard that we can hardly imagine how hotly contested was its adoption. In fact, many of the thirteen states saw fierce debate over the document, and ratification was by no means certain. Labunski offers a dramatic account of a time when the entire American experiment hung in the balance, only to be saved by the most unlikely of heroes--the diminutive and exceedingly shy Madison.

The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty - (Carolyn G. Heilbrun, 1997) At the advent of her seventieth birthday, Heilbrun realized that her golden years had been full of unforeseen pleasures. The astute and ever-insightful Heilbrun muses on the emotional and intellectual insights that brought her “to choose each day for now, to live.” Even the encroachments of loss, pain, and sadness that come with age cannot spoil Heilbrun’s moveable feast.

Left to Tell - (Immaculee Ilibagiza, 2006) grew up in a country she loved, surrounded by a family she cherished. But in 1994 her idyllic world was ripped apart as Rwanda descended into a bloody genocide. Immaculee’s family was brutally murdered during a killing spree that lasted three months and claimed the lives of nearly a million Rwandans. Incredibly, Immaculee survived the slaughter. For 91 days, she and seven other women huddled silently together in the cramped bathroom of a local pastor while hundreds of machete-wielding killers hunted for them.

The Log from the Sea of Cortez - (John Steinbeck, 1951) Steinbeck and biologist Edward F. Ricketts board the Western Flyer, a sardine boat and head out of Monterey, California, on a 4,000-mile journey into the Sea of Cortez. A great book that helps understand Steinbeck and his beliefs about man and the world, combined with adventure, philosophy and science.

I Married Adventure - (Osa Johnson, 1997) “The essence of this story is that two people, very much in love, followed their dreams, living a life full of risks and far from the comforts of home. Yet this story of their adventures more than sixty years ago will thrill a reader [of today].”—Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum. The book contains many dramatic photos by these two who traveled the world making popular movies. 

Martha Washington: An American Life - (Patricia Brady, 2005) Patricia Brady resurrects the wealthy, attractive, and vivacious young widow who captivated the youthful George Washington. Here are the able landowner, the indomitable patriot (who faithfully joined her husband each winter at Valley Forge), and the shrewd diplomat and emotional mainstay. And even as it brings Martha Washington into sharper and more accurate focus, this sterling life sheds light on her marriage, her society, and the precedents she established for future First Ladies.

Max Perkins: Editor of Genius - (A. Scott Berg, 1978) A meticulously-researched and engaging portrait of the man who introduced the public to the greatest literary writers as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe.  Perkins was tirelessly committed to nurturing talent no matter how young or unproven the writer.      

Narrative of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave - (Frederick Douglass, 2000 Edition) This book calmly but dramatically recounts the horrors and the accomplishments of his early years-the daily, casual brutality of the white masters; his painful efforts to educate himself; his decision to find freedome or die; and his harrowing but successful escape.

Night Flight
- (Antoine De Saint-Exupery) In this gripping, beautifully written novel, Saint-Exupery tells about the brave men who pilot night mail planes from Patagonia, Chile, and Paraguay to Argentina in the early days of commercial aviation.  They are impelled to perform their routine acts of heroism by a steely chief named Riviere, whose extraordinary character is revealed through the dramatic events of a single night.

The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail – (Jerome Lawrence / Robert Lee, 1971) Henry David Thoreau, philosopher, poet, and naturalist, had refused to pay taxes to the government which was engaged in the Mexican War, condemning the war as unjust. For this unprecedented act of protest, he was thrown in jail, an act that has had worldwide repercussions.

Nobody’s Son: Notes From an American Life - (Luis Alberto Urrea,1998) Born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and an Anglo mother from Staten Island, Urrea had a childhood full of opposites, a clash of cultures and languages. In prose that seethes with energy and crackles with dark humor, Urrea tells a story that is both troubling and wildly entertaining.

Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone – (Mary Morris, 1988) Traveling from the highland desert of northern Mexico to the steaming jungles of Honduras, from the seashore of the Caribbean to the exquisite highlands of Guatemala, Mary Morris, a celebrated writer of both fiction and nonfiction, confronts the realities of place, poverty, machismo, and selfhood. As she experiences the rawness and precariousness of life in another culture, Morris begins to hear echoes of her own life and her own sense of deprivation

Old Books, Rare Friends: Two Literary Sleuths and Their Shared Passion - (Leona Rostenberg & Madeleine B. Stern, 1998) Here's a book about two forthright women who share a passion for literature and who know the true meaning of a lifelong friendship.

Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass - (Isak Dinesen, 1937, 1960) This one volume contains both Out of Africa, the well-loved story of Isak Dinesen’s struggle on her coffee plantation in Kenya and additional stories and reminiscences about Africa gathered under the title Shadows on the Grass. The author’s poetic images and language make her book a delight to read.

1185 Park Avenue, a Memoir - (Anne Roiphe, 1999) While the nation was at war abroad, Roiphe, who was coming of age in 1940’s New York City, saw her parents at war in their living room. Roiphe’s evocative writing puts readers right in Apartment 8C, where a constant tension plays out between a disappointed and ineffectual mother, a philandering father who uses his wife’s money to entertain other women, and a difficult brother. Behind the leisure culture of wealthy Jewish society lurks a brutality that strikes a chord with a daughter who longs to heal the wounds of her troubled family.

Patrimony - (Philip Roth, 1991) This true story touches the emotions as strongly as anything Roth has ever written.  He watches as his eighty-six-year-old father--famous for his vigor, his charm, and his repertoire of Newark recollections--battles with the brain tumor that will kill him. The son, full of love, anxiety, and dread, accompanies his father through each fearful stage of his final ordeal, and, as he does so, discloses the survivalist tenacity that has distinguished his father’s long, stubborn engagement with life.   

Prairie Reunion - (Barbara J. Scott, 1995) Part memoir, part social and cultural history, part ecological exploration, Prairie Reunion takes writer Barbara Scot to Scotch Grove, Iowa, the small farming community of her childhood where she succeeds in coming to terms with her parents' legacy, a bittersweet history that involves love, abandonment, and suicide. 

Shelf Life: Romance, Mystery, Drama, and Other Page-Turning Adventures from a Year in a Bookstore - (Suzanne Stempek Shea, 2004) Shea works at a book store in Springfield Massachusetts, but really she is a novelist, and her memoir shows it as she describes the customers, their requests and reactions, and her thoughts on it all.

So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading - (Sara Nelson, 2003) The interplay between our lives and our books is the subject of this unique memoir.  From Solzhenitsyn to Laura Zigman, Catherine M. to Captain Underpants, the result is a personal chronicle of insight, wit, and enough infectious enthusiasm to make a passionate reader out of anybody.

Something to Declare: Essays - (Julia Alvarez, 1998) As an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, Alvarez reflects on her life before the United States, her assimilation to the Americanized culture. Alvarez eloquently depicts her love of writing and family, and offers insight into what it means to have a place.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln - (Dorris Kearns Goodwin, 2005) This multiple biography is centered on Lincoln's mastery of men and how it shaped the most significant presidency in the nation's history. Lincoln won the presidential election, Goodwin determines, because he possessed an extraordinary ability to put himself in the place of other men, to experience what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires.

Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World - (Lawrence Goldstone & Nancy Goldstone, 1997) The idea that books had stories associated with them that had nothing to do with the stories inside them was new to the Goldstones.  Journey into the world of book collecting where you can begin to appreciate that there is a history and a world of ideas embodied by the books themselves.

Washington's Crossing (David Hackett Fischer, 2004) As David Hackett Fischer recounts in this riveting history, Washington -- and many other Americans -- refused to let the Revolution die. Even as the British and Germans spread their troops across New Jersey, the people of the colony began to rise against them. George Washington saw his opportunity and seized it. On Christmas night, as a howling nor'easter struck the Delaware Valley, he led his men across the river and attacked the exhausted Hessian garrison at Trenton, killing or capturing nearly a thousand men. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in History.

The Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China - (Jung Chang, 1991) This mesmerizing memoir is a riveting account of the impact of history on the lives of women. A powerful, moving, at times shocking story of three generations of Chinese women, as compelling as Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club.

With Malice Towards None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln – (Stephen B. Oates, 1977) A masterful biography of Lincoln that follows his bitter struggle with poverty, his self-made success in business and law, his early disappointing political career, and his leadership as President during one of America's most tumultuous periods.

Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey - (Lillian Schlissel, 1992) More than a quarter million Americans crossed the continental U.S. between 1840 and 1870.  Men of the frontier have become an integral part of history and folklore, but pioneering was a family matter, and the experiences of American women are central to an accurate picture of what life was like on the frontier. These chronicles of women show an absorbing and informative aspect of the westward saga.

West With the Night - (Beryl Markham, 1983) Beryl Markham records memoirs and stories of her flights to Africa.

Women and the Family in the Middle East: New Voices of Change - (Elizabeth Warnock Fernea, 1988) This collection of previously unpublished documents, essays, stories, life histories, poems, and reports constitute progress report on the status of women and the family in the modern Middle East. Men and women articulate their problems and perceptions in their own terms, not those of the western journalist or development specialist.

A Year in Provence - (Peter Mayle, 1989) A book as much about dreams and seasons as about place, Peter Mayle’s story of moving into a 200-year old stone farmhouse in a remote area of Provence is a delight.  Follow the movement of the seasons in a culture that has not forgotten how to live in tune with its surroundings, relishing truffles in winter, and tarte au citron in June, Mayle’s tale is light-hearted, and  funny.  It will have you longing for a trip to France yourself.

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