A somewhat improbable study that Means infuses with all the sympathy and interest he holds for his subject.

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JOHNNY APPLESEED: THE MAN, THE MYTH, AND THE AMERICAN STORY

A lively biography of an elusive character who manages to sustain reader interest and teach us something about the early-19th-century American pull toward the West.

Journalist Means (The Avenger Takes His Place: Andrew Johnson and the 45 Days That Changed the Nation, 2006, etc.) finds the lack of hard evidence about the life of John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) a liberating way to tell the story of early American migrations. Born in 1774 in Massachusetts, Chapman left home as a young man and headed steadily west, arming himself with apple seeds from cider presses and following waterways and Indian paths into virgin land that he would then clear and border with the seedlings. This constituted the marking of new settlements, and though Chapman speculated in land, he never stayed anywhere long enough to make a profit, but embraced a peripatetic, vegetarian life: “Chapman had the eye of a speculator, the heart of [a] philanthropist, the courage of a frontiersman, and the wandering instincts of a Bedouin nomad. His nature was almost self-canceling.” He was also a zealous evangelical, fond of sitting with an audience to spread the Gospel as shaped by Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg. Compulsively restless, Chapman kept moving, employing elaborate buying-leasing schemes and often paying in apple trees. Means estimates that during his life, Chapman (who died in 1845) purchased 1,200 acres of “often prime bottom land, plus an assortment of city, town, and village lots.” Why did he do it? Maybe it was to “find the exact seam between past and future, between encroaching civilization and resistant wilderness.” The author examines the making of the Appleseed myth—from the 1871 article by W.D. Haley in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine to Walt Disney’s 1948 cartoon classic Melody Time—as fodder for a country desperate for a model of, as Disney Story Department manager Hal Adelquist wrote, “brotherly love and unselfishness.”

A somewhat improbable study that Means infuses with all the sympathy and interest he holds for his subject.

Pub Date: April 12, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4391-7825-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2011

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 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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