March 1999


By Brian Lamb
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Review by George Cowmeadow Bauman In 1997's Booknotes, Brian Lamb collected a number of his interviews with writers who had appeared on his TV program of the same name. Now the man responsible for the oxymoronically named Book TV is at it again compiling irresistible reading for fans of C-SPAN's Booknotes program, and for anyone interested in good writing and interesting lives.

Booknotes: Life Stories is being published to celebrate the program's tenth anniversary, and it is Lamb at his finest. He's collected 75 interviews with biographers who responded to Lamb's questions about their subjects and the process of turning inspiration into print. Included are Susan Butler on Amelia Earhart, Taylor Branch on Martin Luther King, Jr., and Norman Mailer on Lee Harvey Oswald. Walter Cronkite, Frank McCourt, and Katharine Graham discuss their own lives, public and private. Lamb describes his interviewing style in the book's Introduction: I'm not in that chair on behalf of intellectuals; my job is to ask questions on behalf of the average George and Jane, Cathy and Jim. In the interest of making the collection more readable, Lamb's questions have been deleted. The biographers' comments about their subjects are conversational.

An appendix lists all of the Booknotes interviews over the ten-year run of the program. It's an impressive collection of the best nonfiction writers during that period.

Readers who enjoy American history will find a wealth of material here. Historical misunderstandings are corrected. For example, Paul Revere never said, The British are coming! The colonists still thought they were British. Instead, he shouted, The regulars are out! Whether Booknotes: Life Stories is read for enjoyment or is used as a reference, it will cause the reader to give thanks for the national literary treasure known as Brian Lamb.

George Cowmeadow Bauman is the co-owner of Acorn Bookshop in Columbus, Ohio.

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