Archive for the ‘Autobiography/Biography’ Category

Drama

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Drama: An Actor’s Education” by John Lithgow, published in 2011. This ebook is Lithgow’s autobiography.

The author has had a very successful acting career in theater, TV and movies. He learned from his father– a super role model and passionate producer of Shakespeare festivals. His father’s career necessitated the family’s relocating every few years, from Ohio to Massachusetts to New Jersey and elsewhere; a disruptive force in his social life. Nevertheless, Lithgow earned a full scholarship to Harvard, where he continued to hone his acting skills.

Read the book to learn how the author escaped the Vietnam draft, about his 1970′s theater experiences in twelve Broadway shows, his explanation of why actors have trouble staying faithful in their love lives, and his professional and personal trials and tribulations.

Idea Man

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Idea Man” by Paul Allen, published in 2011. This autobiographical ebook’s author is best known as the co-founder of Microsoft, and one of the world’s wealthiest people.

This is not exactly a career memoir, because he gives only an overview of his eight years with the company– from which he withdrew as an employee– and the rest of the book is devoted to his other life experiences. It appears that the amount of information he chose to provide on his short tenure with the software company is insufficient to fill an entire book, so he supplements with his: investments in sports teams, stadiums and communications and aerospace companies; his medical problems; travels; musical encounters; and philanthropic endeavors.

Allen, a ten-grader in 1968, describes eighth-grader Bill Gates’ physical appearance: “…pullover sweater, tan slacks, enormous saddle shoes… blond hair all over the place…”

The two youths took full advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime to learn the craft of programming in the computer room of a private school in Seattle. They had endless capacity for the extremely time-consuming and labor-intensive brainwork required. When he had yet to turn twenty years old, Allen’s experience spanned “…ten computers, ten high-level languages, nine machine-level languages, and three operating systems.” Pretty good for a college dropout.

In the late 1970′s, affordability was a major requirement for selling personal computers, an industry in its infancy. “Today’s laptop is thirty thousand times faster than the machine [the PDP-10] I was lusting after, with ten thousand times more memory.” At that time, memory was expensive and lack of it made machines glacially slow. Today’s base iPhone has four million times the memory contained in BASIC– the programming language that ran on Altair, one of the first computers sold to businesses and consumers in the late 1970′s.

Allen said Gates was a thrill seeker, enjoyed driving fast. In the early 1980′s, “Bill got so many speeding tickets that he had to hire the best traffic attorney in the state to defend him.”

The author discussed how a technology company must always be on the qui vive for the Next Big Thing, and introduce it before its competitors in the right way with the right people, or perhaps suffer significant financial losses. In 1982, DEC came late to the party by selling the high-quality Rainbow 100. Unfortunately, the minicomputer was behind the times– running on the old 8-bit CP/M system, while a 16-bit system was already on the market.

Suffice to say on most of his investments, Allen was a Warren Buffett wannabe. He deserves credit for freely admitting to his epic losses. Nevertheless, it was just another case of redistribution of wealth among the wealthy.

Read the book to learn the details of this billionaire’s life stories.

Life Is Not a Stage

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Life Is Not a Stage” by Florence Henderson with Joel Brokaw, publishedin 2011. This is Henderson’s autobiography. She is best known for playing the mother in the American TV sitcom “The Brady Bunch” which initially aired from 1969 to 1974.

Her early life was difficult to say the least, because she was born to a poverty-stricken family with an alcoholic father at the height of The Great Depression, the youngest of ten siblings. In Indiana. Her mother left her father when she was thirteen. But she had singing talent, so she had that going for her, which is nice (apologies to Bill Murray). She has been a Broadway actor, TV star, night club singer and has also been in movies.

Read the book to learn how:  but for Henderson’s good friend from a wealthy family, Henderson probably would not have had the fabulous career she has had; she was a product of her time as a female; despite all her fame and fortune, she has suffered much unhappiness; and how her outlook on life has seen her through many difficulties and allowed her to keep her sanity and avoid dying young like so many other super-famous entertainers.

Stephen Sondheim

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Stephen Sondheim: A Life” by Meryle Secrest, originally published in 1993. This is the biography of a Broadway composer who was born in spring of 1930.

In 1946, when Sondheim was attending Williams College, he was finally accepted to a fraternity on his third attempt. Many fraternities automatically prejudged people who had last names that were perceived as Jewish, and rejected them. Throughout this entire book, there was mention of neither Sondheim’s religious observances, if any, nor of his beliefs. Nevertheless, in the spring of 1948, Sondheim religiously wrote more than twenty musical numbers for a show that parodied the school.

After graduation, Sondheim wrote an entire musical. Oscar Hammerstein, a family friend in his childhood, became his mentor. He taught Sondheim that “an author was not writing to satisfy himself… or even the actors… His main consideration should be how to relate the work to the audience’s experience… if the sympathies of the audience were not engaged, it did not matter how brilliant the work was.” The musical, on the initial draft, was angry and bitter, and had no likeable characters– they were all jerks. This blogger is reminded of various unfunny works of that nature: the plays, “Art” and “Some Americans Abroad” and the TV shows, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “The Office.”

On a more entertaining note, Sondheim also invented a board game called “Stardom” in which players have sex with show-business celebrities in order to reach the peak of the social ladder. There were different levels of fame and real properties (like in Monopoly) of stars’ homes. However, a player would regress when an opposing player leaked a rumor of a love affair to a gossip columnist.

Sondheim’s score of West Side Story (both a musical and a movie-musical) became popular largely due to the movie’s expensive ad campaign; people had a chance to get to like it. Absent the making of the movie, the songs would have languished in obscurity.

In 1960, Sondheim bought a house in the Turtle Bay section (East 40′s) of Manhattan, five stories high, for $115,000. It was next door to Katharine Hepburn’s. He and the other creators of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” learned from producer/director Jerome Robbins that the opening number of a musical is crucial for setting the tone for the whole show, so it must be likeable and indicative of the nature of the show.

At age 29, Sondheim formed his own publishing company in order to make significantly more money than other composers. By age 32, he had three hit Broadway shows under his belt. During his career, he wrote more than eight hundred songs.

Read the book to learn the rest of the intimate details of Sondheim’s life.

Toughing It Out

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Toughing It Out” by Claire Reed, published in 2012. This ebook is the autobiography of a “shrinking violet” turned political activist.

Reed was born in Brooklyn, New York in the late 1920′s into a relatively wealthy Jewish family typical for its generation. Her parents cared not a whit for her education, allowing her to miss school to spend time out-of-town with her wealthy friends. Her mother was an especially bad influence, conditioning her to believe that she should simply marry a rich man to have a good life. After the deaths of various of her relatives within a few years, and lacking income-producing skills and self-confidence, she was obliged to get married.

The author illustrates the American mentality of the rich in the immediate Postwar Era through several anecdotes on herself and her sexist husband, who was like her late father. One example involved a fur coat– the material object a wife needed to wear as a symbol of a husband’s ability to provide for his family and of his masculinity.

Read the book to learn how Reed overcame her low-self esteem problem, came to play a vital role in Congresswoman Bella Abzug’s political activities and came into her own as a productive member of society.

The Courage of Strangers

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “The Courage of Strangers” by Jeri Laber, published in 2002. This autobiography describes the making of a passionate human rights activist.

The author grew up in privileged surroundings in New York City, in the Sunnyside section of Queens, and Jamaica Estates when the wealthy suburban enclave was in its infancy. This was because her Russian father was a multi-skilled home builder with his own business. On the family’s newly-constructed home: “Back in 1936, it was a technological wonder, with central air-conditioning, a built-in room-to-room intercom system, garage doors that opened automatically, and, buried under the steep cobblestone driveway, wires that heated up to melt the snow.”

In the early 1950′s, Laber wanted to study Russian in graduate school, but her father objected partly because it was the McCarthy Era, and because he felt over-education would hurt her chances for marriage. She defied him. In 1954, she got the opportunity to visit Moscow with three other students. Their tour guides tightly restricted their activities, allowing them to visit only tourist sites, and Moscow State University. She recorded her impressions of the people she met, including, “They have replaced God with Lenin and Stalin…These people are healthy and happy, as long as they conform.”

Excuse the cliche, but “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” At that time, there was the “Military-Industrial Complex.” Now there is the “Military-Corporate Complex.” However, world annihilation via nuclear war was the biggest fear in the 1950′s. The continuing increase in global oppression via telecommunications and other underhanded means is the biggest fear in the early 2000′s.

The author was an eyewitness to the different speeds at which different countries threw off their communist yoke, as she visited various countries behind the Iron Curtain in turn. She writes that people in the former Soviet Union had lived under communism for decades longer than their Eastern bloc counterparts. The older ones residing in the latter had known a better quality of life prior to Soviet takeover. “They looked around them and saw corrupt, repressive governments, failing economies, contaminated water, polluted air, alcoholism, and apathy.” The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Read the book to learn of Laber’s career adventures in Eastern Europe, her checkered love life, the difference she made at meetings with top Soviet leaders and others by speaking out against injustice, and Eastern Europe’s radical political and social changes in the 1990′s.

My Mistake

Monday, July 21st, 2014

The Book of the Week is “My Mistake” by Daniel Menaker, published in 2013. This is the autobiography of a well-educated Northeastern American male typical for his generation who, born in the 1940′s, entered the publishing profession. However, his mother was exceptional for her generation in that she was an editor at Fortune magazine.

At the then-academically rigorous Swarthmore College, during spring of his senior year, Menaker was “… taking Honors exams– eight three-hour written exams and eight oral exams, all administered by professors from other colleges.” He spent most of his career at The New Yorker, and then switched to Random House about a year after Tina Brown took over the magazine in 1992. He wrote that she halved the quantity of fictional stories appearing in the publication and employees of both the fiction and nonfiction sections competed with each other in kissing up to her to get their pieces published.

Read the book to learn the details of Menaker’s work, of a traumatic event involving his older brother, and his bout with cancer.

Louis Renault, A Biography

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Louis Renault, A Biography” by Anthony Rhodes, published in 1969.

Renault, an automobile extrepreneur, was born in February 1877. When he began his career, there were only two classes of any real importance in France– the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie. Renault sold vehicles initially for commercial purposes like taxis, public buses and milk delivery trucks.

By 1905, there were 22 intensely competing European automakers. The year 1908 saw six-cylinder engines made by eight French, ten American, three Belgian and one German manufacturer. In 1909, Renault sold his cars in New York. The goal was to sell 1,200 to 1,500 of them.

In the 1920′s, Citroen, Renault’s chief rival, employed many women in his factories. He condutcted an ongoing direct-marketing campaign, mailing letters to potential first-time and new car buyers who had visited the local showroom and expressed interest in a purchase. He also made toy models of his cars for kids. Renault and Citroen competed in starting bus lines between cities in France. Citroen was taken over by Michelin after going bankrupt in 1935.

Read the book to learn of Renault’s accumulation of wealth, his company’s corporate culture and labor troubles, what transpired among automakers during the World Wars and through the decades, and how history dealt Renault a serious blow toward the end of his life.

Dirty Daddy

Sunday, June 29th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “Dirty Daddy” by Bob Saget. This is a tell-all autobiography. Some people are shocked to learn of Saget’s stand-up comedy persona–all toilet and sex jokes– because they knew him only as the goody-goody father of three young daughters on the 1980′s American sitcom “Full House.”

Saget writes that the development of his dirty image was influenced by his father, a butcher, who had a lively, shameless sense of humor. He rambles on a little too long about relationships– his own, and in general. Nevertheless, one should read this book to learn about the people and experiences that shaped his life through his gratuitous name-dropping and lighthearted anecdotes, if one can stomach occasionally repulsive scenes.

Bonus Post

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

This blogger skimmed the ebook, “The Stray Bullet: William S. Burroughs in Mexico” by Jorge Garcia Robles, translated by Daniel C. Schechter, published in 2006.

The author William S. Burroughs was of the “Beat” generation of the 1950′s. Such people engaged in an unconventional lifestyle, as they were artists and writers. Many took drugs and consumed alcohol in large quantities. In 1949, Burroughs and his wife Joan moved to Mexico, where there was lots of vice and corruption. He was a heroin addict and she was an alcoholic. They had a son and a daughter.

Read the book to learn the minutiae of the family’s lifestyle, and the untoward occurrence that engendered much grief for everyone involved.