A disturbing theme explored by a capable historian.

MEN ON HORSEBACK

THE POWER OF CHARISMA IN THE AGE OF REVOLUTION

An examination of hero worship via thoughtful biographies of George Washington and four contemporary leaders who were all idolized at the time.

No artist portrayed Elizabeth I or Louis XIV mingling with adoring crowds, but Princeton history professor Bell points out that their nonroyal successors enjoyed a far more personal relationship with the people. They were, in the modern sense, celebrities. Ordinary citizens, writes the author, “could feel a powerful emotional connection to them—a connection heightened by their sense of the figure’s sublime, transcendent, extraordinary qualities.” The first—and least-known—of Bell’s men on horseback is Pasquale Paoli (1725-1807), a Corsican who fought for his island’s independence and became celebrated as the first apostle of liberty, aided by James Boswell’s worshipful bestseller, written long before his biography of Samuel Johnson. George Washington became America’s icon upon his appointment as commander in chief, and “even 240 years later, it is easy to take this initial surge of idolatry for granted.” Bell agrees with historians that his sense of transcendence was mostly a facade but admits that he alone of the five achieved long-lasting success. Napoleon referred to himself as the Washington of France, but he was merely a brilliant general; like most talented generals who don’t die prematurely, he self-destructed. Simón Bolívar (1783-1830) was the Washington of South America because he fought for his people’s freedom. Sadly, his elevation occurred after his death because the independent nations hated his attempts to rule, and he ended life reviled and alone. In Haiti, Toussaint Louverture (1743-1803) led a bloody slave rebellion that won admiration in revolutionary France, which subsequently outlawed slavery in its colonies before Toussaint’s death under the rule of Napoleon, who tried, unsuccessfully, to reinstitute it. Bell concludes that the rise of autocrats today indicates that charismatic leaders, especially those who maintain that achieving national glory trumps boring institutions like laws, are finding a receptive audience.

A disturbing theme explored by a capable historian.

Pub Date: July 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-20792-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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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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