Annal: 2002 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 2002.

Book:Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin: The Power of Place

Janet Browne

In 1858 Charles Darwin was forty-nine years old, a gentleman scientist living quietly at Down House in the Kent countryside, respected by fellow biologists and well liked among his wide and distinguished circle of acquaintances. He was not yet a focus of debate; his “big book on species” still lay on his study desk in the form of a huge pile of manuscript. For more than twenty years he had been accumulating material for it, puzzling over questions it raised, trying—it seemed endlessly—to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. Publication appeared to be as far away as ever, delayed by his inherent cautiousness and wish to be certain that his startling theory of evolution was correct.

It is at this point that the concluding volume of Janet Browne’s biography opens. The much-praised first volume, Voyaging, carried Darwin’s story through his youth and scientific apprenticeship, the adventurous Beagle voyage, his marriage…[more]

Book:Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

Edmund S. Morgan

Benjamin Franklin is perhaps the most remarkable figure in American history: the greatest statesman of his age, he played a pivotal role in the formation of the American republic. He was also a pioneering scientist, a bestselling author, the country’s first postmaster general, a printer, a bon vivant, a diplomat, a ladies’ man, and a moralist-and the most prominent celebrity of the eighteenth century. Franklin was, however, a man of vast contradictions, as Edmund Morgan demonstrates in this brilliant biography. A reluctant revolutionary, Franklin had desperately wished to preserve the British Empire, and he mourned the break even as he led the fight for American independence. Despite his passion for science, Franklin viewed his groundbreaking experiments as secondary to his civic duties. And although he helped to draft both the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution, he had personally hoped that the new American government would take a different shape. Unraveling the enigma of Franklin’s…[more]

Book:The Last American Man

The Last American Man

Elizabeth Gilbert

In The Last American Man, acclaimed journalist and fiction writer Elizabeth Gilbert offers a fresh cultural examination of contemporary American male identity and the uniquely American desire to return to the wilderness.

Gilbert explores what pushed men to settle the frontier West in the nineteenth century and delves into the history of American utopian communities. But her primary focus is on the fascinating true story of Eustace Conway, who left his comfortable suburban home at the age of seventeen to move into the Appalachian Mountains, where for the last twenty years he has lived off the land.

Conway’s romantic character challenges all our assumptions about what it means to be a man today; he is a symbol of much that we feel our men should be, but rarely are. From his example, Gilbert delivers an intriguing exploration into the meaning…[more]

Book:Master of the Senate

Master of the Senate: Volume 3 of The Years of Lyndon Johnson

Robert A. Caro

Book Three of Robert A. Caro’s monumental work, The Years of Lyndon Johnson—the most admired and riveting political biography of our era—which began with the best-selling and prizewinning The Path to Power and Means of Ascent.

Master of the Senate carries Lyndon Johnson’s story through one of its most remarkable periods: his twelve years, from 1949 to 1960, in the United States Senate. At the heart of the book is its unprecedented revelation of how legislative power works in America, how the Senate works, and how Johnson, in his ascent to the presidency, mastered the Senate as no political leader before him had ever done.

It was during these years that all Johnson’s experience—from his Texas Hill Country boyhood to his passionate representation in Congress of his hardscrabble constituents to his tireless construction of a political machine—came to fruition. Caro…[more]

Book:Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone?

Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone?: The Carter Family and Their Legacy in American Music

Mark Zwonitzer, Charles Hirshberg

Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? is the first major biography of the Carter Family, the musical pioneers who almost single-handedly established the sounds and traditions that grew into modern folk, country, and bluegrass music—a style celebrated in O Brother, Where Art Thou?

A.P. Carter was a restless man, seemingly in a constant state of motion. On one of his travels across the sparsely settled mountains and valleys that surrounded his home in southern Virginia, he met and married a young girl named Sara Dougherty. Orphaned as a child, Sara was remote by nature but seemed to find release in singing the typically melancholy ballads that were a part of her home tradition.

For fun, A.P., Sara, and her cousin Maybelle (who married A.P.’s brother “Eck” Carter) would play and sing the hymns…[more]

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