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Booknotes Life Stories :
It wouldn't be entirely unfair--or necessarily a criticism--to call this anthology "Biography Lite." Not that the authors or protagonists of the 85 books it covers are by any stretch of the imagination lightweights. Such distinguished scholars as David Herbert Donald and Nell Irwin Painter share space with respected popular historians like David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin; those profiled include no fewer than 23 American presidents (from George Washington to Bill Clinton), such intellectual heavyweights as Albert Einstein, and capitalist titans on the order of John D. Rockefeller. Since the material is drawn from interviews the writers gave on the popular C-SPAN series Booknotes, however, it unsurprisingly tends to be "brief and anecdotal," as Lamb (the show's host) puts it in his introduction. Still, the anecdotes are often hilarious. Readers learn that Rockefeller chewed each bite of food 10 times and that British prime minister Margaret Thatcher saved the leftovers from state dinners and served them at home, and the interviewees do a commendable job of summing up their subjects' significance in very few words. Like the television program, Booknotes: Life Stories cheerfully promotes in a pleasantly populist manner worthy books you might actually get around to reading someday. --Wendy Smith [via]