The incredible life of a formidable woman, fetchingly told.

Herman (Sex with the Queen, 2006, etc.) does her royal best with the fantastic story of a tax collector’s daughter from Viterbo who finagled her way into a position of power at the Vatican.

The author constantly hammers home her central point: that the driving force of Olimpia Maidalchini’s life (1591–1657) was her stingy father’s attempt to put her in a convent rather than provide a dowry for a suitable marriage. Her two younger sisters submitted to this fate, but 15-year-old Olimpia refused and wrote a damning letter to the Bishop of Viterbo (fathers were not supposed to coerce daughters into taking the veil). Despite the ensuing scandal, she managed to marry into a poor but well-connected noble family, the Pamphilis of Rome. Her keen memory and knowledge of financial matters soon ingratiated her with sober, learned brother-in-law Gianbattista, a monsignor who increasingly came to rely on Olimpia’s decisiveness and guidance in his work at the Vatican courts. Her behind-the-scenes machinations bore fruit when Urban VIII made Gianbattista a cardinal in 1627. Twelve years later, the death of her husband left 48-year-old Olimpia a widow who didn’t have to answer to anyone. Upon Urban’s demise in 1644, her skillful manipulation of power achieved her life’s goal: the election of Gianbattista as Pope Innocent X. His devotion to his sister-in-law allowed her carte blanche in his apartments and free rein in filling her coffers, until her overweening ambition and some powerful enemies caught up with her. Herman nimbly navigates centuries of foggy papal history, providing plenty of gossip and slander about flagrant nepotism and other pontifical sins. She casts Olimpia’s story appropriately enough in soap-opera terms, making her feisty protagonist resemble (a bit improbably) a 17th-century Scarlett O’Hara.

The incredible life of a formidable woman, fetchingly told.

Pub Date: Aug. 12, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-06-124555-8

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2008


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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