No real surprises here, but a welcome reminder of the contributions of a great American social critic.

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THE SINGULAR MARK TWAIN

A BIOGRAPHY

An argument that the native adventurer and high Victorian author’s life was not “twain,” as it is sometimes presented, but unified by an unflagging belief in his own luck, a fierce social conscience, and a never-ending quest for money.

Wily, outspoken, socially insecure, and immensely talented, the man born Samuel Clemens set out to become the foremost humorous chronicler of American culture and character in the years between the Civil War and the end of the Gilded Age, a designation he invented. Kaplan (Gore Vidal, 1999, etc.; English Literature/Queens College) catalogues Clemens’s adventures on and off the Mississippi in prodigious if familiar detail. Leaving behind a far-from-idyllic boyhood in Hannibal, the future literary lion drifted from small-town newspaper jobs to riverboat piloting to prospecting in Nevada’s silver mines before lighting on his nom de plume and his great talent as a brilliant comic storyteller, cultural satirist, and wildly entertaining popular speaker. Twain’s novels and foreign correspondence brought him instant, enduring celebrity, his international lecture tours brought him affluence, and his charm and determination won him a wealthy Brahmin wife and a warm place in the literary society of Emerson, Beecher, James, and Howells. But a desire for a larger share of the period’s immense wealth and a gambler’s restlessness left him easy prey for flighty dreamers and con men. Though loved by friends and by a nation of admiring readers, Twain’s final years were haunted by illness, debt, the deaths of two of his three children and his wife, and his intense, growing bitterness toward those he felt had betrayed his trust. Kaplan reports that Twain’s last heir committed suicide in 1964. Yet his literary legacy remains more vital than that of any American writer, with the possible exception of his friend Henry James.

No real surprises here, but a welcome reminder of the contributions of a great American social critic.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-47715-5

Page Count: 724

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2003

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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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