John Quincy Adams by Harlow Giles Unger (Da Capo, $27.50)
When writing about historic figures, especially from two centuries or more ago, it is sometimes difficult to find enough documented detail. According to Harlow Giles Unger, he discovered the exact opposite when he began researching the life of John Quincy Adams. Adams kept a detailed diary, 14,000 pages in all, reporting his day-to-day life from the 1770s through the 1840s. It is, in fact, one of the most sweeping panoramas of American history every recorded by a single man and was, of course, a treasure trove for Unger.
John Quincy Adams was born in 1767 in Quincy, Massachusetts, the eldest son of John and Abigail Adams. He studied at Harvard and was admitted to the bar in 1790. He put aside his personal ambitions to serve his country. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1803, later minister in St. Petersburg and the Court of St. James. As Secretary of State under President James Monroe, he helped draft the Monroe Doctrine and, of course, became president himself in 1825. After failing to win a second term, he served in the House of Representatives where he took an anti-slavery stand. He was even charged with treason for his abolitionist views but defending himself using the Declaration of Independence.
Unger, a veteran journalist, broadcaster, educator and historian, has written a fascinating biography of this almost bigger-than-life figure. Exciting and crisply written, this is a vivid biography that finally gives Adams the historic acclaim he deserves. This is more than a mere political biography since it is nothing less than the stirring story of our country finding its way during changing and often turbulent times.
I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons (ECCO, $27.99)
Leonard Cohen is most of the most influential music figures of the 20th century. Even before he turned his attention to music, he had built his reputation as both an accomplished novelist and poet. His dual careers in music and literature were an almost seamless blend, establishing Cohen as truly an unmatched artist.
Born into a wealthy Canadian family, Cohen was already in his 30s when he became a professional musician. From London, the Greek island of Hydra, to New York, Cohen began his arc of prodigious achievements. During the mid-nineties, just as everything seemed to be coming together, Cohen abruptly entered a monastery. When he returned from his retreat, he found his bank accounts bled dry. At the age of seventy-three, he was forced back into the concert world and so began his wildly successful three-year world tour.
Cohen is a complex man and Sylvie Simmons has captured every essence of it in her remarkable book. This is a deeply insightful portrait that is guaranteed to haunt the reader much like his “Suzanne” and “Bird on the Wire.”
The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and The Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss (Crown, $27)
Sometimes real life does, indeed, trump even the wildest of fiction. Such is the case of Alex Dumas, born in Haiti to a French nobleman and a black slave. If it hadn’t been for his rival, Napoleon Bonaparte, he would have been celebrated to an even bigger extent.
His extraordinary life and character is the stuff of legend. How a black man went from his position of a lowly corporal to lead 50,000 white officers and soldiers into battle during the French Revolution is extraordinary in itself. While commanding Napoleon’s cavalry in France’s massive invasion of Egypt, Dumas was so successful, Napoleon saw him as a threat and even made an attempt to erase him from history itself. He probably would have done so if it had not been for the novel published in 1844. It is, of course, an enduring literary masterpiece.
Reiss, who spent six years researching this highly readable account, takes readers into the complex world of one of this bigger-than-life man, the Count of Monte Cristo. Historic reporting doesn’t get much better or exciting as this. With a narrative that is engaging and entertaining, Reiss sets the literary table for one of the most satisfying adventure stories of the autumn.
Richly detailed, meticulously researched, and beautifully written, this is the unlikely true story of the man behind one of the greatest books in literature, “THE Count of Monte Cristo,” the timeless classic written by his son, novelist Alexandre Dumas.
The Real Romney by Michael Kranish and Scott Helman (Harper, $15.99 softbound)
Michael Kranish, deputy chief of the Boston Globe’s Washington Bureau, and Scott Helman, a staff writer at the paper, spent five years researching the life of Willard “Mitt” Romney for their book, “The Real Romney,” first published in hardback earlier this year. Although Romney is one of the most enigmatic men to ever run for a national office, these two Boston Globe reporters reveal one of the most penetrating portraits of him available so far.
This riveting account provides crucial insight into the lengths to which Romney has gone in order to succeed in both business and politics. It isn’t always a pretty picture. The take away is that Romney made piles of money but really isn’t very likeable.