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Although light on both literary and psychological substance, this biography, like Sontag herself, has plenty of charm.

An engagingly gossipy biography of the most glamorous intellectual celebrity of our time, assessing the impact of the writer’s persona more thoroughly than her literary creations.

Rollyson (Rebecca West, 1996, etc.) and Paddock skim quickly over Sontag’s childhood, pausing only to note her precocious habit of reading through an author’s entire oeuvre (beginning with the dog stories of Alfred Payson Terhune), and to quote various high-school classmates’ and teachers’ tributes to her beauty and brilliance. The authors hit their stride when Sontag “set off to conquer literary New York,” allowing them to expound on her growing mystique and her complicated interactions with the reigning intelligentsia. A lively review of the literary and political fads of the 1960s and 1970s follows, tracing Sontag’s path through the era of “radical chic.” Although the discussions of the content of her writings run more to summary than analysis, offering facile interpretations, the authors vividly evoke the social context inspiring each piece and its reception in the media and the larger culture, offering some highly entertaining if not stunningly original social history along the way. They handle the major events in Sontag’s personal life—both those that were highly publicized (such as her treatment for cancer in 1975) and those she has kept more or less private (such as her love affairs)—with equal zest and superficiality. Despite the fascinating gossip, Sontag’s own character never emerges; she’s observed from the outside. This distance from the subject may be deliberate, since as the title suggests, the authors treat Sontag as an icon or a social construction rather than an individual—and with good reason, considering her continual reinventions of herself and her positions to fit the changing times. However, they dilute their critical approach with frequent unblushing tributes to Sontag’s charisma and genius. The biography proudly asserts its unauthorized status, but its authors never tire of celebrating Sontag’s “irresistible sexuality, intelligence, and openness,” her “combination of sexiness and braininess,” her “hip, sexy, and somehow fashionable aura.”

Although light on both literary and psychological substance, this biography, like Sontag herself, has plenty of charm.

Pub Date: July 17, 2000

ISBN: 0-393-04928-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2000

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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

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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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