2024 National Biographer’s Day Reading List

National Biographer’s Day commemorates the anniversary of the first meeting of Samuel Johnson, an English writer, and his biographer James Boswell in London, England on May 16, 1763. In celebration, we are so pleased to offer a curated list of our most recent and most enjoyed books and journal articles.

When Friends Come From Afar: The Remarkable Story of Bernie Wong and Chicago’s Chinese American Service League

Susan Blumberg-Kason

At once intimate and broad in scope, When Friends Come from Afar uses one woman’s life to illuminate a bedrock Chicago institution.

Ink: The Indelible J. Mayo Williams

Clifford R. Murphy

Vivid and engaging, Ink brings to light the extraordinary journey of a Black businessman and athlete.

Journal of Mormon History 

Walking My Path Together with W. W. Phelps” by Bruce A. Van Orden 

In this article, Bruce A. Van Orden reflects on time spent writing We’ll Sing and We’ll Shout (2018), his biography of W. W. Phelps, an important figure and early leader of the Latter Day Saint movement. Van Orden discusses his youth in Utah, a period where he was first introduced to Phelps’ hymns. After graduate school, he began researching the life and times of W. W. Phelps as a new professor at BYU. Van Orden’s writing details how a biographer’s life, replete with personal and career developments, can become intertwined with the subject of their scholarship. 

Joseph White Musser: A Mormon Fundamentalist

Cristina M. Rosetti

The first book-length account of the Mormon thinker, Joseph White Musser reveals the figure whose teachings helped mold a movement.

When Grandpa Delivered Babies and Other Ozarks Vignettes

Benjamin G. Rader

An alluring blend of remembering and reflection, When Grandpa Delivered Babies and Other Ozarks Vignettes provides a vivid portrait of a fading time.

The Polish Review 

Longing for Balance: A Biography of Andrzej Bobkowski” by Maciej Nowak 

Maciej Nowak’s article presents a biography of Andrzej Bobkowski (1913–1961), a Polish émigré writer associated with the Paris-based Instytut Literacki [Literary institute] and the monthly Kultura. Bobkowski belonged to the “1910 generation,” along with Czes?aw Mi?osz, Zygmunt Haupt, and Witold Gombrowicz. In the 1940s, after moving to Paris and witnessing the outbreak of World War II, Bobkowski wrote a diary that, redacted, would be published in 1957 in Paris under the title Szkice piórkiem. Francja 1940–1944 [Wartime Notebooks: France 1940–1944]. After the war, he joined cultural initiatives of the Polish anti-communist emigration. Discouraged by the political situation in Europe, he left for Guatemala in 1948, but continued to publish in émigré journals.

Jane Kenyon: The Making of a Poet

Dana Greene

Revelatory and insightful, Jane Kenyon offers the first full-length biography of the elusive poet and the unquiet life that shaped her art.

Leo Sowerby

Joseph Sargent

Joseph Sargent’s biography offers the first focused study of Sowerby’s life and work against the backdrop of the composer’s place in American music.

The American Journal of Psychology 

Edward Bradford Titchener Series by Rand B. Evans 

Edward B. Titchener was a dominant figure in North American psychology from the 1890s to his death in 1927. This series on Titchener’s life is based on chapters written by Rand Evans for an intended book. Evans passed in 2021, leaving behind many chapters that contribute to scholarship on the history of psychology. 

Edward Bradford Titchener: 1. The End and the Beginning” 

Edward Bradford Titchener: 2. The Oxford Years 

Edward Bradford Titchener: 3. Psychology as Science: With Wundt at Leipzig” 

Edward Bradford Titchener: 4. Titchener Comes to Cornell

The World Got Away: A Memoir

Mikel Rouse

Candid and hilarious, The World Got Away is a one-of-a-kind account of a creative life fueled by talent, work, and luck.

Advertising Revolutionary: The Life and Work of Tom Burrell

Jason P. Chambers

Compelling and multidimensional, Advertising Revolutionary combines archival research and interviews with Burrell and his colleagues to provide a long-overdue portrait of an advertising industry legend and his times.

Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 

Vindicating Lincoln: Presidential Patronage, the ‘Sultana’ Disaster, and the Cairo Claims Commission” by Carl J. Guarneri 

In 1865, the Sultana, a sidewheel steamboat carrying 2,400 Union soldiers, exploded on the Mississippi River, killing a majority of its passengers. This incident occurred shortly after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and did not receive as much public attention, but military investigations eventually found two officers culpable. Carl J. Guarneri’s article shed light on an important episode related to Lincoln’s Presidency, given Lincoln’s direct relationship with one of the men, Rueben Hatch. This essay argues that Hatch’s ascent through the army ranks, although clearly smoothed by Lincoln’s support, was made possible by a lax and little-known War Department investigation of 1862, the Cairo Claims Commission.

Out of Left Field: A Sportswriter’s Last Word

Stan Isaacs

Insightful and hilarious, Out of Left Field is the long-awaited memoir of the influential sportswriter and his adventures in the era of Jim Brown, Arthur Ashe, and the Amazin’ Mets.

Ain’t I an Anthropologist: Zora Neale Hurston Beyond the Literary Icon

Jennifer L. Freeman Marshall

Perceptive and original, Ain’t I an Anthropologist is a long-awaited reassessment of Zora Neale Hurston’s place in American cultural and intellectual life.

About Kristina Stonehill