Although the name “Alexandre Dumas” is probably most recognized as the name of the author of such great works as The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, the novelist Dumas actually shares the name with his father, General Alex Dumas, a mixed-race military leader in revolutionary France.
Alex — as he preferred to be called — Dumas was born to a black slave mother and a fugitive white Frenchman hiding out in Saint-Domingue. However, Alex was raised the son of an aristocrat, and eventually made a name for himself because of his dashing good looks and skill with a sword. Much to his luck, Alex found himself in France during a revolutionary time, one of the earliest civil rights movements, which allowed him to advance through the ranks of the French army until the Black Count commanded more than 50,000 men and became a threat to the great Napoleon.
One Sentence Summary: Born an obscure German princess, Catherine the Great became one of Russia’s greatest monarchs through sheer determination (and the love of those close to her).
One Sentence Review: Massie’s epic biography succeeds by showing the personal side of history, infusing even the most dry parts of history with emotion and importance.
One Sentence Summary: “This entertaining account of a literary and pop culture phenomenon tells how [Gone With the Wind] was developed, marketed, distributed, and otherwise groomed for success in the 1930s, and the savvy measures taken since then by the author, her publisher, and her estate to ensure its longevity.” — IndieBound.
One Sentence Review: Although a little heavily focused on the legal issues surrounding Gone With the Wind, the book is a great read for fans of the original or about the role bestselling books can play in popular culture.
What It’s About: In a “stranger-than-fiction twist on the classic American success story” journalist Mark Seal profiles Christian Gerhartsreiter, a German immigrant who came to the United States and passed himself off as a member of the Rockefeller family for more than 30 years.
As he took on a series of fictional identities, “Clark Rockefeller” moved through social spheres across the country, eventually marrying a businesswoman with a Harvard MBA. Rockefeller received his comeuppance, however, after his divorce, when a kidnapping charge exposed his ludicrous past and connection to a disappearance in California in the 1980s.
In 1962, Margaret “Peggy” Marcus, an American Jew living in New York, picked up her life and moved to Lahore, Pakistan, a convert to one of the more political and extreme forms of Islam. She took the name Maryam Jameelah and went to live with the Mawlana Abul Ala Mawdudi, her mentor and man who helped lay the intellectual ground for radical Islam to take root.
In The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism, Deborah Baker attempts to reconstruct Maryam’s life through an extensive collection of letters, drawings, and political writing archived at the New York Public Library.
Two Sentence Summary: At the age of 72, Mary Delany invented the art of collage after seeing a geranium petal fall to the table. This is the story of how she got there.
One Sentence Review: The images of flowers and beautifully descriptive writing make this book an enjoyable read, even when some parts of the story feel extraneous.
Why I Read It: I think the cover really grabbed me when I first saw it, and I loved the idea of reading a book about a person who found her calling late in life.
One Sentence Summary: The Cleopatra of pop culture is very different from the Cleopatra of history, who we don’t actually know that much about.
One Sentence Review: After a dense first few chapters, Cleopatra becomes an absorbing look at a woman remembered more often for the things that she wasn’t than for the things that she was.
Why I Read It: This book was shortlisted for the Indie Lit Awards in nonfiction, and I am a judge for that panel. Opinions expressed in this review are my own, and don’t reflect the thoughts of the panel or reflect our ratings of the book.
Two Sentence Summary: Today, “Pulitzer” is mostly just a word — the name of the most prestigious prize in journalism. But the prize’s namesake, Joseph Pulitzer, was an American immigrant who’s story represents a rags-to-riches tale that illuminates how American journalism developed into what it is today.
One Sentence Review: Morris’ biography reads a lot like a novel (and with a character as insane as Pulitzer, why not?), occasionally gets bogged down in detail, but is always fun to read.