Engrossing history of a city with the enduring power to fascinate.

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THE STORIED CITY

THE QUEST FOR TIMBUKTU AND THE FANTASTIC MISSION TO SAVE ITS PAST

Timbuktu has generated myths that persist into the 21st century.

Like Xanadu and El Dorado, Timbuktu, in Mali, has long been a subject of legend and fantasy, a glistening city of incalculable riches. Reports circulated in medieval Europe, for example, that “giant gold-digging ants…harvested the precious metal from African riverbeds.” In a compelling work of history and historiography, journalist English (The Snow Tourist: A Search for the World's Purest, Deepest Snowfall, 2009), former head of international news for the Guardian, chronicles the journeys of early explorers who contributed to those legends. Drawing on extensive interviews in Mali, the U.S., Europe, and South Africa, the author questions the recent, much-publicized accounts of Timbuktu’s vast libraries, their contents and quantity, and survival from alleged jihadi threats. Timbuktu’s riches resulted from its favored location, downstream from the Niger River delta. For centuries, it was “the crossroads of the river trade and the caravan routes, the meeting place, in the old dictum, ‘of all who travel by camel or canoe.’ ” Crossing the Sahara to get there, however, was often perilous for Europeans. Many succumbed to malaria, dehydration, or starvation; others were attacked by Tuareg tribes or Muslim armies. One enterprising French explorer spent three years learning Arabic, studying Islamic texts, and practicing Muslim customs before he embarked, disguised in Arab costume, in 1827. English describes in vivid detail the journeys of intrepid explorers such as Mungo Park, Joseph Banks, and Heinrich Barth, whose exploits have been recounted in other fine books about Timbuktu. Where English breaks ground is by rigorously questioning the contemporary myth of Timbuktu as an intellectual hotbed, with libraries containing hundreds of thousands of important historical manuscripts, allegedly rescued by brave librarians from jihadis who wanted to destroy them. He echoes the skepticism of many academics who believe the documents’ historical value “was as over-revved as the numbers,” citing Henry Louis Gates, in particular, as inflating the manuscripts’ significance. English’s sources, moreover, dispute the claim of any jihadi threat.

Engrossing history of a city with the enduring power to fascinate.

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-59463-428-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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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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  • New York Times Bestseller

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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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