Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If American Bloomsbury was the appetizer, then this book is the meal. Louisa May Alcott's father, Bronson Alcott, was a true American original: a deplorably-bad writer and a sensational orator who travelled the country speaking about Transcendentalism in-between living in disastrous utopian communities that were based more on philosophy than the mere, mortal details of farming and human nature.
Louisa's life flowed from that childhood, both the joyous (loving Henry David Thoreau) and the horrific (near-starvation and grisly poverty). Her talent for writing potboilers saved her and her family from the ruinous debts that had been incurred by Bronson's inability to provide for his family. However, not until she acceded to her family and editor's desire for her to write for children did she find the voice that would bring her unimaginable wealth and fame.
Harriet Riesen's book is nicely done - factual without droning, and admiring without doting. I greatly enjoyed the details of Louisa's trips overseas, partly because the writing is so wonderful, and partly because (warning: subjectivity ahead) it made me happy to know that Louisa had been happy.
(Note to Riesen's editor: Daisy and Demi were Meg's children, not Jo's. Ah well.)