AGRIPPINA

SEX, POWER, AND POLITICS IN THE EARLY EMPIRE

One of history's most notorious monsters is rehabilitated as a politically successful woman whose power and reputation in first-century Rome fell victim to Roman sexism. Barrett (Classics/Univ. of British Columbia; Caligula, 1990) begins with a brief history of powerful Roman women before Agrippina, including her great-grandmother Livia, wife of the first Roman emperor, Augustus. Much of this section is overly familiar, reading at times like a recap of I, Claudius. But this background gains significance once Agrippina the Younger makes her appearance. Barrett persuasively argues that Roman chroniclers were unable to see Agrippina or her predecessors except through the stereotype of the politically ambitious woman: a seductive poisoner with no sense of moral bounds. By carefully weighing the historical record, taking into account the distorting power of misogynist folklore, the author disputes such commonplaces as the idea that Agrippina murdered her husband, Claudius, and slept with her son Nero. His Agrippina is a politically adroit consensus-builder whose influence over two emperors contributed to the most enlightened portions of their reigns. Her diplomatic skill falters only in the handling of her teenage son—a miscalculation that leads to her execution in 54 a.d. on his orders. That Agrippina's murder was celebrated as a just comeuppance demonstrates the persistence of the ``age-old resentment of powerful and ambitious women.'' Though Barrett draws no contemporary analogies, the reader may easily do so. Despite the high-mindedness of his central theme, the author is always alert to the pleasures of ``juicy anecdote[s]'' (such as Agrippina's supposed incest with her brother Caligula), and recounts them in full, if only to discredit them. A scholarly yet accessible biography that largely succeeds in replacing Grand Guignol with something more satisfying: the tragedy of a natural leader born female in a society afraid to be led by women. (illustrations, not seen) (History Book Club selection)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-300-06598-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

NIGHT

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

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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