Biography


Pierre Toussaint: A Biography (eBook cover, 2020)
Pierre Toussaint: A Biography (hardback cover, 2003)

Pierre Toussaint: A Biography
eBook: 2020, Capparoe Books; hardcover: 2003, Doubleday, 342 pages, ISBN: 0385499949
Kindle eBook available from Amazon worldwide

This is the remarkable true story of Pierre Toussaint (c.1781-1853), a slave who gained his freedom and became a well-known high-society hairstylist in New York City. A devout Catholic, Toussaint worked tirelessly on behalf of the poor and oppressed and is now a candidate for sainthood. At the time of his death, he was hailed as New York’s leading black citizen.

Toussaint was born on the island of Haiti on a plantation owned by the Bérards, a prosperous French family, who raised him as a Catholic. When the Bérards fled to New York in 1797 during a slave uprising, they took Toussaint with them as a servant. New York held its own dangers: anti-Catholic sentiment was high and African-Americans were beaten on the streets. But Toussaint began to earn a substantial income as a hairdresser to upper-class women, including the daughters of Alexander Hamilton, a profession he continued after gaining his freedom in 1807. Moving as he did in the higher echelons of society, Toussaint was reputed to know everything that went on in the city.

In the first biography written for a mainstream audience, Arthur Jones draws on letters from Toussaint’s friends and admirers, both black and white. They admired him equally for his charming, refined manners and for his exemplary charity work: caring for the poor, helping former slaves, and raising funds for New York’s first Catholic cathedral. In 1996, the Catholic Church declared him ‘Venerable’, the second step toward sainthood, because of his good deeds. Toussaint was supported in his charity work by his wife, Juliette Gaston, a slave whose freedom he had purchased.

Although Toussaint experienced poverty and prejudice, he found strength in his religious faith, his independence of mind, and his sense of personal dignity. In defying the strictures of a racist society, Toussaint became a symbol of hope for oppressed and maligned people of all backgrounds.

Review: “A well-written and well-researched biography of a 19th-century ex-slave who managed to live a rich and faith-filled life of extraordinary service within the confines of a city and community racially divided and socially constricted. Jones has given us a good look at the historical context in which this authentically holy man managed to avoid the pitfalls and traps that lay in wait for every antebellum black. A successful businessman who owned his own home, he was at the same time a philanthropist, a social worker and a man of God. Jones’s book enters into the very mind and spirit of this independent and original man.” – Cyprian Davis, America Magazine


Boomer Guru (cover of North American edition, 2015)
The Road He Travelled (cover of UK edition, 2007)

Boomer Guru: How M. Scott Peck Guided Millions but Lost Himself on the Road Less Traveled
eBook and paperback of North American edition: 2015, Capparoe Books, 210 pages, ISBN: 978-0-9768751-1-6
Kindle eBook available from Amazon.com and Amazon.ca

This biography of “the nation’s shrink” is that rare account: a psychiatrist on the couch. In the 1980s and 1990s, thousands of women wrote to psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, MD, to thank him for helping them find fresh meaning in their lives through his ground-breaking self-help book, The Road Less Traveled (1978), which spent more than a decade on the New York Times Best Seller List. Through his workshops, appearances on Oprah and elsewhere, and because he was a psychiatrist, Peck made self-help respectable for a wide-ranging audience. Yet his own life was in turmoil.

A classic wounded healer and control freak, Peck made life difficult for his family, not least by his extramarital affairs. Boomer Guru explores Peck’s dichotomy in a deeply researched biography based primarily on hours of recorded interviews with the frank but conflicted guru. Peck’s The Road Less Traveled had more than 10 million “boomer” readers. This candid biography of the boomer guru is an intriguing recap both of the times and the man.

Free study guide for book clubs and workshops available here (pdf, 339KB)


The National Catholic Reporter at Fifty: The Story of the Pioneering Paper and Its Editors
Hardcover and eBook: 2014, Rowman and Littlefield, 312 pages, ISBN: 978-1-4422-3611-0 (hardback), 978-1-4422-3612-7 (eBook)

Founded in 1964 during the Second Vatican Council, the National Catholic Reporter (NCR), an award-winning, independent, lay-run newspaper based in Kansas City, Missouri, has been a powerful progressive voice in the Catholic Church. Its investigative approach to the Church and its activities at the national and international levels altered forever how journalists would report on the secretive organisation.

The newspaper has broken a number of challenging stories. It was the first to report the nationwide clerical pedophilia crisis, and it published the secret Papal Birth Control Commission report that recommended ending the ban on birth control, which Pope Paul VI overrode. The book covers the highs and lows in NCR’s history, with a focus on its important editors and key themes: race and poverty, peace/foreign policy, women’s issues, sexuality, and the church/papacy. The biographies reveal how individual editors’ backgrounds shaped their approaches to their editorship.

Review: “This book could be called ‘Fifty years of scoops,’ as it is about the history of the paper that revealed the findings of the secret papal birth control commission Pope Paul VI overrode in 1968 and that broke the story of priestly sex abuse scandals 15 years ahead of the Boston Globe. When in the 90s, it uncovered the story of African nuns raped by priests ‘looking for AIDS-free sex,’ as Jones says, ‘it was NCR that carried yet another story no one wanted to hear, and none could ignore.’

“Of course, NCR is so much more than the sum of its many exclusives, founded during the Second Vatican Council and defending the spirit of the council in the five decades since. These days, no one covers our church better, and Arthur Jones tells us how that happened; all it took, it turns out, was 50 years of faith, love, work, and the fearlessness summed up in a little plaque that now hangs over an early NCR editor’s desk at home: ‘Prophets are not particularly pleasant people. It is their function to unsettle, to disturb, to criticize, and to convert. The reaction of establishment authorities to prophetic voices is not usually pleasant either…Some they suppress — and some they crucify.’ And some, like NCR‘s, survive anyway.” — Melinda Henneberger, Washington Post

Review: “Over the last fifty years, many of us have often said ‘thank God for NCR!’ What would we have known about our Church, and about many issues in public policy, without NCR‘s help? Arthur Jones helps us celebrate this remarkable half century of American Catholic life with a lively, interesting, intelligent ‘personal story — the inside story told by an insider who cares.’ Jones cares about the paper and its people, and he cares too about the good causes they have tried to serve and helped us to serve.” — David O’Brien, professor emeritus, College of the Holy Cross


Malcolm Forbes: Peripatetic Millionaire
Hardcover: 1997, Harper & Row, 211 pages, ISBN: 978-0060122041

Malcolm Forbes became a multimillionaire because of Forbes magazine, the authoritative business/finance magazine that he owned. And he spent his profits as quickly as he reaped them: an island in Fiji, Zane Grey’s old fishing camp in Tahiti, a palace in Tangiers, a chateau in Normandy, a ranch in Colorado, townhouses in London and New York, Faberge jewelry, yachts, motorcyles, and hot air balloons.

The magazine was founded by his father, Bertie Charles “BC” Forbes, at one time William Randolph Hearst’s highest-paid financial columnist. But Malcolm Forbes did not inherit a fortune – he inherited a struggling publication. In under thirty years, he turned Forbes into a major moneymaker. How the magazine grew, why it grew, and the fun Malcolm Forbes, a modern-day adventurer, had along the way are told in this biography.