California Literary Review

Biography

Michelangelo: A Tormented Life by Antonio Forcellino

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January 28th, 2010

Before dawn on the morning of February 18 a group of Florentines entered the church stealthily and stole Michelangelo’s body, which they concealed on a farm cart. Upon arrival of the corpse three days later in Florence, thousands of citizens turned out spontaneously, dressed in workmen’s and artists’ smocks like those Michelangelo himself wore. Many wept as they accompanied the bier in an improvised procession through the dark streets. No such a procession, as if for a saint, had ever been seen there before.

Churchill by Paul Johnson

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December 1st, 2009

And Johnson reminds us of the memorable words he spoke after France capitulated: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’” Here the biographer also observes, “So the first true victory Britain won in the war was the victory of oratory and symbolism. Churchill was responsible for both.”

Messenger: The Legacy of Mattie J.T. Stepanek and Heartsongs by Jeni Stepanek

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November 11th, 2009

He explains it in his journals as “Whatever it is that a person needs or wants, they understand why that matters, and that is the unfolding of their Heartsong . . . And as we learn in almost every religion or philosophy of goodness, it is in giving that we receive. In sharing our Heartsong with others, it goes out into the world, and somehow, circles back to us.”

In My Father’s Shadow by Chris Welles Feder

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November 5th, 2009

Orson had become so famous for his villainous role as Harry Lime in The Third Man that the moment he appeared in public, somebody whipped out an instrument and began playing the theme song. When an organ-grinder began playing the theme while Chris and Orson were crossing Piccadilly Circus, Orson had had it with London. His driver took them way out in the country to picnic in an isolated spot surrounded by hedges. A man on a bicycle saw them, stopped short, and suddenly whipped out his harmonica to play The Third Man theme song.

Abraham Lincoln: A Life by Michael Burlingame

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October 15th, 2009

Never perhaps has there been such a masterful account of the man’s failures—and successes—in this country’s most taxing job. Look what Burlingame says he did in just his first hundred days in office: “…he raised and supplied an army, sent it into battle, held the Border States in the Union, helped thwart Confederate attempts to win European diplomatic recognition, declared a blockade, asserted leadership over his cabinet, dealt effectively with Congress, averted a potential crisis with Great Britain, and eloquently articulated the nature and purpose of the war.”

Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money, and Sex

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October 14th, 2009

And those names: JenniferBlowdryer, Sinnamon Love. Sebastian Horsely, a male prostitute, of course. Horsely advocates the trade as follows; “The difference between sex for money and sex for free is that sex money always costs less.”

Nina Simone: The Biography by David Brun-Lambert

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August 5th, 2009

The granddaughter of slaves on both parents’ sides of the family, Simone’s stardom coincided with the civil rights struggle in the U.S. If it is necessary to find a defining moment in her life, it may have come even earlier than the Curtis Institute rejection. At her first public concert, at age ten in Tryon’s Town Hall, her parents were asked to give up their seats to a white couple. The child protested out loud until her father and mother were allowed to stay in their places.

The Bolter by Frances Osborne

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July 27th, 2009

She introduces a woman who may have upset those around her by her promiscuity, even nymphomania, drug use; but also gives us access to a fearless beauty with gifts of intelligence, wit, and extraordinary powers to attract the opposite sex. Then too, she reveals that her antics as combined with her endowments were nevertheless insufficient in her hunt for love and lasting affection.

The Travels of Marco Polo Translated by W. Marsden

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July 14th, 2009

It seems that world is more fantastic than our own travel brochures today can suggest for comfortable tourists. There has never been such an extensive realm, nor one with such an incredible structure of rapid communication over thousands of miles. Commerce thrived from Persia to Java, and one reason that may account for it, was order — and a flat tax of 10%. The law was strict and strictly administered everywhere, which was a marvel to Polo, in comparison with fractious Europe.

Marlee Matlin: Bold Moves and Few Regrets

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June 10th, 2009

“I worry about nothing except doing work that I like and that I look at as quality work. I don’t think of legacies or what people think. They are bold moves because I’ve found I can get the most attention with doing things that people don’t expect of me. It’s just the way it is.”

Satchmo: The Wonderful World and Art of Louis Armstrong by Steven Brower

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May 12th, 2009

For someone who radiated pure joy, his beginnings were Deep South Dickensian. Born in New Orleans in August 4, 1901, his unwed mother was a sometime prostitute and his absent father worked in a turpentine factory. As an unsupervised child, he worked unloading boats and selling newspapers on the sidewalk. Evenings, he would stand outside nightclubs and listen to the great trumpet players of the day, including Buddy Bolden and King Oliver, who would later become his mentor.

Chasing Moonlight: The True Story of Field of Dreams’ Doc Graham by Brett Friedlander and Robert Reising

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April 28th, 2009

There’s a scene in Field of Dreams where the camera lingers on a baby-faced baseball player wearing a New York Giants uniform. He has just seen a girl fall from the bleachers and he comes running towards her, hesitating for a fraction of a second on the edge of the grass. Then he drops his glove, takes a step and metamorphoses into the incomparable Burt Lancaster in one of his last starring roles. In an instant, Moonlight Graham has become Doc Graham, and he can never go back to the game he loved.

A Saint on Death Row by Thomas Cahill

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April 27th, 2009

Dominique’s worst luck was to have been born in Houston, Texas, the principal city of Harris County. Since 1976, Texas has executed more than four times as many prisoners as any other state, and beginning with George W. Bush’s term as governor, it became the death penalty capital of the country. Harris County has committed more people to death than any other in Texas – they’re slap-happy about vengeance.

Kentucky Clay, Eleven Generations of a Southern Dynasty by Katherine Bateman

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January 29th, 2009

“In the South, stories are the effervescence of conversation, and no stories are more gripping to an audience—relatives and stranger alike—than those about family.”

Erskine Childers and The Riddle of the Sands

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January 27th, 2009

Set against the backdrop of a yachting trip to the German coast, the story weds a tale of adventure with the reality of Britain’s imperial overreach thus beginning a genre that – as continued by the likes of Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, and John le Carré – has matured into one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the literate world.

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