Indispensable additions to any American film library.

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BETTE DAVIS

The stars shine bright in this series of brief biographies of four of classic Hollywood’s most enduring icons.

Eminent film critic Thomson (The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder, 2009, etc.) brings a historian’s acumen and poet’s sensibility to his portraits of Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman (ISBN: 978-0-86547-934-0), Humphrey Bogart (ISBN: 978-0-86547-933-3) and Gary Cooper (ISBN: 978-0-86547-932-6). The author seeks to identify the mythic essence of each of the star’s cinematic personae, and the ways in which key films and carefully managed public perceptions shaped those ideas. Davis enjoyed a long reign as Hollywood’s top star in the era of great stars, despite and because of her variable looks, peppery temperament and air of starchy New England superiority. Bergman was the “natural” country girl, beautiful and virtuous, whose selfish passion for her career and compulsive promiscuity both fueled the love fantasies of her audience and ultimately led to international scandal and disgrace. Bogart, the sensitive tough guy, was hounded by insecurity and a host of other personal demons, his upper-class background lending an innate dignity and honor to his fabled menagerie of wisecracking gangsters and gumshoes. Cooper is presented as a hapless, weak-willed adulterer whose lean body, rugged handsomeness and preternatural stillness translated on camera as a quintessentially American rectitude and heroic stoicism. In clean, allusive prose, Thomson assesses the filmographies of these titans, offering surprising judgments and insights—he despises Cooper’s beloved Sergeant York (1941) and the Davis classic The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)—and defining the magic of a vanished kind of stardom, an orchestrated mystique that made these men and women dream figures for a mass audience. The books are full of fascinating tidbits of gossip regarding his subjects’ sexual peccadilloes, financial maneuverings and studio politicking, and Thomson is wickedly funny and startlingly poetic in his observations. On Davis: “Blonde, with eyes like pearls too big for her head, she was very striking, but marginally pretty and certainly not beautiful.”

Indispensable additions to any American film library.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-86547-931-9

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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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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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