Essential reading for comics fans and history buffs, Krazy is a roaring success, providing an indispensable new perspective...

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KRAZY

GEORGE HERRIMAN, A LIFE IN BLACK AND WHITE

A revelatory biography of the influential “Krazy Kat” creator George Herriman (1880-1944).

Set among the desert mesas of Coconino County, “Krazy Kat” graced the funny pages from 1913 to 1944 and featured the philosophical antics of Krazy and the brick-throwing mouse, Ignatz. Tisserand (Sugarcane Academy: How a New Orleans Teacher and His Storm-Struck Students Created a School to Remember, 2007, etc.) reveals the depths of their age-old rivalry, tracing influences from Cervantes and Othello to minstrel shows and the Jack Johnson vs. Jim Jeffries bout of 1910. “Krazy Kat” always had a racial angle: Herriman was born a fair-skinned boy to African-American parents and grew up in the Creole community of New Orleans. His complexion allowed him to “pass” as white, a controversial practice that Herriman carried secretly throughout his life. Though he penned numerous strips—e.g., "Us Husbands," "Baron Mooch," and "The Family Upstairs"—it wasn’t until the publication of “Krazy Kat”in 1913 that he moved toward the life of a celebrated artist, garnering praise from the likes of e.e. cummings and President Woodrow Wilson. Herriman’s unique racial perspective allowed him to sneak some remarkably potent themes into his cartoons, many of which were likely lost on his readers at the time: Krazy, for instance, is revealed to have been born in the cellar of a haunted house, in a “tale which must never be told, and yet which everyone knows.” In another gag, Ignatz flings a mug at Krazy saying it’s not the black coffee he wanted. “Sure it is,” Krazy tells him. “Look unda the milk.” Tisserand elevates this exhaustively researched and profusely illustrated book beyond the typical comics biography. Seamlessly integrating the story of Herriman’s life, he executes an impressive history of early-20th-century race relations, the rise of Hearst and the newspaper boom, and the burgeoning cross-continental society life of New York and Los Angeles.

Essential reading for comics fans and history buffs, Krazy is a roaring success, providing an indispensable new perspective on turn-of-the-century America.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-173299-7

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

A fresh look at Eleanor Roosevelt and a fascinating exploration of a cherished, mutually beneficial friendship.

THE FIREBRAND AND THE FIRST LADY

PORTRAIT OF A FRIENDSHIP: PAULI MURRAY, ELEANOR ROOSEVELT, AND THE STRUGGLE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

A significant new exploration of the enormously important friendship between two activist crusaders in advancing the cause of civil rights for blacks and women.

Although the Baltimore-born black lawyer Pauli Murray (1910-1985) and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) exchanged more than 300 letters during their lifetimes, met occasionally, and worked in tandem on issues of social justice, there has not been a proper study of their mutually influential friendship until now. In this stellar work of scholarship, Bell-Scott (Emerita, Women’s Studies and Family Science/Univ. of Georgia; Flat-Footed Truths:Telling Black Women's Lives, 1998, etc.) has sifted through their correspondence for evidence of their evolving ideas on black-white issues and how each took the measure of the other while working doggedly to bring down social and professional barriers. Eleanor tirelessly promoted integration despite the public caution that her husband demonstrated, and she first met Murray in 1933 as a college graduate attending Camp Tera (Temporary Emergency Relief Administration), a pilot facility for struggling unemployed women that Eleanor had pushed to create during the Depression. Subsequently, Murray would go on to get advanced law degrees and work as deputy California attorney general and, later, as a professor. All the while, Murray idolized Eleanor ("the most visible symbol of autonomy and therefore the role model of women of my generation") and frequently wrote to her—or to the president, sending her a copy of the letter. She laid out in no uncertain terms the plight of the African-American, “the most oppressed, most misunderstood and most neglected section of your population,” especially in the South, where she had lived as an orphan. From getting anti-lynching legislation passed to pressuring institutions of higher learning to integrate, the two women bolstered or chided each other candidly in their letters involving issues which Eleanor frequently referred to in her newspaper column. With generous excerpts from the letters, Bell-Scott shines a bright light on this significant relationship.

A fresh look at Eleanor Roosevelt and a fascinating exploration of a cherished, mutually beneficial friendship.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-679-44652-1

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

An exciting, well-written comparison study of two American leaders at loggerheads during the Korean War crisis.

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THE GENERAL VS. THE PRESIDENT

MACARTHUR AND TRUMAN AT THE BRINK OF NUCLEAR WAR

Two American heroes tested and tried at their most inspired hours.

Brands (History/Univ. of Texas; Reagan: The Life, 2015, etc.) finds in President Harry Truman and Gen. Douglas MacArthur two perfect counterweights to the unfurling crisis over the aggressive incursions of communism in East Asia. The author works his way backward from the tipping point in December 1950, when the Chinese had joined the Korean War against the United States and its Allies despite the assurances by MacArthur that the Chinese would never dare. The president, “livid” at the general for his recklessness and lack of foresight, assured the press that the U.S. “will take whatever steps are necessary” to repel the Chinese, including the use of “every weapon we have.” This was no reassurance for the rest of the world, terrified of the opening salvos of an atomic war, which the president, immersed in domestic woes involving a Republican-controlled Congress, wanted to avoid at all costs, while the general, rejecting appeasement as the method of cowards (had the world learned nothing from Hitler?), seemed to invite World War III with his brazen attitude. In an elegant narrative, eminent historian Brands fleshes out the two characters and their paths to this moment’s “knife-edge…above an abyss.” Truman, somewhat appalled to be handed the job of president, warmed to the tasks of rebuilding Europe and containing communism from a sense of humanitarian duty and decency. He emerged from the bruising election, fights with Republicans, Joseph McCarthy allegations, the Berlin airlift, and alarming declarations by his rogue general with a “refusal to be discouraged.” MacArthur, on the other hand, inculcated by his ingrained sense of entitlement and public accolades over the Philippines, Japan, and elsewhere, needed at this golden point in his waning career a crowning achievement: an amphibious invasion at Inchon that was so crazily brilliant that it just might work.

An exciting, well-written comparison study of two American leaders at loggerheads during the Korean War crisis.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-385-54057-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: July 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

Welles rightly imagined that people would never stop writing about him after he died. Callow continues to set the standard...

ORSON WELLES, VOLUME 3

ONE-MAN BAND

Juicy, provocative latest installment in the comprehensive life of a self-destructive genius.

In his first two volumes of the life of Orson Welles (1915-1985), actor and author Callow captured the scope of a life that always seemed to promise more than it delivered. In The Road to Xanadu (1996), Welles was the boy genius whose Midas touch literally transformed theater, radio, and then film, reaching the pinnacle of his life at the age of 25 with Citizen Kane. In Hello, Americans (2007), Callow charted the way down, exploring how Welles’ sprawling ambitions ran up against both studio interference and his own restless inability to see projects through to the end. During the period recounted here (1947-1964), Welles fell into the pattern of his adult life: constantly trying to get a new play or film off the ground and taking acting jobs to help finance them. The results were ridiculously mixed, with success and failure jostling each other from year to year. Welles made quirky box-office duds (Othello, Mr. Arkadin), staged an ambitious version of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, and got fired by Laurence Olivier. He also made a classic film noir, Touch of Evil, and a long-gestating masterpiece, Chimes at Midnight. Welles thought of himself as Falstaff, but he seemed a good deal closer to King Lear: a royal in exile, howling at the winds as well as actors, crew members, studio heads, and anyone who crossed him. He was, also, a paradox to the critical establishment: a failure to his countrymen, a hero to the Cahiers du Cinéma crowd. Callow, with his own extensive theatrical background, remains Welles’ most astute observer, with an unerring sense of both his subject’s brilliance as a visual artist and the comparable limitations of his (often hammy) performances.

Welles rightly imagined that people would never stop writing about him after he died. Callow continues to set the standard in this increasingly crowded field.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02491-9

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2016

A riveting biography of a remarkable man.

RAOUL WALLENBERG

THE BIOGRAPHY

The making of an unlikely hero.

To his prominent and wealthy relatives, Raoul Wallenberg (b. 1912) seemed not dependable enough to entrust with a responsible position in the family’s bank. As journalist Carlberg depicts him in this absorbing, masterful biography, Wallenberg was “charming, extroverted and creative, but also somewhat impulsive.” “He was very much a salesman,” a friend recalled. “He was almost always happy. And funny,” amusing his friends, in the 1930s, with imitations of Hitler, Churchill, and Stalin. After training as an architect at the University of Michigan and then working in South Africa and Haifa, Wallenberg returned to his native Sweden to seek employment. In 1941, he became an instructor in the National Home Guard, earning praise for being “more skilled and creative…than many of the career military.” Soon, he found a paying job as foreign director of a Swedish food import company owned by a Hungarian Jew. That was the position he held when, in June 1944, he was tapped to carry out a rescue mission for the American War Refugee Board, in alliance with Sweden. Multilingual, with high-level Hungarian business contacts, he seemed the perfect person: “highly skilled, of good reputation, [and] a non-Jew.” Only Stockholm’s chief rabbi was skeptical, concerned that Wallenberg’s real motivation was “a desire for adventure.” Carlberg’s tense, detailed narrative traces Wallenberg’s work in Budapest, beginning in July 1944. Starting with a handful of employees, by year’s end, he had 300. His talent at diplomacy—he had dinner with the furious, alcoholic Adolph Eichmann—was matched with bold subterfuge, as he managed to put huge numbers of Jews under Swedish protection. But efforts to exterminate them were relentless. Wallenberg placed his hopes in the Russians; although Soviet troops freed over 100,000 Jews living in a sealed ghetto, in 1945, Wallenberg was arrested as a spy and disappeared.

A riveting biography of a remarkable man.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-68144-490-1

Page Count: 640

Publisher: MacLehose/Quercus

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

A winning concluding volume in a series that does for Eleanor Roosevelt what Robert Caro has done for Lyndon Johnson.

ELEANOR ROOSEVELT, VOLUME 3

THE WAR YEARS AND AFTER, 1939-1962

Having already devoted more than 1,200 pages to the extraordinary life of Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) in two previous installments, the skilled biographer offers the final volume.

Although the third book focuses on the period from 1939 to 1945, Cook (History/John Jay Coll., Graduate Center, CUNY; Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume 2, The Defining Years, 1933-1938, 1999, etc.) also covers the remainder of Roosevelt's meaningful accomplishments and personal relationships until her death in 1962. No hagiographer, the author presents Roosevelt's strained personal relationships, occasional passive-aggressive behavior, moral equivocations due to electoral politics, and other less-than-admirable qualities. Overall, though, Cook shows Roosevelt as empathetic to the less fortunate in both America and overseas, relentlessly optimistic about eventually achieving world peace, courageous in the face of personal danger, and almost superhumanly energetic until her final year. What may resonate most for contemporary readers is Roosevelt's crusade for greater racial harmony. She did not merely offer lip service to racial equality; she modeled it in her friendships and in the issues she promoted to Congress and her husband, despite widespread discrimination against blacks that showed no signs of abating. Cook notes that while outlining the current volume, she chose to develop the metatheme of the first lady obsessing about "race and rescue." Because most of the narrative unfolds during World War II, Cook amply examines Eleanor's efforts to influence the decisions of her husband. The president and Eleanor had to negotiate a rocky personal relationship due to his philandering and her unusual romantic liaisons, but as partners in politics, the mutual respect between them never wavered. The final pages about Eleanor’s postwar activities seem overly telescoped, but that’s a minor quibble in this outstanding work of biography. Cook makes a strong case that her subject is the most influential first lady in American history and even the most influential woman in world affairs since at least 1900.

A winning concluding volume in a series that does for Eleanor Roosevelt what Robert Caro has done for Lyndon Johnson.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02395-0

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

A consistently interesting biography that deftly captures the many selves and multiple struggles of a true American original.

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SHIRLEY JACKSON

A RATHER HAUNTED LIFE

An engaging, sympathetic portrait of the writer who found the witchery in huswifery.

Critic Franklin (A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction, 2010) ably captures both the life and art of Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) in this sharp biography. Franklin presents her as the classic square peg: a woman who didn’t easily fit in to midcentury America and a writer who can’t be neatly categorized. Jackson was the ungainly, rebellious daughter of a socialite mother who never stopped nagging her about her weight or appearance. Later, she would be the neglected wife of an esteemed critic and teacher, Stanley Edgar Hyman, who all but flaunted his adulteries under her nose. It was an anxiety-ridden life, but she had the imagination to put it to good use. Her stories and novels involved people fighting losing battles with either themselves or society, whether they are usurped by the big city or run up against the barbarism of cozy small-town life—as in her classic story “The Lottery.” She wasn’t a witch, although she let people think so; rather, she was a harried domestic goddess who also wrote children’s fiction, bestselling chronicles of life with Hyman and their children, and—further resisting pigeonholing—a masterpiece of horror fiction (The Haunting of Hill House) and a curiously comic novel about a young lady who poisons her parents (We Have Always Lived in a Castle). Jackson’s life was both disciplined and devil-may-care; she ate, drank, and smoked like there was no tomorrow until finally, at the age of 48, there wasn’t. Franklin astutely explores Jackson's artistry, particularly in her deceptively subtle stories. She also sees a bigger, more original picture of Jackson as the author of “the secret history of American women of her era”—postwar, pre-feminist women who, like her, were faced with limited choices and trapped in bigoted, cliquish neighborhoods.

A consistently interesting biography that deftly captures the many selves and multiple struggles of a true American original.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-87140-313-1

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: May 25, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

A delightfully engaging biography of a highly talented but deeply troubled prodigy of English literature.

CHARLOTTE BRONTË

A FIERY HEART

Accomplished biographer Harman (Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World, 2010, etc.) returns with a lively account of the life of Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855).

After the deaths of her two older sisters in 1825, Charlotte, at age 9, was the eldest of the four surviving Brontë children. Isolated in the parsonage at Haworth on the Yorkshire moors, they built for themselves a fantasy world centered on an imaginary African kingdom; their sojourns there over the years resulted in a torrent of related prose and poetry, written solely for each other in matchbox-sized books. As they matured, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne directed their literary talents to the depictions of more realistic topics, resulting in Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and the other novels for which each ultimately became famous. Groundbreaking in many ways, their works were driven by fury at the constraints on occupational and social choices available to Victorian women and, upon their pseudonymous publications, aroused reactions ranging from astonished enthusiasm to disgust. Neither deferential nor awestruck, Harman clearly feels strong affection for these reclusive, dysfunctional siblings. She confidently makes sympathetic characters of Charlotte and her sisters, even while conceding that they were by all accounts difficult and generally unpleasant company. The author remains focused on her subject's life story, expending little space on general information about the historical setting and explaining just enough of the content of Brontë's novels that readers unfamiliar with them can understand their significance, the public’s reactions to them, and the extent to which Charlotte drew upon her own experiences in their production. She vividly portrays a life of loneliness, anguish, tragedy, and suppressed rage in serene and elegant prose with frequent flashes of ironic humor; the underlying scholarship is extensive but never obtrusive.

A delightfully engaging biography of a highly talented but deeply troubled prodigy of English literature.

Pub Date: March 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-307-96208-9

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

Voters ready to pull the trigger one way or another probably won’t be swayed by these revelations, but they are highly...

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THE MAKING OF DONALD TRUMP

The Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist takes aim at his longtime bête noire, “a modern P.T. Barnum selling tickets to a modern variation of the Feejee Mermaid.”

If you follow the news at all, you’ll know that a number of allegations have recently been raised against GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump—e.g., he played the field outside marriage, refused to pay suppliers and workers for jobs contracted for and completed, lied about his wealth, etc. It’s due in good measure to veteran investigative reporter Johnston (The Fine Print: How Big Companies Use "Plain English" to Rob You Blind, 2012, etc.) that these charges have seen the light of day. Here, without undue breathlessness and certainly without any coyness, he elaborates on those newsworthy sound bites: Trump’s father was arrested at a KKK rally and later accused of profiteering from tax dollars intended to benefit World War II veterans; Trump avoided military service because of a bone spur in his foot, though which foot he cannot recall; Trump is the least generous philanthropist in his tax bracket—and, of course, we don’t know what bracket that might be given his refusal to release those records—but loudly proclaims that he gives away millions. That none of this is shocking news is because Johnston has already done significant work getting these reports out. What is more useful in this account is his connecting dots and establishing patterns, one of which is that Trump has been planning for more than 30 years to run for the presidency, only now pulling together sufficient support to do so. All of this, of course, tempts legal action; as Johnston notes, “Trump spent two years suing author Tim O’Brien and his publisher for writing that his net worth was probably not in the billions, but rather the hundreds of millions. After a court dismissed the case, Trump made it clear that he merely wanted to harass O’Brien, not necessarily win damages.”

Voters ready to pull the trigger one way or another probably won’t be swayed by these revelations, but they are highly damning indeed.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61219-632-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2016

Masterful and engaging: just what Lucas’ fans and buffs, who love the nitty-gritty of filmmaking, have been waiting for.

GEORGE LUCAS

A LIFE

A sweeping, perceptive biography of the influential director.

Jones (Jim Henson: The Biography, 2013, etc.) sets the stage for this impressive biography with a short prologue set in 1976. Lucas was in the Tunisian desert starting his 84-day shoot of Star Wars. The weather was terrible, and sand got into everything. The machines, including R2-D2, wouldn’t work, and the studio was stingy with funds (at that point, Lucas pledged to always control the money). About a year before the release date, Lucas was “certain” the movie “was going to be terrible.” Jones’ extensively researched, unauthorized biography—he wasn’t able to interview key people, including Lucas—lays out in luscious detail the path Lucas took to become one of film’s most successful directors. Born in Modesto, California, in 1944, he grew up in the 1950s and loved comic books, TV serials, and building things. A mediocre, bored student in high school, he managed to get into the University of Southern California. When he discovered their film school, he “fell madly in love with [film], ate it and slept with it 24 hours a day.” He also met Francis Ford Coppola, who helped him get his student film, THX 1138, made into a movie. He also helped him make the popular American Graffiti, which provided Lucas with much-needed money. He could now focus on his “Flash Gordon thing,” Star Wars. Jones wisely eschews unnecessary plot summaries to focus on where the ideas for Lucas’ films came from and how he wrote them and how he dealt with studios and contract negotiations, funding, casting, filming, and marketing. This in-depth portrait of the “modest and audacious” Lucas, a “brilliant” and “enigmatic” technological wizard, and those who were crucial to his success—his editor wife, Marcia, Stephen Spielberg, Haskell Wexler, Garry Kurtz, John Milius, John Dykstra, Harrison Ford—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.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-25744-2

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

An unconventional and fascinating portrait of Soul Brother No. 1 and the significance of his rise and fall in American...

KILL 'EM AND LEAVE

SEARCHING FOR THE REAL JAMES BROWN

National Book Award winner McBride (The Good Lord Bird, 2013, etc.) dissects the career, legacy, and myth of the Godfather of Soul.

One of the most iconic figures in pop music, James Brown (1933-2006) is also one of the most unknown and falsely represented figures in American cultural history. Taking the recent biopic based on his life as an example, McBride shows how Brown’s late-career downward spiral into drug abuse, erratic behavior, and jail time is exaggerated and how it overshadows his legacy as a hardworking and dedicated singer who was a positive cultural force. Part of this misrepresentation was caused by the mystery of Brown, which he perpetuated during his lifetime. As the author points out, Brown was constantly on the run from himself, careful never to reveal too much of his personality in public or private. As Brown put it to his young protégé Al Sharpton, “come important and leave important.” McBride traces Brown’s philosophy of “keeping ’em guessing” through his upbringing in rural South Carolina and Georgia and back to a telling myth of a local ancestor. As the author sums it up: “you can’t understand Brown without understanding that the land that produced him is the land of masks.” Anecdotes and digressions are the preferred narrative mode for McBride, as he eschews an overarching, linear structure in favor of the rhythm of vignettes. Through his adventures to uncover the “real” Brown, there is significantly little discussion of Brown’s musical career; instead, the author focuses on the people around him and the defining moments of his life outside the spotlight. But for McBride, the story of Brown is the story of money and greed—not on Brown’s part, who put his $100 million estate toward the education of poor children, but of his heirs and family members who have tied up that money in years of litigation.

An unconventional and fascinating portrait of Soul Brother No. 1 and the significance of his rise and fall in American culture.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9350-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2016

A fresh, captivating history of the enduringly colorful Churchill.

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HERO OF THE EMPIRE

THE BOER WAR, A DARING ESCAPE, AND THE MAKING OF WINSTON CHURCHILL

A history of the danger-seeking young Winston Churchill during the Boer War, which “had turned out to be far more difficult and more devastating than the amusing colonial war the British had expected.”

Although Churchill’s life has been amply documented by himself and many others, Millard (Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President, 2011, etc.) ably weaves a seamless and gripping narrative of the future statesman’s early career and involvement in the Boer War (1899-1902). It is the story of a man unfailingly convinced of his destiny to lead, undaunted by setbacks, and supremely confident of success. “I do not believe the Gods would create so potent a being as myself for so prosaic an ending,” Churchill wrote to his mother from the bloody battlefield of Malakand. As the author demonstrates, even as a child, Churchill shared his countrymen’s idea that war “was about romance and gallantry.” “There is no ambition I cherish so keenly,” he said, “as to gain a reputation for personal courage.” At 24, he passionately urged Joseph Chamberlain to recover Britain’s prestige in South Africa by avenging a humiliating defeat; in an electrifying speech, he whipped up fervor for war. In October 1899, Churchill’s wish was realized: Britain was at war, and he was off to battle, this time as a journalist. He meant to travel in comfort: along with his personal valet, he brought wine, spirits, liqueur, and luxurious accessories from London’s finest shops. Although he became dramatically involved in the army’s travails, he, along with around 60 officers and soldiers, was taken prisoner. For Churchill, it was a fate almost worse than death. “With the loss of his freedom,” Millard writes, “he had, for the first time, also lost his ferocious grip on life.” In vivid, entertaining detail, the author chronicles Churchill’s audacious escape, which was reported in British newspapers with pride and glee. As Millard concludes, he had proved himself exemplary: “resilient, resourceful and, even in the face of extreme danger, utterly unruffled.”

A fresh, captivating history of the enduringly colorful Churchill.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-385-53573-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

A relentlessly captivating study of two remarkable individuals who helped extend the roles of American women in the public...

ELEANOR AND HICK

THE LOVE AFFAIR THAT SHAPED A FIRST LADY

A dual biography of the 30-year relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) and Lorena Hickok (1893-1968).

In 1932, Hickok was an Associated Press journalist writing about politics and other serious matters, unusual for a woman at the time. Soon after she met soon-to-be White House occupant Eleanor, the two formed an intimate relationship that lasted at various levels of intensity until Roosevelt's death. Biographer Quinn (Furious Improvisation: How the WPA and a Cast of Thousands Made High Art out of Desperate Times, 2008, etc.) delves into the privileged but unhappy upbringing of Roosevelt—she was the niece of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt and distant cousin of her eventual husband, Franklin Roosevelt—on the East Coast and in Europe as well as the poverty-stricken, abusive childhood of Hickok in rural South Dakota. Roosevelt was normally demure, physically tall, and somewhat slender, while Hickok was loud, brash, and overweight. “[Hickok] reveled in food and drink, played a good game of poker, smoked a lot…and was capable of swearing a blue streak,” writes the author. “Unlike Eleanor, who kept strong emotions under control, Hick let it all out.” Indeed, the intellectual, emotional, and physical chemistry seemed out of sync on the surface. Quinn deftly explores how the unlikely relationship evolved, relying on correspondence between the women, oral histories in archives, various government documents, and numerous other sources that allow readers to learn a great deal about normally private affairs. The author’s exploration of Hickok’s journalism and government jobs offers detailed, fascinating human portraits of citizens caught in the grip of an extended financial depression. The benevolent and often daring initiatives of Roosevelt have been copiously documented for decades; Quinn sorts through the massive volume of material, making wise choices about how best to illuminate Roosevelt's character.

A relentlessly captivating study of two remarkable individuals who helped extend the roles of American women in the public policy realm.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-540-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

Never overly sentimental, this is a poignant and elegant inquiry into mortality.

THE VIOLET HOUR

GREAT WRITERS AT THE END

How five artists dealt with that carriage that kindly stopped for them.

In this absorbing and affecting book, Roiphe (In Praise of Messy Lives, 2012, etc.) chronicles how Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, John Updike, Dylan Thomas, and Maurice Sendak dealt with what Freud called the “painful riddle of death.” She chose them because she always “felt some heat coming off their writing.” The last thing Sontag wanted to do was die. She was ferocious in her fights against three cancer attacks. She finally succumbed to cancer of the blood but not before enduring as a last resort great suffering and pain from a blood transfusion procedure using near-lethal doses of chemotherapy. She didn’t die; she just wore out from trying so hard to live. Roiphe notes that her hospital rooms always looked like her office at home. Freud approached his impending death from necrosis in his mouth, brought on by years of smoking his beloved cigars (he never quit), with a scientific stoicism. He finally gave up, and his private doctor performed euthanasia. Updike had been writing about death (and sex) since he was young; he often had death panics. When he accepted the fact that his lung cancer would kill him, he turned to poetry, urgent to finish Endpoint. “If style could defeat death,” writes Roiphe, “Updike would have.” Ferociously alcoholic, Thomas turned his preoccupation with death into ragingly beautiful poetry. His death at 39, Roiphe writes, was “both a great shock and utterly anticipated.” Sendak, who kept Keats’ “original death mask” in a guest room, was also obsessed with death and, Roiphe notes, wrote about it constantly in his books. He died at 83 from a stroke. As he told one interviewer: “I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.” An epilogue about James Salter, who died just before Roiphe finished her book, completes this beautiful and haunting work.

Never overly sentimental, this is a poignant and elegant inquiry into mortality.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-385-34359-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dial Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

A creative, engaging, and profoundly moving account of a man’s fierce desire to discover, understand, and preserve.

JOHN AUBREY, MY OWN LIFE

A historian and literary critic offers a unique and revealing look at the life of English philosopher John Aubrey (1626-1697), told in Aubrey’s voice in the form of a diary.

Scurr (History and Politics/Cambridge Univ.; Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution, 2006) has hit upon a compelling narrative device. Although she has traditional introductory and closing chapters, the bulk of the biography deals with the quotidian affairs of Aubrey, who was a friend and/or acquaintance of some of the great early Enlightenment names, including Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke (with whom Aubrey often hung out in coffee shops, new to London), Isaac Newton, Thomas Hobbes, and numerous others. Aubrey also lived during some of the most tempestuous times in English history—Charles I, Cromwell, the Restoration, the Great Fire of London, the ascent of William and Mary, the unspeakable violence practiced upon Roman Catholics: Aubrey wrote about all of it. Scurr also shows us, through Aubrey’s work, the birth and growth of science in England, including Hooke’s contention that Newton had stolen his ideas. As the author notes, Aubrey was obsessed with English history and geography. He did massive, detailed studies of the countryside (including Stonehenge), studies not duly credited until centuries later. But among the delights of Scurr’s account are the practices and beliefs that conflicted with the emerging science of his day—e.g., witchcraft, astrology, and primitive medicine (Aubrey recommended egg white and sugar to palliate/cure gonorrhea). We also witness Aubrey’s struggles with finances (he frequently borrowed from Hooke), his internecine struggles with his brother, his failures in love (one woman he’d hoped to marry took him not to the altar but to court—more than once), his aches and pains, and his moods.

A creative, engaging, and profoundly moving account of a man’s fierce desire to discover, understand, and preserve.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-68137-042-2

Page Count: 552

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

An elegant, deeply perceptive portrait.

LOUISA

THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF MRS. ADAMS

The “vivid and propulsive” life of the wife of statesman and president John Quincy Adams.

Drawing on a rich trove of letters, diaries, and memoirs, historian and journalist Thomas (Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family—a Test of Will and Faith in World War I, 2012) has created an enthralling, sharply etched portrait of Louisa Catherine Johnson Adams (1775-1852), the wife of America’s sixth president. Portrayed by many historians as sickly and delicate, a weak specimen when compared with her stalwart mother-in-law, Abigail, Louisa emerges as a spirited, ambitious woman who grew from a submissive girl to a politically astute writer and thinker. She learned early in her marriage that her husband’s “first devotion was to his country, his second to his parents, and his third to his books.” He could be exacting, supercilious, domineering, and “self-involved in unbelievable ways,” but in times of distress—miscarriages, debilitating illnesses, and the deaths of three of their four children—he was lovingly tender. Louisa was, he said, his best friend. Louisa followed her husband wherever his duty took him: Prussia, St. Petersburg, London, Washington, and the Adams family homestead in Quincy, Massachusetts, which Louisa deemed an insufferable backwater. Travel was arduous: the trip from America to Russia took 80 days; Quincy to Washington, “three miserable weeks.” Alone, Louisa traveled with her 5-year-old son from St. Petersburg to Paris, nearly 2,000 miles over 40 days, as Napoleon’s troops invaded, proving herself shrewd and decisive; adversity, the author concludes, brought out her strength. Her warmth as a hostess helped to soften the effects of her husband’s sullenness. “They must have a President that they dare speak to,” she told him, when he coveted the highest office. Thomas effectively sets Louisa’s eventful life against the backdrop of a nation transforming itself, debating foreign and domestic policy, including slavery, which John Quincy vehemently opposed.

An elegant, deeply perceptive portrait.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-463-0

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

Arnaud’s biography provides a useful corrective and will inspire renewed interest in Cocteau’s work.

JEAN COCTEAU

A LIFE

The first substantial life of the French surrealist writer and artist to appear in English since 1970.

You might not have known that Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) was an angst-y, tormented artist to look at him: he “always tried to put himself forward as happy and detached,” writes French biographer Arnaud (Chamfort: A Biography, 1992), and he had a happy childhood without much drama. Still, as Arnaud remarks, Cocteau wrestled for a long time with his homosexuality, a preference for men that “remained more acted than lived,” no small thing in a time when the law still weighed heavily against same-sex relationships. Arnaud accomplishes several things in this overstuffed life of the writer, artist, and filmmaker. He does much, for example, to correct the emphasis on Cocteau as eccentric artist—he was, after all, a shining light of Dadaism—that comes “to the detriment of the creator.” Focusing closely on Cocteau’s works, Arnaud ventures that he was often at his best as a collaborator, whether encouraging Marcel Proust during the long years of his writing Recherche, even if Proust may have thought of him as “a piece of furniture,” or concocting strange experiments with Pablo Picasso. In the end, Arnaud provides a portrait of a committed, seasoned artist who was, in Ezra Pound’s phrase, a vortex of energy, constantly at work, writing “on invitations, record jackets, cigarette boxes, theater programs, book covers.” If Cocteau was not well-understood in his own time, and often savaged critically, he is unjustly overlooked today. Although, for instance, he was long considered one of the trio of “uncle Jeans” of French film, the others being Renoir and Epstein, many students know him only for Orphée (1950), and although his literary production was steady, he remains known today mostly for his middle-period novel Les Enfants Terribles (1929). Concludes Arnaud, a touch hopefully, “we haven’t yet finished with Cocteau.”

Arnaud’s biography provides a useful corrective and will inspire renewed interest in Cocteau’s work.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-300-17057-3

Page Count: 1056

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2016

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