Mackay, a Scottish historian whose previous works include a biography of fellow Scot Robert Burns (1993), turns his attention to another Glaswegian, Allan Pinkerton. Pinkerton is best remembered as the founder of the private- detective agency that still bears his name. When he started the agency in Chicago in 1850, it had a staff of two; today it has a staff of thousands, with offices around the world. Pinkerton, who was born in 1819, was early left fatherless; as an adolescent he became a cooper's apprentice. His skill as a barrelmaker would be matched by his rapid rise in the ranks of radical politics, where he became prominent in the Scottish branch of the Chartist movement. Undoubtedly, his controversial past led in part to his decision to emigrate to America in 1842. Pinkerton and his wife, Joan, made their way to Illinois, settling near the budding city of Chicago. Scouting a seemingly deserted island for wood, Pinkerton came upon a mysterious campfire that led him to a counterfeiting ring. Soon after, he was appointed deputy sheriff of Cook County, and his career in law enforcement was underway. Eventually, he would become head of intelligence for General George McClellan and a key figure in Civil War history. It is in his treatment of the Civil War period, fully a third of the book, that Mackay falls down grievously. Too much of his time is spent in spirited special pleading for McClellan and a defense of Pinkerton's reputation. Mackay is, however, astute in his assessment of the relationship between the growth of Pinkerton's private agency and the railroad industry. After the war Pinkerton was involved in a number of notorious cases, including attempts to bring the James gang to trial and to suppress the Molly Maguires, a secret organization active in the Pennsylvania coalfields. More hagiography than biography, this rather lifeless narrative hardly represents a balanced portrayal of a controversial figure.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 1997

ISBN: 0-471-19415-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Wiley

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1997

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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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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...


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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