Annal: 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography

Results of the National Book Critics Circle Award in the year 2008.

Book:The World Is What It Is

The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul

Patrick French

Since V. S. Naipaul left his Caribbean birthplace at the age of seventeen, his improbable life has followed the global movement of peoples, whose preeminent literary chronicler he has become. In The World Is What It Is, Patrick French offers the first authoritative biography of the controversial Nobel laureate, whose only stated ambition was greatness as a writer, in pursuit of which goal nothing else was sacred.

Beginning with a richly detailed portrait of Naipaul’s childhood in colonial Trinidad, French gives us the boy born to an Indian family, the displaced soul in a displaced community, who by dint of talent and ambition finds the only imaginable way out: a scholarship to Oxford. London in the 1950s offers hope and his first literary success, but homesickness and depression almost defeat Vidia, his narrow escape aided by Patricia Hale, an Englishwoman who will devote herself to his work and well-being. She…[more]

Book:The Bin Ladens

The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century

Steve Coll

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and author of the national bestseller Ghost Wars, Steve Coll presents the story of the Bin Laden family’s rise to power and privilege, revealing new information to show how American influences changed the family and how one member’s rebellion changed America.

The Bin Ladens rose from poverty to privilege; they loyally served the Saudi royal family for generations-and then one of their number changed history on September 11, 2001. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Steve Coll tells the epic story of the rise of the Bin Laden family and of the wildly diverse lifestyles of the generation to which Osama bin Laden belongs, and against whom he rebelled. Starting with the family’s escape from famine at the beginning of the twentieth century through its jet-set era in America after the 1970s oil boom, and finally to the family’s attempts to recover from September 11, The Bin Ladens unearths…[more]

Book:The Hemingses of Monticello

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

Annette Gordon-Reed

This epic work tells the story of the Hemingses, whose close blood ties to our third president had been systematically expunged from American history until very recently. Now, historian and legal scholar Annette Gordon-Reed traces the Hemings family from its origins in Virginia in the 1700s to the family’s dispersal after Jefferson’s death in 1826. It brings to life not only Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson but also their children and Hemings’s siblings, who shared a father with Jefferson’s wife, Martha. The Hemingses of Monticello sets the family’s compelling saga against the backdrop of Revolutionary America, Paris on the eve of its own revolution, 1790s Philadelphia, and plantation life at Monticello. Much anticipated, this book promises to be the most important history of an American slave family ever written.

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:White Heat

White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Brenda Wineapple

The first book to portray one of the most remarkable friendships in American letters, that of Emily Dickinson—recluse, poet—and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, minister, literary figure, active abolitionist.

Their friendship began in 1862. The Civil War was raging. Dickinson was thirty-one; Higginson, thirty-eight. A former pastor at the Free Church of Worcester, Massachusetts, he wrote often for the cultural magazine of the day, The Atlantic Monthly—on gymnastics, women’s rights, and slavery. His article “Letter to a Young Contributor” gave advice to readers who wanted to write for the magazine and offered tips on how to submit one’s work (“use black ink, good pens, white paper”).

Among the letters Higginson received in response was one scrawled in looping, difficult handwriting. Four poems were enclosed…[more]

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