Nine Books About Groups That Changed the World

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Collective biographies have existed for centuries: with Plutarch The life of the noble Greeks and Romans, written about 1,900 years ago, and has since become a staple of classical education; a sixth-century biography of Gregory, Bishop of Tours, about the four hated sons of the Frankish king Clovis I; a collection of biographies of medieval saints , linking the lives of saints with miracles. In addition to serving as the basis for a biographical genre, modern collective biography is an excellent source of historical trivia, ideas, and gossip.

The question of making these biographies sing – what makes this group really interesting and not just noteworthy? Why, of all the relationships in life, are these especially powerful? – Answer with a real search. Reading a good collective biography is all about developing varying degrees of appreciation for the ways in which humans interact (trivial and gigantic).

The canon is overwhelmingly white and Eurocentric, and tends to understand history in which the dialogue of educated people is seen uncritically as an engine of progress. The influence of the biography of the saints — which is colloquially referred to today as a celebration of hyperbole rather than a simplistic narrative — is still evident, especially when there isn’t enough room for everyone’s unflattering qualities. However: the fun of these books really counts. Here are nine animated, search, and question titles to get started.

Nine Books About Groups That Changed the World
WW Norton Corporation

Immortal Night: Dinner with Keats, Wordsworth and the LambStanley Plumlee

Looking for romantic era trash talk? Stop here first. Poet Plumly employs an unusual structure, thoughtful not only of John Keats, William Wordsworth, and Charles Lamb, but of others including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, egotistical but mediocre The artist, Benjamin Robert Haydn, and the essayist, William, have deliberated. Hazlitt. The book tells the story of a London dinner, hosted by the eternally impoverished Haydn, attended by other central characters, and from there spun their intertwined stories. It’s a riveting, accessible introduction to the highly flawed personalities behind an art movement that continues to have widespread influence, and finds a way to humanize its characters. In their achievements and personal failures, romantics are often greater than life. In Plumly’s eyes, they’re just people attuned to the world, creating an exquisite intimacy with each other — intricate, beautiful, and prone to breakage.

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Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and James Baldwin Shaped a NationAnna Maleka Tubbs

Alberta King, Louise Little, Berdis Baldwin: Their sons became generational spokesmen, so influential that the extent to which their genius was tied to the particular influence of their families and communities was in the public eye Imagination is ignored. Tubbs said this manifestation not only undermines the work of these men — who are more likely to dismiss the idea of ​​a solitary reformer than those with deep communal roots — but, crucially, , for the women who raised them. In Tubbs’ therapy, these women are most deserving of knowing the work they have done for their own lives, not the achievements of their sons. Very different from each other, with different struggles and different joys, the “Three Mothers” embody and deliberately convey to their children the qualities that make them compelling: grit, a clear vision of injustice and a strong commitment to equality.

The cover of the coast of Bohemia
Farrar, Strauss and Giroud

The Bohemian Coast: The Cape Cod Story, 1910–1960John Taylor Williams

Think of Cape Cod today and the first word that comes to mind is unlikely to be extremeBut the New England enclave, now associated with wealthy vacationers, was a center of artistic and political progress in the first decades of the 20th century. Edna St. Vincent Millay rubs shoulders with Emma Goldman’s colleagues; artist Helen Frankenthaler and novelist Mary McCarthy both rub shoulders with acerbic critic Clement Greenber Clement Greenberg was in a relationship. In the who’s who of what is now considered American greatness, there are many lesser-known figures: Dodie Merwin, a devoted admirer of Ralph Waldo Emerson who went on to become the center of Cape’s social life; Russian princess-in-exile Nina Romanoff ; Mardi Hall, an artist and many elaborate parties; and more. All in all, Cape Town’s environment – ​​celebrities and their forgotten companions – has established a world of eternal creative fermentation, a hub from which great trends in art, philosophy and politics spread to the rest of the country. Williams provides an extensive and fascinating account of Cape Town’s heyday. You will wish you were there.

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The Mokama Sisters: Pioneering Women Bringing Hope and Healing to IndiaJody Totham

In 1946, six nuns from Kentucky arrived in the northern Indian town of Mokama with plans to open a hospital. India has suffered from the brutal effects of zoning and is in the midst of a public health crisis. Around that time, 158 out of every 1,000 births were dying in the first year of life, disease was rampant, and doctors caring for the population were severely underrepresented. Mochama Sisters Follow Sister Mokama; the women crew who came to work at their hospital, called Nazareth; and the generations of nurses they trained – including Thottam’s mother. Each of them becomes a small but important part of the story of how India emerged from the dire conditions that marked the beginning of its independence, and especially how Indian women found new opportunities in their reinvented country. Although the six nuns who set out on the adventure are central to Thottam’s story, she expresses the same curiosity and compassion for all the women who traveled through Nazareth during the first two decades. The hospital still stands today.

Deadly Discord cover

Deadly Discord: Erasmus, Luther, and the Battle for Western ThoughtMichael Massing

The central duo in Massin’s work are a natural pairing. Both were intellectual radicals during the political, religious and artistic upheaval of the 16th century, an unusually unstable time, but the two men differed widely in their approach to gaining influence. The young Martin Luther began his precarious career as an admirer of Rotterdam’s diplomatic Erasmus, only to find the older minds too cautious for the demands of their time. Luther opted for an outright rebellion, reshaped Europe, and thrust his one-time intellectual into the limelight of history. In some ways, it’s a classic tale of conflict between an old politician and a young upstart. But with Massin’s deft brushwork, it becomes a fresh reflection on the capriciousness of historical upheavals—so much so that a single dissatisfaction can drive them—and the predictable recurring function of human instability.

cover of Saigon Sisters
Northern Illinois University Press

Saigon Sisters: Privileged Women in the ResistancePatricia D. Norland

Under French colonial rule in Vietnam, a small group of Vietnamese girls were educated in French secondary schools along with the daughters of the colonial elite. As the revolution loomed and U.S. intervention escalated, many could choose to leave their home countries and escape the violence. Noland tells the story of nine people who chose to stay and found surprising ways to rebel after secretly dreaming of Vietnamese independence as children. She also recounts how they reconnected after the Vietnam War. In the end, they found that the privileges they experienced as children helped teach them the importance of engaging in combat. Their small group became the source of their own revolutionary upheaval: the patriotism felt by each propelled the others and set them on a very brave path. “We concluded,” said one, “that we must make our own revolution.”

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basic books

Mutiny Women: How French Criminals Became Gulf Coast Founding MothersJoan Dejean

Their homeland, too, needed a revolution, but was born decades too early: these 132 French women convicted, small enough to eat some divine master in a time of scarcity, were involuntarily sent to the Gulf of Mexico in the United States along the coast. 1719. Only 62 people survived the journey, and they found themselves facing extreme challenges when they arrived in an area billed as resource-rich and well-developed, with few French settlements. However, these women found opportunities in their new environment that were not possible in France. They worked, got married and built the foundations of communities like Mobile and New Orleans, connecting with each other along the way. Their lives became early examples of the American Dream and its violence. Some women enslave people. Others were involved in conflicts between French settlers and Native American tribes: some lived on forcibly occupied Native lands; some were captured and viewed as pawns in the ongoing colonization; some were fighting lost family members. All of the extraordinary and disturbing of American history is succinctly portrayed in their previously little-known stories.

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Black Fortune: The stories of the top six African-Americans who survived slavery and became millionairesWilled by Shomari

In 1848, a man named William Alexander Leidesdorff died and was worth more than $1.4 million, the equivalent of at least $38 million today. What makes this message historically unusual: Ledersdorf, who was white for most of his life, was black. Wells traces the story of how Ledersdorf and his contemporaries accumulated wealth before the end of slavery and during Reconstruction, a time when blacks faced intense and sometimes deadly persecution and wealthy blacks were particularly prominent targets. . In these stories, he finds reasons to celebrate, including a meaningful model of civic-minded wealth—many early black millionaires spent vast amounts of their wealth advancing racial justice—and a large portion of the Justice and tragedy. As the economic legacy of slavery continues to unfold, whether it’s the diminishing wealth of black families or unfounded myths that degrade black people as inherently inaccessible, Wells’ book is a reminder of just how closely America’s wealth is tied to the machine of prejudice. And lasting connections.

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New York Review Books

Akenfield: Portrait of an English VillageRonald Bryce

The first thing to understand about Akenfield is that it doesn’t exist: it’s the pseudonym Blythe gave to the East Anglian village he warmly and deliberately portrays in this book. In giving a real place a fictitious name — a combination that is thought to be the name of other nearby villages — Bryce agrees with the fictional quality of his narration, which sits somewhere between classic collective biography and oral history, But full of the lively fun of everyday interactions common in fiction. Blythe grew up in that area and spent time in the 1960s documenting the memories of his former neighbors, and he sees the results as a travelogue, while others see it as an anthropological work. Reading it as a biography of a place and its people reveals additional depths. Treated with the right kind of care and knowledge, ordinary people—farmers, workers, medical workers, a wandering poet—show up just as much as their more charismatic peers in their lives, relationships, and contributions to the world Energetic. Akenfield Brings readers into their history and relationships, offering a rare sense of the breadth of any given life.

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