WASHINGTON IRVING

AN AMERICAN ORIGINAL

A solid introduction to an interesting life, but nothing definitive about a pivotal figure in American culture.

Readable, once-over-lightly biography of “America’s first bona fide best-selling author.”

The dreamy son of a Manhattan merchant, Washington Irving (1783–1859) desultorily studied law but devoted most of his early 20s to travels financed by his indulgent older brothers and to drinking and general rowdiness with a close-knit band of pals. Their boyish high spirits, committed to paper in 1807 in a periodical called Salmagundi, won Irving local fame for his easy wit; he cemented his reputation with the gently satirical A History of New York in 1809. The death of his fiancée and a floundering brother in Liverpool sent him in 1815 to Europe, where he remained for 17 years, prompting charges from jealous rival James Fenimore Cooper that he was too busy sucking up to the European aristocracy to be a real American writer. But Irving held on to his American fans with The Sketch Book (1819–20), which contained his two most famous stories, “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” and later published successful books about Columbus, the Alhambra and George Washington. He was economically secure and generally revered during his final years back home in America. He had helped the youthful United States see itself as a nation through the landscapes sketched in his graceful, lightweight essays and sketches. First-time author Jones, a former political speechwriter and current policy analyst, doesn’t provide much context to explain the writer’s importance to America’s fledgling literature, and he tries a bit too hard to bring Irving up-to-date: It’s not really necessary to know that land speculation was “the nineteenth-century equivalent of dot-com ventures,” nor are Jones’s occasional references to Irving’s “possible homosexuality” substantiated by anything except warm epistolary expressions of affection that were commonplace among male friends during that period. Still, his breezy approach suits his agreeable subject, who never took himself too seriously.

A solid introduction to an interesting life, but nothing definitive about a pivotal figure in American culture.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-55970-836-4

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2007

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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