First-rate research, writing and presentation.

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Whirlwind & Storm

A CONNECTICUT CAVALRY OFFICER IN THE CIVIL WAR AND RECONSTRUCTION

A scholarly biography of a midlevel Union officer’s short, dramatic life.

This spotless debut is a personalized account of the Civil War years and a work of significant original scholarship. Farnsworth is a lawyer by training, but if this were a thesis, his meticulous analysis of previously unexplored primary source materials and extensive background research could earn him a degree in history. He mines a family heirloom, the papers of his great-grandfather Lt. Col. Charles “Charlie” Farnsworth, born in 1836. Charlie, an ambitious young Norwich, Connecticut, resident, skipped college to pursue business and gold prospecting. After war came, Charlie volunteered and used family connections—his father was Gov. William Buckingham’s personal physician—to win promotions. He led a battalion, was wounded and recovered, rebuilt an Army base in Baltimore, returned to battle and was captured. After eight months in Richmond’s Libby Prison, he was paroled, demoted and honorably discharged. He broke off an engagement, married his true love, and used connections to President Abraham Lincoln to become one of the first Northern investors to enter Reconstruction Georgia, where he started a commodities exchange and rice plantation. In 1867, with his wife seven months pregnant, he drowned at age 31. Charlie’s impetuous temperament, outspoken manner, social position and extensive documentary record create a unique lens through which to view the times. Numerous books stitch together “voices” culled from soldiers’ letters, but few capture entire lives. Full biographies usually feature top military or political leaders. Yet Charlie, though he ranked high enough to have well-known connections, still retains a sense of the Everyman. Farnsworth’s supple narrative of Charlie’s life, including black-and-white photos, illustrations and maps, takes up less than a third of the book. The rest includes the appendix, nearly 500 footnotes, a bibliography of 100 secondary sources and an index. Farnsworth consistently places Charlie’s travels and observations in the context of contemporaneous events and mainstream historical opinion, all while telling the story unsentimentally, highlighting strengths and flaws. The entire trove of 135 personal letters, diary entries, and other documents by or about Charlie appear in the appendix, with Farnsworth’s comments about each. Reading them makes his preceding synthesis all the more impressive.

First-rate research, writing and presentation.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-1491719626

Page Count: 450

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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