Unflinching and illuminating.

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VOLTAIRE

A LIFE

From the author of Voltaire in Exile: The Last Years, 1753–1778 (2004), a psychologically intimate biography of the great writer and philosopher.

While it’s important to recognize Voltaire (1694–1778) as symbolic of the French Enlightenment, it's also vital, writes Davidson, to understand Voltaire's motivations as an entertainer. At heart, whether the medium was fiction, poetry, polemic or history, he was a storyteller. Drawing from Voltaire's correspondence and other sources, the author's chronological narrative creates a complex, nuanced portrait of his subject and the times. From young adulthood, Voltaire resisted conformity, choosing to spite his father's demand that he go into the family law practice. His decision to pursue a literary career ultimately propelled him to immense celebrity and wealth, social advantages that allowed him to take risks in his work, which often resulted in imprisonment or exile. But Voltaire was an ardent defender of free speech and religious tolerance and was not deterred. In 1733, after spending almost three years in exile in England (where he learned to speak English), Voltaire published Lettres philosophiques (Letters concerning the English Nation), which became one of the most important and provocative pieces of the 18th century. Soon after, the French regime, insulted by Voltaire's intimations that British society was more respectful of human rights, issued another arrest warrant for Voltaire, and he was forced to flee. In the ensuing years, many of which were spent in Switzerland, Voltaire embarked on many love affairs, discovered the joys of scientific exploration, developed a relationship with Frederick the Great and continued to produce an astounding number of written works. Not until the end of his extraordinary life was he able to return to France, but he did so as a hero. Davidson’s precise language captures Voltaire in every facet, leaving the reader with renewed appreciation for his talent and humanity.

Unflinching and illuminating.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-60598-119-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2010

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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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