C’est la vie, or something like it; you’ve got to admire the philosophers’ energy. A fascinating rejoinder to, and sometimes...

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SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR AND JEAN-PAUL SARTRE

A neatly assembled record of people behaving badly in the name of literature, philosophy and amour.

Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, existentialists par excellence, were the Heloise and Abelard of their day—as correspondents and mutual confessors, anyway, for their relationship did not result in any mutilation save the metaphysical. As biographer Rowley (Richard Wright, 2001, etc.) notes, they prided themselves on telling the truth about everything, acting as witnesses on the world’s behalf in repudiation of bourgeois conventions; they would live freely, would never submit to expediency or authority. The truth of their lives, as might be expected, is much less immaculate: As Rowley dutifully records, page after page, even as they took pains, as quasi-spouses, to keep each other informed about their every emotion and thought, they were decidedly more guarded in revealing matters of the flesh. That Sartre was short and ugly in his own self-description, and lived on a diet of amphetamines, whiskey and cigarettes, did not keep him from attracting a succession of young paramours; elegant, even aristocratic, de Beauvoir had the same luck drawing partners, male and female alike. Her partial treatment of the truth (and airing of the parts that she wished) so embittered one lover, Nelson Algren, that late in life he complained savagely, “I’ve been in whorehouses all over the world and the woman there always closes the door. . . . But this woman flung the door open and called in the public and the press.” Meanwhile, Sartre strung along his enchanted “acolytes,” as he called them, including the young Algerian woman he would adopt as his daughter. His secretary once asked how he managed them all. “In some cases,” Sartre answered, “you’re obliged to resort to a temporary moral code.”

C’est la vie, or something like it; you’ve got to admire the philosophers’ energy. A fascinating rejoinder to, and sometimes corrective for, de Beauvoir’s Adieux.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-052059-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2005

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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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