A gripping narrative about a flawed, but ultimately pitiable, king.

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THE LIFE OF WILHELM II

A biography of Wilhelm II, who oversaw the collapse of the German empire.

MacDonogh’s (Frederick the Great, 2001, etc.) Wilhelm runs hot and cold. Sometimes full of bluster, his saber-rattling contributed to the outbreak of the Great War, but at other times the last Kaiser was given to compromise in international disputes. The central figure of Wilhelm’s childhood was his mother, Vicky, daughter of Queen Victoria of Britain. Vicky dominated his father, Frederick III, who died only a few months after assuming the throne. Once Wilhelm took over, he invigorated the government, bypassing the legendary Bismarck and establishing liberal policies in the conservative Prussian-centered empire. His choice of archaeology as a hobby signified his modern state of mind, which was put to good use in the development of German schools and infrastructure. From his mother, Wilhelm inherited a love-hate relationship with the English, whom he felt treated Germany like a second-class state, and much of his foreign policy (such as his rapid buildup of the navy) was designed to earn the respect of the British—who responded by identifying Germany as their enemy. The author shifts the focus of his account away from WWI once the fighting begins, however, and concentrates instead on how Wilhelm vacillated at crucial moments, losing the confidence of his advisers. Initially, the Kaiser worked hard to avoid catastrophe, especially in his diplomacy with Russia and his cousin Czar Nicholas, but eventually the entangling alliances of the period, as well as a bellicose German public, overwhelmed him. In the end, Wilhelm’s standing fell with Germany’s fortunes on the battlefield. By 1917, the army had taken over government, relegating Wilhelm to a purely ceremonial role. The last hundred pages of the biography detail Wilhelm’s eclipse and exile in Holland—painful reading compared to the earlier parts of the story (which show him as a sometimes heroic, if reckless, character). His ambivalence towards the Nazis—he supported their nationalism but was disturbed by Hitler’s tactics—was all the more tragic because it was irrelevant.

A gripping narrative about a flawed, but ultimately pitiable, king.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-27673-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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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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