A sharp, compassionate literary biography.

SOPHIA TOLSTOY

A BIOGRAPHY

A welcome reassessment of the life of Sophia Tolstoy (1844–1919), the misunderstood wife of the renowned Russian author.

From the age of 18, when she married the much-older Leo Tolstoy, Sophia’s energy was wholly devoted to her husband, whom she had loved since childhood. She was the inspiration for many of his most accomplished literary characters, his “muse, assistant, and first reader.” She managed the household and raised 13 children, and she was his publisher and her family’s financial provider in later years. None of this was easy. Tolstoy was a man of strong opinions and a quick temper, and after the publication of War and Peace and Anna Karenina, he abruptly renounced all things material, including education, and turned against the church. This decision was not only unpractical in a household filled with children who were raised to love the arts and society, but also offensive to Sophia, whose faith was unshakable. Tolstoy remained moody and inconsistent for the rest of his life, turning from the kind and tender man she fell in love with to an incorrigible, sometimes cruel husband. As his beliefs and writings grew more political, a horde of devout “Tolstoyans” were a constant presence, creating a heartbreaking distance between the formerly inseparable couple. One particular disciple, Vladimir Chertkov, successfully turned Tolstoy against Sophia at the end of his life, and perpetrated a series of slanderous statements about her in the press and in later biographies of Tolstoy. “To portray Tolstoy as a martyr,” writes Popoff, “necessitated making Sophia evil.” As a result, for the last century Sophia’s name has been maligned, and her important contributions to Tolstoy’s legacy—especially her careful preparation of his archive—have been forgotten. Throughout their long and turbulent marriage, she and Tolstoy corresponded through ardent letters; she also penned an unpublished memoir. Popoff, a Russian journalist and scholar, uses her exclusive access to this material to compose a stunning new account of Sophia’s selfless life as a wife, mother, businesswoman, physician and intellectual, finally presenting this remarkable woman in a truthful light.

A sharp, compassionate literary biography.

Pub Date: May 11, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4165-9759-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 14, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2010

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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