A great president, then, if with a few blemishes. Good reading for students of the office and the time.

GEORGE WASHINGTON

George Washington: a so-so general, at least at the start; a capable politician, even if he didn’t particularly enjoy pressing the flesh.

But a great president? This slender volume in Arthur Schlesinger’s American Presidents series, by political historian Burns (Dead Center, 1999, etc.) and revolutionary-era historian Dunn (Sister Revolutions, 1999), hints that some of Washington’s renown in that department has to do only with his being the first in the job. Yet, they add, Washington did much in office to recast the role of the chief executive as the energetic center of government, to the discomfort of contemporaries who believed that therein lay the road to kingship; his model posited “vigorous executive leadership, a flexible and resourceful administration, presidential rather than party leadership—a model that overrode the checks and balances without blatantly violating the spirit of the Constitution but that threatened to pulverize the opposition.” Other presidents have followed Washington’s lead to a fault, raising “formidable threats of excessive presidential power, as in the cases of a Lyndon B. Johnson and a George W. Bush,” but his legacy has largely been modified by the evolution of a two-party system that requires a little more teamwork on the president’s part. Burns and Dunn capably chart the course of Washington’s presidency, examining what they consider to be his successes (including the reshaping of the constitutional balance of powers) and failures (among them the polarization wrought by the Jay Treaty, which “left much that was precious to Washington—national unity, the common good, his own reputation—in tatters”). In the end, they fault him only gently for occasional missteps in office, notably his failure to act to hasten the end of slavery.

A great president, then, if with a few blemishes. Good reading for students of the office and the time.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2004

ISBN: 0-8050-6936-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2003

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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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