Annal: 2008 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography

Results of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the year 2008.

Book:Ida: A Sword Among Lions

Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching

Paula J. Giddings

In the tradition of towering biographies that tell us as much about America as they do about their subject, Ida: A Sword Among Lions is a sweeping narrative about a country and a crusader embroiled in the struggle against lynching: a practice that imperiled not only the lives of black men and women, but also a nation based on law and riven by race.

At the center of the national drama is Ida B. Wells (1862-1931), born to slaves in Mississippi, who began her activist career by refusing to leave a first-class ladies’ car on a Memphis railway and rose to lead the nation’s first campaign against lynching. For Wells the key to the rise in violence was embedded in attitudes not only about black men but about women and sexuality as well. Her independent perspective and percussive personality gained her encomiums as a hero—as well as aspersions on her character and threats of death. Exiled from the South by 1892, Wells subsequently took her campaign across the country and throughout…[more]

Book:American Lion

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

Jon Meacham

Andrew Jackson, his intimate circle of friends, and his tumultuous times are at the heart of this remarkable book about the man who rose from nothing to create the modern presidency. Beloved and hated, venerated and reviled, Andrew Jackson was an orphan who fought his way to the pinnacle of power, bending the nation to his will in the cause of democracy. Jackson’s election in 1828 ushered in a new and lasting era in which the people, not distant elites, were the guiding force in American politics. Democracy made its stand in the Jackson years, and he gave voice to the hopes and the fears of a restless, changing nation facing challenging times at home and threats abroad. To tell the saga of Jackson’s presidency, acclaimed author Jon Meacham goes inside the Jackson White House. Drawing on newly discovered family letters and papers, he details the human drama–the family, the women, and the inner circle of advisers–that shaped Jackson’s private world through years of storm and victory. …[more]

Book:Chagall

Chagall: A Biography

Jackie Wullschlager

"When Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what colour really is.”

Picasso said this in the 1950s, when he and Chagall were eminent neighbours living in splendour on the Cote d’Azur. Born the son of a Russian Jewish herring merchant, Chagall fled the repressive “potato-coloured” czarist empire in 1911 to develop his genius in Paris. Through war and revolution in Bolshevik Russia, Weimar Berlin, occupied France and 1940s New York, he gave form to his dreams, longings and memories in paintings which are among the most humane and joyful of the 20th century.

Wullschlager has had exclusive access to hundreds of hitherto unseen and unpublished letters from the Chagall family collection in Paris, lending Chagall’s own unique voice to this account. Drawing also on numerous interviews with the artist’s family, friends, dealers, collectors, and illustrated with two hundred paintings, drawings and photographs, this elegantly written biography gives for the first time a full and true account of Chagall the man and the artist—and of a life as intense, theatrical and haunting as his paintings.

Book:Democracy's Prisoner

Democracy's Prisoner: Eugene V. Debs, the Great War, and the Right to Dissent

Ernest Freeberg

In 1920, socialist leader Eugene V. Debs ran for president while serving a ten-year jail term for speaking against America’s role in World War I. Though many called Debs a traitor, others praised him as a prisoner of conscience, a martyr to the cause of free speech. Nearly a million Americans agreed, voting for a man whom the government had branded an enemy to his country.

In a beautifully crafted narrative, Ernest Freeberg shows that the campaign to send Debs from an Atlanta jailhouse to the White House was part of a wider national debate over the right to free speech in wartime. Debs was one of thousands of Americans arrested for speaking his mind during the war, while government censors were silencing dozens of newspapers and magazines. When peace was restored, however, a nationwide protest was unleashed against the government’s repression, demanding amnesty for Debs and his fellow political prisoners. Led by a coalition of the country’s most important intellectuals, writers, and labor leaders,…[more]

Book:Traitor to His Class

Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt

H.W. Brands

A sweeping, magisterial biography of the man generally considered the greatest president of the twentieth century, admired by Democrats and Republicans alike. Traitor to His Class sheds new light on FDR’s formative years, his remarkable willingness to champion the concerns of the poor and disenfranchised, his combination of political genius, firm leadership, and matchless diplomacy in saving democracy in America during the Great Depression and the American cause of freedom in World War II.

Drawing on archival materials, public speeches, personal correspondence, and accounts by family and close associates, acclaimed bestselling historian and biographer H.W. Brands offers a compelling and intimate portrait of Roosevelt’s life and career.

Brands explores the powerful influence of FDR’s dominating mother and the often tense and always unusual partnership between FDR and his wife, Eleanor, and her indispensable contributions to his presidency. Most of all, the book traces in breathtaking…[more]

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