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Unflinching and illuminating.

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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

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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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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