Books by Meryle Secrest

NONFICTION
Released: Nov. 5, 2019

"A competently written story that limns the complex spy-vs.-spy calculus of a time still fresh in memory."
Prolific biographer Secrest (Elsa Schiaparelli, 2014, etc.) delves into a remote corner of Cold War history. Read full book review >
ELSA SCHIAPARELLI by Meryle Secrest
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Oct. 7, 2014

"Secrest ably chronicles Schiap's career and social life, mining others' memoirs and reflections to fashion a colorful portrait of her 'famously difficult' subject—but Schiap keeps the secrets of her heart."
The life of a flamboyant couturière. Read full book review >
MODIGLIANI by Meryle Secrest
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: March 4, 2011

"Sorting through the detritus of the artist's short life, the author ultimately connects those events in great detail, but sometimes a bit too meticulously. The myths were more fun."
Prolific biographer Secrest (Shoot the Widow: Adventures of a Biographer in Search of Her Subject, 2007, etc.) introduces us to Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920), and he's not nearly as exciting as the myths that surround the "accursed" artist. Read full book review >
DUVEEN by Meryle Secrest
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Oct. 1, 2004

"Casts new and unexpectedly sympathetic light on arguably the dominant figure in the early-20th-century art world. (86 photos and illustrations)"
After a decade-long sojourn among musicians (Stephen Sondheim, 1998, etc.), Secrest returns to her previous specialty (Being Bernard Berenson, 1979, etc.) with a portrait of the world's greatest art dealer. Read full book review >
SOMEWHERE FOR ME by Meryle Secrest
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Nov. 13, 2001

From veteran biographer Secrest (Frank Lloyd Wright, 1992, etc.), a serviceable portrait of the composer who was half of two of the American musical's greatest teams. Read full book review >
STEPHEN SONDHEIM by Meryle Secrest
NON-FICTION
Released: June 14, 1998

Veteran biographer Secrest moves, logically, from Leonard Bernstein (1994) to one of his collaborators and friends—and one of the undoubted giants of the American theater—Stephen Sondheim. Like his mentor, Oscar Hammerstein, Sondheim has vehement detractors and vociferous defenders; Secrest is quite clearly in the latter group. Born in New York in 1930, Sondheim is the son of well-to-do German Jews. But when their marriage disintegrated while Stephen was still a child, the boy found himself a pawn in his mother's machinations. As Secrest makes clear, the scars from that experience stayed with Sondheim for a long time, occasionally finding their way into his creative work. Despite personal travails as a youth, Sondheim enjoyed a pretty nearly unbroken road to theatrical success, being virtually adopted by the Hammersteins, making his Broadway debut at 27 with the lyrics for West Side Story and not actually having a failure until his second show as sole composer-lyricist, the legendary Anyone Can Whistle. Secrest has had the great advantage of cooperation from her subject. More than any previous work on Sondheim, this book has the benefit of early reminiscences and access to its subject's apprentice work all the way back to his high-school years. Yet Sondheim remains a somewhat emotionally distant figure, not surprising since his guardedness seems to be one of his most prominent traits. Regrettably, although there is much material here to fascinate both Sondheim addicts and theater fans, Secrest fails to organize it coherently. Although there are some engaging stories about the creation of such classics as Company, Pacific Overtures, and Sunday in the Park with George, the book rambles with a ramshackle thrown-together feeling and with awkward run-on sentences. And not surprisingly given that her subject is still working hard at 68, Secrest's effort doesn't so much end as stop abruptly. Some genuine insights into one of our living masters, but a disappointingly disorganized work with a surfeit of dollar-book Freud and Jung. (95 photos, not seen) (Literary Guild selection; author tour) Read full book review >
LEONARD BERNSTEIN by Meryle Secrest
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Nov. 10, 1994

Another big Lenny B. bio, jam-packed with accomplishment and angst. This is not a terrible book, and there are occasional passages of nice insight. Ultimately, however, the limitations that biographer Secrest admits at the outset prove to be too much for her. She is not a music historian, her previous subjects mostly having been figures from architecture and the visual arts (Frank Lloyd Wright, 1992, etc.), and her self-professed inability to evaluate Bernstein as composer exacerbates the inherent difficulties of writing his life so soon after his death. ``Various family members, close friends, and colleagues'' refused to talk to her because the Bernstein estate was contracted to another biographer (presumably Humphrey Burton, author of Leonard Bernstein, p. 260); for the same reason, she did not have access to the ``vast Bernstein archives.'' There were, of course, still plenty of folks who would talk (and talk and talk) to her about the maestro, and they had a lot to say, on every now-familiar subject from L.B.'s ambivalent sexuality to his podium manners, his business acumen, and his skills as father and teacher. If it were not for the thematic and chronological connective passages that display Secrest's skill as a biographer, the book could be called Reminiscences on Bernstein. Predictably, not all of the lengthy, sometimes rambling, quotations are of equal merit; all are self- interested and some don't make sense. We hear much about Bernstein's conflicts—conducting vs. composing, his attraction to men vs. women—but in the absence of an overview of his creative legacy (which simply may not be possible at this early date), the reader winds up feeling merely exhausted by Lenny's energy level. Another book for the growing shelf from which some Maynard Solomon or musical Walter Jackson Bate will have to winnow when the time comes to write a critical biography rather than the Bernstein story. (100 b&w photos) (First printing of 35,000) Read full book review >
FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT by Meryle Secrest
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Sept. 9, 1992

Engrossing story of the Balzac-scaled life of the great architect. Wright (1867-1959) was born in Wisconsin to a Welsh family of radical thinkers and was nurtured to be an architect by his mother, who told him he was destined for greatness. He dropped out of the Univ. of Wisconsin after two semesters to take a draftsman's job at $8.00 a week, and soon was working for the master architect Louis Sullivan (inventor of the skyscraper). Within a year, Wright had become chief designer at Adler and Sullivan and also had married the first of his three wives. In the next 30 years, he was to abandon his wife and six children (and his phenomenally successful practice), calling marriage a ``barnyard institution. I am a wild bird''; marry a morphine- addicted heiress and follower of Mary Baker Eddy who was killed by an axe-stroke to the brain by an insane servant; marry a Serbian beauty 30 years his junior who was an instructor for G.I. Gurdjieff; build his beloved house Taliesen (East) three times— it twice burned to the ground; time and again ingeniously raise prodigious sums of money and spend them in profligate excess; revive his career with the building of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo—the only major structure to remain undamaged in the largest earthquake of the century in 1923 in Japan; and go on to greater triumphs, culminating with the Guggenheim Museum in 1956. Secrest (Salvador Dali, 1986, etc.), who had access to the newly opened archives at Wright's Memorial Foundation, does a superb job in telling the human side of Wright's story. And without allowing it to overmaster her narrative, she provides clear architectural background to explicate Wright's designs, stature, and influence. Definitive. (Photographs—121—some seen.) Read full book review >