Annal: 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 2005.

Book:American Prometheus

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

Kai Bird, Martin J. Sherwin

American Prometheus is the first full-scale biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, “father of the atomic bomb,” the brilliant, charismatic physicist who led the effort to capture the awesome fire of the sun for his country in time of war. Immediately after Hiroshima, he became the most famous scientist of his generation–one of the iconic figures of the twentieth century, the embodiment of modern man confronting the consequences of scientific progress.

He was the author of a radical proposal to place international controls over atomic materials–an idea that is still relevant today. He opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb and criticized the Air Force’s plans to fight an infinitely dangerous nuclear war. In the now almost-forgotten hysteria of the early 1950s, his ideas were anathema to powerful advocates of a massive nuclear buildup, and, in response, Atomic Energy Commission chairman Lewis Strauss, Superbomb advocate Edward Teller and FBI…[more]

Book:Lee Miller

Lee Miller: A Life

Carolyn Burke

A trenchant yet sympathetic portrait of Lee Miller, one of the iconic faces and careers of the twentieth century.

Carolyn Burke reveals Miller as a multifaceted woman: both model and photographer, muse and reporter, sexual adventurer and mother, and, in later years, gourmet cook—the last of the many dramatic transformations she underwent during her lifetime. A sleek blond bombshell, Miller was part of a glamorous circle in New York and Paris in the 1920s and 1930s as a leading Vogue model, close to Edward Steichen, Charlie Chaplin, Jean Cocteau, and Pablo Picasso. Then, during World War II, she became a war correspondent—one of the first women to do so—shooting harrowing images of a devastated Europe, entering Dachau with the Allied troops, posing in Hitler’s bathtub.

Burke examines Miller’s troubled personal life, from the unsettling photo sessions during which Miller, both as a child…[more]

Book:Like A Fiery Elephant

Like A Fiery Elephant: The Story Of B. S. Johnson

Jonathan Coe

The most critically acclaimed literary biography published in the UK in 2004, Like a Fiery Elephant tells the story of B.S. Johnson, one of Britain’s most innovative, passionate, and controversial writers of the 1960s and 70s. Johnson was an unflinching advocate for the avant-garde in both literature and film, and held strong (some would say extreme) views on the future of the novel. Working firmly in the tradition of Joyce and Beckett—the latter of whom became a friend and mentor of sorts to Johnson—he tormented his agents, editors, and publishers with innovations that included a book with holes cut throught the pages (Albert Angelo) and a novel published in a box so that its unbound chapters could be read in any order (The Unfortunates). Johnson committed suicide in 1973, at the age of forty.

The story of Johnson’s life is fascinating enough—but what makes this biography truly extraordinary (even for those…[more]

Book:Mark Twain

Mark Twain: A Life

Ron Powers

Mark Twain founded the American voice. His works are a living national treasury: taught, quoted, and reprinted more than those of any writer except Shakespeare. His awestruck contemporaries saw him as the representative figure of his times, and his influence has deeply flavored the 20th and 21st centuries. Yet somehow, beneath the vast flowing river of literature that he left behind—books, sketches, speeches, not to mention the thousands of letters to his friends and his remarkable entries in private journals—the man who became Mark Twain, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, has receded from view, leaving us with only faint and often trivialized remnants of his towering personality.

In Mark Twain, Ron Powers consummates years of thought and research with a tour de force on the life of our culture’s founding father, re-creating the 19th century’s vital landscapes and tumultuous events while restoring the human being…[more]

Book:Team of Rivals

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Doris Kearns Goodwin

Acclaimed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin illuminates Lincoln’s political genius in this highly original work, as the one-term congressman and prairie lawyer rises from obscurity to prevail over three gifted rivals of national reputation to become president.

On May 18, 1860, William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates, and Abraham Lincoln waited in their hometowns for the results from the Republican National Convention in Chicago. When Lincoln emerged as the victor, his rivals were dismayed and angry.

Throughout the turbulent 1850s, each had energetically sought the presidency as the conflict over slavery was leading inexorably to secession and civil war. That Lincoln succeeded, Goodwin demonstrates, was the result of a character that had been forged…[more]

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