Books: In Small Packages

Weary of big, burly biographies? The Penguin Lives are lively, informative and refreshingly brief

Reverse Seneca's famous maxim--Ars longa, vita brevis--and you come up with a pretty fair description of many big, fat, fact-crammed current biographies: life is long, art short. Such narrative behemoths can, of course, contain much of value, particularly for readers who are passionately curious about the subjects. Admirers of Mary McCarthy, for example, would not wish Frances Kiernan's recent, well-received Seeing Mary Plain: A Life of Mary McCarthy any shorter than its 768 pages. But what of those who are interested in learning more about the life of a notable person but unwilling to sacrifice a significant swatch of their own...

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