A FIRST-CLASS TEMPERAMENT; The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt by Geoffrey C. Ward (Harper & Row)
Meeting Franklin Delano Roosevelt shortly after his ascension to the Presidency in 1933, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes described him as "a second-class intellect. But a first-class temperament." This second volume of Ward's lively and psychologically revealing biography begins with his honeymoon abroad in 1905 and concludes with his election as Governor of New York in 1928. Ward's portrait provides a balance to the well-known characterization of Roosevelt as a "gregarious, graceful and ebullient man." Here he is revealed also as a "consummate actor," a trait which, for all the damage it often wreaks, served him well in coping with the devastation of poliomyelitis.
THE IRON LADY; A Biography of Margaret Thatcher by Hugo Young (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
The central riddle revealed here is why, as a woman in a man's world, Margaret Thatcher evinces such an exclusionary attitude toward women. The British Prime Minister's stance stems from her "barely tolerant" childhood view of her mother juxtaposed with the idolization of her father. From her father, Young argues, she inherited a "joyless earnestness" that combined with her early interest in science to produce the roots of her public character. "She did not ponder problems; she wanted solutions. . . . Political intellectuals interested her to the extent that they offered solutions." The author, whose career as a political columnist has coincided with Thatcher's as political leader, describes two qualities that are her greatest strengths: her "sense of moral rectitude" and her political intuition.
MEANS OF ASCENT; The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert A. Caro (Alfred A. Knopf)
The Pulitizer Prize-winning author's second book in a projected four-volume work on the life of one of our most complex presidents. It is a dark and unrelenting portrayal of the way in which the humiliation of sudden poverty at age 13 led to Lyndon Johnson's quest for power at nearly any cost. More importantly, this painstakingly documented account also unflinchingly reveals the corrupt relationship between ends and means in American political life. The author, a former investigative journalist, was able to elicit untapped recollections from Johnson's old cronies. One of the most dramatic passages is an analysis of the mysterious 1948 senatorial contest that Johnson at his most desperate managed to win by the "87 votes that changed history."
SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR; A Biography by Deirdre Bair (Summit Books)
Deirdre Bair commenced the research for this book with two questions: "How could that well-brought-up little Catholic girl have found the courage to become the fearless, free-spirited adult who gave as good as she got in the often vicious arena of Paris intellectualism? And as for 'The Second Sex,' from what place within her creative consciousness had that book come?" It took the author, recipient of the National Book Award for her biography of Samuel Beckett, seven years to answer these questions. The product is by turns literary biography, intellectual history, feminist theory and oral history.
THE FIVE OF HEARTS; An Intimate Portrait of Henry Adams and His Friends, 1880-1918 by Patricia O'Toole (Clarkson N. Potter/Crown)
An intimate, gossipy, yet graceful and well-researched social history of an elite group of influential Americans who first came together in Washington, D.C., in the winter of 1880-1881 as privileged bons vivants needing an appreciative outlet for their unconventional energies, ideas and wit. The social circle was composed of Henry Adams, historian and descendant of presidents; his wife, Clover; Secretary of State John Hay and his wife, Clara; Clarence King, geologist, leader of the great Fortieth Parallel survey. Often compared to the Bloomsbury group, the fivesome dubbed themselves "The Five of Hearts." Although intimates, they kept to themselves their most intriguing secrets (King, considered a bachelor, at his death was discovered to have left behind a black common-law wife and five children). Their "little White House" gatherings at the Lafayette Square home of the Adamses included Presidents from Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt, along with other such influential figures as Henry James, Edith Wharton, Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie.
DISAPPEARING THROUGH THE SKYLIGHT; Culture and Technology in the Twentieth Century by O. B. Hardison Jr. (Viking)