5 top biographies of March

Why We Wrote This

Reading about other lives enriches our own, and offers an opportunity to explore historic eras through the eyes of participants. 

This varied group represents biographies that the Monitor's reviewers found most intriguing this month. It's time to meet a quintet of vital and newsworthy women and men. 

1 The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick by Mallory O'Meara

Screenwriter and film producer Mallory O’Meara was a teenager when she learned that the iconic monster in 1954 horror movie "Creature from the Black Lagoon" was designed by a woman. Milicent Patrick (1915-1998) was a visionary who worked in an industry very much dominated by men. Her name, O’Meara discovered, had all but disappeared from the annals of Hollywood. "The Lady from the Black Lagoon" describes the author's personal search for Patrick and is equal parts Hollywood history and detective story – and it's thrilling on both counts. 

2 First: Sandra Day O'Connor by Evan Thomas 

From the opening pages, Evan Thomas shows what shaped the character of future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Raised on a 250-square-mile ranch along the Arizona-New Mexico border in the 1930s and '40s, Sandra Day grew up in a house that lacked electricity, indoor plumbing, and running water. Her father taught her to shoot a rifle and drive a truck long before she was a teenager. She grew up in a man’s world, always persevering while building the determination and confidence that would lead her to shatter the glass ceiling, culminating with her nomination to the court in 1981 and remarkable 25-year tenure.

3 Monument Man: The Life and Art of Daniel Chester French by Harold Holzer

This is the first comprehensive biography of the prolific American sculptor of public monuments, including the statue of Abraham Lincoln installed in the Lincoln Memorial. Extensively researched, the book is enriched by Harold Holzer’s expertise as an award-winning historian of Lincoln and the Civil War and his broad knowledge of art. Drawing on correspondence, journals, and archival materials, the biography evokes Daniel Chester French’s life and career amid the cultural vibrancy of the Gilded Age. Find the full review here

4 Vasily Grossman and the Soviet Century by Alexandra Popoff 

Western readers who know the name Vasily Grossman (1905-1964) will connect it with his epic 1961 novel "Life and Fate." But the Jewish dissident writer's life was as vivid and gripping as anything he put into his novels, and Soviet expert Alexandra Popoff presents that life with a degree of detail and compassion not yet seen in any English-language publication. Her portrait provides not only the best look yet at this great author's working life but also a stirring study of one man's lifelong fight against totalitarian rule.

5 Mr. President, How Long Must We Wait?: Alice Paul, Woodrow Wilson, and the Fight for the Right to Vote by Tina Cassidy  

A progressive, puritanical, and paradoxical president who's both ahead of his time and behind it. A bold, creative, and passionate young woman with nerves of steel. Author Tina Cassidy chronicles the amazing story of how these remarkable forces of nature collided over the battle for women's right to vote. Readers intrigued by historical heroines will thrill to Cassidy's discovery of this forgotten feud and the national battle over women's suffrage. 

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