Great minds past and present – Biography picks for June

The great news this month is that Oliver Sacks, ground-breaking neurologist and popular author, has at last published his autobiography. Sacks, who has enhanced so many lives, has had a very difficult passage through his own. His memoir gives a frank account of this, and his emergence as a happy and balanced man who found his life partner at the age of seventy seven.
And the sad news this month is that John Nash, the gifted mathematician of ‘A Beautiful Mind’ fame, died in a car crash shortly after receiving the equivalent of the Nobel prize for his work. If you haven’t read A Beautiful Mind you might like to consider it now.

Syndetics book coverThe bird market of Paris : a memoir / Nikki Moustaki.
“An avian expert and author shares a true story of her remarkable grandfather and their shared passion for birds. After his death she fulfils his wish for her to go to Paris and visit the market and this leads to an astonishing redemption.” (Global Books summary)

Syndetics book coverBorn with teeth : a memoir / Kate Mulgrew.
“At 22, Kate Mulgrew gave birth to a daughter. Having already signed the adoption papers, she was allowed only a fleeting glimpse of her child. Three days later, she returned to work as the star of a popular soap opera. Twenty years later, she went in search of the daughter she had given away. We know Mulgrew for the strong women she’s played–Captain Janeway on Star Trek; “Red” on Orange Is the New Black. Now, in her memoir, we meet the most inspiring and lovable character of all: herself.” (Summary from

Syndetics book coverEisenhower : in war and peace / Jean Edward Smith.
“In his magisterial bestseller FDR, Jean Edward Smith gave us a fresh, modern look at one of the most indelible figures in American history. Now this peerless biographer returns with a new life of Dwight D. Eisenhower that is as full, rich, and revealing as anything ever written about America’s thirty-fourth president.” (Summary from

Syndetics book coverThe book of wanderings : a mother-daughter pilgrimage / Kimberly Meyer.
“To a mother and daughter on an illuminating pilgrimage, this is what the desert said: Carry only what you need. Burn what can’t be saved. Leave the remnants as an offering. When Kimberly Meyer gave birth to her first daughter, Ellie, during her senior year of college, the bohemian life of exploration she had once imagined for herself was lost in the responsibilities of single motherhood. For years, both mother and daughter were haunted by how Ellie came into being-Kimberly through a restless ache for the world beyond, Ellie through a fear of abandonment.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverOn the move : a life / Oliver Sacks.
“Few people can claim to have made such a profound impact on the public understanding of the brain and its inner workings. In this book, Oliver Sacks describes his time at Oxford University, his time spent in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the early nineteen sixties, before moving on to chart his progression from young doctor to his public role as a neurologist and author. Here we see Sacks’s private passions – among them, motorcycling, weightlifting, travel, and botany – placed alongside his professional life. He will also explore his most formative relationships with those thinkers who have influenced his own work.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverA curious friendship : the story of a bluestocking and a bright young thing / Anna Thomasson.
“The winter of 1924: Edith Olivier, alone for the first time at the age of fifty-one, thought her life had come to an end. For Rex Whistler, a nineteen-year-old art student, life was just beginning. Together, they embarked on an intimate and unlikely friendship that would transform their lives. Gradually Edith’s world opened up and she became a writer. Her home, the Daye House, in a wooded corner of the Wilton estate, became a sanctuary for Whistler and the other brilliant and beautiful younger men of her circle.” (Global Books summary)

Syndetics book coverOne life : my mother’s story / Kate Grenville.
“Nance was a week short of her sixth birthday when she and Frank were roused out of bed in the dark and lifted into the buggy, squashed in with bedding, the cooking pots rattling around in the back, and her mother shouting back towards the house: Goodbye, Rothsay, I hope I never see you again! When Kate Grenville’s mother died she left behind many fragments of memoir. These were the starting point for One Life , the story of a woman whose life spanned a century of tumult and change.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPicnic in Provence : a memoir with recipes / Elizabeth Bard.
“The bestselling author of Lunch in Paris takes us on another delicious journey, this time to the heart of Provence. Ten years ago, New Yorker Elizabeth Bard followed a handsome Frenchman up a spiral staircase to a love nest in the heart of Paris. Now, with a baby on the way and the world’s flakiest croissant around the corner, Elizabeth is sure she’s found her “forever place.” But life has other plans. On a last romantic jaunt before the baby arrives, the couple take a trip to the tiny Provencal village of Céreste.” (Global Books summary)

Syndetics book coverA beautiful mind : the life of mathematical genius and Nobel laureate John Nash / Sylvia Nasar.
“The true story of John Nash, the mathematical genius who was a legend by age thirty when he slipped into madness, and who — thanks to the selflessness of a beautiful woman and the loyalty of the mathematics community — emerged after decades of ghostlike existence to win a Nobel Prize and world acclaim.” (adapted from Global Books summary)

The pen and the sword – First World War poetry, letters and memoirs

541px-Poppy-closeupIs the pen mightier than the sword? In a physical sense alas no — otherwise the celebrated war poets would not have been so cruelly cut down in their prime — but the curious phenomenon about this terrible episode in our history is that it produced a magnificent flowering of the written word. Many of those fighting at the front were highly educated men, well versed in the classics and literature. Poetry — considered the highest of the literary forms — was the natural medium in which to express not the pity and the horror of this dreadful war but also a heightened sense of the beauty of life. It is the poignancy of this mix, coupled with the youth of the poets, which has the power to move us so profoundly today.

“The Great silence” followed The Great War — a period when everybody wanted to forget about it and nobody wanted to talk about it. Memoirs were slow to come, and many have only just been produced using letters and diaries as source material.

There are many many books about this war to end all wars — and this being the centenary year of the conflict there are likely to be many more. Those we have chosen below are a guide to what is held in each category. Have a read!


Syndetics book cover1914 : poetry remembers / edited by Carol Ann Duffy.
“The First World War holds a unique place in the nation’s history; the poetry it produced, a unique place in the nation’s hearts. To mark the centenary of the First World War in 2014, the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, has engaged the most eminent poets of the present to choose the writing from the Great War that touched them most profoundly: their choices are here in this powerful and moving assembly. But this anthology is more than a record of war writing. Carol Ann Duffy has commissioned these same poets of the present to look back across the past and write a poem of their own in response to the war to end all wars.” (Summary from Global Books)

Syndetics book coverFirst World War poems / edited by Andrew Motion.
“The First World War produced some of the most haunting and memorable poetry of our age. In this compelling anthology, the Poet Laureate Andrew Motion guides us through both the horror and the pity of that conflict, from the trenches of the Western Front to reflections from our own age. With a selection of our best-known war poets, this collection also returns lesser known pieces to the light and extends the selection right through to the present day. The text serves to remind us how poetry of that time has, more than any other art from, come to stand testament to the grief and outrage occasioned by World War I” (Summary from Global Books)

Biographies & memoirs:

Syndetics book coverTestament of youth : an autobiographical study of the years 1900-1925 / by Vera Brittain ; with an introduction by Mark Bostridge ; and a preface by Shirley Williams.
“In 1914 Vera Brittain was eighteen and, as war was declared, she was preparing to study at Oxford. Four years later her life – and the life of her whole generation – had changed in a way that was unimaginable in the tranquil pre-war era. TESTAMENT OF YOUTH, one of the most famous autobiographies of the First World War, is Brittain’s account of how she survived the period; how she lost the man she loved; how she nursed the wounded and how she emerged into an altered world.” (Summary from Global Books)

Syndetics book coverThe Englishman’s daughter : a true story of love and betrayal in World War I / Ben Macintyre.The Englishman’s Daughter: A True Story of Love and Betrayal in World War One
“In the first terrifying days of World War I, four British soldiers found themselves trapped behind enemy lines on the western front. They were forced to hide in the tiny French village of Villeret, whose inhabitants made the courageous decision to shelter the fugitives until they could pass as Picard peasants. The Englishmans Daughter is the never-before-told story of these extraordinary men, their protectors, and of the haunting love affair between Private Robert Digby and Claire Dessenne, the most beautiful woman in Villeret. Their passion would result in the birth of a child known as The Englishmans Daughter.” (Summary from Global Books)

Syndetics book coverFor king and country : voices from the First World War / edited by Brian MacArthur.
“Far more than an anthology, this gripping collection of writings tells the story of World War I from the perspective of those who endured its horrors both at home and abroad. From the men who served in Europe comenbsp;accounts of fear, tedium, horror, and occasional joy, while those on the home front describe the pain ofnbsp;waiting for news of their loved ones. Along with selections from letters, diary entries, and memoirs, famous songs sung in the trenches as well as poems from soldiers and noted authors alike are also included.” (Summary from Global Books)

Syndetics book coverFighting on the Home Front : the legacy of women in World War One / Kate Adie.
“Bestselling author and award-winning former BBC Chief News Correspondent Kate Adie reveals the ways in which women’s lives changed during World War One In 1914 the world changed forever. When World War One broke out and a generation of men went off to fight, women emerged from the shadows of their domestic lives. Now a visible force in public life, they began to take up essential roles – from transport to policing, munitions to sport, entertainment, even politics. Kate Adie charts the seismic move towards equal rights with men that began a century ago and asks what these women achieved for future generations. This is history at its best – a vivid, compelling account of the pioneering women who helped win the war.” (Summary from Global Books)

Syndetics book coverTickled to death to go : memoirs of a cavalryman in the First World War / edited by Richard van Emden.
“Tickled to Death to Go is no ordinary memoir. Illuminated by Ben Clouting’s lively sense of humour and healthy disrespect for petty restrictions, it is a remarkable story told in his own words” (Summary from Global Books)

Syndetics book coverAnzac girls : the extraordinary story of our World War I nurses
“By the end of World War I, 45 Australian and New Zealand nurses had died on overseas service, and over 200 had been decorated. These were the women who left for war looking for adventure and romance, but were soon confronted with challenges for which their civilian lives could never have prepared them. Their strength and dignity were remarkable. Using diaries and letters, Peter Rees takes us into the hospital camps and the wards and the tent surgeries on the edge of some of the most horrific battlefronts of human history. But he also allows the friendships and loves of these courageous and compassionate women to enrich their experiences, and ours.” (Summary from Global Books)

And a novel which reads like a memoir (you will not believe it’s fiction!):

Syndetics book coverDiary of an ordinary woman / Margaret Forster.
“Margaret Forster presents the ‘edited’ diary of a woman, born in 1901, whose life spans the twentieth century. On the eve of the Great War, Millicent King begins to keep her journal and vividly records the dramas of everyday life in a family touched by war, tragedy, and money troubles. From bohemian London to Rome in the 1920s her story moves on to social work and the build-up to another war, in which she drives ambulances through the bombed streets of London. Here is twentieth-century woman in close-up coping with the tragedies and upheavals of women’s lives from WWI to Greenham Common and beyond. A triumph of resolution and evocation, this is a beautifully observed story of an ordinary woman’s life – a narrative where every word rings true.”. (Summary from Global Books)


Letters were the commonest form of communication in the early 1900s and people of all classes wrote them frequently. In the highly literate letters of the officers and the simple and direct communications of the ordinary soldiers we see the a true history of the war emerge — the terrible battles, the day-to-day experience of the troops, and the realities of life at home.

Syndetics book coverLetters from the trenches : a soldier of the Great War / Bill Lamin.
“I was very pleased to hear from you and that you are going on all right . . . We have had another terrible time this week the men here say it was worst than the Somme advance last July. We lost a lot of men but we got where we were asked to take. It was awful I am alright got buried and knocked about but quite well now and hope to remain so. We were praised by the general and all, everybody said we had done well, quite a success . . . It is a rum job waiting for the time to come to (Syndetics summary).

Syndetics book coverPrivate wars : personal records of the Anzacs in the Great War / Greg Kerr.
“Greg Kerr retraces the journey of Australian and New Zealand troops from Gallipoli in 1915 to the final penetration of the Hindenburg Line in 1918. While covering the general strategic course of the war, the author focuses on the human side of the war. Similar to his acclaimed Lost Anzacs: The Story of Two Brothers, Kerr follows the experiences of roughly sixty figures–officers, privates, nurses–and captures their experiences through judicious and uncensored extracts from their letters and diaries. The book also includes numerous photos, many previously unpublished. The combination of photos, letters, and historical backgroundmake for an unforgettable account of what the war was really like on the ground.” (Syndetics summary).

And what happened next…

Syndetics book coverSingled out : how two million women survived without men after the First World War / Virginia Nicholson.
“The First World War deprived Britain of three quarters of a million soldiers, leaving as many more incapacitated. In 1919 a generation of women who unquestioningly believed marriage to be their birthright discovered that here were, quite simply, not enough men to go round. They became known as ‘the Surplus Women’.” “Many of us remember them: they wee our teachers, our maiden aunts, women who seemed to have lost out life’s feast. This book tells their stories.” (Book jacket)

Syndetics book coverCasualty figures : how five men survived the First World War / Michèle Barrett.
“In this delicate look at history in microcosm, Barrett (literary and cultural theory, Queen Mary, University of London) follows the experience of five soldiers who survived World War I, two in the medical corps and three in the trenches. Their survival was debatable, though each man suffered from shell shock that affected his later life and damaged his relations with family and friends. Using private letters, diaries and military records Barrett paints a harrowing portrait of these men, what they survived and how they coped but never really recovered. This is a beautifully written psychological biography that, sadly, is all too timely.” (Syndetics summary)

Margaret Thatcher, 1925-2013 : a Reading List

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has died (8 April 2013), aged 87. Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for  three terms of Conservative-led government in the 1980s, she presided over a country in flux and is the only woman to have held the office of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to date. A controversial figure, the story of her life and times is fascinating — try our reading and viewing list below, which includes both volumes of her autobiography, as well as other biographical works, a social history of the period she governed in, and films (including Meryl Streep’s turn as The Iron Lady). Have a browse!


Syndetics book coverThe Downing Street years / Margaret Thatcher. (1993)
“This first volume of Margaret Thatcher’s memoirs, which encompasses the entirety of her career as Prime Minister. Margaret Thatcher was the towering figure of late-twentieth-century British politics. This is the story of her remarkable life in her own words. This first volume of her memoirs is a riveting first-hand portrait of the events and personalities of her eleven years in power. She recalls the triumphs and the critical moments of her premiership – the Falklands War, the miners’ strike, the Brighton bomb, the Westland Affair and her unprecedented three election victories. Her judgements of the men and women she encountered, whether world statesmen or Cabinet colleagues, are astonishingly frank. She is lavish with her praise; devastating with her criticism. The book reaches a gripping climax with an hour-by-hour description from inside 10 Downing Street of her dramatic final days in office. Margaret Thatcher’s compelling account stands as a powerful testament to her influential legacy” (

Syndetics book coverThe path to power / Margaret Thatcher. (1995)
“The extraordinary account of Margaret Thatcher’s life up to her dramatic election as the first woman Prime Minister of England in 1979. Margaret Thatcher was the towering figure of late-twentieth-century British politics. This is the story of her remarkable life in her own words. In this second volume of her memoirs, following ‘The Downing Street Years’, she writes candidly about the experiences that propelled her to the very top in a man’s world. Beginning with her upbringing in Grantham, she goes on to describe her Oxford years, marriage to Denis, and entry into Parliament at a time when there were no more than a handful of women MPs. Rising through the ranks to Education Secretary and then Leader of the Opposition, she led the Conservative Party to a historic victory in the 1979 general election, becoming Britain’s first female prime minister. Margaret Thatcher’s compelling account stands as a powerful testament to her influential legacy.” (

Syndetics book coverMargaret Thatcher / John Campbell. (2000)
(This title is actually in two volumes, “Margaret Thatcher : the grocer’s daughter” & “Margaret Thatcher : the iron lady.”)
“The first volume of John Campbell’s biography of Margaret Thatcher was described by Frank Johnson in the Daily Telegraph as ‘much the best book yet written about Lady Thatcher’. That volume, The Grocer’s Daughter, described Mrs Thatcher’s childhood and early career up until the 1979 General Election which carried her into Downing Street. This second volume covers the whole eleven and a half years of her momentous premiership. Thirteen years after her removal from power, this is the first comprehensive and fully researched study of the Thatcher Government from its hesitant beginning to its dramatic end. Campbell draws on the mass of memoirs and diaries of Mrs Thatcher’s colleagues, aides, advisers and rivals, as well as on original material from the Ronald Reagan archive, shedding fascinating new light on the Reagan-Thatcher ‘special relationship’, and on dozens of interviews. The Iron Lady will confirm John Campbell’s Margaret Thatcher as one of the greatest political biographies of recent times.” (

Mrs. Thatcher’s revolution : the ending of the socialist era / Peter Jenkins. (1989)
“Peter Jenkins, [when the book was published] Associate Editor and political columnist of the Independent, achieved a reputation, during his years as a political columnist on the Guardian, as the most authoritative, thoughtful and best-informed commentator on the contemporary political scene. Now he has brought his wide experience of current political ideas and personalities to bear in an ambitious and important new book – a study of the phenomenon of the rise of Thatcherism, in his view more of a style than an ideology, but certainly the most significant factor in the transformation of modern British politics. With a remarkable blending of historical knowledge and intellectual excitement, Jenkins examines the emergence and continuing success of Margaret Thatcher against the gloomy background of what he calls ‘the politics of decline’. He shows how the failure of the post-war ‘consensus’, based on the concept of the Welfare State, prepared the ground for Mrs Thatcher’s radical solution to the nation’s growing economic and social problems, Jenkins is the first in his field to distill one lucid narrative from the many complicated stories of the pursuit of growth, the use and misuse of incomes policy, the miners’ strike, the OEC crisis, the Winter of Discontent, the dismemberment of the Labour Party, the evolution of the Social Democratic Party and the impact of the Falklands War.” (

Syndetics book coverReagan and Thatcher : the difficult relationship / Richard Aldous. (2012)
“Aldous, a historian of nineteenth-century British leaders William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli (The Lion and the Unicorn, 2007), capitalizes on records of the interactions of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. He finds that the archives belie the bonhomie thought to have prevailed between the two conservative leaders and reveal many disagreements during the years (1981-89) they were simultaneously in power. Raising contretemps as they cropped up (the Falklands War of 1982, the 1983 invasion of Grenada), Aldous places them against the backdrop of the principal foreign-affairs theme of the time, the Cold War and the policies adopted toward the new leader of the Soviet Union.” (Booklist)

Syndetics book coverRejoice, rejoice! : Britain in the 1980s / Alwyn W. Turner. (2010)
(This one is more of a social history — we’ve included it here as context for the 1980s)
“The Eighties may seem to many of us like yesterday, but in many ways the Britain of thirty years ago was a thoroughly foreign country. During the years when Thatcherism wiped out almost a quarter of Britain’s heavy industry through savagely monetarist policies, a naval Task Force also sailed to re-take an insular outpost in the South Atlantic. In the same decade as the extraordinary pitched battles of the miners’ strike, Boy George sweetly crooned ‘Karma Chameleon’. As the world faced the early days of panic over the AIDS virus, pop stars took to the stage for Live Aid. Alwyn W. Turner’s in-depth history of this most fascinating of decades has been highly praised by distinguished commentators like Dominic Sandbrook and Francis Wheen. If the Seventies, the subject of his previous book, were the last gasp of the old Britain, the Eighties were a truly transitional, politically revolutionary decade, when Thatcherism remade Britain’s economy and its society, but when Britain’s social fabric also changed in many infinitely more encouraging ways. Witty and formidably well-informed on political intrigue, as well as every last soap opera and rock album, this is an exciting piece of genuinely new history.” (



Amazon cover linkThe iron lady / a Phyllida Lloyd film. (Starring Meryl Streep)
“A surprising and intimate portrait of Margaret Thatcher, the first and only female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. One of the 20th century’s most famous and influential women, Thatcher came from nowhere to smash through barriers of gender and class to be heard in a male-dominated world.” (Library Catalogue)

Amazon linkMargaret Thatcher : the long walk to Finchley. (DVD)
“The rise and rise of the iron lady… Margaret Thatcher is one of the world’s most well-known public figures. But how much do we really know about her as a person? In this witty, humorous and imaginative drama, Britain’s first female Prime Minister is portrayed as you’ve never imagined her. An attractive 25-year-old woman up against that most conservative and male of all institutions – the British Conservative Party. Beginning on the night she met her husband-to-be Denis, the film tells of the young Margaret Thatcher’s steely determination to get selected to a ‘winnable’ Tory seat in the Fifties and imagines what might have gone on behind the scenes during her ten-year struggle as she was rejected by a succession of five home counties Tory selection committees and finally – against considerable local opposition – selected for the seat she was to be identified with for the rest of her political career – Finchley!” (Container)

Colette, 1873-1954

Sidonie Gabrielle Colette, Image used with permission. Link is to WikipediaColette is hailed as the most accomplished French female writer and her life was as tempestuous as some of her novels. Married three times, she had numerous affairs and shocked many of her contemporaries in the Paris of “La Belle Epoque”.
You can find out more about Sidonie Gabrielle Colette in the books and links below. We’ve also added links to her works on the library catalogue. Have a browse!


Syndetics book coverSecrets of the flesh : a life of Colette.
“Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette was this century’s first modern woman. She arrived in Paris around 1900 as the provincial child bride of a notorious rake and brilliant literary impressario, Willy, who signed her first novels, the Claudines, as his own. They invented the erotically reckless teenage girl as we know her, and became the greatest French bestsellers of all time. When this tumultuous marriage ended, Colette went off with a high-born woman lover, the virile Marquise de Belboeuf, and embarked on a flamboyant stage career. She bared her breast to raucous applause in the French music-hall and became a celebrity of the lesbian demimonde. Until her death in 1954, she continued to rewrite the rules for loving, working, and aging. At the end of the century, her life and work still have the power to challenge the norms.” ( summary)

Looking backwards / Colette ; translated from the French by David Le Vay, with an introd. by Maurice Goudeket.
“These observations of war-time Paris, mingles with reminiscences of childhood scenes and customs, were first published in 1942, as De ma fenetre. Written with Colette’s usual keen sensitivity and humour, they show how closely she identified with ordinary people, especially children at this time”. (excerpt from book jacket)

Colette, a passion for life / Genevieve Dormann.
“A biography of the celebrated French writer offers a collection of anecdotes, previously unpublished correspondence and photographs, in an account of the woman, the author, and her work.” ( summary)


Her works:

Syndetics book coverClaudine at school / Colette ; translated by Antonia White.
“Claudine is a head strong, clever and extremely mischievous schoolgirl. Along with her friends the lanky Anais, the cheerful Marie and the prim Joubert twins Claudine wreaks havoc on her small school. Always clever, witty and charming Claudine is more than a match for her formidable headmistress as they fight for the attention of the pretty assistant Aimee. The horrors of examinations and good-humoured bullying are the backdrops in this immensely funny and delightful novel with which Colette established the captivating character of Claudine. Through the games, the fun and the intricacies of school life Claudine emerges as a true original; lyrical and intelligent she is one of the twentieth century’s most beguiling emancipated women” ( summary)

My mother’s house, and, Sido/ Colette.
“Two works about the author’s childhood and family reflect the influential role of her mother in her character development and life.” ( summary)

The ripening seed/ Colette.
“The author captures that precious, painful moment when childhood retreats at the onslaught of dawning knowledge and desire. Philippe and Venca are childhood friends. In the days and nights of late summer on the Brittany coast, their deep-rooted love for each other loses its childhood simplicity.” ( summary)

Chéri [videorecording] / Miramax Films presents in association with Pathé, UK Film Council, Aramid Entertainment with the participation of MMC Studios, Filmstiftung NRW, DFFF, Tiggy Films and Reliant Pictures Corporation ; a Bill Kenwright production ; a film by Stephen Frears.
“The story of the love affair between a beautiful retired courtesan Lea, and Chéri, the son of her old colleague and rival, Madame Peloux. After six years Madame Peloux has secretly arranged a marriage between Chéri and Edmee, the daughter of another rich courtesan. As the inevitable moment of parting approaches, Lea and Cheri begin to understand, too late, how much they mean to one another”–Container.

Gigi [videorecording] / MGM presents an Arthur Freed production ; directed by Vincente Minnelli.
“A home, a motorcar, servants, the latest fashions: the most eligible and most finicky bachelor in Paris offers them all to Gigi. But she, who’s gone from girlish gawkishness to cultured glamour before our eyes, yearns for that wonderful something money can’t buy”–Container.

James Dean, 1931-1955

James Dean, Image used with permission. Link is to Biography Resource CenterLast Sunday (30 September) marked the 57th anniversary of the death of fifties screen star James Dean in a car crash in his (now legendary) Porsche Spyder. Dean was only 24 when he died, and his star was on the rise in Hollywood — East of Eden had been released only six months earlier (he would be nominated posthumously for a Best Actor Academy Award for this film in 1956, losing out to Ernest Borgnine) and Rebel Without A Cause would be released less than a month after he died.

You can find out more about James Dean in the books and links below. We’ve also added links to his movies on the library catalogue (with added special features listed out per title!). Have a browse!


Syndetics book coverJames Dean : boulevard of broken dreams / Paul Alexander.
“James Dean died on 30th September 1955, aged 24. At the time of his fatal accident he had just completed “Giant”, his third film after “East of Eden” and “Rebel Without a Cause”. Yet from this meagre career a legend was born that shows no sign of abating. He is a classic American icon, surpassed only by Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, projecting an image of Fifties cool and tough-guy charm that has been vigorously mass-marketed via T-shirts, posters, calendars and countless fan clubs. This biolgraphy looks beyond the Hollywood manufactured cliche to the volatile polarities, conflicted sexuality and childhood trauma of the person himself. This portrait, based on many new and documented sources and featuring rare archive photographs, argues that Dean’s angst-ridden compliance – in public – with rigid sexual mores helped fuel the fury and electricity of his acting.” (Fishpond)

Syndetics book coverJames Dean : the biography / Val Holley.
“This is the most comprehensive biography of James Dean ever written, based upon over one hundred interviews with people who have never before spoken on record. Author Val Holley delves into Dean’s early life and training on stage and in television using research that is astounding in its detail and frequently lets his sources speak in their own voices.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverDean / editor, Paul Duncan ; text, F.X. Feeney. (In the Movie Icons series)
“”Movie Icons” is a series of photo books that feature the most famous personalities in the history of cinema. These 192-page books are visual biographies of the stars. For each title, series editor Paul Duncan has painstaking selected approximately 150 high quality enigmatic and sumptuous portraits, colorful posters and lobby cards, rare film stills, and previously unpublished candid photos showing the stars as they really are. These images are accompanied by concise introductory essays by leading film writers; each book also includes a chronology, a filmography, and a bibliography, and is peppered with apposite quotes from the movies and from life.” (Fishpond)

Syndetics book coverJames Dean : portrait of cool / edited by Leith Adams and Keith Burns.
“I came to Hollywood to act not to charm society. The objective artist has always been misunderstood’ – James Dean. James Dean is a twentieth century icon. He remains the figure we still associate best with youthful irreverence, with rebellion and with that brand of freedom that travels with the American automobile. This book is a beautiful collection of archived material from the Warner Brothers studios, depicting Dean behind the scenes, capturing his special energy and star quality. The book also contains all the telegrams that follow the discovery of James Dean and the heart-breaking reaction of Elizabeth Taylor to his untimely death alongside the photographs from his greatest films.” (Fishpond)


His movies:

Amazon image linkGiant / directed by George Stevens. (DVD)
“Three generations of land-rich Texans love, swagger, connive and clash in this family saga of strife, racial bigotry and conflict between cattle barons and newly rich oil tycoons.” (Library Catalogue)

(Special features on this DVD include a New York premiere TV special, a featurette on the film’s Hollywood premiere, behind the cameras segments, production stills and documents galleries & a project kickoff newsreel.)

Amazon image linkEast of Eden / directed by Elia Kazan. (DVD)
“Cal Trask is considered the “bad” son of taciturn Salinas Valley lettuce farmer Adam Trask. Although Cal always means well, he just can’t stay out of trouble. Neither is Cal able to match the high esteem in which his father holds his “good” brother Aron. Only Aron’s girl friend Abra and kindly old Doctor Sam seem to be able to see the essential goodness in the troublesome Cal. In an effort to win his father’s love, Cal purchases a fresh lettuce crop to replace the ruined beans that threatened to bankrupt his family. But Adam rejects the gift.” (Library Catalogue)

(DVD special features include new and vintage documentaries – including Forever James Dean, plus additional scenes, screen tests, wardrobe tests and the 1955 New York premiere footage.)

Amazon image linkRebel without a cause (DVD)
“Jim Stark, the teenage son of a well-to-do family, is overcome by loneliness, frustration and anger, which leads to violence when he seeks approval of a gang of high-school hoodlums.” (Library Catalogue)

(DVD special features include new documentary “Rebel without a cause: defiant innocents” and vintage documentary James Dean remembered, additional scenes, rare screen tests, & three segments from Warner Bros presents TV series, including Dean’s Drive safely commercial.

New Zealand Olympic Stories

We’re into the home stretch for the run-up to the London 2012 Olympics, so a round up of biographies (individual and collected) of New Zealand Olympians seemed timely. Here are a few highlights, as well as some collected biographies that give more extensive coverage of our Olympians.

As well, make sure to check out these 16 Olympic stories at NZ History Online. They include stories of our first Olympic team and our first female Olympian, and detail some of the challenges faced by New Zealand Olympians in the early days (e.g. travel from such a far flung country). Plus, the stories of well known Olympians Jack Lovelock, Yvette Williams, Peter Snell and Murray Halberg.

NZ On Screen also has some wonderful clips and full-length docos — here are just a few (head over to their site and have a browse for more!):

Pictorial Parade No.24

New Zealanders for the Olympics (Weekly Review No. 350)


Syndetics book coverSecond chance : the autobiography / Mark Todd with Kate Green. (2012)
“Mark Todd’s eventing career is the stuff of legend and encompasses one of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time. When he ‘retired’ from competing in eventing in 2000, he had already been named ‘Rider of the Century’ for his natural empathy with a horse and his extraordinary success, which included back-to-back Olympic gold medals, five Burghley wins and three Badminton victories. He has also show jumped to Olympic level and trained winners on the racecourse. Considered a legendary horseman by his peers, he seemed to have done it all. He returned to train racehorses in his native New Zealand but, eight years later, the idea of a comeback took root, part dare, part personal challenge to see if he could still cut it in a changed sport. Within eight months, he was riding at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and in 2011, he hit the headlines by becoming the oldest rider to win Badminton. He is now at the forefront of New Zealand’s resurgence ahead of the London Olympic Games. The story of his progress from dairy farmer to world renown is told with typically laid-back humour, but it reveals the fierce determination, discipline and personal sacrifice which lies behind the relaxed outlook.” (Library Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverWind driven : Barbara Kendall / Wendy Kendall. (2009)
“Barbara Kendall went to her fifth Olympics [in 2008]. She’s 40 and it’s incredible that she’s still competing, let alone winning, when most of her competitors are in their 20s. It’s a harsh environment, and a gruelling physical challenge. Her years of experience in racing, tactics, knowledge about wind and tide conditions, equipment and board handling skills play a big part in her success. But the most important factor of all, is her desire to win. Managing the psychology of winning has been the most challenging aspect of staying at the top. Barbara won Gold at the Barcelona Olympics, Silver at Atlanta and Bronze at Sydney. A campaign for an Olympic Games takes Barbara at least three years. She keeps her fitness up by running, swimming, yoga, working out at the gym and windsurfing every day she can. She competes in numerous windsurfing events to keep her world ranking up as well as maintaining a media presence for her sponsors. She now has two young children to care for as well. Barbara travels around the country to give motivational speaking presentations to earn a living, works for her sponsors, or heads back overseas to meet with the Athlete’s Commission of the International Olympic Committee for a few days. This is the inspiring story of how Barbara, a golden girl New Zealanders love, got to the top and how she manages to stay there.” (Global Books)

Syndetics book coverPeter Snell : from Olympian to scientist / Peter Snell, Garth Gilmour. (2007)
“The great Peter Snell was one of the most powerful middle-distance runners of all time. He burst onto the international arena as the surprise winner of the 800 metres at the Rome Olympics in 1960, and in Tokyo in 1964 he won gold medals over 800 and 1500 metres. In all he held eight world records. Since that time world-class runners have broken Snell’s records over those distances, but nobody – before, during or since – has come close to matching Snell’s withering power over the final few hundred metres. After retiring from running at an early age, Snell went to work and study in the United States. As a self-confessed high-school underachiever, unused to academic study, he initially struggled. But he went on to obtain two university degrees and is now an acknowledged world expert on aging, exercise, nutrition and human performance. This biography is the full account of Peter Snell’s life as sensational athlete and respected scientist and academic. It picks up the story from Peter’s first biography No Bugles, No Drums, which was published in 1965.” (Global Books)

Syndetics book coverFaster stronger higher : golden Olympians of New Zealand / Wilf Haskell. (2011)
“The Olympic Games and the Olympic Movement are the source of inspiration for many writers. Numerous books have been written on many aspects of the Games and the champions which emerge from them. Wilf Haskell has written a book which is unique. His research into the previously unrecorded background of New Zealand’s Olympic champions provides some new and interesting insights into our gold medal winners from our first involvement in the Olympic Games through to the 1960’s.” (Fishpond)

Syndetics book coverGolden girls : celebrating New Zealand’s six female Olympic gold medallists / [Margot Butcher]. (2010)
“From long jumper Yvette Williams (now Yvette Corlett) to windsurfer Barbara Kendall, cyclist Sarah Ulmer, rowers Georgina and Caroline Evers-Swindell to shot-putter Valerie Vili, the courage, strength and sheer guts of these extraordinary women are combined as their stories, achievements and sporting records are brought together in a single volume.” (Worldcat)

Syndetics book coverOur Olympic century / Joseph Romanos. (2008)
“A landmark book that contains the story of New Zealand’s first 100 years at the Olympic Games, presented in an attractive, easy-to-read format.” (Global Books)

Syndetics book coverNew Zealand’s top 100 sports history-makers / Joseph Romanos. (2006)
“Those profiled in the sports book include not just famous All Blacks and Olympians, but snooker players, shearers, mountaineers, long-distance swimmers, speedway stars, cross-country skiers and disabled athletes. Our sports superstars, such as Peter Snell, Edmund Hillary, Richard Hadlee and Colin Meads, are all there. But so, too, are many other influential sports figures, like rugby administrator Jock Hobbs, netball coach Lois Muir and rowing guru Dick Tonks. The book includes pre-World War I heroes Bob Fitzsimmons, Anthony Wilding, Billy Wallace and Dave Gallaher, and recent achievers, including Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell, Stacey Jones, Stephen Fleming, Sarah Ulmer and Wynton Rufer. New Zealand’s Top 100 Sports History-Makers is outstandingly illustrated and researched. It will provide fascinating reading for anyone with an interest in the people who have done New Zealand sport proud.” (Fishpond)