Annal: 2004 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography

Results of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the year 2004.

Book:De Kooning: An American Master

De Kooning: An American Master

Mark Stevens, Annalyn Swan

Willem de Kooning is one of the most important artists of the twentieth century, a true “painter’s painter” whose protean work continues to inspire many artists. In the thirties and forties, along with Arshile Gorky and Jackson Pollock, he became a key figure in the revolutionary American movement of abstract expressionism. Of all the painters in that group, he worked the longest and was the most prolific, creating powerful, startling images well into the 1980s.

The first major biography of de Kooning captures both the life and work of this complex, romantic figure in American culture. Ten years in the making, and based on previously unseen letters and documents as well as on hundreds of interviews, this is a fresh, richly detailed, and masterful portrait. The young de Kooning overcame an unstable, impoverished, and often violent early family life to enter the Academie in Rotterdam, where he learned both classic art and gild techniques. Arriving in New York as…[more]

Book:Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton

Ron Chernow

Ron Chernow, whom the New York Times called “as elegant an architect of monumental histories as we’ve seen in decades,” now brings to startling life the man who was arguably the most important figure in American history, who never attained the presidency, but who had a far more lasting impact than many who did.

An illegitimate, largely self-taught orphan from the Caribbean, Hamilton rose with stunning speed to become George Washington’s aide-de-camp, a member of the Constitutional Convention, coauthor of The Federalist Papers, leader of the Federalist party, and the country’s first Treasury secretary. With masterful storytelling skills, Chernow presents the whole sweep of Hamilton’s turbulent life: his exotic, brutal upbringing; his brilliant military, legal, and financial exploits; his titanic feuds with Jefferson, Madison, Adams, and Monroe; his illicit romances; and his famous death in a duel with Aaron Burr in July 1804. …[more]

Book:John James Audubon

John James Audubon: The Making of an American

Richard Rhodes

The first major biography of John James Audubon in 40 years, and the first to illuminate fully the private and family life of the master illustrator of the natural world.

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Richard Rhodes shows us young Audubon arriving in New York from France in 1803, falling in love, marrying, and crossing the Appalachians to start a new life in frontier Kentucky. We see him exploring the wilderness of birds—pelicans wading the shallows of interior rivers, songbirds flocking, passenger pigeons darkening the skies—and teaching himself to revivify them in glorious life-size images.

We follow him to instant fame in England, where he labors to publish his grand work The Birds of America. In the beautiful, often heartbreaking letters he and his wife, Lucy, exchange across the Atlantic, we read of their great and enduring…[more]

Book:Washington Gone Crazy

Washington Gone Crazy: Senator Pat McCarran and the Great American Communist Hunt

Michael Ybarra

In this sweeping, monumental work of American history, journalist Michael J. Ybarra tells the story of Senator Pat McCarran’s extraordinary career for the first time, and he vividly re-creates a passionate era of politics that reshaped America and echoes to this day. Brilliantly researched and energetically written, Washington Gone Crazy makes a significant new contribution to our understanding of the United States in the twentieth century.

McCarran was one of the most shrewd and powerful—and vindictive—lawmakers ever to sit in Congress. Joe McCarthy gave his name to the cause of zealous anti-Communism, but it was McCarran, a lifelong Democrat, who actually wrote the laws, held the hearings, and bullied the State and Justice Departments into doing his bidding. McCarran was consumed with looking for Communists in Washington and his obsession almost consumed the country. …[more]

Book:Will in the World

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare

Stephen Greenblatt

A young man from the provinces—a man without wealth, connections, or university education—moves to London. In a remarkably short time he becomes the greatest playwright not just of his age but of all time. His works appeal to urban sophisticates and first-time theatergoers; he turns politics into poetry; he recklessly mingles vulgar clowning and philosophical subtlety. How is such an achievement to be explained?

Will in the World interweaves a searching account of Elizabethan England with a vivid narrative of the playwright’s life. We see Shakespeare learning his craft, starting a family, and forging a career for himself in the wildly competitive London theater world, while at the same time grappling with dangerous religious and political forces that took less-agile figures to the scaffold. Above all, we never lose sight of the great works—A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth,…[more]

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