Valuable insights into the work of a biographer and the lives of her subjects.



A book offers a diverse collection of memories and advice about a career as a biographer.

Bober (Papa Is a Poet, 2013, etc.) began writing while bedridden with illness. She’d studied poetry in college and decided to attempt a biography of William Wordsworth. This endeavor launched a successful career as a researcher, historian, and biographer. In her memoir, Bober reflects on her craft and the ways her own life was shaped by it: “I often find myself describing…my life according to which biography I was writing at the time.” For her book on Wordsworth, she first read what was already published. When she’d recovered, she traveled to England and Wales. She saw Wordsworth’s school and home, his desk and original manuscripts, and walked along the Wye River where he’d composed. This pattern—Bober’s insistence on experiencing places and objects relevant to her subjects—would repeat through her eight biographies. In this sense, her memoir serves as guidebook for writers. She shows what it takes to be “a storyteller whose facts are true.” When researching Thomas Jefferson, she made arrangements to see the desk on which he drafted the Declaration of Independence; a photograph would not do. Bober also discusses the challenge of portraying a complex personality. Her chapter on artist Louise Nevelson is intriguing. The author loved Nevelson’s work but, as a devoted mother and grandmother, she could not fully comprehend the sculptor’s choice of art over family. Further, Nevelson was living when Bober was writing her biography but was not particularly forthcoming with details of her life. The author’s account of working through these challenges provides sage advice for any researcher or writer. Bober asserts that her various subjects chose her and that she aims to tell her own “adventure.” This comes through: readers see Bober evolve as a biographer—and then into a Jefferson scholar—and her love of research and writing is palpable. On the whole, however, the book remains more about her subjects, particularly in the later chapters on American history. Perhaps this is inevitable for an inveterate biographer.

Valuable insights into the work of a biographer and the lives of her subjects.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4787-6188-4

Page Count: -

Publisher: Outskirts Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 23, 2017

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Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.


A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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