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Searched for books featuring:

  • Biographical

29 books met your specifications:

TitleAuthorConceptual difficulty ageVocabulary difficulty ageGenreYear of publication

Tree Grows in Brooklyn, ABetty SmithSophisticated readersSophisticated readersautobiographical fiction1943
 Autobiographical novel about a girl growing up in abject poverty.
  In context....

More Adventures of the Great BrainJohn D. FitzgeraldChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upbiographical1969
 Second volume in the first person series of one of three Catholic brothers growing up in turn of the century Mormon Utah.
  In context....

Orchid Thief, TheSusan OrleanSophisticated readersSophisticated readersbiography2000
 Study of a man obsessed with orchids.
  In context....

Possession: A RomanceA.S. ByattFor grown-ups For grown-ups fiction1990
 Intricate and, yes, romantic, story of the work and loves of a motley community of poets and researchers, in this century and in the past all exploring pieces of a literary puzzle.

These nerdy people, all obsessed with doing the arcane thing that they do very well, figure out how to combine their efforts for the good of the group and themselves.

Not for children, but similar in theme, although vastly more ambitious than, Dragonfly. Highly recommended for gifted adults.


Book Thief, TheMarkus ZusakSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upFiction2007
 Good book. About a girl during the Holocaust, but on the side we don't usually hear: She is German, but suffering as well. In the very beginning of the book Liesel's brother dies, and she is shipped off to live with "scary" foster parents. And by the middle her family is trying to keep a Jew hidden, and still "Heil Hitler" everyone they see.
  In context....

Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, AJanna LevinFor grown-ups For grown-ups Fiction, biography2006
 What must it be like to be so intelligent that you can't trust anyone enough to believe him or her? So confident that you are right and that everyone else is wrong that you ignore the woman who loves you when she tells you that you must eat (and assures you that the food is really, truly not poisoned)? What must it be like to know that you are moral, that you have saved civilization, but to be convicted of immorality and forced to deny your true self?

Janna Levin (our madman who is not at all mad) worms us inside the minds of Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing and forces us to look out into the world through their eyes. When we hear Gödel's story, we may be tempted to think that paranoid insanity is part of terrific genius. But then what are we to think of Alan Turing (yes, he clearly was on the autistic spectrum, but he was not crazy and not harmful to himself or to others), who only wanted to solve very hard problems and love the occasional man and was forced to ingest hormones that destroyed his body and his self-respect?


Agony and the Ecstasy, The: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo Irving StoneSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upFiction, biography1961
 Reading this novelized biography of Michelangelo just now, after so recently reading the non-fictionalized Dancing To the Precipice was probably a mistake.

I did read The Agony and the Ecstasy to the end and found it mostly interesting, but -- so many unexplained wars, duplicate names, minor characters, changes of venue. Seems to me if you are going to fictionalize, you might want to streamline. If there are three characters named Ludovico, maybe rename one to be Vico?

I did learn a lot of facts, or at least I think they were facts, about Michelangelo's life and the history of the Papacy and the Italian city states. What I did not learn, and missed, was a bit more of an explanation about why this talented, obsessed artist allowed himself to be so taken advantage of? And why did the patrons who claimed to admire him so much abuse his gifts rather than help nurture them? I understand that they might need to use their enormous wealth to pay their armies, but -- Why the law suits? Why did so many popes ask the impossible when they clearly wanted Michelangelo to do great work for them?
  In context....

Proud Taste for Scarlet and MiniverE.L. KonigsburgChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, historical1973
 Eleanor of Aquitaine and some of her friends hang out in heaven and discuss Eleanor's life and loves.

Songcatcher, TheSharyn McCrumbChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upfiction, historical2002
 The book is actually the history of a song, rather than a story about a person who catches songs. And/or it's the story of how a song gets caught.
  In context....

Soul of a New Machine Tracy KidderChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upNon-fiction1981
 Kidder is a great non-fiction writer. This is a true story about how a company manipulated its most talented employees into creating a great computer, without regard to what the work environment would do to them or their families.
  In context....

Stranger in the ForestEric HansenSophisticated readersSophisticated readersnon-fiction1988
 About dealing with people and environments that are not like what you're used to.
  In context....

Pilgrim At Tinker CreekAnnie DillardChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upnon-fiction1974
 I have always been squeamish.

And yet, Annie Dillard's beautiful yet clear-eyed vignettes about the resplendence and horrors of the natural world captivate me.


An American ChildhoodAnnie DillardChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upnon-fiction1988
 Annie Dillard aims her clear scientist's eyes and the evocative Voice of the Pilgrim At Tinker Creek at the lives of upper class families with children in Pittsburgh, PA in the fifties. She reveals a great deal about Pittsburgh; and just about nothing about herself.

Galileo's DaughterDava SobelChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upNon-fiction1999
 The story of Galileo's daughter, Sister Maria Celeste, is mostly peripheral to the story of Galileo himself, in this non-fictional biography. Along with interesting details about what life was like for the illegitimate daughter of a famous scientist in the late 16th century, the book also concentrates on the Catholic Church's determined and successful attempt to get Galileo to renounce his conclusion that the earth revolves around the sun and not vice versa.

Crack In the Edge of the World, A: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906Simon WinchesterChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upnon-fiction2005
 Simon Winchester begins and ends with the San Francisco earthquake (and fire) of 1906, but by the time he gets around to it the second time, he's provided descriptions of earthquakes and tsunamis throughout the world so detailed that I was almost afraid to finish the book. But how could I not?
  In context....

Cheaper By the DozenFrank B. GilbrethChildren 8 and upChildren 8 and upnon-fiction1948
Skipping grades in school was part of Dad's master plan. There was no need, he said, for his children to be held back by a school system geared for children of simply average parents.

Dad made periodic surprise visits to our schools to find out if and when we were ready to skip. Because of his home-training program -- spelling games, geography quizzes, and the arithmetic and languages -- we sometimes were prepared to skip.

... The standard reward for skipping was a new bicycle.
My 12 year old loved almost everything about this true story about how a couple of pioneering efficiency experts raised their 12 children. Except the ending.

Although I tried to warn her about the ending by pointing out some of the foreshadowing and emphasizing that this is a true story, she was pretty much devastated by it.


Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883Simon WinchesterChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upnon-fiction2003
 Simon Winchester does what he does better than any other science writer I know. He starts with one well-known natural disaster. Introduces us to many of the people affected by the unfolding events. Then weaves in information about the geography, geology, history, state of technology, and then puts it all together and tells the story of the disaster.
  In context....

1776David McCulloughChildren 12 and upChildren 12 and upnon-fiction 
 Sometimes, I'll be reading a novel and get to some worrisome plot twist. The characters I've come to love are in jeopardy, and -- the tension is too great for me. I put the book down and call someone I trust who can reassure me that I should keep on reading anyway. Sometimes, they don't reassure me. "Yeah, that book is simply not worth the time." So then I go read something else.

When I chose to read 1776, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to have to worry about the plot. After all, here we all are seven years after 9-11. Or, most of us at least...

Obviously, I remembered that there had been an American Revolution, which was a war. And that people fought and died to create our nation. But the number 1776 had always had very positive associations for me. Declaration of Independence. "Give me liberty or give me death." Etc. etc.

I tried to persuade my very sensitive 13 year old to read 1776 with me. "I think it might be pretty depressing," she said. She was right. Depressing. Harrowing in fact. But well worth reading.

And come to think of it, on this the seventh anniversary of 9-11, I'm not actually certain that the American Story has a happy ending. That we are actively dealing with the very Real Problems we Americans face. Reality is harrowing. Still. And needs to be faced even when there is a woman who shoots moose from airplanes and arbitrarily fires those who cross her running for election as vice president of the United States.
  In context....

Invention of Air, TheSteven JohnsonChildren 12 and upChildren 8 and upNon-fiction2008
 A lovely biography of Joseph Priestley, a scientist, theologian, and political thinker.

In these days when we are trying, finally, to get the politics out of science, this book argues that the reverse, having scientists care about politics is deeply ingrained in the fabric of the United States and Britain. Not that kings and princes always wish it so.

Note to sensitive readers: Priestley's experiments often involved the use of live animals and plants, some of which died in the absence of oxygen.

  In context....

Among SchoolchildrenTracy KidderSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upNon-fiction1990
 My first comment on this book read: "So far I am really captivated by this book, which is interesting because I didn't really expect to like it so much..."

This feeling lasted for the entire book. The writing style pulled me in so much that the story didn't even matter, although it is really cool as well. Kidder basically shadowed a fifth grade class in a poor, rundown, public school for an entire school year and wrote about the experience.


Surely You're Joking Mr. FeynmanRichard FeynmanSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upNon-fiction, autobiography1985
 First volume in inspiring autobiography of physicist (and all-around extremely intelligent and charming guy), Richard Feynman.
  In context....

Man Who Loved Only Numbers, The : The Story of Paul Erdos and the Search for Mathematical TruthPaul HoffmanSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upNon-fiction, biography1998
 Biography of the brilliant mathematician, Paul Erdos. Inspiring because this extremely odd guy, who spoke in code and could not perform the normal functions most other human beings usually have to do (such as pay bills and cash checks), found ways to mentor promising young mathematicians and revolutionize mathematical thinking.
  In context....

My Brain Is Open: The Mathematical Journeys of Paul ErdosBruce SchechterSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upNon-fiction, biography2000
 Biography of the brilliant mathematician, Paul Erdos. Inspiring because this extremely odd guy, who spoke in code and could not perform the normal functions most other human beings usually have to do (such as pay bills and cash checks), found ways to mentor promising young mathematicians and revolutionize mathematical thinking.
  In context....

Beautiful Mind, A: The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash Sylvia NasarFor grown-ups Children 12 and upNon-fiction, biography1998
 Biography of the brilliant mathematician, John Nash.
"How could you, a mathematician, believe that extraterrestrials were sending you messages?" the visitor from Harvard asked the West Virginian with the movie-star looks and Olympian manner.

"Because the ideas I had about supernatural beings came to me the same way my mathematical ideas did," came the answer. "So I took them seriously."

In this workmanlike biography of the brilliant mathematician John Nash, Sylvia Nasar, a journalist, describes Nash's pioneering early mathematical discoveries, his decent into madness, and his eventual recovery and receipt of a Nobel Prize in Economics.
  In context....

Is God a Mathematician?Mario LivioSophisticated readersChildren 12 and upNon-fiction, biography2009
 I never thought I'd get my fill of non-fiction books about mathematicians. And this is not really a bad one. Maybe it was the silly title and the author's transition from that religious question to the more chicken-and-egg question: Do humans invent mathematics or do they discover mathematical principles?
  In context....

Dancing to the Precipice: The Life of Lucie de la Tour du Pin, Eyewitness to an EraCaroline MooreheadSophisticated readersSophisticated readersnon-fiction, history2009
 Lucie de la Tour du Pin was born into an aristocratic family, served as lady-in-waiting to Marie Antoinette in her early adulthood, then went on to marry for love (not common in those days), birth and lose many children, and survive the treacherous political turmoils that began with the French Revolution.

After reading this book, I was not certain I understood much more than I did before about the French Revolution, but I did empathize a great deal more than I had before with the French aristocracy of that time. For example, Moorehead continually implies that Talleyrand was evil (and was he so terrible compared to the many other participants of the Terror??!!!) but never quite tells us what awful things he did.

  In context....

In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of GenesisKaren ArmstrongFor grown-ups For grown-ups non-fiction, religion1997
 Essays about the stories in Genesis.

Interesting to read before/after The Red Tent.

-- Emily Berk

Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness, TheKaren ArmstrongSophisticated readersSophisticated readersNon-fiction: Autobiography2004
 Thoughtful autobiography of a former nun turned writer about religious thought.

Embracing the Wide Sky: A Tour Across the Horizons of the Mind Daniel TammetSophisticated readersSophisticated readersNon-fiction: Science2009
 Daniel Tammet is autistic, intellectually gifted, and synesthesic. This book, a follow-on to his autobiography, is billed as a
" about the mind -- its nature and abilities. It combines ... the latest neuroscientific research with [Tammet's] personal reflections and detailed descriptions of [his] abilities and experiences. [Tammet's] ... intention is to show that differently functioning brains ... are not so strange ... and that anyone can learn from them ... [and to] clear up many misconceptions about the nature of savant abilities and what it means to be intelligent or gifted."

Great intentions; I agree they are worthwhile. But, I fear, a disappointing execution.

Or, perhaps, I am not gifted enough to understand the arguments. But, really, to use the outcome of the US Presidential Election of 2000 to "prove" that the Electoral College works? Without mentioning that this election was decided by the Supreme Court and not really by the Electoral College? Seems to me that using the ideas of one person, even one admittedly highly gifted person, as a model for the prototypical smart person from whom we can all learn to think is -- misguided?

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