A challenging mix of American history and a unique biography that at times can wring the heart but that can’t escape the...

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THE IMPRISONED GUEST

SAMUEL HOWE AND LAURA BRIDGMAN, THE ORIGINAL DEAF-BLIND GIRL

A stimulating intellectual biography of Laura Bridgman, a blind and deaf girl whose triumph over her own adversities made her as famous in the 1840s as Helen Keller was to be many years later.

Gitter (History/CUNY) excels at describing the fluid and dynamic intellectual currents of the Victorian era, especially in Boston (where Laura lived after her early childhood on a New Hampshire farm). The 1830s were the heyday of the New England Renaissance, which placed great stock in the doctrine of human perfectibility. The great humanitarian Samuel Gridley Howe tried to translate this belief into action at the Perkins Institution of the Blind, which he took charge of in 1832. He set about to show that the deaf and the blind could be educated and trained just like anyone else. Bridgman, who was born in 1829 and lost her sight and hearing at two, became the perfect test case for him. She arrived at Perkins in 1837, and the rest of her life—she died in 1889—was shaped by her association with Howe. Intelligent, with a quick and curious mind, Bridgman soon learned to read, write, and (using a manual alphabet) communicate. Realizing her value, Howe encouraged public displays of her abilities, and there were visits by such luminaries as Charles Dickens (who described her in his American Notes). Although Bridgman was said once to have been as famous as Queen Victoria, the public lost interest as she grew from a beautiful child into a gawky adult woman—and (though cared for at Perkins until her death) toward the end of her life she was described as solitary, lonely, and frustrated, sustained only by her deep religious feelings.

A challenging mix of American history and a unique biography that at times can wring the heart but that can’t escape the melancholy of its end. For another biography of Bridgman, see Ernest Freeberg’s The Education of Laura Bridgman, above.)

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-374-11738-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2001

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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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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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