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Finalists for the 1990-1991 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes

September 13, 1992|M. LEWELLYN MARKS | Marks is manager of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes

BIOGRAPHY

SALEM IS MY DWELLING PLACE: A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne by Edwin Haviland Miller (University of Iowa Press). America's first great storyteller discouraged biography; the traits that can be observed in an artist, he wrote, "hide the man, instead of displaying him." Readers looking for insights into their favorite author, Nathaniel Hawthorne believed, would be better off looking "through the whole range of his fictitious characters, good and evil." Such is author Edwin Miller's accomplishment in this masterful portrait of the confluence of life, art and place.

A PROPHET WITH HONOR: The Billy Graham Story by William Martin (Quill/William Morrow). The forces that shaped this charismatic evangelist have shaped many Americans: Puritan origins, strict upbringing based on rigid behavioral rules enforced by physical punishment, parents in possession of an unwavering sense of being right about all things; all of it tempered with strong parental love. A hyperactive child, Billy Graham might predictably have been treated harshly in such an environment; instead he was regarded with a transcendent understanding by his family, particularly by his remarkable mother. His oratorical gift surfaced early and was nurtured by a host of mentors, including his family. Untainted by scandal despite his high profile in the scandal-ridden evangelical movement, uncorrupted by power despite his affiliations with the powerful, Graham came to be perceived by many as a prophet.

ELEANOR ROOSEVELT: Volume One 1884-1933 by Blanche Wiesen Cook (Viking Penguin). This boldly revisionist view of a complex woman, based on recently opened archives, shows how the First Lady found love and political authority despite experiencing extreme betrayal.

EDGAR A. POE: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance by Kenneth Silverman (HarperCollins). This first comprehensive Poe biography in English in half a century goes beyond the popular conception of Poe as a debauchee. Through a lively and compelling narrative, Silverman skeptically reexamines the old evidence from a modern sensibility that incorporates a psychological perspective, such as the role that childhood bereavement played in Poe's creative output.

FASCINATING RHYTHM by Deena Rosenberg (New American Library/Dutton). An interpretive and critical history that sheds light on how two brothers who were temperamental opposites managed to collaborate on songs and shows that became both art and social history. This social biography of George and Ira Gershwin provides detailed analyses of the Gershwins' vocabulary, voice, subject matter and viewpoint.

CURRENT INTEREST

CULTURE WARS: The Struggle to Define America by James Davison Hunter (Basic Books) . Americans are at war with one another over issues ranging from abortion to arts funding and gay rights. Describing the fight between Christian fundamentalists, Orthodox Jews and conservative Catholics at one extreme and secularists, reform Jews, liberal Catholics and Protestants at the other, "Culture Wars" shows that at its core, the battle is over fundamental assumptions about truth, freedom and national identity.

CHAIN REACTION: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics by Thomas Byrne Edsall and Mary D. Edsall (W. W. Norton & Company) . A candid and insightful analysis of how the Democratic party began to decline during the "rights revolution" of 1972. Taking the party far to the left of its previous platforms, the revolution advocated nothing less than the redistribution of power and cultural authority in the United States.

THE END OF HISTORY AND THE LAST MAN by Francis Fukuyama (The Free Press) . The author whose 1989 essay audaciously asked whether history had "ended" with communism's collapse here expands on that question. Two powerful forces have shaped human history, he argues: the "logic of modern science" and the "struggle for recognition." Over time, Fukuyama argues, these forces lead to the collapse of tyrannies and the establishment of capitalist liberal democracies as the result of the historical process. The great question then becomes whether man can be completely satisfied in the stable society that has evolved or whether the spiritual condition of this "last man" in history, deprived of outlets for his ambition for mastery, will lead him to plunge back into bloodshed.

DEN OF THIEVES by James B. Stewart (Simon & Schuster). "Violations of securities laws are not victimless crimes," Wall Street Journal reporter and editor James Stewart argues in this complete narrative of the events that led to the insider-trading scandal and to the unprecedented security scams perpetrated by Michael Milken, Ivan Boesky, Martin Siegel and Dennis Levine.

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