Tag: biography

Guest Post: Washington, A Life

Posted 14 March, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in guest post

Guest Post: Washington, A LifeWashington by Ron Chernow
Published by Penguin on October 5th 2010
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, History, Presidents & Heads of State, United States
Pages: 928

In Washington: A Life celebrated biographer Ron Chernow provides a richly nuanced portrait of the father of our nation. With a breadth and depth matched by no other one-volume life of Washington, this crisply paced narrative carries the reader through his troubled boyhood, his precocious feats in the French and Indian War, his creation of Mount Vernon, his heroic exploits with the Continental Army, his presiding over the Constitutional Convention, and his magnificent performance as America's first president.Despite the reverence his name inspires, Washington remains a lifeless waxwork for many Americans, worthy but dull. A laconic man of granite self-control, he often arouses more respect than affection. In this groundbreaking work, based on massive research, Chernow dashes forever the stereotype of a stolid, unemotional man. A strapping six feet, Washington was a celebrated horseman, elegant dancer, and tireless hunter, with a fiercely guarded emotional life. Chernow brings to vivid life a dashing, passionate man of fiery opinions and many moods. Probing his private life, he explores his fraught relationship with his crusty mother, his youthful infatuation with the married Sally Fairfax, and his often conflicted feelings toward his adopted children and grandchildren. He also provides a lavishly detailed portrait of his marriage to Martha and his complex behavior as a slave master.At the same time, Washington is an astute and surprising portrait of a canny political genius who knew how to inspire people. Not only did Washington gather around himself the foremost figures of the age, including James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, but he also brilliantly orchestrated their actions to shape the new federal government, define the separation of powers, and establish the office of the presidency.In this unique biography, Ron Chernow takes us on a page-turning journey through all the formative events of America's founding. With a dramatic sweep worthy of its giant subject, Washington is a magisterial work from one of our most elegant storytellers.


Now you might think that at 904 pages, Washington: A Life would cause me to slip into a coma.  But it didn’t and that is why we call Ron Chernow a wretched man…..the book was fascinating.  Long, to be sure, but utterly fascinating.  Chernow didn’t content himself with regurgitating the same old biographical information here.  Instead, he went after new information and insights contained in a slew of newly released letters and journals written by the Old Man himself.

Still, in the hands of any other biographer the information might be coma-inducing.  Thank the book-gods that Chernow is never boring.  His respect for America’s first President is evident throughout the book, but he doesn’t hesitate to reveal Washington’s innate flaws:  the man was petulant, ambitious and arrogant to the extreme with an inferiority complex borne out of his Colonist background.

We think you can somewhat see Washington’s lazy eye in this portrait

In other words, he may have turned out to be an idolized figure of American history, but he wasn’t a likable man.  Chernow paints a portrait of a brash young man who matured into an astute military leader…one that was needed for America to emerge as a country.  In many ways, this portrait of Washington is a portrait of who we are as a nation today (that petulant, ambitious and arrogant thing again).

Don’t be intimidated by the books length and scholarly presentation.  You do not have to ensconce yourself in a leather chair by the fire, wearing a worn tweed jacket and smoking a pipe to get the most from this biography.  Like all of Chernow’s remarkable biographies, it’s accessible and highly readable for anyone who has ever wondered about our first President.  (No, he didn’t cut down a cherry tree.  Yes, he did have false teeth, but they were ivory, not wood.)

And if you’ve never heard of the U.S. Presidents Reading Project, go check it out.  It’s a perpetual reading project challenging bibliophiles and history buffs to read one book about each of our U.S. Presidents.  Washington: A Life happens to be a perfect way to start.

Whatcha think, Readers? I’ve been dying to read this biography forever. I admit that I’m intimidated by the length, but after this review – maybe it’s time to give it a shot! Although, I hesitate to completely agree because since reading His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph Ellis, Washington has been my hero – complete with hero worship of all of his faults. After all, let he without sin cast the first stone. 


April @ The Steadfast Reader



Throwback Thursday: Little House on the Prairie

Posted 1 May, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Little House on the Prairie by: Laura Ingalls Wilder

Source: Owned, at least since 1989. Maybe before.
Synopsis: (Goodreads)

Pa Ingalls decides to sell the little log house, and the family sets out for Indian country! They travel from Wisconsin to Kansas and there, finally, Pa builds their little house on the prairie. Sometimes farm life is difficult, even dangerous, but Laura and the family are kept busy and are happy with the promise of their new life on the prairie.

Laura and her family journey west by covered wagon, only to find they are in Indian territory and must move on.

Okay. So after I finished reading The Girl Little House in the Big Woods she wanted more Laura and Mary, so despite how re-reading it as an adult made me feel (or not feel, as it were) I decided to indulge her. After all, promoting the love of reading is more important in our bedtime stories than how much I’m enjoying the book. 

I have good news and I have bad news. What do you want first? 

Let’s go with the good news. The good news is that this book is a lot less boring than Little House in the Big Woods, it’s more character driven and while there are still a lot of descriptions about the building of the cabin, the camping in the wagon, and other things that we associate with the western expansion of the United States, but Laura gets some more sass, there are some tense moments when we think that Jack the bulldog might be gone forever, and Wilder gives us the glimmer of hope that the whole family might get eaten by wolves one night. (Spoiler alert: they don’t.) 

So as a story, this is a much more enjoyable book for an adult reading it aloud. That’s good.

The bad? Welllll…. this book was first published in 1935 and it’s about a homesteading family (and other white people) in ‘Indian territory’. Do you see where the problem might be? Yep, it gets pretty xenophobic at times. Ma is terrified of Indians*, Pa continually speculates that the government (and soldiers) are always on the verge of clearing the land of Indians (moving them west) so that good upstanding white folk can make better use of the lands than the Indians ever will. It’s true that Pa stands up for the ‘goodness’ of the Indians against his neighbors and tries to reassure Ma and the girls that the Indians (assuming that they don’t piss them off) won’t hurt them. But there is still an undercurrent of fear and loathing. 

There are whole chapters (quite a few of them) dedicated to showing how frightening the Indians are. One chapter talks about an Indian that comes in the house and basically demands that Ma hand over the tobacco and cornmeal. Was settlement during this time period fraught with danger and very scary for white settlers? I’m sure that it was. But do I feel comfortable hammering home the message that Native Americans are ‘less than’  the white settlers? No, definitely not.

How do I address these things with my three year old? How do I emphasize that this wrong? My answer. I don’t know. I just read, trusted, and try to lead by example.

My second issue with the book is one of parenting. There’s a lot of ‘Laura knew she was a big girl and therefore shouldn’t cry.’ ‘Children were to be seen and not heard.’ that’s not my parenting style. I want The Girl to feel comfortable asking questions and knowing it’s okay to cry. Again, I think that this is a product of the book being written when it was written. So I read as is and teach my own values in different moments (or during questions she may ask during the reading.) 

Like I said, it’s better and worse than Little House in the Big Woods.

What do you think, Reader? Do things like xenophobia and outdated practices bother you when reading? What about when reading to a child? Am I nuts? 

*I use the term ‘Indian’ as opposed to ‘Native American’ because this is how the Native Americans are continually referred to in the book. 

April @ The Steadfast Reader



Guest Post Review: Lennon Revealed

Posted 12 March, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in guest post, Reviews

Guest Post : Michael Broderick

Lennon Revealed by: Larry Kane

First, I want thank Ms. April for this opportunity, and then I want to do this justice.

I am currently approaching my 64th year, and both grateful and somewhat surprised. I know that wears like a cliche but from this side of that little revelation it has become all the more endearing.

I am often commenting that would we could we would hold those and all things dear to us with the notion we might just defy the odds. We might keep them, and learn to truly cherish each like only duration teaches. Nothing is constant in the Universe but change. Change is ever wonderous and often maddening, but it is certain to occur, and we are forever taken where the changes carry us. As cliche’s go, there’s no turning back. So it was on December 8, 1980.

Lennon Revealed by Larry Kane is not so much a biography about arguably of the most incredible Rock Music Icons of the century as a honest look at the man, John Lennon. I was always very taken with the music, the mystique, and often the angry genious of the Man who brought the phenomena of The Beatles to the world. In the book the reader gets an up close and very personal view of John Lennon, and certainly for me, a renewed appreciation for the man, his music and his mind. Larry Kane, a veteran of television, radio and written word of the era of rock and roll was the man most fortunate to be chosen to accompany The Beatles on their ’64 and ’65 tours of North America. It simply goes with out repeating the world wide impact these then young musicians were about to unleash, and the man guiding, protecting and often taking the adverse heat was John Lennon. 

‘Genius’ is an easy word to toss across a career that was tragically cut short. Affection, appreciation and the incredible first hand and intimate viewpoint can lead to a great forgiveness and overstatement. Kane avoids these pitfalls in his book with the deft skill of his more than 45 years of professionalism and often razor keen view of Lennon. I had always had a sense of personal connection to the Artist that was John lennon, presumptuous and admittedly at times in my youth even starry eyed. He intrigued in his mysterious and deflective manner of being able to play the limelight of superstardom and yet remain an enigma, never quite what the media and his own public persona truly allowed. 

But through Kane’s book I finally learned the the famous antiwar critic was a devoted supporter of law enforcement, and raised funds for New York’s police departments. He was harassed relentlessly for being a threat to the American Public by the Nixon administration but exemplified the love and faith of a true citizen of his adopted country. He was a complicated man to be sure and Kane gives us an unvarnished view of a man driven by his libido and lifelong battle with inner demons. 

Drugs and alcohol, the vices so seemingly inherent in the lives of people of deeply driving creative spirit in so many, took Lennon dangerously close to ruin time and again. But Kane interviewed the people who both pulled Lennon down and brought him back and through their recollections and his own unique perspective. We are treated to an intensely personal and yet wonderfully objective view of the man through the eyes that saw him from the best to the worst of himself, and back again. Kane is wonderfully back and forth throughout the life and career of John Lennon, weaving a tapestry of events and people in a story that gave me a fulfilling experience and a chance to finally get to know the man I so admired on a level and perspective I had waited a long life to have the opportunity. 

Larry Kane is a clean and crisp wordsmith, reporter and sensitive writer who delivered a deeply touching and honest view of a man he first stood at odds with as an interviewer and came to know as friend, an honest friend. 

Great thanks to Mike Broderick for writing this thoughtful and lyrical guest post! As a girl who loves The Beatles, I know this one is going to the top of my TBR pile. 

What about you, Readers? Are there biographies on great artists that inspire you? 

April @ The Steadfast Reader



Throwback Thursday: Revisiting Childhood Favorites – Little House Edition

Posted 27 February, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Little House in the Big Woods by: Laura Ingalls Wilder

Source: Owned forever.
Synopsis: (Goodreads)
Wolves and panthers and bears roamed the deep Wisconsin woods in the 1860’s. Still, Laura Ingalls’ father preferred to live miles away from the nearest neighbors. So Pa built a snug cabin for Ma, Laura, Mary and Baby Carrie. He hunted and trapped and farmed. Ma made her own cheese and sugar. All night long, the wind howled lonesomely, but Pa played his fiddle and sang, keeping the family safe and cozy.

Doesn’t that synopsis seem badass?

I freaking loved the Little House books when I was a kid. As I still own the original set that my mom bought for me back in the long, long ago it’s evident just looking at the books how much I loved them.

But now, I have a three year old girl – in my effort to START YOUNG! we’ve started reading chapter books together every night. Her Father reads the picture books that I loathe so much.

So, Little House in the Big Woods was the first chapter book that we ever read together. [I am April’s attempt at sentimentality.] We snuggle into bed together and I open the book and read the first sentence:

Okay, fantastic, just like I remember.

But as I continued reading chapter after chapter aloud to The Girl, night after night I was struck by something. I was bored out of my skull. At the beginning of the book we don’t even get to see Laura’s character. (At the end she starts to get willful and I can’t over-emphasize how happy I was to get a little sass out of Laura.) It’s Pa makes bullets this and Ma gives us baths that… even the famous chapter on butchering the pig wasn’t all that interesting. (Yay! Crispy pig tail and a pig bladder balloon!)

The stories that Pa shares on winter nights with Laura and Mary aren’t that interesting, even the one where Pa confronts the two bears (spoiler, one’s not a bear). It’s just… dull.

It’s not until nearly the end of the book that things become palatable. The visit to Lake Pepin, while not fascinating, at least didn’t make me want to claw my eyes out to relieve the boredom. Further, the chapter where Laura’s cousin steps on a nest of yellow jackets and has to be wrapped like a mummy (not even to mention Pa’s reaction to the incident on the wagon ride home – “Served the little liar right.”) was the first time I actually had to think. (Unfortunately that thinking was what to leave out – my inner ACLU intervened and I censored nothing.)

I have a friend, who before making the decision to stay home with her kids, was an elementary educator. To say she was scandalized about my grown-up perspective on Little House in the Big Woods would be a gross understatement.

After seeing my posting showing that I had given it four stars on Goodreads this conversation ensued:

  • Friend: What the heck…4 stars…?


  • AprilHave you read it recently? It’s super boring. I mean, the girl seems to enjoy it, but really… other than the horrifying story about the yellowjacket’s nest at the end it was really <yawn>.

    This is not to say that I didn’t LOVE these books as a kid. I read the crap out of them.


  • Friend: Yawn?…Yawn?…I am at a loss for words….


  • Friend: I don’t think you understand…she had a Corncob doll, April!!!!


  • April: I do like all the food descriptors. 

I clearly wasn’t always that bored with this story – the pictures of my battered paperbacks (and the point that I still have them) show that this isn’t the case. So all I can think is that I must have changed, though my primary source for information on living in pre-industrial American is Little House – the churning of butter and slaughtering of pigs no longer holds my interest.

I guess I need more murders in my reading now. But who knows? Mary’s gotta go blind sometime. Maybe the next one will refresh some of my childhood feelings.

What about you, dear Reader? Are there any books that you’ve revisited since your youth that you just can’t stand? Movies? TV shows?


April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Transgender Tuesday: ‘A Queer and Pleasant Danger’

Posted 14 January, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Transgender Tuesday: ‘A Queer and Pleasant Danger’A Queer and Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornstein
Published by Beacon Press on May 1st 2012
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Gender Studies, Personal Memoirs, Religion, Scientology, Social Science
Pages: 258

A stunningly original memoir of a nice Jewish boy who joined the Church of Scientology and left twelve years later, ultimately transitioning to a woman. A few years later, she stopped calling herself a woman and became famous as a gender outlaw. Kate Bornstein—gender theorist, performance artist, author—is set to change lives with her compelling memoir. Wickedly funny and disarmingly honest, this is Bornstein's most intimate book yet, encompassing her early childhood and adolescence, college at Brown, a life in the theater, three marriages and fatherhood, the Scientology hierarchy, transsexual life, LGBTQ politics, and life on the road as a sought-after speaker.

Other than having the longest title ever, this is actually a fascinating and heart-warming book. For the most part this book was incredibly enjoyable and covered an extraordinary scope of topics without sacrificing the writing element.

Overall, this book is excellent, but let me start out with what bothered me, which was the apparent levity in which the author treats her eating disorders and the desire to cut. 

I’m not talking about S&M here (which is also explored in the memoir), that’s a different issue – I’m not here to judge. But anorexia and cutting are serious issues that should be treated (or at least acknowledged) as such.

That being said, the apparent honesty and freshness in the way that she writes is amazing. Mark Twain believed that no man could ever write a completely true biography in his lifetime — or ever. Kate Bornstein has come as close as anyone ever will to doing that. 

I already knew that there are assholes everywhere, but the passages relating to Bornstein being discriminated against at lesbian and/or feminism functions and the community just sadden me. 

The passages concerning Scientology are fascinating, as there will always be when people speak out about notoriously closed societies.

Great for people with an interest in gender studies and LGBT rights/issues.

What about you, Reader? What are you looking for in a memoir?


April @ The Steadfast Reader



Super Tuesday: John Adams

Posted 12 November, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Super Tuesday: John AdamsJohn Adams by David McCullough
Published by Simon and Schuster on December 11th 2012
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, General
Pages: 752

A huge bestseller in America, David McCullough's JOHN ADAMS tells the extraordinary story of the brilliant, fiercely independent, often irascible, always honest Yankee patriot -- 'the colossus of independence', as Thomas Jefferson called him -- who spared nothing in his zeal for the American Revolution and who rose to become the second President of the United States.Both a riveting portrait of an abundantly human man and a vivid evocation of his time, JOHN ADAMS has the sweep and vitality of a great novel, taking us from the Boston Massacre to Philadelphia in 1776 to the Versailles of Louis XVI, from Spain to Amsterdam to London, where Adams was the first American to stand before King George III as a representative of the new nation.This is history on a grand scale -- a book about politics and war, but also about human nature, love, faith, virtue, ambition, friendship and betrayal, and the far-reaching consequences of noble ideas. Above all, it is an enthralling, often surprising story of one of the most important and fascinating Americans who ever lived.

This fits in nicely with Non-fiction November being hosted by Sophisticated Dorkiness and Regular Rumination. This week it’s Be/Ask/Become the expert. I’ve read widely on George Washington (personal hero) but I’m working on expanding that body of knowledge to other U.S. Presidents and Revolutionary War heroes. So, I bring you John Adams!

I hate that it’s an abridged edition – alas it was all the library had. I found the contrast between Washington (who will always be my hero) and Adams very interesting. The fact that Adams seems to have expressed many of the basic rights that were put into the Constitution long before the Constitution was ever written is amazing.

Also interesting is the contrast between Washington’s youthful desire (and many attempts) to be commissioned fully by the British Army (instead of just a colonial commission). Adams on the other hand turned down a lucrative royal appointment because he disagreed so vehemently with the British on taxation without representation.

This book was fantastic. I feel like Adams’ life and presidency are overshadowed with the likes of men like Washington, Madison, and Jefferson (ironically, all from Virginia). But Adams is truly one of the unsung heroes of the revolution. If Jefferson was the pen behind the ‘Declaration of Independence’ then Adams was the voice.

Narration was good. 

April @ The Steadfast Reader



Advance Review: The Fifth Beatle

Posted 16 September, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Advance Review: The Fifth BeatleThe Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story by Vivek J. Tiwary
Published by Dark Horse Comics on October 29th 2013
Genres: Comics & Graphic Novels, General
Pages: 144

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Fifth Beatle is the untold true story of Brian Epstein, the visionary manager who discovered and guided The Beatles-from their gigs in a tiny cellar in Liverpool to unprecedented international stardom. Yet more than merely the story of "The Man Who Made The Beatles," The Fifth Beatle is an uplifting, tragic, and ultimately inspirational human story about the struggle to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. Brian himself died painfully lonely at the young age of thirty-two, having helped The Beatles prove through "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" that pop music could be an inspirational art form. He was homosexual when it was a felony to be so in the United Kingdom, Jewish at a time of anti-Semitism, and from Liverpool when it was considered just a dingy port town.

First, I don’t normally read graphic novels, but I adore The Beatles. While I knew some of Brian Epstein’s history, I had hoped that this would be more comprehensive. Had I not known most of the Epstein story already I might have been lost. For that reason I would only recommend this to Beatlemaniacs who have at least a basic understanding of who Brian Epstein was and his role with The Beatles.


That being said, Epstein’s story is powerful. Young and wealthy, but still driven by his passions, he experiences victory and overcomes enormous odds. His story also highlights the pain and isolation that many LGTB youths in England experienced at the time, and to some extent, even today, worldwide.


Also, I had always thought that the fifth Beatle was considered to be Stuart Sutcliffe. But a cursory search of the highly credible source Wikipedia leads me to a Paul McCartney quote that states:


“If anyone was the fifth Beatle, it was [Beatles’ manager] Brian Epstein.”


The illustrations are lovely and keep with the standard Japanese Manga style with a hint of 60’s realness.

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Worthy Biographies: Steve Jobs

Posted 12 September, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Worthy Biographies: Steve JobsSteve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Published by Simon and Schuster on September 10th 2013
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Business & Economics, Computers & Information Technology, General, History, Leadership, Macintosh, Personal Computers, Technology & Engineering
Pages: 630

The phenomenal bestseller about Apple co-founder Steve Jobs from the author of the acclaimed biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein.Based on more than forty interviews with Jobs conducted over two years—as well as interviews with more than 100 family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues—Walter Isaacson set down the riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing. Isaacson’s portrait touched hundreds of thousands of readers. At a time when America is seeking ways to sustain its innovative edge and when societies around the world are trying to build digital-age economies, Jobs still stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination. He knew that the best way to create value in the twenty-first century was to connect creativity with technology. He built a company where leaps of the imagination were combined with remarkable feats of engineering. Although Jobs cooperated with the author, he asked for no control over what was written. He put nothing off-limits. He encouraged the people he knew to speak honestly. He himself spoke candidly about the people he worked with and competed against. His friends, foes, and colleagues offer an unvarnished view of the passions, perfectionism, obsessions, artistry, devilry, and compulsion for control that shaped Jobs’s approach to business, the innovative products that resulted, and his legacy.

 Comprehensive and well written – Walter Isaacson does not disappoint. He doesn’t pull punches when it comes to the mean and spiteful side of Jobs. But it is clear that the man was a genius in his own right, albeit a flawed one. 

Another reason this book is so enjoyable is that it’s also a history of modern computing. It would be impossible to discuss the rise, fall, and resurrection of Apple without speaking of Microsoft, Xerox, HP, and other companies that were instrumental in computing as we know it today. 

Fascinating read.

April @ The Steadfast Reader