Honor roll: National Book Award for Biography

Each of these books has been nominated for a National Book Award for Biography. They are ranked by honors received.

Book:Mornings on Horseback

Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life…Theodore Roosevelt

David McCullough

Written by David McCullough, the author of Truman, this is the story of a remarkable little boy, seriously handicapped by recurrent and almost fatal asthma attacks, and his struggle to manhood: an amazing metamorphosis seen in the context of the very uncommon household in which he was raised.

The father is the first Theodore Roosevelt, a figure of unbounded energy, enormously attractive and selfless, a god in the eyes of his small, frail namesake. The mother, Mittie Bulloch Roosevelt, is a Southerner and a celebrated beauty, but also considerably more, which the book makes clear as never before. There are sisters Anna and Corinne, brother Elliott (who becomes the father of Eleanor Roosevelt), and the lovely, tragic Alice Lee, TR’s first love. All are brought to life to make “a beautifully told story, filled with fresh detail”, wrote The New York Times Book Review. …[more]

Book:Walter Lippmann and the American Century

Walter Lippmann and the American Century

Ronald Steel

The journalist Walter Lippmann (1889-1974) was a magisterial figure who relished his role as an insider, an adviser to presidents, a shaper and sometime purveyor of government policy. Drawing on conversations with Lippmann and exclusive access to his private papers, Ronald Steel documents the broad flow of Lippmann’s career from his brilliant Harvard days and his role in helping formulate Wilson’s Fourteen Points in World War I to his bitter break with Lyndon Johnson over Vietnam. Written with clarity and objectivity, this definitive biography presents a commanding portrait of a complicated man and “guides its reader through the first three-quarters of this American century” (The New Yorker).

Book:The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt

Edmund Morris

This is Morris’s highly acclaimed account of Theodore Roosevelt’s life, encompassing the years from Roosevelt’s birth to his service in the White House.

He was one of our most vibrant presidents; his image still haunts our past and our present. This fascinating and comprehensive biography of the extraordinary naturalist, adventurer, soldier, and politician, tells the improbable, but very real, story of a man determined to get what he wanted, an American who helped define our century and our very character.

Book:Samuel Johnson (Walter Jackson Bate)

Samuel Johnson

Walter Jackson Bate

In this biography—a work that won three of the most prestigious literary prizes this country offers—W. Jackson Bate delves deep into the character that formed Johnson’s awesome intellect and fueled his prodigious output. The first great modern biography of Johnson, it confirms that his statements and judgments on literature, politics, religion, behavior—on all human experience—are as relevant in our age as when they were first uttered.


Macaulay: The Shaping of the Historian

John Clive

Thomas Babington Macaulay was one of nineteenth-century England’s greatest figures. His History of England has been a classic for well over a century; his parliamentary speeches and his essays have inspired generations of statesmen; schoolchildren by the millions have memorized his Lays of Ancient Rome. In this masterly book, John Clive give us the forces—familial, intellectual, circumstatntial and psychological—that shaped the life and mind of this great historian and orator.

Book:Eleanor and Franklin

Eleanor and Franklin: The Story of Their Relationship, Based on Eleanor Roosevelt's Private Papers

Joseph Lash

Eleanor and Franklin is one of the most highly acclaimed biographies written in recent times. Its focus is Eleanor Roosevelt and her complex relationship with FDR. Based on her personal papers and ranging from her birth in 1884 to the death of her husband in 1945, this fascinating study reveals new dimensions in a marriage that had a significant impact on the course of American history.

Written with great insight and sensitivity by an author who was a close friend of Mrs. Roosevelt’s for over twenty years, the volume explores the personal, familial and social influences that shaped Eleanor and prepared her for role as first lady and chief counselor to the president. In many ways Eleanor was her husband’s conscience. Her idealism dictated the terms of the complex partnership she evolved with her husband during his rise through local and national politics.

Book:Isak Dinesen

Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller

Judith Thurman

With exceptional grace, Judith Thurman’s classic work explores Isak Dinesen’s life—her privileged but unhappy childhood in Denmark, her marriage to Baron Blixen and their immigration to Africa on the eve of World War I, and her passionate affair with Denys Finch Hatton. Until the appearance of this book, the life and art of Dinesen have been—as Dinesen herself wrote of two lovers in a tale—“a pair of locked caskets, each containing the key to the other.” Judith Thurman has provided the master key to them both.

Book:Nathaniel Hawthorne in His Times

Nathaniel Hawthorne in His Times

James R. Mellow

James R. Mellow’s biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne places this great American writer in the midst of the literary and cultural turmoil of the early Republic. Mellow draws on Hawthorne’s letters and notebooks, as well as on perceptive readings of his fiction, in recreating the details of Hawthorne’s life: the long apprenticeship of the reclusive young author, his romantic courtship of Sophia Peabody, and his travels to Europe at the height of his literary career.

More fascinating still is Mellow’s portrayal of Hawthorne’s stimulating, complicated relationships with his fellow pioneers in the creation of a uniquely American literature—Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Louisa May Alcott. Hawthorne was also a life-long friend of President Franklin Pierce, and Mellow follows the fortunes of Hawthorne’s political career, which brought the writer into contact with the era’s great politicians—Daniel…[more]

Book:Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett: A Biography

Deirdre Bair

Samuel Beckett has become the standard work on the enigmatic, controversial, and Nobel Prize-winning creator of such contributions to 20th-century theater as Waiting for Godot and Endgame.

Book:Walt Whitman: A Life

Walt Whitman: A Life

Justin Kaplan

Whitman’s genius, passions, poetry, and androgynous sensibility entwined to create an exuberant life amid the turbulent American mid-nineteenth century. In vivid detail, Kaplan examines the mysterious selves of the enigmatic man who celebrated the freedom and dignity of the individual and sang the praises of democracy and the brotherhood of man.

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