Tag Archives: biography

Robert Morris by Charles Rappleye: a review

The strongest takeaway, for me, is a reminder about how fragile the American Revolution really was. Rappleye certainly gives Morris too much credit for the Republic’s survival, but what’s clear is that Robert Morris was a key player and that his financial machinations were essential. Rappleye portrays his subject as a master administrator and a master politician, and generally succeeds in bringing him to life.

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Home Before Morning by Lynda Van Devanter: a short review

A review, but mostly a story, on Flickr.

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Becoming Jimi Hendrix by Steven Roby and Brad Schreiber: a review

Becoming Jimi Hendrix mostly explores Jimi’s life as a professional sideman, from his 1962 Army stint until his move to London and great fame in late 1966. An introduction covers his life to that point, and an epilogue touches on his career as a bandleader. There are approximately three recurring themes in the book’s main section: Jimi’s poverty, his contacts with some of the 1960s best popular musicians, and his women. While the poverty’s mentioned constantly, the authors don’t make it particularly real. In contrast, his musical odyssey is covered very well, with both his experiences as a professional sideman and his (relatively) casual contacts with famous musicians are recorded with some excellence. And there are constant mentions of frequent sexual encounters–though the book also offers fine and sympathetic portraits of the half-dozen or so women with whom he had relatively stable relationships.

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Memoir of Douglass Houghton by Alvah Bradish: a short review

An odd book. The 70-page memoir is essentially useless, but the appendix contains summaries of Houghton’s geological survey work, including a long excerpt from his fourth (1840) report to the Michigan legislature, which is fascinating. Houghton’s fourth report was a masterpiece of synthesis, summarizing the field notes of his team into a coherent and generally readable explanation of what they’d seen. Wonderful stuff. There are clues in other work excerpted here that Houghton could manage this sort of masterwork pretty much at will. Doubtless that’s the reason he was so widely admired. It’s a tragedy that he died so young.

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Doc Holliday by Karen Holliday Tanner: a short review

Covers pretty much the same territory as Gary Roberts’ book on Holliday, but not as well, and this book is nowhere near so balanced. Prose is, at best, workmanlike.

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James Wallace of Macalester by Edwin Kagin: a review

The strength of the book is its fascinating portrait of the early years of a small college. We see buildings under construction, we sit in on debates about whether to permit women students, we watch faculty get hired (and fired), we experience a neighborhood growing around the campus, we grow frustrated as the finances of the school devolve from difficult to grim. Then we follow newly-elected Macalester president Wallace as he slogs through a half-decade of budgets and fundraising–begging, really–during the 1890s recession. Finally things right themselves as the new century begins. This section of the book is extremely well-done, and worth reading for anyone interested in the beginnings of educational institutions. While the details are specific to this institution, the general pattern, I suspect, is common.

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Inventing Wyatt Earp by Allen Barra: a review

Allen Barra examines the evidence, and concludes that the real Wyatt Earp resembled the mythical Wyatt Earp. This book is, in essence, an argument against Frank Waters and his “revisionist” successors (I really dislike that term; it distorts how real historians work). This unsurprising conclusion is well-told, but the book’s a little digressive and chatty. And, as noted in one of the other LT reviews, the copyediting leaves a lot to be desired, though I wouldn’t go so far as reporting errors in “every paragraph.” Perhaps the new publisher cleaned things up with this edition.

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LeMay by Warren Kozak: a review

What the book does well is round out LeMay’s biography. Like most Vietnam vets, my memories of the man begin with his time on the Joint Chiefs and end with the 1968 Wallace campaign. There’s much more to this man than that, and the book is worth reading just for that.

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Man of Constant Sorrow by Ralph Stanley: a review

The omissions are interesting. There’s practically no mention about his first marriage, and only cursory mentions of his children (even of Ralph II, who was part of his touring band for a long time). After Carter’s death, there’s really little about the mechanics and logistics of running a band; would be interesting to hear Ralph discuss that, since he’s done that longer than almost anyone. That he didn’t include such a discussion is this book’s greatest disappointment.

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The Writing Life by CJ Cherryh: a review

The author’s intention was to document her daily activities (routine would be pretty misleading), showing what the life of a professional writer looks and feels like. The first few entries are pretty sketchy; thereafter it’s a fairly traditional blog except that there really is a lot of emphasis on the discipline required to make a living by writing.

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