A combative addition to the literature of the war on poverty.

Political writer and former White House and Pentagon official MacKinnon (Vengeance is Mine, 2010) recounts his poor childhood with alcoholic parents in a forceful commentary about poverty.

At age six, the author saved his parents from a candle fire (the electricity was, typically, cut off) by tossing a toy bucket of water over the burning mattress on which they lay in an alcohol-induced coma. At eight, he and his siblings were abandoned in a car to succumb to hypothermia while his parents waited out the snowstorm in a bar. By nine, he ducked a shooting rampage by his mother; by 13, he had been stabbed in a gang fight; by 17, his family had been evicted more than 30 times. MacKinnon addresses his pain in a raw voice, with little forgiveness for his criminally neglectful parents. The author eventually fought his way out of poverty and into college, crediting intervening relatives, supportive teachers, love of reading and writing, faith and determination to save his siblings and himself. MacKinnon takes great pride in the fact that he never fell into a life of crime because of his roots and has no sympathy for those who have, a view that dominates later chapters. As a writer for the Reagan White House and director of communications for Bob Dole, MacKinnon hit his stride and honed his stance on poverty. For him, poverty is a moral issue that can only be solved by a collective commitment by legislators to truly understand the experience. The “message” portion of the book would be stronger if he offered a more specific plan for making this happen, and the vitriol he engages in while condemning enemies of the poor (the liberal media and teachers unions) is off-putting. The emotionally and politically charged writing is repetitive and lacks the sophistication and poetry of similar childhood horror stories by Mary Karr and Jeannette Walls. MacKinnon’s powerful example is consistently fueled by his desire to help others and by his laudable perspective that individuals must make use of their gifts despite the odds.

A combative addition to the literature of the war on poverty.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-0788-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Howard Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012


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

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