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New memoirs and biographies

Memoirs and biography

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Six new titles have arrived to enrich the memoirs and biographies selection available to readers for the long winter nights.

Empress Dowager Cixi of China
Empress Dowager Cixi of China
www.smithsonianmag.com

"The Fat Lady Sang" (It Books, $17.99) is Robert Evans's memoir of his dramatic career in Hollywood. He climbed from being a young actor to being one of the best-known studio chiefs of the 1960s. His efforts saved Paramount from disaster as he snared such titles as "The Godfather" and "Chinatown" for his stable. In 1998 he had a series of strokes. This, his second memoir, is both a tribute to those who helped him recover, and a look back at the famous and near-famous people he knew during his career.

"An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist" (Ecco, $27.99) is a memoir from a vastly different person, atheist Richard Dawkins. Responsible almost entirely for the transformation of evolutionary biology, Dawkins formulated the thesis that genes act for their own survival rather than that of the species. His "The Selfish Gene" became an international bestseller. This memoir traces his growth from a childhood in Kenya through teenage religious fervor inspired by Elvis Presley to learned Oxford scholar. This is an entirely satisfying immersion into his intellectual development and a good explanation of his controversial work.

"The Boy Detective" (Ecco, $19.99) by Roger Rosenblatt is the latest in his series of memoirs. "Making Toast" was about the premature loss of a daughter. "Kayak Morning" addressed the grieving. This latest work is the story of Rosenblatt's childhood in New York City. He writes both from the perspective of a nine-year-old exploring Manhattan in the 1950s and an adult finding universal meaning in the child's exploration.

"A Curious Discovery: An Entrepreneur's Story" (Harper, $28.99) is a memoir by John Hendricks, founder and chairman of Discovery Communications. His programs reach two billion subscribers in 223 countries. Part an explanation of the kind of programming Hendricks created, and part an explanation of how to form a successful company, this is a must-read for those who wonder how "Shark Week" and "Honey Boo Boo" came to prominence.

"L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food" (Ecco, $29.99) is by popular food truck chef Roy Choi. Choi, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, took his signature Korean tacos to the streets in 2008 and started a food revolution. Part cookbook, part memoir, part tribute to a way of life and a city, this unique selection makes an excellent gift for the discerning foodie.

Finally, a much-needed reappraisal of one of China's most controversial figures is available. "Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China" (Alfred Knopf, $30) by Jung Chang polishes the image of a female who ruled China from 1861 to 1908. Chang draws upon new source materials proving Cixi to have been a bold and insightful leader. She was a feminist who abolished foot binding and opened many new roles to woman. Realizing the necessity for China to open its doors if it were to survive in the modern world, she brought railroads, electricity, industry and other modern innovations to the ancient country. She advocated parliamentary elections. She made mistakes in foreign policy, most infamously supporting the Boxer Rebellions which ended in foreign invasion and ignominious defeat for her country, earning the scorn of her nation and outsiders alike. For a century she has been called "The She Dragon" and seen as a cruel despot. This complicated woman now gets her due in what is a must-read book for this season.