A SPECIAL KIND OF HERO

CHRIS BURKE'S OWN STORY

Awkwardly told tale of how one family raised a Down's syndrome child to achieve far beyond expectations. Despite Burke's name as primary author and the implication of the subtitle, this story is not told in his own words (with the exception of three very brief sections), nor is it an ``as told to''; this is journalist McDaniel's overwritten account of how the Burkes raised their handicapped son and how he realized his childhood ambition to become an actor. Against all odds, Burke has become a star of the TV series Life Goes On—in which he portrays a high-school student with Down's syndrome—a role model for others, and a spokesperson for various organizations promoting the rights of the handicapped. Unfortunately, although McDaniel, a former Life correspondent, exhibits considerable zeal in researching Burke's life story, she shows limited ability to select the significant detail. She seems to have spoken to—and quoted—nearly everyone who has ever known him, even when their observations and insights were obviously limited: e.g., teachers' aides, former classmates, co-workers at the public school where he once ran an elevator, even a guest star on Life Goes On. From them come such comments as: ``He was quite a kid''; ``He was a good kid: he didn't bother anyone''; ``He knew how to get his words across and everything.'' It is difficult to believe that even readers with Down's syndrome family members will not tire of the Burke minutiae (Chris's words on first meeting Dan Ackroyd: ``Hi, Dan!''). On the plus side, the final chapter contains useful information on the syndrome and puts Burke's life into perspective. The story of how ordinary people met extraordinary demands and how a special child became an unexpected success, marred in the telling by repetition and overattention to trivia. (Twenty- five b&w photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-385-41645-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1991

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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