A richly detailed, revealing look at the making of a playwright and a man.

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ARTHUR MILLER

Copiously researched, deftly written biography that expands our understanding of a major figure in American letters.

The success of All My Sons in 1947 gave Arthur Miller (1915–2005) enduring fame and an equally enduring, bifurcated reputation. Some hailed him as an honest, forceful voice in American theater, while others dismissed him as the mouthpiece of leftist pieties. Bigsby (American Studies/Univ. of East Anglia; Neil LaBute, 2008, etc.) gives a remarkably full account of this complex and somewhat remote figure, emphasizing the first half of Miller’s life. (This makes sense, since the playwright repeatedly mined his past for subject matter.) The author draws on unpublished material and private papers, as well as numerous personal conversations and interviews with the playwright in the years before his death. Bigsby dutifully covers the major works—All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible—their productions on both sides of the Atlantic and their critical receptions. He gives particularly illuminating attention to Miller’s university writings, his early life in the theater, his little-known work in radio and published and unpublished fiction. This helps give a fuller picture of the emerging writer, and Bigsby is good at identifying certain themes—a preoccupation with the consequences of actions, for example—that developed early on. Aided by his interviews with Miller, he writes sensitively about the lasting influence of relationships with family, friends, colleagues such as Elia Kazan, and wives, especially Marilyn Monroe. The author judiciously treats Miller’s politics, including a dramatic appearance at the HUAC hearings, and he puts the playwright’s deeply held views in the context of youthful experiences during the Depression. Without scanting Miller’s moral seriousness, Bigsby doesn’t really see him as an intellectual, writing that “he was in fact less concerned to engage with abstract ideas than with observed lives.”

A richly detailed, revealing look at the making of a playwright and a man.

Pub Date: May 15, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-674-03505-8

Page Count: 750

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2009

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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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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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