Jazz Cleopatra: Josephine Baker in Her Time , by Phyllis Rose ((Vintage, $12.95). Born in poverty in St. Louis, Josephine Baker became an international star, a symbol of sensuality and sophistication. When she died she was given what amounted to a state funeral by the French and thousands of people crowded the streets outside the church where the service was held. In this biography, Phyllis Rose shows how Baker earned her original fame as a kind of exotic primitive in Paris in the 1920s, and then became a French heroine when she served with the Resistance during World War II. A believer in equal rights, Baker practiced what she preached, adopting an interracial family of 12 children.
Higher than Hope: The Authorized Biography of Nelson Mandela , by Fatima Meer (HarperPerennial, $10.95). Based on letters and reminiscences from Nelson Mandela, as well as on information provided by his friends and family, this is a portrait of the black South African leader who was imprisoned for 27 years until he was freed in February 1990. The book contains accounts of Mandela's early activism, his marriage to Winnie Mandela, his quest for the tactics that would help transform South Africa into a non-racist state, and the trial that resulted in his decades-long imprisonment. It also contains excerpts from Mandela's prison letters.
Secret Gardens: A Study of the Golden Age of Children's Literature , by Humphrey Carpenter (Houghton Mifflin, $9.95). Children's literature as we know it, Humphrey Carpenter argues in this study, begins when writers start to subvert the tradition of moral and evangelical books aimed at the young. That subversion occurs most notably in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, which Carpenter finds anti-Christian and "an exploration of violence, Death, and Nothingness." To replace Christianity, writers of books for children used the image of the good place or the secret garden -- literally a secret garden in Frances Hodgson Burnett's book of the same title, Never-Never Land in J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan," the English countryside in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows. The book can be read as both a collective biography of these and many other writers, as well as a critical history of Victorian and Edwardian children's literature.
Jackson Pollock: An American Saga , by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (HarperPerennial, $16.95). Jackson Pollock was the enfant terrible of modern American painting; breaking with the folksy, moralizing art of the '30s, he developed his "drip" style of painting, which offended traditionalists but toppled Paris as the capital of the art world. By the 1950s, New York was the hot place for painters. The authors of this biography suggest that Pollock found himself on the cutting edge of Abstract Expressionism not so much because of artistic inspiration as by a compulsion to compete with his brothers and to test his parents' love.
Motherwit: An Alabama Midwife's Story , by Onnie Lee Logan and Katherine Clark (NAL Plume, $7.95). Born in 1910, Onnie Lee Logan decided as a girl that she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother by becoming a midwife. Licensed in the 1940s, Logan practiced midwifery until 1984. This is her story, as told to University of Alabama English Prof. Katherine Clark. It is the story not only of Logan's struggle to become a midwife and the births at which she assisted, but it is also a kind of folk history of a now-vanished time and place.
Freedom Bound: A History of America's Civil Rights Movement , by Robert Weisbrot (Plume, $10.95). This short history of the movement begins with the Greensboro, N.C., sit-ins in 1959 and ends with the situation in Selma, Ala., in 1984. In between are 25 years of momentous changes (and heartbreaks), told in a crisp style with a historian's regard for the facts. Those who remember that time will discover they have forgotten much of the drama surrounding events. Here, for instance, is what Robert F. Kennedy said, quoting Aeschylus, immediately after hearing of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination: "Even in our sleep pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."