A sturdy, illuminating biography.



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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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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