Annal: 1999 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography

Results of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the year 1999.

Book:Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette

Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette

Judith Thurman

A scandalously talented stage performer, a practiced seductress of both men and women, and the flamboyant author of some of the greatest works of twentieth-century literature, Colette was our first true superstar. Now, in Judith Thurman’s Secrets of the Flesh, Colette at last has a biography worthy of her dazzling reputation.

Having spent her childhood in the shadow of an overpowering mother, Colette escaped at age twenty into a turbulent marriage with the sexy, unscrupulous Willy—a literary charlatan who took credit for her bestselling Claudine novels. Weary of Willy’s sexual domination, Colette pursued an extremely public lesbian love affair with a niece of Napoleon’s. At forty, she gave birth to a daughter who bored her, at forty-seven she seduced her teenage stepson, and in her seventies she flirted with the Nazi occupiers of Paris, even though her beloved third husband, a Jew, had been arrested by the Gestapo. And all the while, this incomparable…[more]

Book:Byron

Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame

Benita Eisler

Benita Eisler’s Byron is a masterful portrait of the poet who dazzled an era and pre-figured the modern age of celebrity—an absorbing, illuminating, and wonderfully entertaining account of Lord Byron’s spectacular life, monumental work, and lasting heroic legacy.

Drawing on previously unavailable material—including family papers only recently brought to light—Eisler offers us a more complex vision of Byron than any we’ve had before: a man who rose from the depths of poverty and the humiliation of childhood lameness to a pinnacle of success and fame unlike anything the world had ever seen, and whose bravura identity as renegade aristocrat, political revolutionary, mythic lover, and Romanticism’s galvanizing hero and antihero was surpassed in brilliance only by his poetic genius. …[more]

Book:My Grandfather's House

My Grandfather's House: A Genealogy of Doubt and Faith

Robert Clark

In My Grandfather’s House, Robert Clark traces the spiritual quests and struggles of his ancestors, from England’s split with the Church of Rome at the end of the middle ages to his own return to the faith five hundred years later. Clark reconstructs their lives as medieval Catholics, heretics, and inquisitors in the England of Henry VII; as Puritan settlers, participants in Indian wars, and accusers in witch trials in New England in the 1600s; as preachers, artists, writers, and agnostics during the theological and intellectual upheavals of the 19th century that left them exploring creeds ranging from evangelical Protestantism to Unitarianism to Buddhism to atheism. In the context of King Henry’s divorces and his quarrel with both the Pope and Martin Luther; the religious and personal struggles of Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, and Margaret Fuller, Clark weaves a rich history that culminates in his own quest through doubt toward faith.

Profound, moving, and ultimately inspiring, My Grandfather’s House is a vivid and original account of the persistence of belief through five centuries of questing and questioning.

Book:Rembrandt's Eyes

Rembrandt's Eyes

Simon Schama

For Rembrandt as for Shakespeare, all the world was indeed a stage, and he knew in exhaustive detail the tactics of its performance: the strutting and mincing; the wardrobe and the face paint; the full repertoire of gesture and grimace; the flutter of hands and the roll of the eyes; the belly laugh and the half-stifled sob. He knew what it looked like to seduce, to intimidate, to wheedle, and to console; to strike a pose or preach a sermon; to shake a fist or uncover a breast; how to sin and how to atone; how to commit murder and how to commit suicide. No artist had ever been so fascinated by the fashioning of personae, beginning with his own. No painter ever looked with such unsparing intelligence or such bottomless compassion at our entrances and our exits and the whole rowdy show in between.

More than three centuries after his death, Rembrandt remains the most deeply loved of all the great masters of painting,…[more]

Book:Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself

Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself

Jerome Loving

Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself is the first full-length critical biography of Walt Whitman in more than forty years. Jerome Loving makes use of recently unearthed archival evidence and newspaper writings to present the most accurate, complete, and complex portrait of the poet to date. This authoritative biography affords fresh, often revelatory insights into many aspects of the poet’s life, including his attitudes toward the emerging urban life of America, his relationships with his family members, his developing notions of male-male love, his attitudes toward the vexed issue of race, and his insistence on the union of American states. Virtually every chapter presents material that was previously unknown or unavailable, and Whitman emerges as never before, in all his complexity as a corporal, cerebral, and spiritual being. Loving gives us a new Poet of Democracy, one for the twenty-first century. …[more]

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