Small wonder that politicians, poets, and popes were after his head. McCalman opens the files on a fascinating character—a...




A lively bio of the once celebrated, but now little remembered, charlatan and troublemaker.

Australian humanities scholar McCalman, a learned student of the dark side of the Romantic era, has an excellent subject in the Sicilian count Alessandro di Cagliostro (1743–95), a formerly disavowed son of Palermo who has lately been honored with an alley in his name. And what better patron saint for Palermo? So asks an Italian journalist McCalman interviews. Though an “all-around flim-flam man” and “arch-deceiver,” Cagliostro had tremendous likability and undeniable charisma at his service, and with these qualities he ranged among the courts of Europe gathering acolytes and allies and expounding a weird philosophy that he called “Egyptian freemasonry,” which borrowed freely from Judaism and Islam—enough so to raise cries of heresy wherever he went. With his promises of turning base elements into gold and his habit of playing with other people’s money acquired through various exercises in faith-healing, Cagliostro got himself in trouble everywhere he went; he did time in the Bastille, incurred the considerable wrath of Catherine the Great of Russia, and wound up one of the last victims of the Roman inquisition, which saw to it that Cagliostro spent the last years of his life rotting away in prison. Cagliostro seems to have been most effective, in fact, in uniting scattered European intellectuals in a hatred of him: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, for one, despised him with a burning passion, though William Blake adored him. Though surely a cad and a quack, writes McCalman, Cagliostro was honest in his own way: he “rarely made wild claims for the chemical values of his nostrums,” insisting that any cures that came to his patients were the result of divine intervention; and he was genuine in his belief that freemasonry could bring about a reconciliation of religions and governments, and with it peace.

Small wonder that politicians, poets, and popes were after his head. McCalman opens the files on a fascinating character—a con man for the ages.

Pub Date: June 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-000690-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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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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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

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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


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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