A solid biography that can be enjoyed by readers of more than one generation.

Biographer Jones (Washington Irving: An American Original, 2007) relies on strict chronology to tell the life of Muppets creator Jim Henson (1936–1990).

With the cooperation of the Henson family, the author portrays his subject as not only innovative, but also mostly upbeat and pleasant to work with. Since the Muppets are mostly feel-good creations and Henson was mostly a feel-good guy, the biographical narrative sometimes lacks tension. That is a minor shortcoming, however. Jones is masterful at explaining how Henson grew up to become a daring puppeteer and scriptwriter, how he managed to attract so much remarkable talent to his side, and how his stressful business relationship with the Disney Company might have aggravated the bacterial infection that weakened the normally healthy Henson, who died at age 53 while trying to negotiate the planned Disney purchase of the franchise. (Note: While there was speculation at the time of his death that the Disney negotiations had a detrimental effect on Henson's health, there is no medical proof that this was the case.) Jones does not ignore Henson's separation from his wife/creative partner, nor his extramarital affair with a much younger woman, but the downside of Henson's personality is not Jones' primary focus. In an era of pathography, this biography stands out as positive. The writing is clear throughout, and the chronological approach allows Jones to clearly demonstrate cause and effect. Forced to become a businessman to manage what became an unexpectedly large empire, Henson often struggled with the portion of his days that felt noncreative. Jones continually shows that Henson left the world a better place, which serves as the book's theme. The author ably shows many reasons why Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and many other Henson creations are recognizable more than two decades after his death.

A solid biography that can be enjoyed by readers of more than one generation.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-345-52611-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013


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



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

Close Quickview