Columbia University released the roll of 2014 Pulitzer Prize winners and finalists this week, and one name — Leo Damrosch — caught our eye.
He’s speaking at the Library next month.
The Harvard University professor and author will discuss the book that impressed the Pulitzer board, Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World, on Wednesday, May 14, at the Central Library. The deeply researched biography adds depth to the story of the author of Gulliver’s Travels, who also was a major 18th-century political and religious figure and a national hero who fiercely protested English exploitation of his native Ireland.
Damrosch's book was one three earning Pulitzer recognition in the category of biography or autobiography. Megan Marshall’s Margaret Fuller: A New American Life was the Pulitzer winner. Jonathan Swift and Jonathan Sperber’s Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life were named as finalists.
Sperber, you may recall, spoke at the Library in July 2013, shortly after the release of his Marx biography. (You can watch the video of Sperber's discussion online.)
They and the rest of the latest Pulitzer honorees are a trove of recommended reading. To wit (with comments from the Pulitzer board):
- Winner: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. “A beautifully written coming-of-age novel with exquisitely drawn characters that follows a grieving boy’s entanglement with a small famous painting that has eluded destruction, a book that stimulates the mind and touches the heart.”
- Runner-up: The Son by Philipp Meyer. “A sweeping multi-generational novel that illuminates the violence and enterprise of the American West by tracing a Texas family’s passage from lethal frontier perils to immense oil-boom wealth.”
- Runner-up: The Woman Who Lost Her Soul by Bob Shacochis. “A a novel spanning 50 years and three continents that explores the murky world of American foreign policy before 9/11, using provocative themes to raise difficult moral questions.”
- Winner: The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 by Alan Taylor. “A meticulous and insightful account of why runaway slaves in the colonial era were drawn to the British side as potential liberators.”
- Runner-up: A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama's America by Jacqueline Jones. “A a deeply researched examination of how race as a social invention has retained its power to organize, mark and harm the lives of Americans.”
- Runner-up: Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser. “A a chilling history of the management of America’s nuclear arsenal, exploring the fateful challenges and chronicling the “near misses” that could have triggered a cataclysm.”
- Winner: Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin. “A book that deftly combines investigative reporting and historical research to probe a New Jersey seashore town’s cluster of childhood cancers linked to water and air pollution.”
- Runner-up: The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide by Gary J. Bass. “A disquieting exploration of the role played by the American president and his national security advisor in the 1971 Pakistani civil war, a bloodbath that killed hundreds of thousands and created millions of refugees.”
- Runner-up: The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War by Fred Kaplan. “An engrossing look at how a tenacious general became the ringleader of efforts to reshape America’s military strategy in the post-Cold War age.”
- Winner: 3 Sections by Vijay Seshadri. “A compelling collection of poems that examine human consciousness, from birth to dementia, in a voice that is by turns witty and grave, compassionate and remorseless.”
- Runner-up: The Sleep of Reason by Morri Creech. “A book of masterly poems that capture the inner experience of a man in mid-life who is troubled by mortality and the passage of time, traditional themes that are made to feel new.”
- Runner-up: The Big Smoke by Adrian Matejka. “An imaginative work by a commanding poet who engages the history and mythology of larger-than-life boxer Jack Johnson.”