MORNINGS ON HORSEBACK

THE STORY OF AN EXTRAORDINARY FAMILY, A VANISHED WAY OF LIFE AND THE UNIQUE CHILD WHO BECAME THEODORE ROOSEVELT

The biographer of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal has written a marvelous book, now, about the making of an exceptional being—and nothing that has appeared before, including Edmund Morris' recent The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, diminishes its interest or freshness or emotional force. Indeed, those familiar with the story of the puny, sickly boy who made himself over by will power alone have the most to look forward to. That is not, for one thing, what McCullough found in the thousands of Roosevelt family letters. But he does not merely offer another, more complex and fine-tuned interpretation; he has embedded it in the true-life equivalent of a Russian novel of relations and generations, of mood and moment (whence those "mornings on horseback" at Oyster Bay) and shaded characterization. Here is Theodore Roosevelt, Sr.—"a great bearded figure of a man. . . readily touched by the sufferings of others." New York gentleman; newsboys' friend; foe of venal politicians. His forever-Southern, forever-young wife Mittie, "Little Mama"—whose heroic tales conveyed "a sense of bloodline kinship with real-life men of action." Her brother James Bulloch—builder of the celebrated Confederate raider Alabama, no less admirable to his proUnion nephew. Older sister Bamie, "Papa's pet"—plain, stooped, bright, absolutely dependable. Responsible, as a tiny, stricken child, for the family conviction "that physical well-being and mental outlook are directly correlated." Younger brother Elliott—serene, kind-hearted; long the bigger of the two, and the better athlete. (His "strange seizures," beginning at 14, will reverse their positions; and with Ellie's drinking and descent, one awaits with pity and dread the birth of his daughter Eleanor.) And frail, asthmatic, intent, untiring "Teedie." McCullough devotes a chapter to childhood asthma—the total, terrifying agony, the exuberance afterward; the immediate, "exciting" family response, especially in privileged circumstances; the timing of the attacks—in TR's case, on Saturday nights, gaining him joyful Sundays out-of-doors with Papa; the sense of power and. with it, a sense that "life is quite literally a battle." At 13, TR acquires a gun and a pair of glasses; through an idyllic winter in Egypt, he shoots and stuffs birds; there are no asthmatic attacks. Ellie's seizures begin—TR is pulling ahead academically. He goes off to Harvard, "his first solo venture into the world," still spindly—despite his bodybuilding exercises—and still squeaky-voiced. The asthma all but vanishes. There follows: his father's political defeat (to be avenged?), and his death; TR's second, newly-popular two years at Harvard, capped by the conquest of "bewitching," Mittie-like Alice Lee; his high-charged political novitiate, and sobering introduction (by Samuel Gompers) to poverty; two sudden, terrible deaths—Mama's and Alice's; work (and silence); the distressing nomination of Blaine, whom TR will nonetheless support, knowing his father would have done differently. The book culminates, in the "Bad Land years," with his discovery of the cowboy—whose code was akin to the family code and who could also deal with death. His body fills out, his voice deepens, his speech takes on eloquence; he doesn't seem surprised when an acquaintance predicts that he'll become President. All of McCullough's considerable gifts—as scholar, analyst, dramatist—are focused on an inexhaustible subject.a

Pub Date: June 22, 1981

ISBN: 0671447548

Page Count: 486

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1981

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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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