John Aubrey, My Own Life - Ruth Scurr

Staff Pick

John Aubrey (1626-1697) lived through the English Civil War and the Great Fire of London. He knew Thomas Hobbes, Christopher Wren, Edmund Halley, and Isaac Newton. He was a founding member of the Royal Society. But after his death, he was considered a gossipy eccentric. It took years for his manuscripts to be organized and edited; eventually, Brief Lives, was recognized as a landmark literary work. How do you write the life of a man who transformed biography by including unvarnished details? Ruth Scurr, a Cambridge historian and biographer of Robespierre, does it in John Aubrey, My Own Life (NYRB, $35) by letting Aubrey narrate those details. She searched his papers for autobiographical passages, annotated and arranged them chronologically. Through his own words, we learn about Aubrey’s childhood in an affluent Wiltshire family and his plunge from privilege to hardship in his twenties when his father died. Scurr lets Aubrey reveal his fascinations with science, educational theory, ancient British history, and architecture. He loved village traditions and the innovation of coffee houses. He berated himself for not capturing all he saw. Then there were the money woes, an engagement gone spectacularly wrong, reliance on friends for support, sketching ancient churches, describing (and theorizing about) standing stones, and talking, always talking, to anyone, regardless of social status. He had deep feelings for friends, and never let political and religious differences interfere. He wanted to be remembered through his words. His works could have shared the fate of the old manuscripts he saw used to line pie pans—but eventually his books appeared and his biographical approach was appreciated.

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ISBN: 9781681370422
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: New York Review Books - September 6th, 2016

Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs - Robert Kanigel

Staff Pick

Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) wasn’t an urban planner, though The Death and Life of American Cities, with its model of the “mixed-income, mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly, sensitively scaled, densely populated community” remains one of the twentieth century’s most influential books. Nor was she an economist, though economics was at the heart of her work. She had no academic credentials at all, not even a bachelor’s degree. What she had was courage, curiosity, and an ongoing “conflict with received wisdom.” Robert Kanigel calls her “some odd breed of genius,” and her iconoclastic spirit infuses every page of his energetic Eyes on the Street (Knopf, $35). Jacobs said she “grew up with the idea that she could do anything”; she proceeded accordingly, leaving Scranton at age eighteen to become a writer in New York. She wrote on everything from furs and diamonds to Cold War propaganda and the metal industry, freelancing for Vogue, then working as a staff writer for Amerika (a publication of the Office of War Information), Iron Age, and Architectural Forum. Later, it was all books. Books—and a long and happy marriage to the architect Robert Jacobs, three unconventional children, and indefatigable social activism. Her fight against Robert Moses and his expressway was only one of Jacobs’s many battles; she protested the Vietnam War, was arrested twice, and moved to Toronto to keep her sons from being drafted. There she continued to work against large-scale urban renewal projects, and her home became a headquarters for community organizing. Ideas were Jacobs’s lifeblood and she was never more charismatic—never more of a people person—than when she was in the middle of a passionate debate.

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ISBN: 9780345803337
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - August 8th, 2017

The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe: A Biography - Elaine Showalter

Staff Pick

Julia Ward Howe is best known for having written “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and history and literary buffs may also recognize her as poet, abolitionist, and advocate for women’s suffrage. But until now far less has been written about the depths of her misery in marriage, her secret writings or, on a brighter note, her proximity to the cultural and political leaders of her day. The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe (Simon & Schuster, $28) by the superb literary critic and author Elaine Showalter, immerses readers in Howe’s public and private worlds – her civil wars. Seeing Howe through the lens of history, and with an honest but compassionate eye, Showalter describes her subject’s gallant but often tenuous attempts to match her great gifts, ambitions, and opinions against the challenges and expectations placed on women in nineteenth-century America. Part biography, part history, part social criticism, this is narrative non-fiction at its best – a story that tells a bigger story, one that engages the reader so deeply and on so many levels that, once you start reading, you won’t want to put it down.

The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe: A Biography By Elaine Showalter Cover Image
ISBN: 9781451645903
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Simon & Schuster - March 8th, 2016

The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe: A Biography By Elaine Showalter Cover Image
ISBN: 9781451645910
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Simon & Schuster - February 28th, 2017