Washington, Mantle and Richards: Three Great Biographies
I’ve been an avid fiction reader all my life and it takes a lot for me to choose nonfiction, even the “so-called” nonfiction that reads like fiction. It’s not that I don’t want to learn—I could get into a whole debate with anyone who thinks nonfiction is “truer” than fiction. Oliver Wendell Holmes says it better than I. “History tells lies about real people; fiction tells the truth about imaginary ones.”
Of course, this debate is unwinnable. We have our reading preferences and we don’t have to defend them to anyone. I majored in History in college so I will gravitate occasionally to a biography and this year I read (or listened to) three biographies that I enjoyed tremendously. Here are a few things I learned about each subject.
"Washington: A Life'' by Ron Chernow
Chernow’s goal is to make Washington less austere and more human. I learned that Washington’s mother was not at all supportive or proud of her son’s accomplishments and their relationship was “frosty.” Washington was self-conscious about his teeth. He never had wooden teeth but over time his fitted and stained ivory or walrus teeth resembled wood grain. By the age of 30, Washington had survived dysentery, smallpox and malaria, diseases that would have killed a less robust man. He lived to the age of 67. Check our catalog
"The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood'' by Jane Leavy
I learned that Mickey Mantle was a tortured and flawed man who was catapulted to early stardom playing a boy’s game. His dad died during his first pro years which left him without a guiding influence as he was exposed to the ultimate celebrity life. I learned that he suffered crippling injuries, that he could be crude yet sweet, unlikeable yet generous. He’s still a hero to many. Check our catalog
"Life'' by Keith Richards with James Fox
I learned that Keith Richards’ life is way more complex than that of a privileged, addicted guitarist in the greatest rock band. His stories are smart, nasty and honest. His relationship with Mick Jagger is more like that of brothers than friends. Keith’s story is a love story about music: "Music was a far bigger drug than smack. I could kick smack; I couldn't quit music. One note leads to another, and you never know what's going to come next, and you don't want to. It's like walking on a beautiful tightrope." Check our catalog
Biographies in audiobook format are entertaining and my preference when I’m commuting to and from work. I learned, too but even better my curiosity is peaked about some of their contemporaries. What will I read next? I’ve already read Alexander Hamilton and John Adams. I’m looking for a good biography of Thomas Jefferson. A biography about Roger Maris would give another side of a baseball celebrity whose life was much less controversial. Too many music stars to choose—maybe George Harrison.