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Category: Biography

A whirlwind year for 'Unbroken's' Louis Zamperini

At 94, Louis Zamperini, the resilient hero of Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken," just keeps on goingAt 94, Louis Zamperini, the resilient hero of Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken," just keeps on going. Would you expect anything less from the Olympic runner who survived 47 days adrift on a raft in the Pacific Ocean and then spent two years in Japanese POW camps?

This month "Unbroken" marks a year on the L.A. Times bestsellers list. Since the book's publication,  Zamperini has become one of the hardest-working men in the books biz, making nearly 50 appearances at World War II veteran events, Olympian luncheons, Italian halls,  USC functions and churches across the country. He continues to inspire audiences with his unbelievable story of perseverance, faith and forgiveness. His travels have taken him to Washington, Boston, the Billy Graham Center in North Carolina. He's been invited to appear on CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman" in December.

Hillenbrand, who suffers from a debilitating case of chronic fatigue syndrome, was unable to go on a traditional book tour, so Zamperini stepped up, taking the reins in promoting "Unbroken."  Just a few weeks ago, he finally met Hillenbrand in person at his home in Los Angeles. Previously, she had only spoken to him on the phone for the bulk of her research.

"He's devoted the rest of his life to getting the most people to read Laura's book," said John Naber, who accompanies Zamperini to his appearances. A fellow Olympian (five medals in swimming at the 1976 Montreal Olympics), Naber met Zamperini in 1983 but didn't hear about his WWII exploits until 13 years later. Read more about their special bond in Thursday's Sports section.

Zamperini, ahe Torrance native and USC alum, lives quietly in the Hollywood Hills, where he was once a neighbor At 94, Louis Zamperini, the resilient hero of Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken," just keeps on going of Aldous Huxley. A photo discovered in our archives shows Zamperini and his wife, Cynthia (she died in 2001), standing among the charred remains of Huxley's home, which burned (along with many of his manuscripts) in a brush fire in 1961.

Several film versions of Zamperini's life have been in discussion over the years. The first was based on his 1950s autobiography, "Devil at My Heels," with talks of Tony Curtis as the lead. In 1998, Nicholas Cage expressed interest after watching a CBS segment on Zamperini during the Nagano Olympics. The most recent rumors have Ryan Gosling starring as Zamperini in the "Unbroken" adaption. Now that Zamperini and his son are involved, hopefully he'll finally get to see his story told on the big screen.


Book review: "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand

- Liesl Bradner

Upper photo: Louis Zamperini, "Unbroken," author Laura Hillenbrand and John Naber. Credit: Louis Zamperini.

Lower photo: The ruins of Aldous Huxley's home are surveyed Zamperini and his wife, Cynthia, after a May 13, 1961, fire. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Marie Curie, in 'Radioactive'

RadioactiveToday's Google Doodle let searchers know that Nov. 7 is the 144th anniversary of Marie Curie's birth. That seemed like the perfect occasion to take a quick look at one of the most unusual books among this year's National Book Award finalists: "Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love And Fallout" by Laura Redniss.

Redniss is an author and artist; her version of the story of Nobel Prize-winning scientist Marie Curie's life (and Pierre's) is up for the nonfiction award. What makes that unusual is that "Radioactive," published by It Books, a pop culture imprint of HarperCollins, is a blend of artwork and text wherein the art is just as important as the words. It's not a graphic novel, exactly -- for one thing, it's not fiction, and for another, it has no pages in which panels advance the story. The artwork and text take over each page or page spread completely. Maybe that is a graphic novel -- and graphic nonfiction? A graphic dual history-biography?

What looks like pretty, slightly sadly romantic artwork is actually well-researched. Redniss visited the house in Warsaw where Marie Curie was born, interviewed her granddaughter at the Curie Institute in Paris, went to Idaho to learn about nuclear research and space, visited Nevada to talk to nuclear weapons specialists and went to San Bernardino to learn about new radiation treatment for cancer.

But what's really lovely about "Radioactive" is how closely the form of the book hews to the content (see some pages here). On her website, Redniss writes:

I made the artwork for the book using a process called “cyanotype.” Cyanotype is a camera‐less photographic technique in which paper is coated with light‐sensitive chemicals. When the chemically treated paper is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, it turns a deep blue color. Photographic imaging was critical to both the discovery of X-rays and of radioactivity, so it made sense to me to use a process based on the idea of exposure to create the images in Radioactive.

The cover of the book is even printed, in part, with glow-in-the-dark ink. "I always loved things that glowed in the dark," she told the Economist's More Intelligent Life earlier this year. "I love anything from underwater creatures that phosphoresce to luminescent ink. I went through a period a few years ago when I was doing a lot of silkscreen printing, and in every print I included luminescent ink. So all of those prints would have one presence with the lights on and if you turned the lights off they would become different prints. I just find it magical."

The National Book Awards will be Nov. 16 in New York.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Steve Jobs biography is the top-selling book in the country

Walter Isaacson's biography "Steve Jobs" is the most popular book in the nation. According to reports, Neilsen BookScan shows that 379,000 copies have been sold.

Initially scheduled to be published in 2012 with the title "iSteve," plans for the book changed as Jobs' health was declining. Simon & Schuster changed the title and moved up the publication date. The book officially hit shelves on Oct. 24, less than three weeks after Jobs' death on Oct. 5.

"Fueled by intense interest in the late tech visionary's life and career," CNN writes, "the biography arrived on a wave of publicity, including appearances by Isaacson on CBS's '60 Minutes' and CNN's 'Piers Morgan Tonight.'"

Sales of the Jobs biography are the largest of any single book since November 2010, the Bookseller reports. However, it didn't quite catch up to last year's big sellers, when George W. Bush's memoir, "Decision Points," and Jeff Kinney's "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth" both sold more than 430,000 copies.


Steve Jobs bio tops Amazon bestseller list

Steve Jobs bio 'iSteve' -- coming in 2012 -- is already an Amazon bestseller

Authorized biography of Steve Jobs will be called "iSteve." iSeriously.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Copies of "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson at a Costco in Moutain View, Calif. Credit: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press

The Steve Jobs bio: Coming right up

The official biography of Steve Jobs will be out next week. The publication date, originally slated for 2012, was moved up -- but "Steve Jobs" the book did not reach shelves before Jobs died of cancer on Oct. 5.

The Apple founder had been working with biographer Walter Isaacson since at least 2009; friends and family had cooperated with the author to tell Jobs' story. Isaacson appears on "60 Minutes" on Sunday, where he'll talk about the book and his process. In one clip Isaacson says that Jobs' decision to try alternative treatments may have been a mistake. Our Technology blog reports:

According to Isaacson, Jobs had a "very slow-growing" type of pancreatic cancer "that can actually be cured," but still opted not to get the surgery until nine months had gone by and it may have been too late.

"I've asked him" why he didn't get the operation, Isaacson told Steve Kroft of "60 Minutes." "And he said, 'I didn't want my body to be opened. … I didn't want to be violated in that way.' I think that he kind of felt that if you ignore something, if you don't want something to exist, you can have magical thinking. It'd work[ed] for him in the past.  He'd regret it."

More bits and pieces of the book are finding their way into the public eye. The Associated Press reports that Jobs ranted about a Google Android phone that he thought was too close to Apple's.

Apple sued, and Jobs told Isaacson in an expletive-laced rant that Google’s actions amounted to “grand theft.”

“I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong,” Jobs said. “I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”

In the wake of Jobs' death, his insight, wisdom and vision have been well-remembered. Above, he gives a smart and thoughtful commencement address to Stanford students in 2005. But the "thermonuclear" comment shows Jobs was also a very driven businessman; it looks like Isaacson, who has also written biographies of Henry Kissinger and Albert Einstein, may have captured a full picture of him.

"Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson remains the No. 1-selling book at Amazon. It's been in the top 10 for 42 days.


Steve Jobs bio tops Amazon bestseller list

Authorized biography of Steve Jobs will be called "iSteve." iSeriously.

Authorizes Steve Jobs bio "iSteve" -- coming in 2012 -- is already an Amazon bestseller

-- Carolyn Kellogg

National Book Award finalists announced - with an extra title [UPDATED]


This post has been updated. Please see note below for details.

A deceased biographer and a first-time bestselling novelist are among the finalists for the 2011 National Book Awards. Five finalists in four categories -- fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people's literature -- were announced Wednesday in Oregon. After the announcement, a sixth book was added to the list of finalists in young people's literature. "We made a mistake, there was a miscommunication," said Harold Augebraum, executive director of the National Book Foundation. "We could have taken one of the books away to keep it five, but we decided that it was better to add a sixth one as an exception, because they're all good books."

Manning Marable's "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention" is among the most high-profile titles on the list. Marable spent 15 years working on the new biography and died just days before its release in April. Another book that made the news was "The Tiger's Wife," the impressive debut novel by young writer Téa Obreht, who just celebrated her 26th birthday.

Continuing a trend that sparked with the 2010 Pulitzer Prize going to Paul Harding's "Tinkers," published by the small independent Bellevue Literary Press, the fiction judges again looked to independents as well as major publishers. This year, Bellevue, which is a project of the New York University School of Medicine, got another nod for "The Sojourn" by Andrew Krivak. And newcomer Lookout Books, the literary imprint of the Department of Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, saw "Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories" by Edith Pearlman" its very first publication, be lauded as a finalist. The other fiction titles include Julie Otsuka's "The Buddha in the Attic," which reached No. 9 on the L.A. Times bestseller list, and "Salvage the Bones" by Jesmyn Ward.

The nonfiction list has two big historical biographies, the kind of books these prizes often celebrate:  Marable's new read on Malcokm X and "Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution" by Mary Gabriel. Yet it also includes an unusual choice, a biography done in graphic novel form, in a highly artistic watercolor style: that's "Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout" by Lauren Redniss, published by It Books. Rounding out the nonfiction finalists are "The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism" by Deborah Baker and "The Swerve: How the World Became Modern" by Stephen Greenblatt, author of "Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare."

The young people's literature finalists, which were announced on radio and before a live audience at the Literary Arts Center in Portland, were Debby Dahl Edwardson ("My Name Is Not Easy"), Thanhha Lai ("Inside Out and Back Again"), Albert Marrin ("Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy"), Lauren Myracle ("Shine") and Gary D. Schmidt ("Okay for Now"). The National Book Foundation later announced that "Chime" by Franny Billingsley also was a finalist.

Adrienne Rich, 82, is among the poetry finalists, along with veteran writers Yusef Komunyakaa, Bruce Smith, Carl Phillips and Nikky Finney.

The National Book Foundation will announce the winners at a gala in New York on Nov. 16.

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Amy Winehouse book by her dad: Ouch


Exactly what caused the death of Amy Winehouse in July has not yet been determined. But one thing that is known: The singer's father will write a memoir about his daughter, to be published in the U.S. by HarperCollins, the publisher announced Monday. Mitch Winehouse's "Amy, My Daughter" is expected to be published in summer 2012.

It's hard to imagine what sorrows Mitch Winehouse has endured. His very talented daughter struggled publicly with substance abuse and died July 23 at the too-young age of 27. Music fans miss her; he certainly must too.

But of the many forms that mourning can take, a memoir of a lost daughter seems ill-advised at best. What kind of perspective can Amy Winehouse's father have? How can he be expected to deal with her difficulties, her proclivities? In a 2007 interview with the Guardian, not long after her album "Back to Black" came out, Winehouse said she wanted her superpower to be "supersexuality"; her one-word answer to "How do you relax?" was "sex"; and her most unappealing habit was "being an abusive drunk." A straightforward biography would be hard enough -- but one from her father?

Instead, I'd like to nominate Russell Brand to write it. His memoirial to Amy Winehouse, which appeared in the Guardian sparkled with intelligence, insight and empathy.

When I first met her around Camden she was just some twit in a pink satin jacket shuffling round bars with mutual friends, most of whom were in cool indie bands or peripheral Camden figures Withnail-ing their way through life on impotent charisma....

From time to time I'd bump into Amy she had good banter so we could chat a bit and have a laugh, she was a character but that world was riddled with half-cut, doped-up chancers, I was one of them, even in early recovery I was kept afloat only by clinging to the bodies of strangers so Winehouse, but for her gentle quirks didn't especially register....

It was only by chance that I attended a Paul Weller gig at the Roundhouse that I ever saw her live.

I arrived late and as I made my way to the audience through the plastic smiles and plastic cups I heard the rolling, wondrous resonance of a female vocal. Entering the space I saw Amy on stage with Weller and his band; and then the awe. The awe that envelops when witnessing a genius. From her oddly dainty presence that voice, a voice that seemed not to come from her but from somewhere beyond even Billie and Ella, from the font of all greatness. A voice that was filled with such power and pain that it was at once entirely human yet laced with the divine. My ears, my mouth, my heart and mind all instantly opened. Winehouse. Winehouse? Winehouse! That twerp, all eyeliner and lager dithering up Chalk Farm Road under a back-combed barnet, the lips that I'd only seen clenching a fishwife fag and dribbling curses now a portal for this holy sound.

Proceeds from "Amy, My Daughter" will go to the Amy Winehouse Foundation, which Mitch Winehouse formed to help young people in need.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photos: Left, Amy Winehouse performs in 2007. Credit: Claire Greenway / Getty Images. Right, Mitch Winehouse at his daughter's funeral. Credit: Lefteris Pitarakis / Associated Press

Steve Jobs bio tops Amazon bestseller list

After the death Wednesday of Apple founder and visionary Steve Jobs , his authorized biography became a hot ticket. "Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson is Amazon's #1 bestselling book -- and it's not even out yet.

Although Jobs has been written about before, the biography is the first written with his cooperation. Jobs' biographer, Walter Isaacson, had been working with the Apple CEO, his family, friends, colleagues and competitors since at least 2009.

Isaacson has written biographies of genius Albert Einstein ("Einstein: His Life and Universe"), founding father Ben Franklin ("Benjamin Franklin: An American Life") and powerful diplomat Henry Kissinger ("Kissinger: A Biography"). When Simon & Schuster announced that the book was on the way, publisher Jonathan Karp said, "This is the perfect match of subject and author, and it is certain to be a landmark book about one of the world's greatest innovators."

The Steve Jobs biography was originally slated to be published in March 2012, and it was going to be titled "iSteve." The title was changed to the more staid "Steve Jobs," and the publishing date, at one point, moved up to Nov. 21, 2011. This week, it was moved up again, to less than three weeks from now: "Steve Jobs" will be released Oct. 24.


Steve Jobs biography may be available in time for the iPad 3

Authorized biography of Steve Jobs will be called "iSteve." iSeriously.

Steve Jobs says publishers are "not happy" with Amazon

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Steve Jobs at the new iPad 2 product launch, March 2, 2011. Credit: Jeff Chiu / Associated Press. Book cover: Simon & Schuster

Preview: Art Spiegelman's 'MetaMaus'

Twenty-five years ago, Art Spiegelman's "Maus" was published, opening a window into the depth and seriousness that comics as a form could tell. A chronicle of World War II in which the Jews are mice and the Nazis are cats, Spiegelman and his father, a Holocaust survivor, both figure in the text. After the conclusion, "Maus II," came out five years later, Spiegelman was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize.

But that was not the end of "Maus," which has been repackaged as a box set and as a single book. Now, publishing Tuesday, is "MetaMaus," a stunning hardcover book from Spiegelman about the making of "Maus," which includes a multimedia DVD. Spiegelman introduces "MetaMaus" in the video above; keep an eye out for our review of the book, coming soon.


Art Spiegelman discusses "Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*!"

L.A. Times Graphic Novel Book Prize winner: "Duncan the Wonder Dog: Show One" by Adam Hines

David L. Ulin on Adrian Tomine's "Scenes from an Impending Marriage"

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Walter Payton bio riles old friends: Mike Ditka's spitting mad

Walterpayton_pearlman Mike Ditka is the latest to speak out against "Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton." The controversial biography of the Chicago Bears running back, which was previewed this week in Sports Illustrated, will be published Oct. 4. It has come under fire for what its author, Jeff Pearlman says about the football star: He had affairs, abused painkillers, threatened suicide and fathered a child out of wedlock. 

"I'd spit on him. I have no respect for him," Mike Ditka said of author Pearlman. Former Chicago Bears coach Ditka thinks the book, which comes more than a decade after Payton died of cancer at age 45, is ill-timed at best. "If you're going to wait 12 years after somebody's passed, come on," Ditka said. "This is the sign of a gutless individual who would do this. Totally gutless who would hide behind that, and that's what he's done."

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who was a teammate of Payton's, agrees. "It's unfortunate somebody wrote a book and throws that kind of light on somebody who's not here to defend himself," he said. "I think it's a shame."

Payton's family has responded more moderately. "Walter, like all of us, wasn't perfect," they wrote in a statement signed by his widow, Connie, and family. "The challenges he faced were well known to those of us who loved and lived with him. He was a great father to Jarrett and Brittney and held a special place in the football world and the Chicago community. Recent disclosures -- some true, some untrue -- do not change this. I'm saddened that anyone would attempt to profit from these stories, many told by people with little credibility."

Those people were the sources Pearlman tapped for his book -- he says he conducted 678 interviews during the decade he spent working on the book. "[T]he goal was never to demonize an icon (whose poster once hung on my bedroom wall, and who I still greatly admire), but to understand him," Pearlman wrote in the Chicago Tribune. Pearlman continued, "I discovered a human being whose ultimate uniqueness was not in his transcendent moves on the football field, but in trying to balance -- and, often, cope with -- the multiple personalities that develop via celebrity."

How well Pearlman understands Payton can be previewed in the excerpt of "Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton," online now at Sports Illustrated.


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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Susan Orlean on writing 'Rin Tin Tin'

Susan Orlean's book "Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend" publishes today. The New Yorker staff writer recently sat down in her backyard with Carolyn Kellogg to talk about writing, dogs and her family's recent move to Los Angeles. Here is more of the conversation.

Jacket Copy: How did you start thinking about Rin Tin Tin?

Susan Orlean: When you're a writer, the things that are in your immediate world often trigger you to think of story ideas. Having a new dog, I think, just refreshed that whole interest. And then one story led to another.

I can't imagine being excited to do something that I already knew the parameters of: It grew and grew and grew. I start the story in the late 1800s when Lee [Duncan, Rin Tin Tin's trainer] is born. In order to tell the story with any authority, it required me really learning a huge spread of history. I began thinking the story is really Daphne [Hereford, who sells puppies descended from Rin Tin Tin] and the present day, then no, of course not. The story is Lee and Daphne. And then, really in the 11th hour, I thought, "Oh no, the story is Lee and Burt [who produced the Rin Tin Tin TV show] and Daphne." There was another span of about 40 years and the whole beginning of television. It was a lot, a lot, a lot.

JC: How do you maintain your curiosity?

SO: It's just the way I look at the world. I don't do anything to fuel it or engage it -- I think it's hard for me to not enter a situation and think, "I wonder about that, or I wonder who that is, or if you took that road instead of this road, I wonder where you’ll end up." It's a habit of mind that is instinct.

JC: It seems like obsessives feature frequently in your work; they definitely make a strong appearance in "Rin Tin Tin."

SO: First if all, I think people who are obsessive live their life almost like on a billboard. Their dreams and desires are so capitalized, that as a writer they're very attractive. They've got this defining psychology that makes them appealing and dramatic. One hopes that as a writer, you never portray them as being so simplistic that they become a caricature.

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