The Booth family's important place in theater history has often been overshadowed or obscured by the notoriety of John Wilkes. This anecdotal group-biography, by the author of When the Cheering Stopped and other popular history/biography, doesn't help matters much—since nearly half the book is devoted to the largely familiar assassination saga. As a personality, father Junius Brutus Booth (1796-1852) seems the most interesting figure here. The son of a well-to-do London lawyer, young wastrel Junius was unprepossessing offstage but, more than a little mad, became a quick success in frenzied acting roles. He soon ran off to America with his pregnant mistress, abandoning a wife and child; within a year, he was considered the country's most prominent actor and, settling in Maryland, he fathered more children, cultivated many eccentricities, and succumbed frequently to alcoholism. Somber teenaged son Edwin was pushed onstage early; he went through a libertine phase, roughed it on the mining-camp vaudeville circuit, suffered from depression and alcoholism—but emerged, in his unextravagant way, as the era's greatest Hamlet, the ``Prince of Players.'' His little brother Johnny had it easier; with legendary good looks and natural exuberance, his acting fame came without much effort. But, for reasons never made clear, John Wilkes became obsessed with the South's defeat, with the idea of kidnapping and, later, with killing Lincoln. Smith savors every detail of the assassination melodrama, even those—like Mrs. Lincoln's neuroses—that have nothing to do with Booth. By contrast, Edwin's life from 1865 to 1893 (blighted by shame but busy nonetheless) is covered in two sketchy chapters. And the book is limited throughout by Smith's failure to probe or interpret, by his willingness to give equal weight to stories of varying credibility. Readable but only half-satisfying pop-history—more for assassination buffs (Smith brings together many sources) than for fanciers of theater history. (B&w photos—not seen.)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-671-76713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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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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