Group biographies not only present multiple lives within one book; they also illuminate the synergy among peers or the similarities of experience among
strangers involved in the same passions and pursuits, highlighting both what is unique about a person and their shared
missions and struggles. My love of collective biographies
inspired me to write one, and as I compiled this list, I was
struck by how many of these titles tell women’s stories in an
effort to balance the long-skewed historic record.
All We Know: Three Lives. By Lisa
Cohen. 2012. Farrar, $30
Cohen tells the stories of three singular women who helped shaped modern
culture as part of the “close-knit and
fractious lesbian networks of New
York, London, and Paris”: the brilliant
Esther Murphy, feminist writer Mercedes de Acosta, and British fashion star
American Rhapsody: Writers, Musicians,
Movie Stars, and One Great Building. By
Claudia Roth Pierpont. 2016. Farrar, $26
Pierpont’s scintillating portrait gallery
includes such embattled yet influential
American artists as Dashiell Hammett,
James Baldwin, Katharine Hepburn, and
Nina Simone, as well as New York’s incandescent Chrysler Building.
The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the
Inklings, J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.
By Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski.
2015. Farrar, $30 (9780374154097).
The Zaleskis showcase the Oxford fantasists who called themselves the Inklings,
focusing on J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis,
Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield, and
delving into how they shared a commitment to a vibrantly Christian creativity.
Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous
Generation. By Judith Mackrell.
2014. Farrar/Sarah Crichton, $28
Mackrell chronicles with drama and
panache the lives of six intrepid, stylish,
trailblazing women artists who exemplify the flapper revolution: actors Lady
Diana Cooper and Tallulah Bankhead,
performer Josephine Baker, writers
Nancy Cunard and Zelda Fitzgerald, and
painter Tamara de Lempicka.
Get more for your biography
dollar with multiple lives in
BY DONNA SEAMAN
From the cover of Redeemers: Ideas and Power in Latin America, by Enrique Krauze.