A sturdy and surprising work: good reading for fans of boxing and American history alike.

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UNFORGIVABLE BLACKNESS

THE RISE AND FALL OF JACK JOHNSON

A Muhammad Ali for his time rises and falls in this vigorous history by Ken Burns collaborator Ward (Not for Ourselves Alone, 1999, etc.).

Born Arthur John Johnson in Galveston in 1878, Jack Johnson “was an inexhaustible tender of his own legend, a teller of tall tales in the frontier tradition of his native state.” He remembered his father, for instance, as “the most perfect physical specimen I have ever seen,” even though the man was only five and a half feet tall and was disabled by a bad leg earned in the Civil War. Years later, he would allow a legend to surround him that he single-handedly captured a U-boat on the high seas, “subdued the Austrian captain and blew up the submarine and was rescued after drifting three days.” Johnson himself, Ward writes, was magnificent, handsome, and picture-perfect, and he attracted women of all races as he traveled from city to city and continent to continent, taking on all contenders in prize matches. Indeed, he wrote, “I have found no better way of avoiding race prejudice than to act with people of other races as if prejudice did not exist.” It did, of course, in those days of Jim Crow, and Jack Johnson was derided by the press and eventually investigated by the fledgling FBI on charges of having engaged in white slavery. He was, Ward writes, “a master of timing in the ring. . . . Outside the ropes, that mastery often deserted him.” Johnson eventually fled the charges and lived in exile in Paris and elsewhere abroad, evidently regarding WWI as a personal affront but taking pride in the fact that the French artillery had named a big cannon after him for the punch it packed and the black smoke it raised. On returning to the US, Johnson spent only nine months in federal prison and was released for good behavior, but his magic was broken.

A sturdy and surprising work: good reading for fans of boxing and American history alike.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-375-41532-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2004

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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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