‘Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People’
By Tim Reiterman with John Jacobs (Tarcher/Penguin, $18.95 softbound)
This past month marked the 30th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre, an event that continues to horrify and fascinate. Reiterman, a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner, was a member of the fact-finding team sent to Guyana to meet with Jim Jones and investigate reports of abuses on the People’s Temple compound. As the group prepared to depart Guyana, an airstrip attack erupted, wounding Reiterman and killing several others including U.S. congressman Leo Ryan, San Francisco Examiner photographer Greg Robinson and NBC newsmen Don Harris and Bob Brown. Reiterman, and his co-author, the late John Jacobs, spent years uncovering the real story about Jones and his cult-like movement. The result is a seminal, crisply written, heart-thumping account that continues to resonate, even after three decades. First published in 1982, this edition includes a new preface by Reiterman.
‘Chagall: A Biography’
By Jackie Wullschlager (Knopf, $40)
A pioneer of modernism and one of the greatest figurative artists of the 20th century, Marc Chagall was born in Vitebsk, Belarus, in 1887. He studied in St. Petersburg and Paris, eventually leaving Russia for the United States. After designing ballet sets and costumes, he illustrated several noteworthy books. Throughout his life, he never ceased giving form on canvas to his dreams, longings and memories, as he helped define the modern art of the West. In this multilayered, meticulously researched and masterfully written biography, Wullschlager, chief art critic for the Financial Times, presents the man behind some of the most innovative art ever executed. This biography is generously illustrated and an absolute joy.
‘Claude Rains: An Actor’s Voice’
By David J. Skal with Jessica Rains (University Press of Kentucky, $29.95)
This is the first biography of Claude Rains, one of Hollywood’s most intriguing actors of the 1930s and ’40s. After an early career on the stage, he made his first film in 1920 for the Ideal Film Company. He was nominated at least four times for an Academy Award, and appeared in such groundbreaking films as “Anthony Adverse,” “They Won’t Forget,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “Casablanca,” and my personal favorite, “The Invisible Man.” Like many actors, he was haunted by insecurities but despite this, he was the consummate professional. This highly readable biography, written with the help of his daughter, Jessica Rains, reveals the witty, talented man behind this universally respected Hollywood legend. A list of Rain’s theater, screen, radio, TV and recording work is included in a special appendix.
‘Le Corbusier: A Life’
By Nicholas Fox Weber (Knopf, $45)
Le Corbusier, the pseudonym of Charles Edouard Jeannetet, was born in Switzerland in 1887. Leaving school when he was 13, he was encouraged by a local art teacher to travel throughout Europe to observe various architectural styles. He settled in Paris in 1917, was introduced to purism and began writing extensively about urban projects and city planning. Even though many of his designs were rejected, he nevertheless became an innovator, believing that the future of Paris was not in its fussy turn-of-the-century buildings but rather in large, white apartment buildings in park-like settings. This incredible biography is nothing less than the brilliant revelation of a single-minded, elusive genius. Without a doubt, this highly satisfying book is destined to be one of the top biographies of 2008.
‘Abraham Lincoln: Great American Historians on our Sixteenth President’
Edited by Brian Lamb and Susan Swain (PublicAffairs, $27.95)
Next February will mark the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. To commemorate the occasion, 56 of America’s top contemporary writers and Lincoln historians examine the life and legacy of this incredible man, from his early life in Springfield, through his turbulent presidency, and ending with his tragic assassination in 1865. Essays, which originated in C-SPAN’s Booknotes in Depth, and several history series, provide an astonishing compelling portrait of, perhaps, this country’s most beloved president. Highlights include Doris Kearns Goodwin’s insight into Lincoln’s ability to organize the 1860 Republican convention, Tom Wheeler’s depiction of how Lincoln adopted the new technology of the telegraph so he could become the nation’s first leader to get information from far away in real time, and Garry Will’s report on how Lincoln prepared for his address at Gettysburg by touring the cemetery on horseback beforehand so that he could get a better sense of the battlefield’s layout. This is must reading for Lincoln aficionados.
‘In Spite of Myself: A Memoir’
By Christopher Plummer (Knopf, $29.95)
Plummer was born in Canada, where he was spoiled rotten by his fairly well-heeled family. By the time he was 18, he was playing the lead in Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline” at Moscow’s Imperial Theater. He arrived in New York during the fabulous ’50s where he was soon mixing it up with the likes of Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and Paddy Chayefsky. He worked with some of the biggest producers, directors and stars of his era and his autobiography is cluttered with celebrities, affairs, marriages, flops, triumphs, and rich, juicy anecdotes. This is fun, rollicking reading that is certain to chase away the holiday blues.
‘The Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life, His Own’
By David Carr (Simon & Schuster, $26)
Carr, a cultural reporter for The New York Times, serves up one of the most searing, shocking, honest books of the year about addiction and recovery, his own. In this harrowing narrative, Carr reconstructs his own history as he would any legitimate newspaper or magazine story, by returning to primary sources. He tracked down and interviewed more than 50 people from his past who witnessed his life under the influence. He dug through medical files, police reports, legal documents, journals and other materials only to discover that he was wrong about many fundamental aspects of his life. This is a candid account that packs all of the pain and surprise of a punch to the gut.