ne of my favorite ways to study history has been to read biographies. They are usually much more interesting and entertaining than reading a history book, and they have enabled me to learn fascinating details about the lives of famous people, as well as what was going on in the world during the time they were alive. There were many interesting people who lived during the 20th Century, but below are five people whose lives especially intrigued me. These books contain details about them that I would never have discovered in a traditional history book.
Some of these are people you may have never heard about; others were very famous. In either case, they all lived complicated lives during turbulent times.
The books mentioned below are biographies that helped me understand more than a mere litany of what was happening in the news. They taught me about the fears, emotions and passions of the people who were living during some of the most significant periods of time during the 20th Century.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption
This is the story of Louis Zamperini, the Olympic runner who volunteered for the military in the early days of World War II. He was almost immediately shot down over the Pacific and survived a series of events which would have destroyed most men. If you saw the movie that Angelina Jolie made about this book, you did not see the whole story. The book is well worth reading, because it goes on long past the place where the movie ended.
Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the most revered American architects in the 20th Century. He completely changed the way most homes were designed and decorated in this country. However, most fans of his architectural style know nothing about his scandalous affair that made newspaper headlines and even had people he knew crossing the street to avoid talking to him! His mistress was also a fascinating woman, who traveled to Europe and became involved in the growing women's movement. This book will tell you more than you ever imagined about the personal life of Frank Lloyd Wright.
The Paris Wife: A Novel
When charming Ernest Hemingway swept his first wife Hadley off her feet, he was still a struggling, unknown, aspiring writer. Almost immediately the two of them moved to Paris where Hadley struggled to raise their baby and Ernest tried to write in a tiny apartment. This part of his life, however, gave birth to several of his most famous novels. If you have ever enjoyed reading Ernest Hemingway's books, you will want to know more about this part of his life.
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin
This book takes place in the years prior to World War II, when a quiet history professor and his family go to live in Berlin after he is appointed to be our American ambassador to Germany. They are in love with Germany and welcome into their home all the rising stars in Hitler's new government. Although the ambassador sends back reports of issues that concern him, in general he is comfortable with the situation in Germany. His adult daughter even strikes up romantic relationships with both the head of Germany's SS and a Russian KGB officer ... and this is just the beginning of the complications that arise. Discover what life was like in Germany just prior to WWII, from someone who was actually there.
Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot
This is the story of one of the most beloved presidents in the 20th Century, despite all the problems he faced with Cuba, the Soviet Union and the emerging war in Vietnam. People were excited about the space program and life seemed romantic and charming ... a bit like Camelot. That is, of course, until it all ended one day in Dallas.
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History is fascinating. Sometimes, when reading stale, dusty old books, we think of history as simply a catalog of boring events that happened long ago. However, what we often forget is that history is simply the accumulated stories of the lives of real people who lived complicated and often difficult lives.
It has been said that those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it. Sadly, that seems to happen all too often.
So, cozy up to a nice biography and enjoy reading one of the books in this list!
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