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Arts and Entertainment

Biography Nominees - In Which Every Title Has a Colon

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The LA Times has nominated five books in each of nine different categories for the 2007 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. In the weeks leading up to the Festival of Books where the winners will be announced, LAist will take a quick look at each category and will wax poetic on a few favorites (or least favorites) along the way.

The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher by Debby Applegate – Ah, the painful downside of celebrity fame! While he earned much of his fame from fiery speeches and rants in newspaper columns – the real scandal that put Henry Ward Beecher on the map (because isn’t it always scandal that brings the most attention?) was that this minister and abolitionist was hit with allegations of adultery. While that’s nothing new these days, it was certainly shocking in the 1800’s – especially for a minister. Applegate’s look at Beecher’s life is refreshing as she attempts to place his messages into the context of today’s political climate. She even – gasp – compares him to Clinton and sums him up as America’s first proper "liberal."

Why you might like it: It’s good to remember how things were a hundred years ago.
Why you might not: It’s depressing to see what remains the same.

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The Librettist of Venice: The Remarkable Life of Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart’s Poet, Casanova’s Friend, and Italian Opera’s Impresario in America by Rodney Bolt – Bolt’s book details the life of Lorenzo Da Ponte, a motherless Jewish boy from Venice’s ghetto who used his wit, his political savvy, and his artistic visions to eventually become poet and librettist to the Holy Roman Emperor. He then established an Italian opera company in Vienna. His opera attracted the greats – Mozart, Salieri – who became peers and shaped each other’s lives & work. Yet, after all these accomplishments (and perhaps because of them), Da Ponte made his way to New York at the age of 55 and opened – of all things – a grocery store. Bolt details his artistic and financial failures and successes with painstaking detail and lovely insight.

Why you might like it: Music, music, music.
Why you might not: Music, music, music.

Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler – Film buffs across our fair city seem to fall into two camps – the Disney lovers and the Disney haters. Gabler’s book won’t do much to dissuade you from your stance. While every exhaustive detail of Disney’s early life is recorded with great care, Gabler does little to debunk the rumors of Disney later in life: that Disney was a controlling entrepreneur who caused his artists constant grief, that his political stance and management style led to the infamous studio strike in 1941, and that he was anti-Semitic. Gabler touches lightly on these events in this send-up of the early Disney years.

Why you might like it: All Disney all the time.
Why you might not: It's 880 pages!

Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide by Jeffrey Goldberg – An intense, poignant and moving account of Golderg’s struggle to understand the complex issue of the deeply rooted and ongoing Israeli-Palestinian violence. His experiences as an Israeli solider and guard of Ketziot, the Israeli prison camp setup to hold Palestinian rebels, are defined by his desire to speak to those he holds captive. His relationship with one particular Palestinian insurgent allows him to explore the contradictions he finds on both sides of the argument. Not all readers will agree with his analysis of recent political events, but his account is an important part of dialogue in the ongoing conflict.

Why you might like it: Goldberg attempts to answer the tough questions.
Why you might not: You may disagree with his answers to the tough questions.

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The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn – The brilliant Mendelsohn (whose critical analysis of books, culture and so much else we admire to the nth degree) writes a vivid and touching account of his search to learn what happened to his great-uncle Shmiel Jäger’s family – the great-uncle to whom he bears a striking resemblance. All he knew of his uncle’s family growing up was that they were “killed by the Nazis.” Mendelsohn weaves the story of his search with his thoughts on life, death and the world around us as well as his indefatigable love of reading – all of which work together to make this a true story not to be missed.

Why you might like it: It's intense.
Why you might not: It's intense.

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