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DARK LADY

WINSTON CHURCHILL’S MOTHER AND HER WORLD

Like Elisabeth Kehoe’s The Titled Americans (2004), Higham’s account is too worshipful for comfort; it lacks the steel of...

An admiring life of Jennie Jerome (1854–1921), Winston Churchill’s aristocratic mother.

Jennie was born into a family better fit to the Gilded Age decades later; her father was a speculator, even a swindler, who constantly cycled between boom and bust, riches and ruin. “Insecurity,” Higham (Murder in Hollywood, 2004, etc.) writes portentously, “was the very air she breathed.” You would not know it when the young adult, beautiful and clearly wealthy, arrived in England by way of France to conquer high society. There she met the son of the Duke of Marlborough, a weedy 24-year-old who “had not the musculature of most men of his age” but who carried himself with the proper nobility. “Jennie,” Higham gushes, “was captivated as completely as any heroine of the French romantic novels popular during her years in Paris.” The resulting romance was quick—so quick, the author whispers, that Winston Churchill may well have been conceived out of wedlock. Jennie and Randolph moved into a fixer-upper mansion and fell into the usual intrigues, most of them involving various sorts of odd sexual practices and serial adulteries. Higham’s narrative finds the young couple plotting to blackmail the Princess of Wales here, spending themselves into near-bankruptcy there, and always seeking to accumulate influence and power. In this endeavor, Jennie seems to have been the more successful of the two; Higham credits her with bringing Burma into the British Empire, for which efforts Jennie, with Randolph at once secretary of state and “a useless playboy,” was awarded the Order of the Crown of India. Jennie becomes somewhat more interesting once Randolph dies; Higham traces his decline to a neurological disorder, not the old canard of syphilis.

Like Elisabeth Kehoe’s The Titled Americans (2004), Higham’s account is too worshipful for comfort; it lacks the steel of biographies devoted to Jennie’s famous son, and it could use it.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2007

ISBN: 0-7867-1889-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2006

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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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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