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Can a minor literary figure sustain interest throughout a major biography? In the case of Henry James Sr., the answer is yes. James is the ``blocked and monomaniacal hierophant'' who fathered perhaps America's most remarkable literary brood—Henry, William, and Alice. With equal parts psychological insight and mordant humor, Habegger (English/Univ. of Kansas; Henry James and the ``Woman Business,'' not reviewed) limns a fiercely paradoxical man constantly undermined by inner demons. Henry Sr. (181182) is little read today, but he was an intellectual when it first came to matter during the American Literary Renaissance. An eccentric philosopher, Henry Sr. had wealth and a gift for witty conversation that gave him access to many of the leading literary and intellectual men of his day, including Emerson, Carlyle, Thoreau, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, yet his bilious essays also mired him in endless controversy. Habegger traces much of his character to a childhood accident that deprived him of a leg and gave him, presumably, much to compensate for. He spent his youth in drunken idleness. He had a devastating nervous breakdown in his 30s and later embraced and then quarreled with one religion or philosophy after another, including Calvinism, Swedenborgism, and Fourierism (his advocacy of the latter's theories on sexual freedom caused a huge scandal). His family relations also bore the marks of the crackpot: He favored William, shuttled Henry Jr. from one school and instructor to another, left his two younger sons exposed to the Civil War service from which William and Henry were shielded, and, regarding women as a mere appendage to men, so smothered Alice's questing intellect that she became suicidal. How ironic that in middle age this egotist came to believe that selfhood was the principle root of evil. This deserves an honored place on the shelves with previous biographies of the James family by Leon Edel, R.W.B. Lewis, and Jean Strouse.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-374-15383-3

Page Count: 550

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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