Solid and informative, Howard Sounes' biography of Bukowski gets the job done. You'll learn about the man, his experiences, his women, and his writing...moreSolid and informative, Howard Sounes' biography of Bukowski gets the job done. You'll learn about the man, his experiences, his women, and his writing, but when the title utilizes the word "crazy," there's an expectation the book will live up to its name. This one did not.
With such a dynamic man as the focus, this biography should've been intriguing. The fault is not with the subject but with his biographer: Bukowski's life and controversial writing give plenty of material, but the author wastes it in rote play-by-plays that feed the reader a flat laundry list. I've read other work by Sounes that proved far better than this, so I'm not sure what happened while he was working on this project. Maybe he was as bored as I was at times.
If you've read Bukowski's works, especially Ham on Rye and Women, large chunks of this biography will already be familiar. Not just in the "oh, that sounds familiar" sort of way but in the "Sounes quotes entire passages from the novels and then regurgitates them for the next four pages" kind of way. Repetitive and rote, this biography doesn't do justice to the man on the cover.
But like I said, this is a solid read and does exactly what it's supposed to: give a lifelong account of the man behind the poetry. You'll learn everything you expect to learn from a biography, from birth to death, loves and losses, and Sounes leaves nothing out. I just wish the final product proved more engaging.(less)
And So It Goes... is an in-depth biography in which Charles Shields does a solid job of humanizing a literary icon, exhaustively researched. This is t...moreAnd So It Goes... is an in-depth biography in which Charles Shields does a solid job of humanizing a literary icon, exhaustively researched. This is the man, not just the writer, and that's a key difference to mark because this isn't about the work but the human being, in all his glory and failures, behind the work that made such an impact on 20th century literature.
I was in middle school when I first encountered Vonnegut: an uncle gave me a copy of Breakfast for Champions one Christmas and it was like a bomb exploded. This is what books could be like! Not too long ago a friend asked which author affected me most as a writer (not necessarily my actual writing but simply my horizons), and I answered without hesitation. Kurt Vonnegut.
In this biography, Shields doesn't shy away from the dark and dirty. Not only is the story of Vonnegut's life a rather depressing one, it turns out he was also kind of a dick. Would I have loved the chance to sit down and have a beer with him? Absolutely! Would I have wanted to be related to him or a close friend? Eh, probably not so much. Writers (and artists in general) are notoriously difficult people, often not the most stable or happiest people you'll encounter in the world, and yet while it's clear from this reading that Vonnegut was a difficult man beset by demons, there are many examples of the heart beneath the surface and, alas, the hurt that comes with it.
Shields' book is a good study of Vonnegut's life, delving deep and unflinching. Drawbacks exist, of course. For one, the narrative never really gains momentum and the whole book seems to plod along despite the wealth of material. There's a lack of intensity at times, which is a bit odd. Second, the ending is abrupt; Vonnegut's final days are given less than two pages and the last of the biography is simply the date he passed away. I remember where I was and what I was doing the day Kurt Vonnegut died, so while the man has gone, his influence remains; a few final words would've helped smooth out the ending.
Overall a great read for Vonnegut enthusiasts and likely a good choice for literary, history, and cultural enthusiasts. Recommended.(less)
A thorough study of the Marquis de Sade, both his life and work. Schaeffer draws heavily on letters, journals, and Sade's surviving novels, plays, and...moreA thorough study of the Marquis de Sade, both his life and work. Schaeffer draws heavily on letters, journals, and Sade's surviving novels, plays, and essays to profile the man and analyze the legend. A worthwhile read for those with an abiding interest in the Marquis, although probably best for any casual readers to skip this one. The only complaint I have is that in parts this biography drags, and there's no excuse for these boring sections when the subject is such an infamous figure.(less)
While browsing the bookstore and idly picking up anything that looked vaguely interesting, I found The Clockwork Universe, which caught my admittedly...moreWhile browsing the bookstore and idly picking up anything that looked vaguely interesting, I found The Clockwork Universe, which caught my admittedly somewhat eccentric, wide-ranging curiosity. Within a few hours I had a line of people calling dibs on reading it next (my mother, an ex, a geeky friend, a not-so-geeky drinking buddy) and only one dear friend (a pretentious robot on occasion) rolling his eyes before wandering off to the rest of my bookshelves. I found this burst of enthusiasm (or cheeky, unimpressed snark) amusing and dismissed it with a wave of my battered bookmark...
But then I started reading. The division of opinion proved to be a telltale sign of what I was getting into: the casual reader with loosely-rooted curiosity and a basic familiarity with the major players (Newton, Halley (you know, the comet), Galileo, Tycho, Descartes, Kepler) will enjoy this, while the mathematicians, physicists, and other scientifically-minded could easily and without regret give it a pass as child's play.
The Clockwork Universe is an enthralling, easy read (considering the subject matter) that is geared towards the casual reader, not the hardcore science buff, and Dolnick does a great job at weaving together a lot of different historical strands to create a solid presentation. He doesn't get bogged down in the technical aspects, remembering throughout that this is a group biography, a book of history and not science, and he keeps his focus. The main thread is, of course, the impact of Isaac Newton's work, but the author also presents a rather thorough picture of the entire Royal Society scene as it applies to "the birth of the modern world."
Other reviewers have gone into more detail regarding specifics of the science, the revelations, the colossal impact, etc. that the author explores, so I'll spare you my nonsensical ramblings on that. Instead, I'll end with this:
There are a couple chapters where Dolnick explains some basic concepts of calculus in order to help the reader understand later points in Newton's history. Between his down-to-earth, step-by-step explanations and the supporting graphs and pictorial depictions, I now understand more geometry and calculus than I ever did in high school. Not saying much, I know, but simply being aware of the importance of things like slopes, parabolas, and ellipses in regards to time, speed, velocity, and the like is more than all my struggles with inscrutable textbooks ever managed to do.
For those expecting a fully fleshed biography of Coco Chanel, make no mistake: as the title implies, the focus of this book is on Chanel's experience...moreFor those expecting a fully fleshed biography of Coco Chanel, make no mistake: as the title implies, the focus of this book is on Chanel's experience during WWII and the Nazi occupation of France. Vaughan does not (and, to my mind, never intended to) present an all-inclusive look at her life; countless writers before him have already done that. Only cursory, basic biographical information is given as to her life before and after the war, just enough to ground the reader in Chanel's life, while the bulk of Sleeping with the Enemy has a narrow focus on the narrow time period of interwar and wartime France. Neither the title or the synopsis on the inside cover give any other impression.
Vaughan's biography sucks you in, a quick read that captures one's attention with a manner that appeals to the voyeur. Information is presented clearly without unnecessary repetition, although the stage has so many players that it's easy to forget who's who and what name goes with which personality. This is definitely heavy on the history side, but I feel that background is a necessary addition in order to understand the actions and motivations behind Chanel's wartime behavior.
One complaint is that as I read, it seemed the author viewed his subject in a negative light. Granted, she was not a particularly pleasant woman or even, it could be argued, a particularly good woman. Creativity and artistic genius are not indicative of empathetic humanity, and especially when one analyzes her involvement in the Nazi occupation, it's quite easy to see her as villainous. However, I'm a firm believer that any good biographer should maintain a neutral tone in the writing itself; personal biases are impossible to prevent, but the author should keep them to himself and allow the audience to make up their own minds.
Vaughan offers up juicy details as promised, so there's no lack of delicious moments. However, the feeling is often akin to the gossip columns as opposed to the history section, and at time I had some doubts about the authenticity of his information, or at least the thoroughness with which it was presented. Whether that's your thing or not may be enough reason to pick up or discard this book.
Decent read, as much a look at occupied France as it is a biography of Chanel during wartime. Good fluff to read on a sunny, lazy day but not so much a serious addition to bookshelves.(less)
A wonderful series of essays on homosexual artists, with a heavy emphasis on writers but also including painters and filmmakers. The connecting theme...moreA wonderful series of essays on homosexual artists, with a heavy emphasis on writers but also including painters and filmmakers. The connecting theme is the homosexuality of Tóibín's subjects, but the true focus is on their work, not their sexuality. The first section on Wilde is longer than the others and correspondingly more in depth, but all of these pieces are an overview, not a critical study or presentation of their depths. Consider it an introduction to the artistic side of gay history, and enjoy it for Tóibín's style, intelligence, and keen observations. (As another reviewer already stated, the explanation for Wilde's attachment to Alfred, despite the ruinous nature of their relationship, is one of the best I've read.) The beginnings essays are strong and well-written, while the ones near the end are a bit weaker. A great read from a much-needed perspective.(less)
An engrossing, haunting read that would have earned more stars--if it had been on the fiction shelf. While I suspect Pizzichini's assumptions and inse...moreAn engrossing, haunting read that would have earned more stars--if it had been on the fiction shelf. While I suspect Pizzichini's assumptions and insertions are correct, I can't tolerate it when biography writers repeatedly assume the feelings, thoughts, and inner monologues of their subjects. Source it, or leave it out. If the author had written this as a novel based on the life of Jean Rhys, that would have been considerably for the better.(less)
An excellent read, but if you're expecting a straight narrative regarding the earliest known plague epidemic, look elsewhere. Rosen weaves in history...moreAn excellent read, but if you're expecting a straight narrative regarding the earliest known plague epidemic, look elsewhere. Rosen weaves in history from many different aspects: architecture, mathematics, burgeoning medical science, biographic summaries of many of Justinian's contemporaries, art, philosophy, religion, wars, etc. This is more of a wide-ranging look at the gradual move from antiquity to the medieval period, with the plague casting a shadow over the entirety. Meanders a bit, especially near the end where I feel Rosen got bogged down in his own narrative, but definitely an interesting read as long as one isn't expecting plague and nothing but the plague.(less)
An interesting, original approach to biography that wasn't nearly the heavy read I was expecting. Unfortunately, the author makes a lot of jumps from...moreAn interesting, original approach to biography that wasn't nearly the heavy read I was expecting. Unfortunately, the author makes a lot of jumps from the material to what may have motivated Wilde, and it seems that this is more a biography of the author's romantic idea of Wilde, rather than the man himself. Nevertheless, an easy, entertaining read that's simultaneously intriguing for Wilde fans.(less)
Two stars for what I did read: history-slash-biography, all okay. Unfortunately I only made it a bit past the 100 page mark, as those first 100 pages...moreTwo stars for what I did read: history-slash-biography, all okay. Unfortunately I only made it a bit past the 100 page mark, as those first 100 pages failed to engage me, so much so that at one point I forgot I was reading this and started an entirely different book. I'm leaving the bookmark in place when I put it back on the shelf, so maybe I'll come back to McCourt's book some day. Maybe.(less)
Berber's life holds a wealth of fascination, and yet Gordon's biography is shallow, barely scratches the surface. Badly in need of an editor, this qui...moreBerber's life holds a wealth of fascination, and yet Gordon's biography is shallow, barely scratches the surface. Badly in need of an editor, this quick read felt more like a half-assed student paper than an actual attempt at presenting the reader with the actual woman. No context of the times, no serious study, and on a whole, very disappointing. 30 minutes and a basic knowledge of Google will turn up every picture contained in this book, so it's definitely not worth the inflated asking price.(less)