Annal: 2004 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award 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:Chronicles, Volume One

Chronicles, Volume One

Bob Dylan

“I’d come from a long ways off and had started a long ways down. But now destiny was about to manifest itself. I felt like it was looking right at me and nobody else.”

So writes Bob Dylan in Chronicles, Volume I, his remarkable, book exploring critical junctures in his life and career. Through Dylan’s eyes and open mind, we see Greenwich Village, circa 1961, when he first arrives in Manhattan. Dylan’s New York is a magical city of possibilities - smokey, nightlong parties; literary awakenings; transient loves and unbreakable friendships. Elegiac observations are punctuated by jabs of memories, penetrating and tough. With the book’s side trips to New Orleans, Woodstock, Minnesota and points west, Chronicles: Volume One is an intimate and intensely personal recollection of extraordinary times. …[more]

Book:Queen of Scots

Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart

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 communiqués 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…[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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