A new, but not revisionist, portrait of a troubled artist.

The trials and passions of the romantic essayist and memoirist.

Until 2009, when Robert Morrison’s The English Opium Eater appeared, Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859) had been ignored by biographers for nearly 30 years. Morrison’s fine biography offered a nuanced portrait of the opium-addicted, debt-ridden writer whose Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821) proved one of the most startling and brilliant essays to emerge from the prolific British romantics. Critic and journalist Wilson (How to Survive the Titanic; or, the Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay, 2011, etc.) mines a wealth of archival and published sources (De Quincey’s writings alone comprise 21 volumes) to produce in her own well-researched and elegantly written biography a portrait largely indistinguishable from Morrison’s. Her emphasis, she writes, is “to follow the growth” and intersection of De Quincey’s two major obsessions—murder and William Wordsworth—placing the writer’s other interests in the background. To that end, she succeeds in conveying in grisly detail the two sensational murders of December 1811 that so indelibly captured De Quincey’s imagination. Wilson also sensitively handles De Quincey’s yearning for the friendship of the author of Lyrical Ballads, which so deeply impressed him. Eighteen-year-old De Quincey’s plaintive letter to the poet, Wilson writes, was his “first masterpiece.” Although Wordsworth cautioned his admirer against conflating the poetry with the poet, De Quincey idolized and idealized Wordsworth, whom Wilson reveals as increasingly unsympathetic and self-absorbed. She is certain (where Morrison was not) that Dorothy Wordsworth, 13 years older than De Quincey, expected his marriage proposal. Overall, though, De Quincey’s addiction (Wilson documents the drops of laudanum he took at any time) and perpetual debt (a repetitive chronicle) dominate the narrative. Nor does Wilson persuasively argue for his enduring influence. He may have anticipated tabloid sensationalism, the recovery memoir, and “the fine art of character assassination,” but to assert, “We are all De Quinceyan now,” is a horrifying notion.

A new, but not revisionist, portrait of a troubled artist.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-16730-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016


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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