Abraham Lincoln

By Alan Strauss-Schom

“A large Confederate flag can be seen flying over the Washington Navy Yard,” General Ben Butler told the English war correspondent of the Londonin February 1861. It was a fantasy, inconceivable, of course, a Confederate flag hoisted in Washington, D.C. on the eve of the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln. But as the president’s Navy Secretary, Gideon Welles, later recalled, “a strange state of things existed [in Washington] at that time, the atmosphere was thick with treason.” Southern sympathizers—and the federal city was still largely a “southern city,”—made no secret of their hatred of the…


John Steinbeck

1. The actual family name of the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author (1902–1968) was “Grossteinbeck,” which his paternal grandfather shortened to “Steinbeck” when he first came to the United States from Germany.

2. According to his biographer Jay Parini, the Steinbeck family home in Salinas, CA was a large Victorian house with maids and servants. Yet, he always identified with social causes and hardships experienced by the working class and migrant workers. These are the most common themes in his novels, including and

3. Illness and accidents plagued Steinbeck from an early age. He…


William Souder

By Carl Rollyson

Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, John Steinbeck (1902–1968) was one of America’s most influential and prolific writers of the 20th century. Many of his books described the Depression-era hardships of the working class in his native California.

William Souder is the author of several acclaimed biographies, including (2004)- a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, (2012), and most recently (2020).

Simply Charly: Do…


By Carl Rollyson

To call Ramsey Clark (1927-), Attorney General in Lyndon Johnson’s administration, and one of the principal architects of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a controversial subject, is an understatement. How to explain the volte face of a public figure who out of office defended America’s enemies-most notably Saddam Hussein? This is the challenge confronted by Lonnie T. Brown, Jr., the A. Gus Cleveland Distinguished Chair of Legal Ethics and Professionalism at the University of Georgia School of Law.

Brown began this first biography of Clark without knowing how much cooperation he would receive from his subject, without…


Herman Melville: A Half-Known Life, Vol. 1 & Vol. 2

By Carl Rollyson

John Bryant, a renowned Herman Melville scholar, writes in the wake of a veritable palimpsest of biographers: Raymond Weaver (1921), Lewis Mumford (1929), Newton Arvin (1950), Leon Howard (1951), Edwin Havilland Miller (1975), Laurie Robertson-Lorant (1996), Hershel Parker (two volumes 1996, 2002), and Elizabeth Hardwick (2000). The usual question, put with the confident ignorance that passes for authority with reviewers, is: What more could there be to say? The question should be: Why not another Melville biography? If there have been so many, then something is missing…


Ludwig van Beethoven

It is said that before composing, Ludwig van Beethoven(1770–1827) had a habit of dipping his head in cold water. We can’t be sure whether this tidbit is true or merely an invention of the 18th-century rumor mill.But this much we do know: regardless of whether he was cool or hot-headed while he wrote, Beethoven’s music has remained among the greatest and most influential of all time.

Another thing that remains elusive about the German composer is the exact day of his birth. However, historical records indicate that Beethoven was baptized on December 17, which means he came into the world…


Scott Donaldson

, published by in 2018, explores one of the key events in Ernest Hemingway’s life-his first marriage to Hadley Richardson-and his years in Paris in the early 1920s.

Its author Scott Donaldson (1928–2020), who died on December 1 at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona, was well suited to pen this work.

The a uthor of 21 books and more than a hundred articles and essays, Donaldson was a prominent Hemingway scholar, widely acclaimed as one of the nation’s leading literary biographers.

He wrote eight books about 20 -century American authors, including poets Winfield Townley Scott and…


Noam Chomsky

By Raphael Salkie

American intellectual Noam Chomsky is 92 years old today. Sometimes during his long life, he has said things that are remarkably obvious. Some people find these statements refreshing, while others are horrified. Here are two examples.

In 1965, in his book , Chomsky wrote:


By Carl Rollyson

Heather Clark, Professor of Contemporary Poetry at the University of Huddersfield, and author of (2011), announces in a prologue her intention to “debunk the sensational and melodramatic rhetoric that surrounds” Plath and “finally, to examine her life through her commitment not to death, but to art.” Certainly, the work of previous biographers can be mined for instances of purple prose that suggests a deterministic view of a suicidal Plath, who first tried to take her life in 1953 and then succeeded ten years later. …


By Carl Rollyson

The author of well-received and best-selling books about Franklin D. Roosevelt and Barack Obama, a seasoned political analyst on MSNBC and earlier on , Jonathan Alter summons a well informed and fresh perspective on the thirty-ninth President of the United States, taking advantage of new archival sources, including declassified documents on the CIA Records Search Tool available at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum. Alter notes that he received the “extensive cooperation of Jimmy Carter and eighteen members of his family,” including Rosalynn Carter, who shared her husband’s love letters. She is a major character in…

Simply Charly

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