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 Throughout their long and turbulent marriage, she and Tolstoy corresponded through ardent letters; she also penned an unpublished memoir.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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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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