A well-told story. (Illustrations)

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VILLARD

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF AN AMERICAN TITAN

A biography of a significant figure of the Gilded Age who is now generally ignored by historians of popular culture.

In 1853, young Heinrich Hilgard borrowed the surname of an acquaintance and left Bavaria with more hubris than prospects. He arrived in America as Henry Villard, possessing not a dollar and not a word of English. Promptly acquiring proficiency in the language, he practiced the emerging profession of political reporter, traveling with candidate Stephen A. Douglas in his campaign against Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil War, the new journalist became a pioneering war correspondent, and much of the book details Villard’s witness of battles from First Manassas to the Crater. After Appomattox, the young man went West (where he met a discomfited Horace Greeley) to report on the Pikes Peak gold rush. The evident need for western transportation brought Villard to the railroad business, thence to Wall Street. Eventually, he ran a newspaper, controlled the Northern Pacific Railroad, and helped Thomas Edison found General Electric. He was proud, frequently disdainful, and prejudiced. As his fortunes waxed and waned, he battled the most malevolent robber barons, yet his reputation remained relatively intact (muckraker Gustavus Meyers called him “a man of remarkable character and enterprise”). He knew the eminent personages of his time: Lincoln and Edison, Jay Gould and James Gordon Bennett, a squad of Union generals and William Lloyd Garrison (who became his esteemed father-in-law). Villard’s is a prototypical American story, worthy of Horatio Alger. Yet, if he is remembered at all today, it’s likely to be by New Yorkers who know the Madison Avenue palazzo he inhabited for just a few months, now straddled by the Helmsley Palace Hotel. De Borchgrave and her collaborator, a translator of German and Italian texts, rely heavily on their subject's memoirs, not always the most reliable of sources. In this case the resultant biography is quite credible and eminently creditable.

A well-told story. (Illustrations)

Pub Date: March 20, 2001

ISBN: 0-385-48662-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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

NIGHT

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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