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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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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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