Biographies & Memoirs

If You Like John Adams by David McCullough

John Adams by David McCullough

 This readalike is in response to a patron's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you. Available for adults, teens, and kids. You can browse the book matches here.

John Adams by David McCullough: "In this powerful, epic biography, David McCullough unfolds the adventurous life-journey of John Adams, 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; who rose to become the second President of the United States and saved the country from blundering into an unnecessary war; who was learned beyond all but a few and regarded by some as 'out of his senses'; and whose marriage to the wise and valiant Abigail Adams is one of the moving love stories in American history."

Books similar to John Adams by David McCullough include other biographies of famous people, or perhaps books set in that time/place.  Here is a selection of possibilities:

1776 by David McCullough
Based on extensive research in both American and British archives, 1776 is the story of Americans in the ranks, men of every shape, size, and color, farmers, schoolteachers, shoemakers, no-accounts, and mere boys turned soldiers. And it is the story of the British commander, William Howe, and his highly disciplined redcoats who looked on their rebel foes with contempt and fought with a valor too little known. But it is the American commander-in-chief who stands foremost -- Washington, who had never before led an army in battle. (Catalog summary)
 

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller
Fuller's memoir of a childhood dominated by the Rhodesian civil war of 1971-1979 captures the fascinating life of a white family living in one of the most remote regions of Africa.

 

 

Oogy: The Dog Only a Family Could Love by Larry Levin

Oogy, the Dog Only a Family Could Love

Sometimes you find a book that reflects your own life so much that you just have to get it and read it. That is the case with this book. Oogy was a 10-week-old puppy who was used as a bait dog in dog fighting and then left in an abandoned house to die. They think that approximately a week later police received a tip about recent dog fighting in the house and discovered Oogy lying inside. His ear was ripped off, part of his head was torn away and his jaw was broken. Instead of taking him to the county pound which would result in the puppy being euthanized, the police took him to the Ardmore Animal Hospital. There, a courageous woman who worked for the veterinarian fought to save him and inspired the whole staff of the animal hospital to keep Oogy alive.

Jefferson’s Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy, by Boynton Merrill, Jr.

Jefferson's Nephews: A Frontier Tragedy

They say every family has its black sheep.

Jefferson’s Nephews, by Boynton Merrill, Jr., tells of a vile murder mostly forgotten, which played out in the hinterlands of a new Kentucky settlement in the early 1800s. Two brothers had come away from their family’s land in Albemarle County, Virginia, to try to make a fresh start. But Isham and Lilburne Lewis brought with them bitter hearts and slave labor—a combination that was to prove lethal. The gruesomeness and cruelty of their crime rocked the nearby community of Livingston County. Perhaps more shocking to the white citizens was the brothers’ blue blood pedigree.
 

I Slept With Joey Ramone by Mickey Leigh and Legs McNeil

I Slept With Joey Ramone

How’s that for a title that gets your attention? No, this isn’t one of those glamorous, tell-all, rock star groupie memoirs. In fact, I cannot imagine any of the members of the punk rock pioneers, the Ramones, even using the word “glamorous” in a sentence…except perhaps to describe a pizza.

I Slept with Joey Ramone is the affectionate account of lead singer Joey Ramone’s complicated relationship with his kid brother Mickey, who also wrote and played music, but lived in Joey’s shadow.

The sections relating the brothers’ childhood in Queens were especially informative, and had the same sense of deep camaraderie that I loved in Frank McCourt’s first memoir Angela’s Ashes, with just a couple of brothers looking out for each other in the big bad city. You learn about their fascination and burgeoning love of rock music, thanks to the Beatles and Phil Spector’s wall of sound.

Cook: The Extraordinary Voyages of Captain James Cook by Nicholas Thomas

Cook: The Extraordinary Voyages of Captain James Cook by Nicholas Thomas

As my cotton-gloved hands examined the woven fabric, I felt the thrill of encountering a link to the age of discovery. Over a hundred years old and probably unseen and untouched for decades, this artifact of the Cook Islands was being carefully prepared by us technicians to be moved to the Smithsonian Institution’s storage facility. Some twenty years later, Professor Nicholas Thomas’ Cook: The Extraordinary Voyages of Captain James A. Cook has given me much better perspective on these pieces of the past.

Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

There’s no understating the dangers of life in Africa: malaria, spitting cobras, poisonous spiders, intestinal parasites and worms, landmines, terrorists, corrupt government officials, and its many wars.  In Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood Alexandra Fuller - nicknamed Bobo - chronicles her childhood in Rhodesia during the tulmultuous Rhodesian Civil War, which culminated in the end of white rule. It was not an easy, carefree childhood. Three of Bobo’s siblings died in infancy or early childhood, and Bobo herself had a few close scrapes with death. She learned at an early age to load guns and not to startle her parents during the night for fear that they may accidentally shoot her.

Bobo’s parents are the most profound characters in this memoir, especially her mother. Mum could drink all night, sitting “yoga-cross-legged,” and still be awake in the morning to greet the dawn with “stupefied wonder.” She can round up cattle all day like the toughest ranch hand, and yet she can also minister to the farm workers’ ailments with mercy. She could spend the day quietly reading books with Bobo on the bed and listening to radio programs, and the night singing at the “club” with a bottle in her hand. With the death of each child Mum goes into a steeper downward spiral.

If you like "Let's Take the Long Way Home" by Gail Caldwell

This readalike is in response to a patron's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading  recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you.  Available for adults, teens, and kids.

Let's Take the Long Way Home is Gail Caldwell's story about her friendship with the late Caroline Knapp, and how they loved each other, flaws and all.

If you liked "Let's Take the Long Way Home," you may like these recommendations:

If you haven't already, you should definitely read Knapp's two memoirs - Drinking: a Love Story and Pack of Two.

I would also recommend Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy. Grealy was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma at age nine. The surgery which saved her life disfigured her face. As a counterpoint, Ann Patchett writes about her lifelong friendship with Grealy in the book Truth & Beauty: a Friendship.
 

Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, by Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain's first book, Kitchen Confidential, was a surprise when it hit national best seller lists; even the author was taken aback. He thought it would appeal to food-service workers in the New York city area, as it was a "look behind the curtain" of local restaurants. The secret to Bourdain's success in this and later books is his passion for food and his ability to write well why he finds food exciting. We get two Tonys in his books: bad Tony and good Tony. Good Tony is articulate and writes well about food or preparation of food. Bad Tony is foul-mouthed and angry. We get both Tonys in Medium Raw.

If You Like "The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls...

This readalike is in response to a patron's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading  recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you.  Available for adults, teens, and kids.

If you like The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, here are several inspiring memoirs of people who have survived extremely abusive and difficult childhoods, yet who have found success in their adult lives. The stories are grim but inspiring.

All Over But the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg.
This haunting, harrowing, and gloriously moving recollection of a life on the American margin tells the story of Rick Bragg, who grew up dirt poor in Alabama, and who became a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for "The New York Times". 
 

A Piece of Cake: A Memoir by Cupcake Brown.
The bestselling memoir of Cupcake Brown's harrowing and inspiring life from the streets to one of the nation's largest law firms The book bedazzles the reader with the amazing change that is possible in one lifetime.

 

 

The Lost Art of Walking by Geoff Nicholson

What makes good bedside reading? I’m talking about that particular kind of reading that consists of paying close attention for about ten minutes, dozing for ten more, then waking with a jerk as the book crashes to the floor. This is not the place for “War and Peace.” 

I’ve found that two kinds of books lend themselves to the bedside. The first are the tried and true books that I can happily read over and over, even re-reading chapters or skipping them by mistake with no loss to the reading experience. Thank you, Angela Thirkell, Margery Allingham, and Betty MacDonald.
 
The second kind of bedside reading consists of short pieces, such as stories or essays. They can’t be too demanding, of course – no Montaigne, no Faulkner. For this kind of reading, I thank authors like L. Rust Hills (“How to Do Things Right, or the Confessions of a Fussy Man”), Eleanor Perenyi (“Green Thoughts, A Writer in the Garden”), and James Thurber (just about anything). Each is entertaining, and each is forgiving – because of length or lightness of touch – of a short attention span.

My newest addition to the bedside table is of the second sort.  Geoff Nicholson’s “The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, Philosophy, and Literature of Pedestrianism,” despite its daunting title, is really a series of personal essays on walking.