An evenhanded, sympathetic biography of a defiant thinker.



A perceptive life of the controversial political philosopher.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) became “an icon almost overnight” after the publication of The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), a book that former Esquire fiction editor Heller (Ayn Rand and the World She Made, 2009) praises as “the most passionate, complex, moving, and influential account ever written of the clash between civilization and official barbarism in twentieth-century Europe.” It also was Arendt’s first book in English, the language she learned with some difficulty after arriving in New York in 1941, a refugee from Germany and Vichy France. By the 1950s, Arendt established a reputation as an outspoken political theorist in essays on anti-Semitism, German existentialism, and minority rights that appeared in prestigious publications that included Contemporary Jewish RecordPartisan ReviewCommentary, and the Nation. New York intellectuals were smitten by the woman Alfred Kazin called “a blazing Jew.” Arendt seemed the perfect writer to report for the New Yorker on the trial, in 1963, of Nazi SS Officer Adolf Eichmann, but her articles, followed by the book Eichmann in Jerusalem: The Banality of Evil, generated outrage. Friends, allies, and colleagues accused her of “moral deafness. Instead of damning Eichmann as the embodiment of evil, she portrayed him as a new “ ‘mass man,’ a universal, postindustrial, semi-Marxian type who was characteristically lonely, rootless, socially adrift, economically expendable, and susceptible to both nihilism and authoritarianism.” After her death, when her love affair with philosopher and Nazi party member Martin Heidegger became known, critics accused her of “Jewish ‘self-hatred.’ ” Heller judiciously places both scandals in the context of Arendt’s youth in Germany, where she felt exempt from anti-Semitic remarks directed mostly to Eastern European Jews; her education as a philosopher; her struggles with Zionism and her own Jewish identity; and her prolific writings on violence, truth, and political discourse.

An evenhanded, sympathetic biography of a defiant thinker.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-544-45619-8

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Amazon Publishing/New Harvest

Review Posted Online: May 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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

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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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