Susan Wallace Boehmer
Assistant Director & Editor-in-Chief
This fall and winter, Harvard University Press would like to call readers’ attention to upcoming and recently published biographies. The selection of literary, political, and military lives described below is drawn from the Press’s long and distinguished tradition of exploring, through words and deeds, the influence of significant figures on their own time and ours. For other biographies, histories, memoirs, and related books, please consult our editors’ webpages and recent seasonal catalogs.
Recent HUP Books in Autobiography and Biography
Alcibiades was one of the most dazzling characters of Athens’s Golden Age. A friend of Socrates, he was spectacularly rich, bewitchingly handsome and charismatic, a skilled general, and a ruthless politician. He was also a serial traitor. David Stuttard tells a spellbinding story of Alcibiades’s life and the turbulent world he set out to conquer.
When the Frankish king and emperor died in 814, he left behind a dominion unlike anything seen in Western Europe since the fall of Rome. Johannes Fried paints a compelling portrait of a devout ruler, a violent time, and a unified kingdom that deepens our understanding of the man often called the father of Europe.
One of history’s most multifaceted rulers but little known in the West, Queen Njinga rivaled Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great in political cunning and military prowess. Today, she is a legend in Angola, revered as a heroine and honored in folk religions. Linda Heywood shows why her complex legacy holds a special place in the collective memory of the Afro-Atlantic world.
In 1759 the British Museum opened its doors to the public—the first free national museum in the world. James Delbourgo recounts the story behind its creation through the life of Hans Sloane, a controversial luminary with an insatiable ambition to pit universal knowledge against superstition, and few curbs on his passion for collecting the world.
Robert Thorson gives readers a Thoreau for the Anthropocene. The boatman and backyard naturalist was keenly aware of the way humans had altered the waterways and meadows of his beloved Concord River Valley. And yet he sought out for solace and pleasure those river sites most dramatically altered by human invention and intervention.
Michel Winock’s biography situates Flaubert in France’s century of great democratic transition. Wary of the masses, Flaubert rejected universal male suffrage, but above all he hated the vulgar, ignorant bourgeoisie, a class that embodied every vice of the democratic age. His loathing became a fixation—and a source of literary inspiration.
Gareth Stedman Jones returns Karl Marx to his nineteenth-century world, before later inventions transformed him into Communism’s patriarch and fierce lawgiver. Stedman Jones shows how Marx adapted the philosophies of Kant, Hegel, Feuerbach, and others into ideas that would have—in ways inconceivable to Marx—an overwhelming impact in the twentieth century.
One of the most esteemed individuals of the nineteenth century reveals his thoughts on the antebellum era, the Mexican War, decisions on the battlefield, and the horrific Civil War that tested America’s democratic institutions and the cohesion of its social order. This is the first comprehensively annotated edition of an American classic.
Nicholas Frankel presents a revisionary account of Oscar Wilde’s final years, spent in poverty and exile in Europe following his release from an English prison for the crime of gross indecency between men. Despite repeated setbacks and open hostility, Wilde—unapologetic and even defiant—attempted to rebuild himself as a man, and a man of letters.
Because Thomas Hardy’s poetry and fiction are so closely associated with Wessex, it is easy to forget that he was, in his own words, half a Londoner, moving between country and capital throughout his life. This self-division, Mark Ford says, can be traced not only in works explicitly set in London but in his most regionally circumscribed novels.
Élisabeth Roudinesco’s bold reinterpretation of Sigmund Freud is a biography for the twenty-first century—a sympathetic yet impartial appraisal of a genius admired but misunderstood during his lifetime and still today. Alert to tensions in his character and thought, she views Freud less as a scientific thinker than as an interpreter of civilization and culture.
Walter Benjamin was perhaps the twentieth century’s most elusive intellectual. His writings defy categorization, and his improvised existence has proven irresistible to mythologizers. In a major biography, Howard Eiland and Michael Jennings present a comprehensive portrait of the man and extensive commentary on his work.
Pigeonholed as a Jazz Age epicurean and an emblem of the Lost Generation, Fitzgerald was at heart a moralist struck by the nation’s shifting mood and manners after World War I. Placing him among Progressives such as Charles Beard, Randolph Bourne, and Thorstein Veblen, David Brown reveals Fitzgerald as a writer with an encompassing historical imagination.
Ellen Wilkinson viewed herself as part of an international radical community and became involved in socialist, feminist, and pacifist movements that spanned the globe. By focusing on the extent to which Wilkinson’s activism transcended Britain’s borders, Laura Beers adjusts our perception of the British Left in the early twentieth century.
Exploring absurdity, silence, revolt, fidelity, moderation, and other themes that preoccupied Camus, Robert Zaretsky portrays a moralist who refused to be fooled by the nobler names we assign to our actions and who pushed himself, and those about him, to challenge the status quo. For Camus, rebellion against injustice is the human condition.
For South Koreans, the early 1960s to late 1970s were the best and worst of times—a period of unprecedented economic growth and deepening political oppression. Carter J. Eckert finds the roots of this dramatic socioeconomic transformation in the country’s long history of militarization, personified in South Korea’s paramount leader, Park Chung Hee.
Andrzej Franaszek’s award-winning biography of Czeslaw Milosz—recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature—recounts the poet’s odyssey through the events that convulsed twentieth-century Europe: World War I, the Bolshevik revolution, the Nazi invasion of Poland, and the USSR’s postwar dominance of Eastern Europe.
Zbigniew Brzezinski’s shaping of America’s role on the international stage extends far beyond his years in the Carter White House. Justin Vaïsse offers the first biography of the Polish immigrant and grand strategist whose geopolitical vision, scholarly writings, and policy advice to many presidents brought lasting changes in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.
All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory. From a recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2017 and author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Sympathizer comes a searching, personal exploration of the conflict Americans call the Vietnam War and Vietnamese call the American War—a conflict that lives on in the collective memory of both nations.
A Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter who covered the Supreme Court for The New York Times, Linda Greenhouse trains an autobiographical lens on a moment of transition in U.S. journalism. Calling herself “an accidental activist,” she raises urgent questions about the role of journalists as citizens and participants in the world around them.