A sturdy, illuminating biography.

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CHIEF ENGINEER

WASHINGTON ROEBLING, THE MAN WHO BUILT THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE

A biography of the man who helped design and build one of the most iconic bridges in America.

John Roebling planned much of the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, but he died in 1869, just before scheduled construction. The project fell to his son, Washington (1837-1926), and it took 14 years. New Statesman contributing writer Wagner (Seizure, 2007, etc.) chronicles the story of a father’s influence on the son and the son’s influence on his own family. There are plenty of texts about the Roeblings and their bridge—notably, David McCullough’s The Great Bridge (1972)—but this portrait has the advantage of Washington’s recently recovered memoir of life with his father. With contemporary notes, clippings, and letters, too, it makes a fascinating tale. John, who came to America to establish a village and then a wire mill, was extremely strict, and he was cheap. He was certain that copious water would cure every illness, and he was a devout spiritualist. A Rensselaer engineer, Washington was at Gettysburg, the Battle of the Crater, and the Wilderness. He was discharged as a colonel, a title he kept ever after. Washington’s marriage was legendary. When he became incapacitated with the bends while working on the bridge, his wife, Emily, acted as his amanuensis, relaying his detailed instructions to workers on the site. Wagner recounts the festivities in Manhattan and Brooklyn when the bridge opened in 1883, but she fails to mention the widely reported panic, barely a week later, when the general public was invited to walk the span without the set fee of a penny. Many died or were injured by the crush. Washington’s fortune grew with the Roebling wire mill, which supplied the Wright brothers and Charles Lindbergh with wire for their aircraft and thousands of miles of cable wire for the George Washington Bridge. Washington remarried after Emily’s death and grew to be a hypochondriac, stingy old man, and he died in the summer of 1926, just short of his 90th birthday.

A sturdy, illuminating biography.

Pub Date: June 27, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62040-051-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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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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