Ridley has definitely done her homework in recognizing Baret as an overlooked but important historical figure.

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THE DISCOVERY OF JEANNE BARET

A STORY OF SCIENCE, THE HIGH SEAS, AND THE FIRST WOMAN TO CIRCUMNAVIGATE THE GLOBE

Dense, inquisitive biography of the first woman to circle the globe by sea.

After learning about intrepid voyager Jeanne Baret (1740–1803), Ridley (English/Univ. of Louisville; Clara’s Grand Tour: Travels with a Rhinoceros in Eighteenth-Century Europe, 2005) was intrigued by their shared interest in botany and surprised at the lack of information available. Compelled to uncover the truth about her subject, Ridley scoured historical texts, personal journals, shipping logs and encyclopedias. Baret’s interest in naturalism blossomed early, and she eventually caught the eye of esteemed Parisian botanist Philibert Commerson, who became enamored by this “herb woman” and her botanical wisdom. In 1766, Commerson joined French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville on the first world circumnavigation expedition, which was staffed with 330 men. Anxious to join him in collecting floras of the worlds, Baret bound her chest, cross-dressed, donned a pistol and covertly enlisted as Commerson’s male servant—though, Ridley asserts, Commerson was well aware of the arrangement. Tolerating ravaging seasickness and unpredictable weather patterns, Baret was able to blend in with the crew (she claimed to be a eunuch) and reveled in discovering new plant species. However, upon reaching Tahiti in 1768, she was nearly gang-raped by native islanders who saw through her disguise. Ridley points out implausible discrepancies in Baret’s accounting of her voyage versus what was dictated into the logs of seamen who worked with her on the ships. She also expresses skepticism about Commerson’s naïveté, demonstrating that many of Baret’s crewmates were already aware of her gender but were wary to “rock the boat.” Dual themes of feminism and sexual equality anchor the author’s scholarly analysis as Baret reportedly remained ever-fearful of exposure, which would have placed Commerson and Bougainville’s respective reputations in jeopardy at a time when “a female stowaway was a curiosity, but a female botanist was a breach in the natural order of things.”

Ridley has definitely done her homework in recognizing Baret as an overlooked but important historical figure.

Pub Date: Dec. 28, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-307-46352-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2010

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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