A compelling and well-crafted combination of history and autobiography.

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BAGHDADDY

HOW SADDAM HUSSEIN TAUGHT ME TO BE A BETTER FATHER

A kid with a difficult childhood learns to be a capable Air Force officer and father in this debut military memoir.

Saddam Hussein is not often cited as an influence in child-rearing tactics, but retired Lt. Col. Riley learned some relevant lessons during the decade-plus he spent serving as part of the bulwark against the dictator’s rule. “I saw firsthand what Saddam Hussein did to Kuwait by traveling it from end to end, and I touched the scars he left behind,” recalls the author of the tour he spent in Kuwait in 1999, right before his son was born. “I also spent time with survivors of the invasion who were building a good life for themselves and a better Kuwait.” This mission—cleaning up the destruction left behind by a figure of authority—mirrored, to some extent, the work Riley had been doing since his own childhood, and it gave him the confidence he needed for his own impending fatherhood. With this memoir, he tells of his formative years with his violent, mentally ill mother and often absent father and how their combustive household led him to seek the structure of the Air Force. During his career as an intelligence analyst—a job that was largely defined by America’s wars against the Iraqi strongman—the author evolved from a kid out of high school seeking validation to an expert in his field. More importantly, he grew to be the kind of man who did not pass on the sins of his parents. Riley’s prose is exact and features moments of unexpected beauty, as here when he describes being stationed across the border from Basra, Iraq: “Under blackout conditions, from our highest perimeter wall, I still couldn’t see the lights of Basra, just a lime-green smudge in a sky punctured by hard stars that made it look like a nebula.” As much an account of America’s involvement in Kuwait and Iraq as it is a personal narrative, the book provides a humanizing insight into the individuals who fight the nation’s wars and the deeper motivations that explain why they do so.

A compelling and well-crafted combination of history and autobiography.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61254-292-8

Page Count: 456

Publisher: Brown Books Publishing Group

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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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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