All that’s needed about a prodigy of American cultural history.

The idolized comic strip and its revered creator, conjoined American avatars of the second half of the 20th century, are both fully explored in this shared biography.

As Michaelis (N.C. Weyth, 1998, etc.) demonstrates with the help of many cartoons, the antics of Peanuts’ characters formed a clear autobiography of Charles M. Schulz (1922–2000). The barber’s son from Minnesota was born to create a comic strip, if nothing else. He was a dweeby, dreamy lad called “Sparky” from infancy—an odd nickname for a serious youth who ignited little excitement. An abstemious churchgoer, he was timid around girls, especially pretty redheads. Sparky was determined, though, to have a cartoonist’s career. Home from the Army in 1945, he worked as a correspondence-school art instructor. Early on, he knew three Charlie Browns: One was a high-school friend; one was an art-school colleague who became a bit odd as his fictional namesake became celebrated; the third was an ecclesiastic. The energetic first Mrs. Schulz, usually managing Sparky, morphed into Lucy. The flourishing Peanuts strip provided a lavish California home and studio, spawned endorsements, television specials and books. Happiness was not, however, a warm bank account. With an upscale ice rink came tax problems, divorce and remarriage. The world’s most successful and rewarded cartoonist, the man who coined the term “security blanket,” nursed anxieties. “Sparky really didn’t give a damn about people,” one friend noted. Schulz was the subject of many articles and interviews, so much of his story is known, but this fine, exhaustive text is well-organized and knowledgeable. Whether or not Peanuts was inspired, as fans insist, or just insipid, Michaelis offers considerable insight into the semiotics of comics and the psyche of a master of the craft.

All that’s needed about a prodigy of American cultural history.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-06-621393-4

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2007



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

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



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

Close Quickview