Serviceable but ultimately uninspiring.

Biographer/novelist/journalist du Plessix Gray (Them, 2005, etc.) brings her personal and professional expertise in French culture, letters, politics and history to a short biography of the celebrated liberal writer and political provocateur.

The vivacious and scholarly daughter of Jacques Necker, Louis XVI’s director general of finance, Germaine de Staël (1766–1817) gained notoriety as the flamboyant doyenne of salons she hosted in her elegant homes in pre-Revolutionary France. An early and ardent champion of women’s rights, the unhappily married Staël also enjoyed a series of sexual liaisons with a procession of suitors young and old enchanted by her wealth, charm, intelligence, candor and liberal ideals. She eventually drew the ire of Napoleon Bonaparte, who took umbrage at the progressive views she espoused in her prolific writings in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Staël’s forthright condemnation of the emperor might well have drawn harsh punishment, but she was careful to cultivate powerful protectors, including his foreign minister; Napoleon had to settle for periodically exiling her from Paris in the latter years of her life. Du Plessix Gray delivers insightful passages on Staël’s addiction to opium, noting that it was commonly used for medicinal purposes throughout Europe in the late 18th century and that the French iconoclast shared her affinity for the drug with such fellow writers as Coleridge, Baudelaire, Dickens, Poe and Keats. For all her flair and élan, Staël remains a shadowy figure here. Upstaged by her biographer’s musings on Necker, the French Revolution, her nonstop parade of lovers and the insecurities of Bonaparte, Staël never stands at the forefront of her own life story. Still, the book is likely to find an audience among devotees of French politics, literature, feminism and salon culture.

Serviceable but ultimately uninspiring.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-934633-17-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Atlas & Co.

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2008


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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