A major biography that redeems Plath from the condescension of easy interpretation.

RED COMET

THE SHORT LIFE AND BLAZING ART OF SYLVIA PLATH

A sober and detailed critical biography of one of the 20th century’s greatest and most misunderstood poets.

The story of Sylvia Plath’s (1932-1963) life is inseparable from her tragic death: She committed suicide in London at 30, leaving behind a body of poetry and fiction often shaped by depression, rage, and heartbreak. Even so, Clark, a longtime Plath scholar, is determined to extricate the poet from the prison of a reputation as a “witchy death-goddess” and reframe her as a serious, wide-ranging artist with prodigious expressive powers. “Plath took herself and her desires seriously in a world that often refused to do so,” writes Clark. To make her case, the author meticulously explores Plath’s omnivorous literary interests and busy social life; she was a creative writer who craved liberation as well as a high-achieving Smith College student and prim Mademoiselle magazine intern who sought solace in conformity. Her warring urges took a toll early: In 1953, following a harrowing round of electroshock therapy, she attempted suicide, an experience repurposed for her novel The Bell Jar. Yet her conflicts also motivated her; a whirlwind marriage to the British poet Ted Hughes stoked her iconoclasm while also providing entry into the boys club of literary Britain. Clark claims better and deeper access to Plath’s unpublished writings (particularly related to Hughes) than prior biographers, and if that sometimes means she is persnickety about Plath’s day-by-day (if not hour-by-hour) activities, the approach avoids sloppy armchair psychoanalysis. The author’s attention to specifics serves her very well in the closing pages, as she tracks how Plath’s depression, anxiety over her literary standing, despair over her failed marriage, and fear of institutionalization speeded her death even while those same forces inspired indelible, harrowing late poems like “Daddy,” “Lady Lazarus,” and “Edge.”

A major biography that redeems Plath from the condescension of easy interpretation.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-307-96116-7

Page Count: 1152

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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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 48 LAWS OF POWER

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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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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