An up-and-down history of an intriguing figure.




Wilson (The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth, 2009) tells the story of the Titanic’s polarizing owner, who was aboard the vessel and survived its fatal 1912 collision with an iceberg.

The author demonstrates an impressive knowledge of that night to remember. She reminds us of the ship’s enormous size, its “unsinkable” reputation, its insufficiencies (not nearly enough lifeboats) and its principal function: to transport emigrants, who composed the large majority of the passengers. But her focus is the ship’s laconic owner, J. Bruce Ismay, who found a spot on one of the last lifeboats to leave the stricken vessel. (He later claimed, with some eyewitnesses’ substantiation, that no one else was around; a seat was open so he took it.) Many later reviled him, believing he should have chosen to perish with those left behind. Throughout, Wilson relies heavily not just on the documentary evidence—there were official hearings on both sides of the Atlantic; she summarizes both in detail—but on her literary training and interest. Allusions to literature abound—Moby-Dick, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," Frankenstein, Charles Dickens, Alice in Wonderland, Virginia Woolf (who attended some of the hearings in England), E.M. Forester and, most significantly, Joseph Conrad and his Lord Jim, a novel whose plot parallels in striking fashion the story of Ismay. At times, Wilson loses herself in Conrad, and one chunky section of her text resembles nothing so much as an essay by an earnest grad student of Modern British Literature. Literary analogies can be arresting, but the author’s tour of Conrad is excessive and distracting. Far better are the sections where she mines Ismay’s pathetic letters, the numerous newspaper accounts and the survivors’ testimony.

An up-and-down history of an intriguing figure.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-209454-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2011

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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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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

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