2014 Phinney Books Gift Guide: Fascinating Lives

A dozen memorable lives made even more so: rogues and heroes, generals and artists, invented by themselves and by their times.

Limonov: The Outrageous Adventures of the Radical Soviet Poet Who Became a Bum in New York, a Sensation in France, and a Political Antihero in Russia by Emmanuel Carrère

"Because Carrère … possesses such an intimately engaging narrative voice, 'Limonov' feels almost nonchalant yet is, in fact, quite artfully orchestrated and completely riveting." —Michael Dirda, Washington Post

John Wayne: The Life and Legend by Scott Eyman

"One of the greatest movie star biographies ever written." —Allen Barra, Salon.com

Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S.C. Gwynne

"Both the public myths and private truths are brilliantly reflected in S.C. Gwynne's fine new biography…. Rarely has a 500-pages-plus book felt like such a quick read." —Mark Jacob, Chicago Tribune

Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured by Kathryn Harrison

"A compelling interpretive biography rendered with a novelist's touch, Kathryn Harrison's 'Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured' is that rare and wonderful occurrence: a match made in heaven between author and subject, both of them unafraid, in the name of their passions, to be summoned to the gates of hell." —Meredith Maran, Boston Globe

Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh by John Lahr

"John Lahr's magnificent 'Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh' is one of the best written and most extraordinary biographies I've ever read, in any field." —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life by Hermione Lee

"Lee was a perfect choice as Fitzgerald's biographer. She has done a superb job, capturing an elusive personality and a complex, sometimes rather harrowing story." —Philip Hensher, The Guardian

Call Me Burroughs: A Life by Barry Miles

"Call Me Burroughs eclipses everything else he's done in terms of breadth, erudition, and sheer narrative combustion." —Jeremy Lybarger, Bookforum

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills

"Authorized, sympathetic, and respectful it may be, but 'The Mockingbird Next Door' is no sycophantic puff piece. It is a zesty account of two women living on their own terms yet always guided by the strong moral compass instilled in them by their father." —Heller McAlpin, Washington Post

Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin by David Ritz

"A rich, definitive portrait set in motion by a bit of unfinished business [the sanitized ghostwritten autobiography he wrote with her]" —New York Times

Napoleon: A Life by Andrew Roberts

"A fast-paced and comprehensive narrative, told with affection and sympathy…. It is a book that sets out for a new generation exactly why he mattered and will continue to matter so long as people argue about faith, and property, and kings, and the future of Europe." —Mark Mazower, The Guardian

Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm & Blues by Joel Selvin

"Really, a group history of the hustlers and geniuses who, without a thought for the future, made the throwaway 45s of early rock'n'roll and R&B into a cultural revolution." —Tom, Phinney Books

Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph by Jan Swafford

"Swafford has created something of a monumental work himself. The human being, Ludwig van Beethoven, looks out at the reader through the pages of a truly remarkable biography." —Weston Williams, Christian Science Monitor