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CHARLES DICKENS

A LIFE

Like Shakespeare, Charles Dickens (1812–1870) was an overachiever of genius, and his life was as eventful, dramatic and character-filled as any of his novels. This rich new biography brilliantly captures his world.

Acclaimed biographer Tomalin (Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man, 2007, etc.) has always hunted big literary game (Hardy, Jane Austen, Samuel Pepys, etc.), and here she goes after one of the biggest and most complex. Dickens once told a visiting Dostoevsky that his heroes and villains came from the two people inside him: “one who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite.” However, there were many more dimensions to Dickens’ character. Besides being a tireless writer of long, complicated novels and hundreds of articles, an editor of a succession of magazines and a frustrated actor whose public readings became standing-room-only events, he was ebullient, charming, radical, instinctively sympathetic to the poor, generous to friends but unforgiving once you got on his bad side. At home, he was a domineering husband to his long-suffering wife and a distant father to his ten children. Dickens certainly would have appreciated Tomalin’s keen eye for scene, character and narrative pace. Ever the deft critic, she notes how the characters in Martin Chuzzlewit are “set up like toys programmed to run on course,” and that Hard Times “fails to take note of its own message that people must be amused.” Having written previously on Dickens’ disastrous late-life affair (The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens, 1991), Tomalin also displays considerable detective work to bolster the possibility that Dickens and his other woman had a secret child who died in infancy. Superbly organized, comprehensive and engrossing from start to finish—a strong contender for biography of the year.

 

Pub Date: Oct. 31, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59420-309-1

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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