You are here
Dan's Staff Picks
An Autobiography (1971)
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
In my opinion, this is the best book ever written about Hollywood and the making of movies. It’s the autobiography of Frank Capra, the director of such classic films as It Happened One Night, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and It’s a Wonderful Life. It was a difficult life for Capra, as he began in poverty, emigrating from Italy as a child and struggling to make a living through odd jobs as he stumbled into the movie business. He struggled there, too, but innate talent and tremendous hard work made him, by the 1930s, the world’s most famous film director, and the winner of three Best Director Academy Awards in just five years. Capra provides an enthralling account of his rise, filled with fascinating details about the making of his films, and his work with legendary Hollywood figures like Harry Cohn, the ruthless boss of Columbia Pictures, and actors such as Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, and Jimmy Stewart. Particularly good is Capra’s description of the production of It’s a Wonderful Life, which he considered his masterpiece.
Alone (1983); Visions of Glory (1988)
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Dozens, if not hundreds, of biographies have been written about Winston Churchill, but none are as insightful, or as gracefully written, as this brilliant work by William Manchester. The book is in two parts: Visions of Glory, which covers the first 58 years of Churchill’s life; and Alone, detailing the 1930s, when Churchill was out of government. That’s right; two volumes and some 1,600 pages and Churchill isn’t even prime minister yet. But don’t forget that Churchill was not merely a politician. He was a soldier, writer, painter, adventurer, and participant in just about every major world event between the late 1890s and the late 1950s. He was also a captivating character with a devilish wit, and to delve into these pages is a joy.
The author, William Manchester, had hoped to continue the story of Churchill’s life, but passed away at age 82 before the third and final volume, Defender of the Realm, could be completed. That work has now been finished by Paul Reid and is scheduled for publication in late 2012.
The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005)
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was a former one-term congressman and two-time failed senate candidate from Illinois. Despite this feeble resume, he managed to outmaneuver the top leaders of the Republican party—all far more experienced and better known than Lincoln—and win the nomination for president. Once elected, and as the southern states began pulling out of the Union, Lincoln selected these same political rivals as the members of his new cabinet.
In this best-selling history, Doris Kearns Goodwin tells the story of Lincoln’s relationship with these men and how their struggles to work together (or against one another) influenced the course of the Civil War. Goodwin writes with style and vigor, providing riveting portraits of all the main characters, with a novelistic tone. Team of Rivals is also the source for Steven Spielberg’s coming film biography of Lincoln, starring Daniel Day Lewis and Sally Field.
Monday, November 26, 2012
From the 1920s to the 1960s, Edna Ferber was one of America’s most popular writers, turning out a string of best-selling novels, such as So Big (Pulitzer Prize winner), Show Boat, Come and Get It, and Giant, many of which became equally successful plays and films. Ferber herself also wrote successful plays (Stage Door, The Royal Family) with theatrical legend George S. Kauffmann, and was peripheral member of the famed Algonquin Round Table of notable wits.
All of this is quite interesting enough, but what makes Ferber’s memoir of particular appeal is that she grew up in Appleton. In the book, Ferber offers a glowing account of life in turn-of-the-century Appleton, from working in her father’s dry goods store on College Avenue to her first paying job ($3.00 a week) as a reporter for the Appleton Daily Crescent (later the Post-Crescent), which provided the opportunity to interview another former Appletonian, the great escape artist Harry Houdini.
A Peculiar Treasure is an appealing account of another era, and of a talented, tough, and sometimes prickly woman who rose from a small Midwestern town to international success.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
The main character of this novel is one of the most despised people in America: he’s a lobbyist for the smoking industry. He’s not friendless, however. His frequent lunch companions include the chief representatives for the gun industry and the alcohol lobby. They privately refer to themselves as “The MOD Squad” (as in Merchants of Death). In this hilarious novel, Buckley not only skewers the tobacco industry, but Washington, Hollywood, the press, and modern society in general. The book is also the source of an excellent movie of the same name.
An Intimate Biography (2009)
Monday, September 10, 2012
When informed that George Gershwin had died, the novelist John O’Hara wrote, “I don’t have to believe it if I don’t want to.” Gershwin was only 38 at the time of his death, and had been widely seen as the future of American music. Composing since he was a teenager, Gershwin had created symphonic works such as “Rhapsody in Blue,” the majestic opera “Porgy and Bess,” and a series of hit Broadway and Hollywood scores that included such enduring songs as “I Got Rhythm,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “S’Wonderful,” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.” Gershwin packed an enormous amount into a short life, which is well told in this brief biography.
Send a Question or Comment to Appleton Public Library.