January 2010 Biographies

Open: an autobiography by Andre Agassi

From Andre Agassi, one of the most beloved athletes in history and one of the most gifted men ever to step onto a tennis court, a beautiful, haunting autobiography. Agassi’s incredibly rigorous training begins when he is just a child. By the age of thirteen, he is banished to a Florida tennis camp that feels like a prison camp. Lonely, scared, a ninth-grade dropout, he rebels in ways that will soon make him a 1980s icon. He dyes his hair, pierces his ears, dresses like a punk rocker. By the time he turns pro at sixteen, his new look promises to change tennis forever, as does his lightning-fast return. And yet, despite his raw talent, he struggles early on. We feel his confusion as he loses to the world’s best, his greater confusion as he starts to win. After stumbling in three Grand Slam finals, Agassi shocks the world, and himself, by capturing the 1992 Wimbledon. Overnight he becomes a fan favorite and a media target. Agassi brings a near-photographic memory to every pivotal match and every relationship. Never before has the inner game of tennis and the outer game of fame been so precisely limned. Alongside vivid portraits of rivals from several generations– Jimmy Connors, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer– Agassi gives unstinting accounts of his brief time with Barbra Streisand and his doomed marriage to Brooke Shields. He reveals a shattering loss of confidence. And he recounts his spectacular resurrection, a comeback climaxing with his epic run at the 1999 French Open and his march to become the oldest man ever ranked number one. In clear, taut prose, Agassi evokes his loyal brother, his wise coach, his gentle trainer, all the people who help him regain his balance and find love at last with Stefanie Graf. Inspired by her quiet strength, he fights through crippling pain from a deteriorating spine to remain a dangerous opponent in the twenty-first and final year of his career. Entering his last tournament in 2006, he’s hailed for completing a stunning metamorphosis, from nonconformist to elder statesman, from dropout to education advocate. And still he’s not done. At a U.S. Open for the ages, he makes a courageous last stand, then delivers one of the most stirring farewells ever heard in a sporting arena. With its breakneck tempo and raw candor, Open will be read and cherished for years. A treat for ardent fans, it will also captivate readers who know nothing about tennis. Like Agassi’s game, it sets a new standard for grace, style, speed, and power.

Hypatia of Alexandria byMaria Dzielska; translated by F. Lyra

Hypatia–brilliant mathematician, eloquent Neoplatonist, and a woman renowned for her beauty–was brutally murdered by a mob of Christians in Alexandria in 415. She has been a legend ever since. In this engrossing book, Maria Dzielska searches behind the legend to bring us the real story of Hypatia’s life and death, and new insight into her colorful world. Historians and poets, Victorian novelists and contemporary feminists have seen Hypatia as a symbol–of the waning of classical culture and freedom of inquiry, of the rise of fanatical Christianity, or of sexual freedom. Dzielska shows us why versions of Hypatia’s legend have served her champions’ purposes, and how they have distorted the true story. She takes us back to the Alexandria of Hypatia’s day, with its Library and Museion, pagan cults and the pontificate of Saint Cyril, thriving Jewish community and vibrant Greek culture, and circles of philosophers, mathematicians, astronomers, and militant Christians. Drawing on the letters of Hypatia’s most prominent pupil, Synesius of Cyrene, Dzielska constructs a compelling picture of the young philosopher’s disciples and her teaching. Finally she plumbs her sources for the facts surrounding Hypatia’s cruel death, clarifying what the murder tells us about the tensions of this tumultuous era.

Our Lincoln: new perspectives on Lincoln and his world edited by Eric  Foner

As the bicentennial birthday of Abraham Lincoln approaches, there will undoubtedly be an increase in the normal (that is, high) publication rate of new Lincoln titles. This anniversary entry assembles some of America’s most eminent historians, whom editor Foner, author of the standard Reconstruction (1988), assigned to write on topics that have concerned Lincoln scholars in recent years. James McPherson sums up Lincoln as commander in chief (and expands in Tried by War, reviewed in this issue); every other historian tackles a nonmilitary topic. Three authors (including Foner on black colonization) address Lincoln and racial prejudice, and Mark Neely looks at Lincoln and habeas corpus, which are two active arenas of scholarship. In a popular-interest vein are interesting articles by Harold Holzer on famous photos of Lincoln, which Holzer argues were sittings intended to assist sculptors and painters; by Catherine Clinton (biography-in-progress of Mary Lincoln) on Abe’s family life; and by Race and Reunion (2001) author David Blight on the political uses of Lincoln in the present. The 12 essays offer insightful variety to Civil War readers.–Taylor, Gilbert Copyright 2008 Booklist

Literary Life: a second memoir by Larry McMurtry

From Pulitzer Prize and Oscar-winning author McMurtry comes his engrossing and deeply personal reflections on his life as a writer.

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