An affectionate biography of a woman who in her late 30s finally saw the life she wanted and grabbed it.




The fascinating story of a member of Europe’s banking aristocracy who spent the second half of her life swinging with New York’s jazz aristocracy.

British filmmaker Hannah Rothschild’s print debut is based on a BBC documentary she made about her great-aunt Nica (1913–1988). The book is an engaging mixture of well-researched biography and personal reminiscences about her formidable relatives. A cogent account of the Rothschilds’ rise from Frankfurt’s bleak Jewish ghetto to the international capitals of finance makes palpable the world of privileged confinement Nica inhabited. Born into the English branch, Nica thought she could escape by marrying a glamorous French executive, but he proved as stuffy as her family. After giving birth to five children and narrowly escaping from France during the Nazi occupation, she was a restless diplomat’s wife on her way back to his posting in Mexico when she first heard the music of Thelonious Monk. “I never went home,” she later told her great-niece. She checked into New York’s Stanhope Hotel and was soon driving Monk and other then-unappreciated pioneers of the bebop revolution to gigs in her Rolls Royce. Hannah paints the attachment to Monk (who was married) as devoted friendship rather than an affair, though she also quotes scornful observers who viewed Nica as a rich groupie, an opinion reinforced in 1955 when Charlie Parker died of an overdose in her apartment. Hannah’s account of Nica’s relationships with these often troubled and drug-addicted musicians, which included taking the rap for Monk when Delaware police pulled them over in 1958 and found marijuana in her car, shows her to be a stalwart champion of their music and their civil rights. Hard-drinking, night-clubbing Nica comes across as an eccentric free spirit to equal the artists she idolized.

An affectionate biography of a woman who in her late 30s finally saw the life she wanted and grabbed it.

Pub Date: March 19, 2013

ISBN: 978-0307961983

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2013

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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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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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