An ancillary addition to the Custer shelves.

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AMBITIOUS HONOR

GEORGE ARMSTRONG CUSTER'S LIFE OF SERVICE AND LUST FOR FAME

Rummaging among the well-picked-over bones of George Armstrong Custer.

Mueller, a professor of journalism, begins on a note that many historians would find—well, unhistorical: namely, the observation of a contemporary painter that Civil War leaders such as Grant, Sheridan, and Sherman had the visage of a soldier, “a hooded look where the skin hangs down from the eyebrow over the upper eyelid,” whereas Custer had the bright-eyed, eager look of an intellectual and artist, one “drawn to creative endeavors like writing and performing.” That “artistic temperament,” writes the author, suggests that had Custer survived Little Big Horn, he might have become a writer or a lecturer like Mark Twain, or he might even have signed on to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. As it is, Custer was an indifferent student but an ardent writer at West Point, where he’d enrolled, Mueller suggests, simply in order to get an education; he would later have to be reined in by editors skillful enough to cut through his orotund language. But he was also a showman: When appointed to command in the Civil War, where he undeniably showed ample soldiering skills, he learned the fine arts of costumery (growing his hair long and wearing bright clothing and a broad-brimmed hat) and gallantry far beyond conspicuousness. In short, as Mueller holds, he became a kind of polar opposite of his commander, Ulysses S. Grant: “One is the flamboyant, imaginative, and creative type, a soldier who often skirts or breaks the rules but gets things done. The other is more solid and conventional. One likes the show business side of the military, the uniforms, parades, and glory. The other provides the strategy and eschews the limelight.” Yes, Custer liked the pageantry, but it’s his military skill—and lack of caution, at the end—that we remember him for.

An ancillary addition to the Custer shelves.

Pub Date: Nov. 19, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 392

Publisher: Univ. of Oklahoma

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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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