Reviews

BECOMING DR. SEUSS (2019)


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A rich, anecdotal biography of one of the bestselling authors in publishing history . . . [an] engaging, page-turning work of Seuss scholarship . . . Whether readers are familiar with Dr. Seuss books or not, they will find this biography absorbing and fascinating.”Kirkus (Starred Review)

Nuanced, profoundly human and painstakingly researched… perhaps the most complete, multidimensional look at the life of one of the most beloved authors and illustrators of our time . . . Jones goes above and beyond to contextualize Geisel in the larger picture at every moment of his life . . . [A] fascinating read that discusses the origin of the humorous, simple rhymes, bizarre creatures, and magic that characterized Geisel’s books while also showing the author’s more radical side as an unemployed wanderer who abandoned his doctoral studies, a successful advertising man, and a political cartoonist.” — NPR

“A comprehensive and thoughtful look at [the] famed children’s author . . . While acknowledging Geisel’s flaws and debts to others, Jones convincingly shows him as a transformative figure in children’s publishing, both as author and cofounder of the Beginner Books imprint. Fans of Dr. Seuss will find much to love in this candid but admiring portrait.”Publishers Weekly

“Although it might be tempting to bestow a kind of secular sainthood upon Dr. Seuss, the persona, Jones resists such a simplified portrayal of Geisel, the man. ‘Becoming Dr. Seuss’ is more compelling than mere pop hagiography; it is sweeping in scope, unstinting in detail, and willing to criticize or contextualize when needed. One of the most affecting sections in Jones’s biography examines Geisel’s moral evolution, demonstrating how an artist could answer to his conscience independently, if imperfectly, decades before the advent of cancel culture.” — The New Yorker

Admirers of Dr. Seuss will swoon for Brian Jay Jones’s new biography, Becoming Doctor Seuss, tracing how the author’s work shaped the American imagination for generations — and also how it was itself shaped by the American imagination.”New York Times

“Jones gets it right in this delightful and informative biography . . . This attractive biography should be on the bedside reading table of thousands of Dr. Seuss lovers, and deservedly so.”—Library Journal (Starred Review)

“A fluid and enjoyable new biography . . . Brian Jay Jones takes a long appraising view of the life, career and creative evolution of Theodor Seuss Geisel . . . In this lively chronicle, Mr. Jones tackles the controversial elements of the Seussian oeuvre in a forthright way, setting them in the context of both the times and his subject’s own life.” — Wall Street Journal

“Who’s the man behind the crafty couplets? Brian Jay Jones comprehensively answers that question in a nearly 500-page biography. Credit either Geisel’s amusing personality or Jones’s breezy writing, but Becoming Dr. Seuss never feels like a slog; rather, pages fly by . . . It’s clear that Jones is experienced in extracting details from the most innocuous letter or interview, fleshing out the lives of cultural groundbreakers we’ve long admired.” Washington Post

“A loving portrait of a singularly creative man, whose influence is as strong today as ever.” — The AV Club

What this biography does best is account for Geisel’s demanding creative habits . . . The great inspirer of children’s reading was . . . one-of-a-kind and distinctively American.” — Christian Science Monitor

“In this thorough, thoughtful look at one of America’s best-loved children’s authors, Brian Jay Jones reveals the many different aspects of this remarkable talent … Jones creates an honest look at this complicated man . . . [it’s] a fascinating journey.”  — Book Reporter

“Jones’s book is longer than Dr. Seuss’s fare, but promises to be no less entertaining.” — Boston Magazine

A warm, defining biography of one of the most beloved writers of this or any time.”—LitHub

“A meticulously detailed yet thoroughly engaging look at the life and artistry of this American original.” — BookPage

“A wonderful new biography.” — New York Post

One of the Buzziest Books Being Released This May 2019”O, The Oprah Magazine

A massive, loving biography, which aims to cover it all . . . To his credit, Jones acknowledges Geisel’s employment of some racial stereotypes in his children’s books and editorial cartoons for the newspaper
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a straightforward record of Geisel’s life and career.” — Booklist

“Finally! The solution to the mystery of where Dr. Seuss earned his Ph.D.  Brian Jay Jones also reveals the true identity of Chrysanthemum Pearl; the etymology of the word ‘nerd’; the political leanings of Horton and Yertle; and the relationship of Krazy Kat to the one in the hat. It comes as no surprise that Theodor Geisel was a born story-teller; prying truth from fact, Jones pins our favorite fabulist nimbly, colorfully, and splendidly to the page.”—Stacy Schiff, author of The Witches

“Readers of Becoming Dr. Seuss may be astonished to learn in this rollicking ride of a biography that Theodor Seuss Geisel—progenitor of the most anarchic animals of all time—was himself a radically bizarre creation, every bit as strange and emotionally uncoordinated as a Snoo or a Sneetch . . . In Jones’s telling, the Seussian legacy emerges triumphant, elevating the power of children’s literature.”  Caroline Fraser, author of Prairie Fires:  The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

“Once again, Brian Jay Jones takes us on a beguiling deep dive into the life of one of the leading lights of American popular culture. Written with verve and warmth and a close attention to both the life and the times in which it was lived, Becoming Dr. Seuss brims with charm and humor from beginning to end.—William Souder, author of On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson.

“Brian Jay Jones, a terrific researcher and writer, has produced a richly textured and riveting book about one of the most fascinating artists America has ever produced. If you want to understand how genius is formed—and how this particular genius performed his magic—this marvelous book is the place to start.” — Jonathan Eig, author of Ali: A Life

One of Publishers Weekly‘s “Most Anticipated Books of Spring 2019.”
One of BookPage’s “Most Anticipated Nonfiction of 2019”


GEORGE LUCAS: A LIFE (2016)


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“A sweeping, perceptive biography . . . extensively researched . . . [Jones] lays out in luscious detail the path Lucas took to become one of film’s most successful directors . . . This in-depth portrait . . . is never less than fascinating. Masterful and engaging: just what Lucas’ fans and buffs, who love the nitty-gritty of filmmaking, have been waiting for.” — Kirkus (Starred Review)

Maestro biographer Jones tackles another brilliant entertainer. The world knows George Lucas as the filmmaker who brought us Star Wars, one of the most iconic Hollywood franchises in history, but as Jones’ in-depth, fascinating, and even gripping exploration reveals, Lucas is much more than a gifted storyteller . . . Jones digs deep to limn the highs and lows of Lucas’ career and life, capturing his drive and innovation in crisp, sparkling prose. Masterful and essential for film and pop culture enthusiasts.” Booklist (Starred Review)

“Like the famous opening shot of the very first Star Wars, George Lucas: A Life is sweeping, humbling, and instantly transports you into the world of the mad dreamer. Fellow nerds unite! Finally, we get a book that examines the history of a titan who really changed our lives. Beautifully obsessive and relishes every detail. Just like us.”Brad Meltzer

George Lucas is a terrific book! Brian Jay Jones has pulled off the rare trick of writing a biography that appeals to both hard-core fans and casual readers. It is filled with fascinating details, backed up by deep and dogged research, woven into a breezy, fast-paced story that effortlessly pulls the reader into Lucas’s world. Future film buffs and historians will look back on George Lucas as a landmark achievement.” ― Debby Applegate, Winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher

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Exhaustively chronicles the life and movies of George Lucas, arguably America’s most successful filmmaker . . . [T]ells in granular detail how his films were produced: from initial concept and scriptwriting, to casting and location selections, to the filming and, most importantly for Lucas’s process, the editing. . . [Jones] proves Lucas’s singular legacy is well deserved.”Publishers Weekly

In this engaging biography, Jones captures the bone-crushing work, the frustrations with film studio overlords and the near failures that resulted in ground-breaking films like American Graffiti and Star Wars . . . As he traces three decades of Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies, he shows Lucas as a man continuing to revolt against the rules, inventing his own merchandising approach and pioneering digital technology to maintain his artistic freedom.” — BBC

The collective double take over Star Wars never gets old…. Jones, who comes to Lucas from a celebrated life of Jim Henson, tells a more straightforward story in definitive detail.”―New York Times

The Force is strong with this one . . . admirably comprehensive.” — The Washington Post

A fabulous look at the man behind the franchises and a glimpse into Hollywood megastars.”– Toronto Star

A must-read biography . . . . a rich portrait of the creative genius behind Star Wars, Indiana Jones and the movie-tech innovations that led to Pixar, Industrial Light & Magic, and THX sound.” — Parade

“A fast-paced portrait of the reclusive and visionary George Lucas . . .  It’s the one biography for casual and die-hard fans alike, with an honest look at the man . . . and the process that gave us some of the most brilliant works in cinematic history.” — Rolling Stone

A sweeping and engaging biography that should delight Lucas fans and film history buffs alike … George Lucas: A Life is the fascinating portrait of a onetime Hollywood outsider and obstinate control freak whose identity is linked deeply to his art, and whose sheer force of will rewrote film history.” — Shelf Awareness

“A cinematic and engrossing look at the life of filmmaker George Lucas . . . For movie fans or anyone fascinated by the creative process, this is a well-researched and illuminating biography.“–BookPage

“Jones’ ebullient bio shows that the Force has always been with filmmaker Lucas. Packed with fun insider info, [George Lucas] is a whiz-bang tribute to a genius.” — People

George Lucas: A Life serves as a reminder for the staggering amount Lucas contributed to culture … it’s fun … and it’s fascinating.” — The AV Club

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“Devour this sweeping biography.”– Variety

“[Lucas’s] never-wavering commitment to being himself is what’s most fascinating about the book and the man …  a solid read about a fiercely independent, unforgettable American filmmaking icon.” — USA Today

A lot of fun . . . Film geeks will rejoice at the detailed explanation of how Star Wars was made. And there’s great insight into the way the film industry works — and how Lucas and company changed it.….Lucas emerges as a likable and largely admirable person.” — Chicago Tribune

An engaging, interesting read, going far beyond Lucas’ work on the movies … It’s well-researched, and full of keen insights into George Lucas as a businessman and artist.”  — The Verge

Very readable . . . The story of [Star Wars] has been told many times, but [Jones’] narrative of the ordeal and triumph makes wonderful reading . . .  Jones is a good storyteller.— San Francisco Chronicle

“This is the biography you’re looking for.”Men’s Journal

Jones’s serviceable prose suits the deceptively relaxed informality of Mr. Lucas’s own lifestyle … when one reaches the close of Mr. Jones’s up-to-the-minute biography, it seems even more justified to conclude that Mr. Lucas has enjoyed (and continues to enjoy) a very prolonged first act. He has, after all, always believed in the Happy Ending.” — The Wall Street Journal

“A deeply researched and striking new biography . . . Jones’s narrative is undeniably spellbinding and will be especially compelling to film nerds.” — Boston Globe

“The account of the making and release of Star Wars is riveting . . .  And Jones’s account of the release of Star Wars and its aftermath is fascinatingGeorge Lucas: A Life contains a great deal of fascinating information … It’s a serious contribution to the history of American cinema.” — Christian Science Monitor

 “An engaging and entertaining read about an enigmatic and reclusive man. This biography will be regarded as definitive for years to come.” – Starburst Magazine

An Amazon “Book of the Month” for December 2016.

A San Francisco Chronicle Gift Guide Pick.


JIM HENSON: THE BIOGRAPHY (2013)


THE NEW YORK TIMES NATIONAL BESTSELLER
A BOOKPAGE BOOK OF THE YEAR
GOODREADS CHOICE AWARDS WINNER: BEST BIOGRAPHY OF 2013
PLUTARCH AWARD FINALIST FOR BEST BIOGRAPHY OF 2013
ONE OF SALON’S TEN BEST AUDIOBOOKS OF 2013
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“Jim Henson vibrantly delves into the magnificent man and his Muppet methods. It’s an absolute must read! — Neil Patrick Harris

“[Jones’]  lucid style, wide-angle perspective, and deep immersion in Henson’s exuberantly innovative approach to puppets, television, and film make for a thoroughly compelling read . . . With verve and insight, Jones illuminates the full scope of Henson’s genius, phenomenal productivity, complex private life, zeal to do good, and astronomical influence.  — Booklist (starred review)

“An exhaustive work that is never exhausting, a credit both to Jones’s brisk style and to Henson’s exceptional life.” — The New York Times

Illuminating . . . As Jones expertly shows, Henson remained throughout his life an artist who was continuously in motion, conceiving, pitching, and managing multiple projects at once.” — The Atlantic

“I worked with Jim for over thirty years.  He was one of my closest friends. And yet I found out things about him in Jim Henson that were new to me.  Brian Jay Jones has captured the layers of Jim’s genius and humanity as well as the flaws that made Jim, like all of us, so delightfully imperfect. Jim needed this book to be written. I thank Brian for giving Jim life again. This book has captured the spirit of Jim Henson.” – Frank Oz

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Masterful . . . In an era of pathography, this biography stands out as positive . . . Jones continually shows that Henson left the world a better place, which serves as the book’s theme. . . A solid biography that can be enjoyed by readers of more than one generation.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Consistently surprises . . . Highly readable and never long-winded (even at nearly 600 pages), Jim Henson joyously documents its subject’s knack for combining old-fashioned puppetry with the world’s newest entertainment medium to forge a kind of furry, felt-covered vaudeville.”The Wall Street Journal

Compulsively readable . . . evocative . . . Much has been written about Henson—during his life and after—but nothing with the same sense of authority and access as Jim Henson: The Biography.” — The AV Club

“The book’s most engrossing passages explore the extraordinary technical demands of creating naturalistic puppet spectacles in the age before computer graphics: ‘performing’ a Muppet was an intricate, almost contortionistic dance of two puppeteers crammed into a single sleeve. . . . A fascinating making-of documentary.”—Publishers Weekly

“Jones’s biography brings to light a spirit of love, warmth, wit, and so much more.” — Library Journal

“An insightful look at the gentle artist.” Parade

Jim Henson: The Biography feels comprehensive without bogging down; it will keep readers turning pages and enjoying every scene from Henson’s life.”—Shelf Awareness

I loved it . . .  In spite of the fact that Jim and I worked together closely for many years, there were compartments of his life that I hadn’t known before. I was completely involved and couldn’t put the book down. A tremendous job.” – Dave Goelz, Muppet performer (The Great Gonzo, Bunsen Honeydew, Boober and Traveling Matt)

Sure to be savored for its exhaustive look at the late Muppet-master.” — Variety

“Brian Jay Jones, in this marvelous tale of struggle and triumph, tells us how and why Jim Henson and his Muppets have rightly assumed their places in the pantheon of American creative geniuses alongside Walt Disney and Mickey, and Doctor Seuss and the Cat in the Hat.” — Paul Reid, co-author of The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm

. . .a nuanced study of a preternaturally gifted, relentlessly driven artist . . . Jones does a superlative job organizing a massive amount of information, covering the assembly of Henson’s team . . . while highlighting Henson’s myriad technical achievements.” — LA Review of Books

“This is not only a superb biography for the Jim Henson and Muppet fans but also a sensitively-written portrayal of a great and unique human being that will fascinate any and all readers.” — Fran Brill, Actress, Sesame Street performer

“[T]he sheer amount of information, both new and old, in this book is simply staggering . . .  Jim Henson: The Biography is the most complete record of Jim’s history that I’ve ever seen, which is completely relatable to all sorts of Muppet fans.  This is a must-buy.” — ToughPigs

One of ‘Ten Hot Fall Reads’ . . . The story of the innovative puppeteer’s life that Muppets completists have been waiting for . . . The section on Henson’s death and funeral is one of the best parts of the book — moving and elegiac. I dare you not to cry.” — The Hollywood Reporter

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“The author of a much-praised biography of Washington Irving, Jones is obviously fond of slightly off-center American geniuses. And he has a nerd’s love of minutiae that goes with his passion for oddity . . . [Jim Henson] is about the triumph of detail, the obsessive refining of an idea until it succeeds.” — The Washington Post

“If ever you had a single question about the felt magic Jim Henson managed to create, chances are Brian Jay Jones’ sweeping new biography of the puppeteer will answer it . . . it gives a glimpse of the silliness on Muppet sets, of Henson’s drive and his soft-spoken genius that in such a short life managed to create so much. It is a better world with the Muppets. And we are better off with this careful account of their master.” — Associated Press

A heartwarming, endearing, and joyful study . . . [Jones] gives us a real Jim Henson, not a saint to be sure, but a man who devoted his creative genius to making the world a better place . . . In many places it seems that Henson is doing the talking right off the page.  This book is fast-paced like his life, zany like his characters, full of fun and laughter . . . It is all here in this sweeping portrait that is a mix of humor, mirth and poignancy.” — Washington Independent Review of Books

“This is a biography that earns the label definitive.”  — Dallas Morning News

“An astounding piece of writing. What Brian Jay Jones captured in 500 pages is nothing short of the most definitive, most complete, most painstakingly impressive account of Jim Henson’s life that has ever been produced . . . immensely entertaining, funny, witty, smart, heartwarming and, of course, heartbreaking— The Muppet Mindset

“There are so many enjoyable aspects to this book that it’s hard to know where to start . . . Jim Henson: The Biography is a fantastic story of a brilliant life cut short, but it can also be read as a blueprint for following your bliss.” — Book Page

A nuanced portrait of the puppeteer . . . that brings new understanding of and empathy for an icon of American popular culture.”Larry Tye, author of Satchel and Superman

[E]minently readable . . .  a reader will come away with a very real sense of who Jim Henson was, what those closest to him thought about him, his approach to his craft, the ups and downs of his career and his philosophy on life. Very few biographies achieve such a rounded view of their subject, but Jones’ meticulous attention to detail pays off.— Entertainment Focus (UK)

“Jones manages to make even the stuff you know engaging, including an impressive opening chapter tracing Henson’s lineage that is as charming as it is informative. But this is no whitewashing; Jones is unflinching in his portrayal of Henson and company’s less flattering moments, offering the full three hundred sixty degrees on the legend and those who populated his life and work…a worthy tribute  and a thoroughly entertaining read. — San Francisco Book Review

One of the top ten books of 2013 . . .  it’s absolutely compulsive reading all the way through, with behind-the-scenes tales of where the most famous characters came from and how the business was run.” — Daytona Beach News-Journal

Exceptional . . . a meaningful complement to all the gifts – the characters, the episodes, the movies, the memory of the man himself – that Henson so kindly and unselfishly gave us all.” — Everyday E-Book

An Amazon “Book of the Month” for September 2013.

Selected as a “Favorite Book of 2013” by CNN viewers.


WASHINGTON IRVING (2008)


Winner of the St. Nicholas Society of New York’s Medal for Literary Excellence

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“. . .a charming biography … [of] one of America’s greatest writers, bon vivants, and literary showmen.” — The New York Times

“. . . the definitive Irving biography for the current generation . . . In more ways than one, Irving remains a superstar — one that Brian Jay Jones does proud.” — The Providence Journal

“. . . a fine biography — engaging, clearly written and well researched, full of material that is likely to be unfamiliar to most modern readers . . . a crisply written account.” — Washington Post Book World

“. . . a rich portrait of a man growing in literary prowess in step with his young country’s own development. . . . an authoritative biography.” — Associated Press

“Jones’ briskly written and comprehensive biography of this unjustly neglected figure is a pleasure to read and belongs in the library of any serious student of the United States’ engagement with the world.” — Foreign Affairs

“Washington Irving is conventionally portrayed as the first professional American author. His shrewdness in gauging his readership, his firm dealings with publishers, his advocacy of copyright, all reinforce this portrayal. Mr. Jones brings new and fresh evidence to demonstrate just how shrewd and astute Irving could be, for all his apparent nonchalance.” — New York Sun

“Jones sheds the sharp light of modern scholarship on this traditionally hallowed but imperfectly known man to reveal a complex and sympathetic human being. Leaving literary criticism to academics, Jones instead focuses on Irving . . . [S]et against an early American cultural and political world full of tantalizingly unfamiliar historical figures, a warm and patient, grieving and theatrical, generous and loving Irving takes on a distinctly human form. . . this most recent portrait of the startlingly flawed and conflicted literary figure is recommended….” — Library Journal

“[Jones’s] breezy approach suits his agreeable subject. . . . A solid introduction to an interesting life.” — Kirkus Reviews

“What illuminates Washington Irving’s life so superbly is Brian Jay Jones’s familiarity with the material and his easy and open style . . . Jones’s seamless narrative flow incorporates Irving’s own words, bringing out the best in both authors . . . a marvelous and enduring portrayal of a complex and fascinating American original.”— TheCelebrityCafe.com

“[Washington Irving’s] perspective on the infancy and preteen years of the United States is unmatched. Jones does him justice, without being a snoop. — New Jersey Star-Ledger

Required Reading.” — The New York Post

“Some of the most interesting sections describe Irving’s interactions with other writers, like Poe and Dickens. Irving emerges as a man with a deep need for praise and affirmation . . . [Jones] gives him a great deal of credit for being the first American to figure out how to make a living as an author.” — Publishers Weekly

“. . . a fair and well-written account of one of the most important, yet humble, figures in our nation’s literary history. Irving must have been grand company. Mr. Jones’s book is grand company.” — Eric Burns, Author of Valor, Virtue & Vanity and Infamous Scribblers

“How wonderful to have a biography of Washington Irving that sparkles as brightly as the original.” — Ted Widmer, author of Martin Van Buren; Director, John Carter Brown Library, Brown University

“Brian Jay Jones has put a personal face on one of America’s first internationally recognized writers and celebrities. Irving the Satirist would have enjoyed the style of this engaging read – chatty, charming, and irreverent! — Kathleen Eagen Johnson, Curator, Historic Hudson Valley

A multifaceted biography written with grace, wit, and empathy . . . Irving has often puzzled his biographers. In Jones’s full-length portrait, he finally emerges in his full complexity. Rarely has an author’s life been told with such awareness of what it really means to produce books for an audience.” — Christoph Irmscher, Author of The Poetics of Natural History, Longfellow Redux, and Public Poet, Private Man

“In this gracefully written narrative of America’s first successful and popular author, Brian Jay Jones has given us a portrait of an American original . . . In this succinct and clear analysis of Irving’s literary legacy, Jones persuasively argues that the creator of Rip Van Winkle, Ichabod Crane, and the headless horseman of Sleepy Hollow deserves his rightful place as an American cultural icon who oversaw the emergence of a distinctly American literature.” — Edward P. Crapol, Author of John Tyler: The Accidental President; Pullen Professor, Emeritus, College of William and Mary

“Jones really captures the many sides of this American Renaissance man who did everything from reinventing the prose short story, to popularizing the travel narrative, to giving us the phrase, “the almighty dollar” . . . Mr. Jones knows how make a narrative flow much like his subject.” — The 217

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