Thorough but perhaps overlavish with detail.




A British historian’s punctilious narrative about the tragic but colorful life of Caroline Norton (1808–1877), a neglected 19th-century champion of women’s rights.

In 1836, an English barrister named George Norton charged the then–prime minister, Lord Melbourne, for having had “ ‘criminal conversation’ (sexual relations)” with his beautiful writer-wife, Caroline. British courts ruled in favor of the defendants, and Melbourne was able to recover his reputation and career. However, his alleged lover’s name was permanently tarnished. Drawing on research that includes more than 1,500 of Caroline Norton’s letters, Atkinson (Elsie and Mairi Go to War: Two Extraordinary Women on the Western Front, 2010, etc.) offers an exceptionally intimate biography of the outspoken female who transformed the more than 30 years of abuse she suffered at the hands of an unscrupulous husband into a reason to fight for a change in the legal status of wives and mothers. During that time, British laws regarded married women as little more than possessions. Husbands were free to “dispose of [them] as [they] wished,” and women had no say in what became of their children. Everything women brought into a marriage, including inheritances and all personal effects, along with any job earnings they had, also belonged to their husbands. While men could easily divorce their wives for adultery, women had to prove their husbands were unfaithful and guilty of bigamy or incest. Norton’s efforts led to groundbreaking legislation that ensured the parental, economic and legal rights of married women; yet she herself was to enjoy only a brief moment of happiness in the last few months of an otherwise stormy life. Atkinson’s work is notable for its narrative finesse and probing analysis of Caroline Norton’s relationships with her husband, Melbourne and her many associates, who included Mary Shelley and Charles Dickens. While women’s studies scholars and historians may appreciate such treatment, general readers may balk at the rigorousness of Atkinson’s presentation and the length of the book itself.

Thorough but perhaps overlavish with detail.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-61374-880-0

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Chicago Review Press

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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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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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...


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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