The Great Helmsman fully fleshed, still complicated and ever provocative.

MAO

THE REAL STORY

A comprehensive, authoritative new study that challenges the received wisdom regarding Mao’s relationship with Stalin and the Soviet Union.

With rare access to the newly consolidated Russian State Archive of Social and Political History, Pantsov (History/Capital Univ.; The Bolsheviks and the Chinese Revolution, 1919-1927, 2000) and Levine construct an “up-to-date” take on the Chinese Communist Party and Mao’s rise in it as being essentially dictated by Stalin and financially supported by the Soviet Union through the 1950s. Stalin manipulated Mao to his own ends; only after Stalin’s death and Mao’s increasingly antagonistic relationship with Khrushchev did the Chinese pull away from the Soviet Union as part of an “emancipation of consciousness.” The authors’ detail is minute and the characters proliferate mind-bendingly, especially in the careful reconstruction of Mao’s rise from rube and community organizer to national leader. Pantsov and Levine depict Mao with all his conflicting facets, from the early bookworm and idealist who initially scorned the “stupidity” of the masses, to becoming the party’s self-made prophet on the agrarian question, espousing the proletarian confiscation of land from the landlords. He was a man of enormous energy and capacity for love who was nonetheless hardened by the intraparty struggle against Chiang Kai-shek; he was also a utopian socialist who embarked on the modernization scheme of the Great Leap Forward in 1957 after a stimulating trip to Moscow. The great famine that ensued did not dampen Mao’s enthusiasm for revolutionary incentives, as played out tragically in the Red Guards’ devastation, and his “irrepressible lust for violence” has been largely forgiven by history because he consolidated China’s “national liberation.”

The Great Helmsman fully fleshed, still complicated and ever provocative.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-5447-9

Page Count: 736

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

Not for all readers, but Gorra’s approach will appeal to scholars, fans of the James family, and lovers of important novels...

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PORTRAIT OF A NOVEL

HENRY JAMES AND THE MAKING OF AN AMERICAN MASTERPIECE

Gorra (English/Smith Coll.; The Bells in Their Silence: Travels Through Germany, 2004, etc.) blends a focused biography of Henry James (1843–1916) with the story of his composition of The Portrait of a Lady (1881).

Throughout this work of astonishing scholarship, Gorra directs our attention to the quotidian life of James (and his remarkable family), his composition of the novel (which first appeared in serial installments in the Atlantic here and Macmillan’s Magazine in England), the significance of the events and characters in the story, and the influence of the novel on the subsequent fiction of James and others. Gorra also blends accounts of his own visits to important James sites in America, England and elsewhere. After a brief introduction to James’ life and to the novel, the author establishes his narrative pattern: chapters about the novel followed by others about James’ activities, family, friends, typists, contemporaries and so on. We read about his relationships with Atlantic editor William Dean Howells and with James’ gifted brother William. We follow his travels to England, France and Italy; we visit his final home in Rye; we view his intimate relationships with Constance Fenimore Woolson and others—including Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (Gorra does not accept the suggestion that Holmes and James had sexual encounters). We also see him, near the end of his life, visiting and comforting hospitalized World War I soldiers. But most of Gorra’s book examines Portrait—its creation, significance and revision (for the New York Edition in 1908). The author argues that chapter 42 of the novel, Isabel Archer’s reverie, is “one of James’ greatest achievements and a turning point in the history of the novel.”

Not for all readers, but Gorra’s approach will appeal to scholars, fans of the James family, and lovers of important novels and those who create them.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-87140-408-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2012

Still, the best portrait of Cronkite—that legendary journalist, certainly worthy of a big biography—that we have.

CRONKITE

Oversized biography of the larger-than-life newscaster, still a byword for a TV anchor, at least among viewers of a certain age.

As Vanity Fair contributor Brinkley (History/Rice Univ.; The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, 2009, etc.) writes, Walter Cronkite (1916–2009) was an indifferent student but a constant reader, attuned in childhood to what we would call the news, if at a different pace and intensity. It wasn’t an easy childhood: Cronkite’s father was an alcoholic, his parents divorced when he was young, and he grew up in the alien confines of coastal Texas, far from his prized Missouri. Nonetheless, he more than rose to the occasion, learning how to speak in a “radio voice” while still a teenager: “In true Lowell Thomas fashion, he interviewed anyone who would stand still and speak into whatever faux microphone prop he held.” He also apprenticed at the Houston Post, learning how to write a lean news story, and he had a forward-looking habit, sensing that wire stories were going to be replaced by man-on-the-ground coverage and that television, when it arrived, would surpass radio and other media. Brinkley is very good on Cronkite’s early distinction as a war correspondent in World War II under the influence of Edward R. Murrow. The author also gives Cronkite credit for being out ahead on certain stories, such as gay rights, the collapse of the Vietnam War and Watergate. He hints that Cronkite could be a touch prickly and sensitive—for one thing, about his lack of a college degree—but the author doesn’t press that far enough; one wants to know more about the enmity between Cronkite and Dan Rather, for example. For all the book’s weight, Brinkley, a dutiful and plodding writer, skimps here and there where he should not. The great correspondent and Cronkite-colleague Richard Threlkeld, for instance, gets but a single passing mention.

Still, the best portrait of Cronkite—that legendary journalist, certainly worthy of a big biography—that we have.

Pub Date: May 29, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-137426-5

Page Count: 832

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

Taking on a looming subject with intelligence and wit, Simmons manages to take the full measure of her man.

I'M YOUR MAN

THE LIFE OF LEONARD COHEN

An elegant, deeply researched life of the Canadian musician, poet and novelist.

With the resurgence of his career in the last decade, Cohen has been the subject of several new books, but it’s hard to imagine a better one than that of veteran music journalist Simmons (Neil Young: Reflections in Broken Glass, 2001, etc.). Born into a wealthy family of Jewish clothiers in Montreal, Cohen became one of Canada’s leading young literary lights with his early volumes of poetry and two well-received novels. He was already in his early 30s when he became a professional musician, after folk singer Judy Collins brought his songs to the world’s attention with her cover of “Suzanne.” Beginning in 1968, the globe-trotting, seemingly driven Cohen recorded a series of wise, dark albums that made him a star in Europe and brought him a far smaller but devoted following in the United States. He was enjoying renewed commercial and critical success in the mid-’90s when he withdrew into a Zen Buddhist monastery for more than five years. Upon his return to the world, he discovered that his longtime manager had embezzled millions; his unexpected penury prompted a wildly received 2008-2009 world tour that grossed $50 million and finally lifted him, as a septuagenarian, into the top echelon of international stars. Simmons follows every step of Cohen’s peripatetic artistic journey with acuity and no small measure of poetic observation. Drawing on interviews with Cohen and most of his important collaborators and paramours, she paints a deep portrait of a man seemingly torn between the spiritual and the worldly, deeply gifted but plagued by abiding depression and frequent self-doubt. Simmons offers an abundance of revealing stories about Cohen’s ardent womanizing, restless pursuit of enlightenment through sex, drugs, alcohol and spirituality, and sometimes excruciating artistic perfectionism. He emerges in his full complexity, brimming with both seemingly boundless brilliance and abundant human imperfection.

Taking on a looming subject with intelligence and wit, Simmons manages to take the full measure of her man.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-199498-2

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

A stellar biography of a complicated subject: Max's portrait skillfully unites Wallace’s external and internal lives.

EVERY LOVE STORY IS A GHOST STORY

A LIFE OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE

A thorough, understated account of the life of the pioneering author and how his addictions and fiction intersected.

Before his suicide, David Foster Wallace (1962–2008) pursued a host of paths as a writer. He was a showy ironist who drafted his Pynchon-esque debut novel, The Broom of the System (1987), while an undergraduate student at Amherst. He was a bright philosopher who wrote at length on Wittgenstein and infinity. He was a skilled (if not always factually rigorous) reporter who covered state fairs, politics and tennis with intelligence and style. But the biggest inspiration for his admirers was the compassion, wit and understanding of our media-soaked age that emerged in later novels like Infinite Jest (1996) and the posthumous The Pale King (2011). In this appropriately contemplative biography, New Yorker staff writer Max (The Family that Couldn't Sleep: A Medical Mystery, 2006) avoids overdramatizing climactic events in Wallace’s life, though it had plenty of emotional turmoil. Wallace was hospitalized for addiction and depression multiple times, and even at his steadiest he could collapse into rages. (Max chronicles in detail Wallace’s disastrous relationship with memoirist Mary Karr.) Max emphasizes the psychological tug of war within Wallace, who struggled to reconcile his suspicion of mass media with a habitual gulping down of hours of it; his high-minded pursuit of art with a need for emotional and sexual attention; and his resolve to blend entertaining fiction and dense philosophy. Max draws upon the rich trove of Wallace’s papers (he was an inveterate letter writer) and dozens of interviews, from Alcoholics Anonymous sponsors to literary contemporaries like Jonathan Franzen. Wallace’s family relationships get relatively short shrift, but it’s clear that under the veneer of a successful, brainy novelist was an eager-to-please native Midwesterner.

A stellar biography of a complicated subject: Max's portrait skillfully unites Wallace’s external and internal lives.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02592-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

A triumph of scholarship.

THE VOICE IS ALL

THE LONELY VICTORY OF JACK KEROUAC

An exemplary biography of the Beat icon and his development as a writer.

With unprecedented access to the New York Public Library’s extensive Berg Collection of Kerouac artifacts, Johnson (Missing Men, 2005, etc.) tells the familiar story of the rise of the reluctant “king of the Beats” through the unfamiliar lens of his notebooks, manuscripts and correspondence with family, friends, lovers, editors and writers. The collection was unavailable to scholars for three decades, and access to it is still tightly controlled by the Kerouac estate. Johnson uses her opportunity as a pioneer in this new era of Kerouac scholarship to turn a laser-sharp focus on Kerouac’s evolving ideas about language, fiction vs. truth and the role of the writer in his time. She ends her chronology in late 1951, as Kerouac found the voice and method he’d employ for the rest of his brief career while seeking a publisher for On the Road and working on the novel he considered his masterpiece, Visions of Cody. While still detailing the chaotic and occasionally tragic events of the writer’s life—from mill-town football hero to multiply divorced dipsomaniac mama’s boy/cult idol—Johnson’s focus allows her to trace a trajectory of success rather than follow his painfully familiar decline into alcoholism and premature death. “[T]o me,” she writes, “what is important is Jack’s triumph in arriving at the voice that matched his vision.” Of perhaps most interest was her discovery of just how important his French-Canadian heritage was to Kerouac’s sense of identity. He considered its earthy patois his native language and seems to have translated his thoughts from it into the muscular English with which he’s associated. There’s plenty of life in these pages to fascinate casual readers, and Johnson is a sensitive but admirably objective biographer.

A triumph of scholarship.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02510-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Aug. 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

It did not, and nothing came easy to any of the Kennedys, that tragic clan, who continue to fascinate. Exhaustive yet...

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THE PATRIARCH

THE REMARKABLE LIFE AND TURBULENT TIMES OF JOSEPH P. KENNEDY

Sprawling, highly readable biography of the dynast and larger-than-life figure whose presence still haunts American political life.

Working from his subject’s extensive archives, Nasaw (Andrew Carnegie, 2006, etc.) pieces together a sometimes-sympathetic, sometimes-critical view of Joseph P. Kennedy (1888–1969), father of John F. Kennedy and most definitely a man of parts. Born into wealth, he learned the ropes in the banking business before heading to Hollywood to try his hand at filmmaking. In the last pursuit, he charted only some successes, but he made great use of the perks of the job in bedding starlets, notably Gloria Swanson. Kennedy left Hollywood to return to finance, moving among several palatial homes in Florida, New York and Massachusetts and building a massive fortune thanks to what Nasaw calls “an almost uncanny knack for being in the right stock.” His children, including future politicians John, Robert and Edward, grew up surrounded by opulence, though the patriarch took care that they not become spoiled by too much too soon. Yet, by Nasaw’s account, when the Depression hit and reduced his fortune along with everyone else’s, Kennedy’s mood seemed to turn, and he spent the rest of his long life in brooding and contrarian turns, courting plenty of trouble along the way. Accused, as Nasaw notes, of various crimes and moral failings, ranging from bootlegging to anti-Semitism, Kennedy nevertheless instilled in his family a sense of dedication to service and of the necessity of hard work. As he writes, Jack Kennedy recognized that despite the advantages of wealth, he had obstacles to overcome that were at least due in part to his father: “If I were governor of a large state, Protestant and 55,” he said, “I could sit back and let it come to me.”

It did not, and nothing came easy to any of the Kennedys, that tragic clan, who continue to fascinate. Exhaustive yet accessible, Nasaw’s book illuminates.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-1594203763

Page Count: 896

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 25, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

A poignant, galvanizing, meaningful tribute.

ON A FARTHER SHORE

THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF RACHEL CARSON

Fifty years after the publication of Rachel Carson's seminal Silent Spring, Pulitzer Prize nominee Souder (Under a Wild Sky: John James Audubon and the Making of The Birds of America, 2004, etc.) examines the legacy and lasting impact of Carson's passionate environmental work.

“By 1959, some eighty million pounds of DDT were being used annually in the United States,” writes the author. Already a vocal conservationist, Carson had long suspected that pesticide use was accumulatively detrimental to animals and humans. This holistic view of the living world was startling and prescient, and it struck a chord with an American public that was already spooked by the similar dangers of fallout from nuclear testing. Carson grappled with the literary celebrity that accompanied Silent Spring, yearning to maintain a quiet, private life yet forced to answer the powerful opposition she faced from the chemical industry. Souder writes beautifully about this dichotomy, revealing intimate details about the writing process and her relationships with editors, fans, family and her beloved companion Dorothy Freeman, with whom she spent some of her happiest moments while on the Maine coastline. The author also conducted ample contextual research, providing readers with a clear sense of the political, economic and social ramifications of DDT use and the threat of atomic warfare and how Carson's writing played a vital role in progressive public policy for decades after her death. One wonders how the past 50 years might have been different were Carson alive to write about global warming, fossil fuels, the erosion of coral reefs and other similar matters. That her views on DDT were eventually proven correct is just a small part of her legacy as an environmental pioneer but also a defining instance of citizen activism.

A poignant, galvanizing, meaningful tribute.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-46220-6

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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THE PASSAGE OF POWER

THE YEARS OF LYNDON JOHNSON

The fourth volume of one of the most anticipated English-language biographies of the past 30 years.

This installment covers Johnson’s vice presidency under John F. Kennedy, his ascension to the presidency after the Kennedy assassination and his initial nine months as president. As in the earlier volumes, Caro (Master of the Senate, 2002, etc.) combines a compelling narrative and insightful authorial judgments into a lengthy volume that will thrill those who care about American politics, the foundations of power, or both. Even Johnson acolytes, sometimes critical about portions of the earlier volumes, are less likely to complain about their hero's portrayal here. While documenting the progression of his subject's character flaws, Caro admires Johnson's adroit adaptability. Though he chafed as vice president after giving up the leadership of the U.S. Senate, Johnson seems to have developed a grudging admiration for JFK. However, Johnson and Robert Kennedy could not put aside the animosity that had taken root on Capitol Hill. When Robert became not only his brother's confidant but also his attorney general, Johnson resented the appointment. Caro documents the feuds between them and vividly relates how the warfare between the two men continued after JFK's assassination. On a more upbeat track, the author explains how Johnson's lifelong commitment to helping the dispossessed led to passage of unprecedented civil-rights legislation. The evidence seems strong that JFK could not have engineered passage of much of the civil-rights legislation because he lacked Johnson's influence over members of Congress. The fifth volume is in the works, and it is expected to cover Johnson's election to the White House and his full term, with the conduct of the Vietnam War ceaselessly dogging him. The author writes that the next book "will be very different in tone." Before beginning the Johnson biography, Caro published a life of Robert Moses, The Power Broker (1974), a book many scholars consider a watershed in contemporary biography. The Johnson project deserves equal praise.

 

Pub Date: May 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-679-40507-8

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 8, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

An engrossing biography of a woman worthy of iconic status.

DEARIE

THE REMARKABLE LIFE OF JULIA CHILD

Published to coincide with what would have been her 100th birthday, this biography of the iconic Julia Child (1912–2004) does full justice to its complex subject.

Spitz (The Saucier's Apprentice: One Long Strange Trip through the Great Cooking Schools of Europe, 2008, etc.) describes the “irrepressible reality” of Child, who became a TV superstar, effectively launching “public television into the spotlight, big-time.” In his view, the 1961 publication of her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, came at just the right time. Americans were tired of the preceding “era of dreary button-down conformity,” and they were ready for a gastronomic revolution. Frustrated housewives reading Betty Friedan's groundbreaking The Feminine Mystique welcomed the larger-than-life personality and showmanship of this tall, outspoken woman as she demonstrated the intricacies of French recipes with what appeared to be blithe disregard when things went wrong. Child reveled in her celebrity status, but this was only one aspect of her complex personality. Like most women of her generation born in traditional upper-middle-class homes, she was not expected to have an independent career. A wartime stint in the OSS was liberating. Not only did she hold a highly responsible job, but she met and married career diplomat Paul Child, moving with him to France. Popular accounts of her life, including the book and film Julie and Julia, describe her enchantment with French haute cuisine and her determination to master the skills of a top chef. Spitz captures another side of her complex personality: her fierce diligence in mastering the science as well as the art of cooking through detailed experimentation and her concern to translate the preparation of complex French recipes for readers in America—an attention to detail that carried over to her TV programs.

An engrossing biography of a woman worthy of iconic status.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-27222-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

An outstanding biography that reveals an overlooked steeliness at Jefferson’s core that accounts for so much of his...

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THOMAS JEFFERSON

THE ART OF POWER

A Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer lauds the political genius of Thomas Jefferson.

As a citizen, Jefferson became a central leader in America’s rebellion against the world’s greatest empire. As a diplomat, he mentored a similar revolution in France. As president, he doubled the size of the United States without firing a shot and established a political dynasty that stretched over four decades. These achievements and many more, Time contributing editor Meacham (American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, 2008, etc.) smoothly argues, would have been impossible if the endlessly complicated Jefferson were merely the dreamy, impractical philosopher king his detractors imagined. His portrait of our most enigmatic president intentionally highlights career episodes that illustrate Jefferson’s penchant for balancing competing interests and for compromises that, nevertheless, advanced his own political goals. Born to the Virginia aristocracy, Jefferson effectively disguised his drive for control, charming foes and enlisting allies to conduct battles on his behalf. As he accumulated power, he exercised it ruthlessly, often deviating from the ideals of limited government he had previously—and eternally—articulated. Stronger than any commitment to abstract principle, the impulse for pragmatic political maneuvering, Meacham insists, always predominated. With an insatiable hunger for information, a talent for improvisation and a desire for greatness, Jefferson coolly calculated political realities—see his midlife abandonment of any effort to abolish slavery—and, more frequently than not, emerged from struggles with opponents routed and his own authority enhanced. Through his thinking and writing, we’ve long appreciated Jefferson’s lifelong devotion to “the survival and success of democratic republicanism in America,” but Meacham’s treatment reminds us of the flesh-and-blood politician, the man of action who masterfully bent the real world in the direction of his ideals.

An outstanding biography that reveals an overlooked steeliness at Jefferson’s core that accounts for so much of his political success.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6766-4

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

Essential for Manchester collectors, WWII buffs and Churchill completists.

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THE LAST LION

WINSTON SPENCER CHURCHILL: DEFENDER OF THE REALM, 1940-1965

A (very) posthumous study of the late, great British leader by the late, great popular historian, aided by journalist Reid.

Just before Manchester (A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance—Portrait of an Age, 1992, etc.) died in 2004, he handed over the task of finishing his Churchill biography to Reid, who retains Manchester’s habit of writing at extreme length, and it’s clear where Manchester left off in his own primary research: Though the book spans the years 1940 to Churchill’s death in 1965, roughly only one-tenth of it covers the “lion’s” last 20 years, while the vast bulk is given over—fittingly enough—to Churchill’s leadership as British prime minister during World War II. The documentation would not pass a professional historian’s muster, but Manchester never wrote for historians, and general readers, as always, will be taken by his boundless abilities as a storyteller. Manchester also saw patterns that may not have been apparent to most other writers. Whereas Hitler was famously known as an artist manqué, Churchill “came at every issue with a painter’s eye,” whether developing a battle plan for the invasion of Italy or “parsing geopolitical matters such as continental hegemony.” The great-man theory of history, too, may be passé in academia, but Manchester/Reid gladly subscribe to it, with an account of the friendship of Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt (and rivalry with Josef Stalin) that is both searching and unsentimental. The authors clearly admire Churchill, for reasons that they make evident throughout, but there is little in the way of hero worship. Indeed, their critical account of Operation Torch—which Dwight Eisenhower exaggeratedly called “the blackest day in history”—is thorough and convincing, and it does not reflect well on the cigar-chomping PM. The manuscript is replete with Manchester’s journalistic flourishes, some of which cross into cliché, and it’s as much a monument to the author as to its subject.

Essential for Manchester collectors, WWII buffs and Churchill completists.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-316-54770-3

Page Count: 1232

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

Even though we know the answers to most of the questions—Will our heroine win the coveted role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl?...

HELLO, GORGEOUS

BECOMING BARBRA STREISAND

Hollywood chronicler Mann (How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood, 2010, etc.) divulges the blood, sweat and tears that propelled a diva’s rise to stardom.

Barbra Streisand is such a cultural institution that it sometimes seems as if she sprang fully grown from the head of the entertainment industry. Not so, argues the author in this surprisingly suspenseful and masterfully paced biography. Covering the fundamental years from 1960 to 1964, he shines the spotlight on an awkward yet ambitious teenage girl who aspired to play grand theatrical roles. To Streisand, singing came so easily that she didn’t regard it as work, and she practically had to be pushed into appearing at Greenwich Village nightclubs. When a friend suggested that she approach singing a song as if acting a part in a play, however, she made a creative breakthrough that led to appearances on TV talk shows, a Broadway role in I Can Get It for You Wholesale and a recording contract at Columbia Records. Streisand didn’t accomplish this alone, and Mann appropriately gives credit to the agents, accompanists, directors and mentors who brought her idiosyncratic style to a generation hungry for new idols. He also delves into her paradoxical mixture of self-confidence and -doubt, disclosing that she privately felt insecure about her looks despite publicly flaunting an outlandish flair for fashion and a loopy sense of humor. Mann structures the book by seasons, further dividing these into a series of vignettes that read like scenes from a novel peopled with extraordinary characters.

Even though we know the answers to most of the questions—Will our heroine win the coveted role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl? Will she live happily ever after with her Prince Charming, Elliott Gould?—this book makes getting to them a treat.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-547-36892-4

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

A superb biography of a fiercely driven explorer who traveled across the last inaccessible areas on earth before technical...

THE LAST VIKING

THE LIFE OF ROALD AMUNDSEN

Bown (1494: How a Family Feud in Medieval Spain Divided the World in Half, 2012, etc.) delivers an intensely researched, thoroughly enjoyable life of one of history’s best explorers.

As the author demonstrates, Roald Amundsen (1872–1928) was certainly the most skilled polar explorer. Obsessed with adventure from boyhood, the teenage Amundsen led companions on exhausting attempts to cross the mountains of his native Norway during winter. He joined the 1897 Belgian Antarctic expedition, receiving a painful education on the consequences of poor planning. In 1903, he outfitted a fishing boat with a crew of six and crossed the Northwest Passage from Greenland to Alaska. Moored for two years in the Arctic, he eagerly learned from the local Inuit. The lessons he learned—ignorance of which killed many polar explorers—included: Animal-skin clothes trump wool, and transportation requires dogs and skis. The crossing gave Amundsen international celebrity, making it easier to finance an expedition to the North Pole. When both Robert Peary and Frederick Cook claimed to have reached it (a controversy that persists), Amundsen aimed for the South Pole, announcing the decision before Robert Falcon Scott announced his expedition. Superbly organized and supplied, Amundsen’s expert skiers and dog handlers won the race in 1911 and survived, while Scott’s less efficient team died. After World War I, Amundsen failed to reach the North Pole by plane but succeeded by dirigible, finally disappearing in 1928 while flying to rescue another expedition.

A superb biography of a fiercely driven explorer who traveled across the last inaccessible areas on earth before technical advances made the journey much easier.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2012

ISBN: 978-0306820670

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Merloyd Lawrence/Da Capo

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

Thankfully, King’s book is an impressive work of restoration—the author helps readers see this painting for the first time.

LEONARDO AND THE LAST SUPPER

An absorbing study of a disappearing masterpiece.

King (Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven, 2010, etc.) tells the story of the most famous painting no one has really seen, at least since the 16th century: The Last Supper, the masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci that began deteriorating almost as soon as the paint dried. King places the painting in its political, social and artistic context, describing both the meaning of da Vinci’s work and the violent 15th-century Italian world that spawned it. Proof that art, like life, sometimes happens when you’re making other plans, da Vinci’s greatest painting came about because his dream project—an enormous horse-and-rider sculpture honoring the father of his patron, Lodovico Sforza—was scuttled when Italy needed the bronze for war. For the next two years, da Vinci painted the scene of Jesus and his disciples on the wall of a monastery. In its masterful use of perspective, complementary color and achievement of lifelike detail, it marked a turning point for Western art. King plumbs the painting’s religious, secular, psychological and political meanings, registered in the facial expressions and hand positions, the significance of the food on the table and, most fascinatingly, the salt spilled by the betraying Judas. (And no, Dan Brown, Mary Magdalene is not in it.) Alas, da Vinci’s ignorance of the fresco technique meant the pigments did not bond to the plaster, and the paint would begin flaking within years. As early as 1582, it was described as being “in a state of total ruin.”

Thankfully, King’s book is an impressive work of restoration—the author helps readers see this painting for the first time.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8027-1705-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: July 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

A vital, essential addition to the shelf of great books about New Orleans.

ERNIE K-DOE

THE R&B EMPEROR OF NEW ORLEANS

A vital, loving chronicle of the colorful life and frequently hard times of the New Orleans R&B singer and self-styled “Emperor of the Universe.”

To many, Ernie K-Doe (1936–2001) is a one-hit wonder: His evergreen oldie “Mother-in-Law” topped the pop and R&B charts in 1961. But to New Orleans journalist Sandmel (Zydeco!, 1999), the vocalist was much more, and this smart, funny and richly designed and illustrated book makes a rousing case for the musician as a quintessential Crescent City figure. Born Ernest Kador Jr. in the city’s Charity Hospital, K-Doe authored his hit single and other lively R&B tracks for local Minit Records, but a follow-up smash proved elusive. While he maintained a hometown profile as a hardworking performer in the James Brown/Joe Tex mold, K-Doe was best known for years as a DJ on New Orleans’ WWOZ. There, his lunatic manner, unique lexicon and stream-of-consciousness raps cemented his status as a NoLa institution. Megalomania, alcoholism and a propensity for professional bridge-burning left him virtually homeless by the late ’80s. However, he enjoyed a second act in the ’90s after he opened his famed Mother-in-Law Lounge with wife Antoinette, who restored him personally and professionally. The club, which often doubled as the K-Does’ living room, attracted a crowd of tourists, oddball locals, young musicians and journalists (including the New York Times’ Neil Strauss, who had a notorious set-to with the eccentric proprietors while on assignment in 2000). K-Doe’s saga didn’t end with his death: He maintained a bizarre afterlife at the Mother-in-Law and around town in the form of a life-sized sculpture created by local artist Jason Poirier. Though severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina, the lounge was restored and run by Antoinette until her death in 2009. Despite a multitude of personal faults, K-Doe emerges here as hilarious, complex and indomitable—a larger-than-life character altogether worthy of inclusion in the pantheon of his city’s oversized musical titans.

A vital, essential addition to the shelf of great books about New Orleans.

Pub Date: April 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-917860-60-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: The Historic New Orleans Collection

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

A rich record of the vicissitudes of publishing during an inimitable time and place.

THE TENDER HOUR OF TWILIGHT

PARIS IN THE '50S, NEW YORK IN THE '60S: A MEMOIR OF PUBLISHING'S GOLDEN AGE

A dense, detailed, priceless eyewitness account of the making of a literary generation between Paris and New York.

A native of Pennsylvania, a Navy man, erstwhile teacher and AFS fellow living in Paris in the early 1950s on a shoestring, Seaver fell in with a group of expat writers and intellectuals turning out the English-language literary magazine Merlin, published by Alex Trocchi and Patrick Bowles. Seaver, who spoke French fluently and was in the process of completing graduate studies on James Joyce, had become acquainted with the writing of Samuel Beckett, also living in Paris but then fairly unknown although he had been publishing since the late ’20s. Seaver’s essay about Beckett and subsequent translations of his short work in the magazine helped spread the word about the brilliant but reclusive bilingual author, whom Seaver finally befriended and depicts here in wonderfully explicit passages. Other legendary figures Seaver encountered included the towering Jean-Paul Sartre, who graciously offered pieces from his own Les Temps modernes and urged him to publish Jean Genet. Gradually the magazine ventured into publishing books, inviting Olympia Press publisher Maurice Girodias to act as manager debuting with Beckett’s Watt. Marriage to young French violinist Jeanette—later his co-editor at Arcade Publishing and the editor of this posthumously published work—and two subsequent years in the Navy Reserves prompted Seaver to relocate to New York, where he segued naturally into the managing editor role at Grove Press, run by Barney Rosset, the English publisher of Beckett and many of the same incendiary authors Seaver had championed in France. Indeed, the press would make its name fighting pornography charges in the ’60s against D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (and Capricorn) and William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, and valiantly standing by Last Exit to Brooklyn and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, among many others.

A rich record of the vicissitudes of publishing during an inimitable time and place.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-374-27378-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

Alternately sad, defiant, carefree and understated, this journey into a world hidden in plain sight is well worth taking.

A FREE MAN

A TRUE STORY OF LIFE AND DEATH IN DELHI

A journalist ingratiates himself with a band of day laborers on the mean streets of Delhi, India.

In 2005, Sethi, a young reporter eager to undertake an investigative study of Delhi’s working poor, befriended vagabond Mohammed Ashraf and his crew. Six years later, he found himself still involved in Ashraf’s life, providing him with both emotional and financial support. Although Sethi initially expressed frustration with Ashraf’s reluctance to provide a linear timeline of his life story, he soon fell under the spell cast by this streetwise raconteur. Like many others in his circle, Ashraf had run away to Delhi to escape a tempestuous home life. During times when he could find work, he painted houses and did other manual odd jobs; during times when there was either no work to be had or no work that he wanted, he drank heavily, spun tall tales and fantasized about opening his own business. Sethi excels at empathetically depicting what could come across as a miserable existence: he allows Ashraf and the other mazdoors (laborers) to share their stories without either judging them or pretending to be one of them. For all the injustices that these men face every day, the book offers ample humor. In the most poignant chapters, Sethi accompanies Ashraf’s friend to a tuberculosis hospital. The bureaucracy and despair of such an institution becomes painfully clear when Sethi portrays the panel of admitting doctors, all wearing masks and looking away from their patients.

Alternately sad, defiant, carefree and understated, this journey into a world hidden in plain sight is well worth taking.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-393-08890-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

Will the partnership prevail? Stay tuned, but hope for the best—for, they warn, “[i]f urgent steps are not taken to rein in...

THE PARTNERSHIP

FIVE COLD WARRIORS AND THEIR QUEST TO BAN THE BOMB

Timely portrait of an alliance, seemingly unlikely, of former Cold War mavens now committed to nuclear disarmament.

Only last month did the news come that China’s nuclear arsenal is likely much more extensive than anyone had guessed. Russia is a constant worry, not least because its conventional forces are so reduced that the temptation is ever greater to rely on nuclear solutions in the event of an attack, real or perceived. But the heroes of former New York Times reporter and editor Taubman’s (Secret Empire: Eisenhower, the CIA, and the Hidden Story of America's Space Espionage, 2003, etc.) tale are less worried about these major players on the world stage than about the disaffected, shadowy figures from the margins—al-Qaida, the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps even the narcotraficantes. At the center of the group is nuclear strategist Sidney Drell; around him are Sam Nunn, at one time “the Senate’s leading authority on Cold War military matters”; George Shultz and William Perry. Closing up the five—and this may give Christopher Hitchens fits—is Henry Kissinger, that dark master of realpolitik, who more than any of the other figures maneuvered and positioned himself for best advantage when, early in 2011, the quintet signed off on a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece calling for the effective abolition of nuclear arms. Kissinger’s position, it seems, is still nuanced—read: subject to revocation—but the mere fact that these five quite different players, whose names show up in the indexes of every history of the Cold War, came together on the point was significant enough. However, as Taubman continues, there’s more to the story. The great value of his book is twofold. First, the author gives a lucid summary of the long, shifting struggle between East and West and the contributions each of the five made to it, for better or worse. (See Robert De Niro’s film The Good Shepherd for worse.) Second, Taubman shows how influential these old Cold Warriors have been in shaping the policy of the present administration and its “ambitious nuclear agenda,” providing a useful look at the way in which such decisions are made and shaped.

Will the partnership prevail? Stay tuned, but hope for the best—for, they warn, “[i]f urgent steps are not taken to rein in nuclear weapons...a catastrophic attack is virtually inevitable.”

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-174400-6

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

A thoroughly engaging examination of the irreversible changes emerging from a year when the nation’s very survival remained...

RISE TO GREATNESS

ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND AMERICA'S MOST PERILOUS YEAR

A historian zeroes in on the year Lincoln found his footing as president and set the country on a bold new course.

“Never has there been a moment in history,” said one U.S. senator, “when so much was all compressed into a little time.” Von Drehle (Triangle: The Fire that Changed America, 2003, etc.) charts the tumultuous year, month by month, to demonstrate how the momentous events of 1862 unfolded. Amid the turmoil of Civil War, the largely Republican Congress passed legislation with far-reaching postwar consequences: funding a transcontinental railroad and land-grant colleges, strengthening the Army and Navy, establishing a Bureau of Agriculture, adopting new fiscal and monetary policies, outlawing slavery in the District of Columbia, instituting a draft and authorizing the enlistment of blacks in the military. For all these enterprises to flourish, though, the war still had to be won. With rumors of domestic conspiracies and coups swirling and with the allegiance of border states still tenuous, the Civil War turned savage and hard with unprecedented slaughters at places like Shiloh, Antietam and Fredericksburg. At the center of the storm, Von Drehle deftly places Lincoln, gradually mastering the art of war, ultimately firing the too-timid McClellan, solemnly accepting and desperately searching for a general to apply the cruel arithmetic necessary for Union victory. In 1862, Lincoln suffered the loss of a son and the near loss of another, and he watched his grieving wife become unmoored. All the while, the president maneuvered around Taney’s Supreme Court, quelled an insurrection in the Republican caucus, mediated the squabbling in his Cabinet, held off the Democrats in the midterm elections and prepared the ground for the Emancipation Proclamation. Two years of bitter fighting remained, but Confederate armies would never again be as formidable. Meanwhile, under Lincoln’s steady hand, the Union put in place the political and military machinery that would win the war and assure a future few imagined before Fort Sumter.

A thoroughly engaging examination of the irreversible changes emerging from a year when the nation’s very survival remained in doubt.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8050-7970-8

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

Truly remarkable, composed with all the precision and insight you expect from a law professor, marked by all the elegance...

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LINCOLN'S CODE

THE LAWS OF WAR IN AMERICAN HISTORY

Artfully mixing law, history and sharp analysis, a Yale law professor examines the persistent struggle to reconcile justice and humanitarianism in America’s conduct of war.

Issued to the Union Army in 1863, Lincoln’s codes of war went out under the president’s name, but the 157 articles were drafted principally by Francis Lieber, a Columbia College political scientist and historian. Lieber’s codification of the laws and usages of war formally enshrined a number of humanitarian limits to war’s barbarity. However, by authorizing various uses of force “indispensable for securing the ends of war,” the rules unleashed a new ferocity, replacing Enlightenment-style, “gentlemanly” armed conflict with new imperatives that recognized the legitimacy of the war’s aims. Witt (Patriots and Cosmopolitans: Hidden Histories of American Law, 2007, etc.) attributes this new, “tough humanitarianism” to Lincoln’s determination to abandon the “rose-water tactics” of the early war in favor of new measures that would vindicate the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation. Though he focuses primarily on the Civil War and its aftermath, Witt provides a rich historical context, judiciously selecting diplomatic and wartime episodes, from the French and Indian War to the Philippine Insurrection, to explain this lasting transformation of the old rules into something military historians now recognize as the “American way of war.” Topics range from the concept of neutrality to the oftentimes difficult distinctions between soldiers and civilians, to the indiscriminate use of military commissions, all resonant with today’s headlines. The author vivifies commentary from philosophers and jurists, decisions from judges and maneuvering by statesmen with sharp vignettes of battlefield commanders, who were obliged to grapple with the constraints law imposes on war.

Truly remarkable, composed with all the precision and insight you expect from a law professor, marked by all the elegance and sparkling readability you don’t.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4165-6983-1

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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