Psychologist Elms wants to transform bestselling, warts-and- all biographers (``pathographers,'' as Joyce Carol Oates has labeled them) into sensitive, thoughtful chroniclers of textured lives. Sounds impractical—but Elms is mighty convincing. Part of Elms's (Psychology/Univ. of California, Davis; Personality in Politics, not reviewed) book is a how-to: The best biographers, he says, draw on many theories, not just Freudian psychoanalysis; rely on scientific method rather than speculation; look for psychological health as well as pathologies; and explain individuals in terms of their complexity, rather than reducing their motives to single sources such as greed or vanity. After explaining the principles of good biography, Elms practices what he has preached in brief psychobiographical studies of politicians (George Bush, Saddam Hussein, and Alexander Haig), science fiction/fantasy writers (including Isaac Asimov and L. Frank Baum), and psychological theorists (Freud, Jung, B.F. Skinner). The most convincing application concerns Jimmy Carter; with the benefit of 18 years' hindsight, Elms reevaluates the analysis he made nine days before the 1976 presidential election. He was especially prescient in evaluating Carter's faith: While other biographers worried about whether a born-again Christian would turn a secular government into a revival meeting, Elms understood that Carter should not be defined solely by his religious beliefs. Elms writes throughout with wit as well as insight. He comments that he had long been tempted to use Woody Allen as a subject for psychobiography—``except that the connections between his life and his work looked too simple...all up there on the screen.'' But, Elms notes, after Allen transformed his fantasies into reality by falling in love with Mia Farrow's teenage daughter, he appeared ``rather less simple than before. Or maybe he's so simple that his sudden simplemindedness itself requires an explanation.'' One of the best books ever written about biography, psycho- or otherwise.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-19-508287-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1994

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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