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ANDREW JOHNSON

Gordon-Reed incorporates views by Johnson’s other biographers to create a fleshed-out, many-sided portrait.

A fair-minded, toned-down portrait of a deeply problematic president who could not rise to the country’s challenge after the Civil War.

While Abraham Lincoln is often considered our greatest president, the man who inherited the post after his assassination is often voted the worst. In this succinct study typical of the publisher’s informative, tidily composed series, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Gordon-Reed (History and Law/Harvard Univ.; The Hemingses of Monticello) carefully walks through the conflicts of Andrew Johnson’s career, culminating in his near impeachment in 1868. What compelled Johnson to block all measures of Reconstruction in the South and rehabilitate the very Southern planters and slave-owners who had earlier wrecked the Union? The author considers the measure of Johnson’s character, forged in the years of his family’s poverty after the early death of his father in Raleigh, N.C. Forced by his mother’s reduced circumstances into apprenticeship to a tailor, Johnson escaped and eventually set up shop as a tailor in Greenville, Tenn., married and grew somewhat prosperous, despite the lack of any formal education. It was during those early years, when he had “brushed up close to the nightmare of dependency and social degradation,” a state shared by the enslaved African Americans at the time, that Johnson developed his obsession with the wrongs of the poor whites at the hands of the planter class—and at the expense of blacks. A fiery debater, Johnson duly acceded to positions of alderman, mayor, congressman, governor and senator as a Tennessee Democrat. A staunch Unionist (despite his pro-slavery stance) and proponent of the Homestead Act, Johnson also made a lot of enemies. His ability to serve as a military governor (appointed by Lincoln) to a state in rebellion from the Union underscored his character’s ample contradictions, foretelling the executive trials ahead.

Gordon-Reed incorporates views by Johnson’s other biographers to create a fleshed-out, many-sided portrait.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8050-6948-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2010

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

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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