I’ve written biographies of people ranging from heroes and great thinkers to terrible tyrants. With all respect to the great 1966 film by Sergio Leone, I sometimes call this part of my career “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” I was thrilled, though, to write books for kids about my science hero, Charles Darwin, and three wonderful authors. Here are my favorites among the biographies I’ve written, with a few of the reviews they received:

STEPHEN KING, 2011, Marshall Cavendish Benchmark

—–It’s not just that Stephen King writes dark material—it’s that he writes so much of it. The wildly prolific master of the macabre is given intelligent, judicious scrutiny in this delightfully thorough volume from the Today’s Writers and Their Works series. King’s formative years are shown as vital to his worldview: the discovered box of his dad’s H. P. Lovecraft books; Sputnik-era Cold War fears; the activism and drug experimentation of the ’60s; the famous first three pages of Carrie that his wife, Tabitha, rescued from a trash can in 1972. Stefoff then has the daunting job of synthesizing King’s gazillion books and movies without losing pace with his personal life and publishing experiments, a task she pulls off swimmingly. King’s output is synopsized with swiftness and insight and is bolstered by critical blurbs both good and bad (and really bad—the projects Stefoff calls “the howling duds”). Most impressive is her handling of King’s alcohol and drug abuse; readers will sympathize with King’s concern that his writing would dry up if he went clean. The basic layout is filled with rarely seen photos, and the final chapters focus on key works, King’s literary merit (or lack thereof), and an exhaustive bibliography and time line.–Booklist, starred


JACK LONDON: AN AMERICAN ORIGINAL, 2002, Oxford University Press

WILLIAM PENN, 1998, Chelsea House



—–“Stefoff is an excellent, lucid writer, and her book contains moving passages on Darwin’s personal losses and triumphs. . . . [T]his delightful little book is quite accessible to readers with little background in biology.”— Quarterly Review of Biology

—–“Stefoff told part of Darwin’s story in Scientific Explorers (1992); here she expands a chapter into a lucid, lively, systematic account of his two great journeys – one physical, one intellectual – and the modern course of the controversy he sparked. . . . This is a first-rate portrait of the man, public and private, as well as his circle and his scientific legacy . . . thoughtful and authoritative.”— Kirkus

HERMAN MELVILLE, 1994, Julian Messner

—–In a lucid account of Melville’s ‘sad, although not quite tragic’ life, the author of many fine biographies explores his sources of inspiration and analyzes his major themes, his sophisticated use of symbolism and other literary devices, and why his books eluded wide readership until the 20th century. Though Stefoff never loses sight of him as a person . . . , her focus on his work makes this most valuable as a brief critical appraisal for his many confused or intimated readers and a bonanza for term-paper writers.—Kirkus

—–Stefoff’s exceptional biography of Herman Melville is not only accessible in language and structure, but also an exciting read. . . . Stefoff skillfully integrates interesting literary analyses of Melville’s novels with the facts of his life. Her stirring first chapter, the clarity of her writing, and her focus on portions of Melville’s life of particular interest to young adults afford a biography that provides them with a better understanding of Melville’s life and may even inspire them to read Moby-Dick.Booklist, starred