August’s Best Reviewed Nonfiction

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Clare Carlisle’s The Marriage Question: George Eliot’s Double Life, Patti Hartigan’s August Wilson: A Life, and John Szwed’s Cosmic Scholar: The Life and Times of Harry Smith all feature among the best reviewed nonfiction titles of the month.

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 George Eliot's Double Life Cover

1. The Marriage Question: George Eliot’s Double Life by Clare Carlisle
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

8 Rave • 8 Positive • 1 Mixed

“Intriguing, often brilliant … Ultimately, Carlisle’s thoughtful, comprehensive account of this particular liaison exquisitely probes the complex, thorny, and fascinating question: How much does our choice of partner determine who we ultimately become?”

–Jenny McPhee (AirMail)

 Mrs. Orwell's Invisible Life Cover

2. Wifedom: Mrs. Orwell’s Invisible Life by Anna Funder

9 Rave • 4 Positive • 4 Mixed • 1 Pan
Listen to an interview with Anna Funder here

“With the precision of a historian, Funder cobbles together scant details to reconstruct a life. And with the imaginative force of a novelist, she speculates in clearly sign-posted moments on what that life was like … Considering how little information Funder has to work with, Wifedom is a spectacular achievement of both scholarship and pure feeling.”

–Jessica Ferri (The Los Angeles Times)

 The Man Who Looted the West, Outfoxed Washington, and Swindled the World Cover

3. Anansi’s Gold: The Man Who Looted the West, Outfoxed Washington, and Swindled the World by Yepoka Yeebo

8 Rave • 3 Positive

“Yepoka Yeebo’s riveting Anansi’s Gold traces the outlines of Blay-Miezah’s life, shedding light on how he perpetrated his deceptions for years while living in incredible opulence. The author, a freelance journalist, delves into archives across the Atlantic, digs up criminal proceedings and conducts interviews with victims and associates alike, in the process telling us not just about Blay-Miezah, but about the world that enabled him to thrive … This character study also functions as a key historical text on post-Nkrumah Ghana. We gain behind-the-scenes access to two coups and insight into the functioning of the state intelligence system that ruled before Ghana’s transition to democracy.”

–Anakwa Dwamena (The New York Times Book Review)

 A Life Cover

4. August Wilson: A Life by Patti Hartigan
(Simon & Schuster)

8 Rave • 2 Positive • 1 Mixed

“Masterful … With painstaking research, stylistic verve, and an eye both admiring and exacting, Ms. Hartigan has pieced together the man behind the 20th Century Cycle, bringing Wilson to furious, complicated life … Ms. Hartigan documents with a great sense of the dramatic … Narrated brilliantly.”

–Isaac Butler (The Wall Street Journal)

 The Life and Times of Harry Smith Cover

5. Cosmic Scholar: The Life and Times of Harry Smith by John Szwed
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

7 Rave • 1 Positive • 1 Mixed
Read an excerpt from Cosmic Scholar here

“The first comprehensive biography of this hipster magus. It tours his life without ever quite penetrating it. But it’s a knowing and thoughtful book … He wrestles this material into a loose but sturdy form, as if he were moving a futon. He allows different sides of Smith’s personality to catch blades of sun. He brings the right mixture of reverence and comic incredulity to his task … here’s a lot of material to tap into, and you’ll want to. Smith added a great deal to the national stock of peculiarity. He was the worm at the bottom of American culture’s mezcal bottle. You slam the glass down, because his experience still makes you feel alive.”

–Dwight Garner (The New York Times)

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