Alexander the Great has captured the imagination of history like few others have: Julius Caesar is said to have wept before a statue of this Macedonian king. Pompey allegedly wore a cloak that once belonged to this legendary general. Despite the fascination, questions still remain about who Alexander was, how he was able to achieve what he did, and, most importantly, the nature of his sudden demise. Anthony Everitt provides answers to these questions in his excellent new biography Alexander the Great: His Life and His Mysterious Death (Random House, $30). Despite the immense scholarship surrounding Alexander, Everitt succeeds in providing a new and full portrait of the legendary figure. At the core of this remarkable book is the author’s stated goal of interpreting Alexander not through a modern lens, but through that of Alexander’s own time—providing insight into how the events of his life were viewed as they unfolded. What emerges is an eminently readable and compelling biography that captures the character of the man himself.
Since her death in 2004, there have been several biographies written about Susan Sontag, each taking a slightly different approach to the life of one of the most important literary critics, public intellectuals, and cultural icons of the twentieth century. While Benjamin Moser’s new book Sontag: Her Life and Work (Ecco, $39.99) is not the first, it is the only authorized account of the critic’s life, as well as the most comprehensive. David Rieff, Sontag’s son and frequent editor, allowed Moser unprecedented access to her unpublished diaries, letters, and ephemera. Moser interviewed her friends, family, former lovers—including her partner, the legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz—and even the hair stylist who created Sontag’s trademark white streak following her first bout with cancer. Meticulously researched and richly detailed, Moser’s work sheds light on the two contradictory sides of Susan Sontag: the deeply insecure writer struggling to overcome self-doubt, and the often arrogant, always chic public persona. Moser’s previous work, Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Sontag is already gaining wide critical attention.