A brutally honest examination of the biographical craft and a good companion piece to Richard Holmes’ This Long Pursuit...

THE SHADOW IN THE GARDEN

A BIOGRAPHER'S TALE

An illuminating account of a career as a biographer.

A literary critic, magazine editor, memoirist, novelist, and founder of the Lippert/Viking Penguin Lives series of biographies, Atlas (My Life in the Middle Ages: A Survivor’s Tale, 2005, etc.), who has penned acclaimed biographies of Saul Bellow and Delmore Schwartz, digs deep into his own psyche to explain why he became attracted to the craft of biography. He also delves into why he chose Schwartz and Bellow as his subjects—Schwartz after the poet’s death and Bellow, an ambivalent subject, while still living. Beset with doubts about his ability to complete either biography satisfactorily and despite some moments of unwise hubris, Atlas could never divorce himself from the occupation of peering into the lives of others. He repeatedly impresses upon readers the sacred responsibility of rendering someone else’s life so that it is not only factually correct, but also emotionally accurate. Along the way, Atlas offers insights into dealing with sources who innocently remember events that never occurred, who knowingly exaggerate or lie, or who want to cooperate but die before the frantic biographer can schedule interviews. Because the author specializes in biographies of writers—as opposed to, say, celebrities, politicians, athletes, or business tycoons—he must interpret their published pages. That can cause difficulties when the second reading of a novel yields a reaction divergent from the original reading. For example, Atlas realized years after becoming Bellow’s biographer that most of the novels that seemed nearly perfect at first were actually less compelling upon close examination. The author is especially insightful about the pitfalls and occasional advantages of choosing a living person as the subject of the biography. His relationship with Bellow became so complicated at times that he found it difficult to sort out his own feelings.

A brutally honest examination of the biographical craft and a good companion piece to Richard Holmes’ This Long Pursuit (2017).

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-87169-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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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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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

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 Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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