A tabloid-worthy approach to a subject that has filled many shelves with more substantial works.

THE HOUSE OF KENNEDY

Humdrum history of the Kennedy clan. Joseph Kennedy is reputed to have made some of his early fortune in bootlegging during Prohibition, a claim that scholars such as David Nasaw have painstakingly examined—and largely dismissed. Patterson and Fagen skip by the matter, though their book is chock full of other salacious and lurid moments. What is certain is that the patriarch himself wasn’t sure how much he was worth, protesting to his wife, “How could I tell you, when I didn’t know myself?” It’s possible he was shielding the figures for dark reasons, but not divorce. The Kennedys were devout Catholics, and even when Joseph, as a film studio executive, tried to convince his sometime lover Gloria Swanson to have a baby with him, he could be sure that his home life wouldn’t be disrupted. Not so the next generation. The central conceit of the book is that there really is something to what Ted Kennedy once wondered aloud—whether “a curse actually did hang over all the Kennedys,” à la the House of Atreus. Considering what happened—assassinations, accidental deaths, all sorts of misadventures and legal scrapes, and lashings of hubris—Ted’s remark has weight, even if, as the authors breathlessly report, he got caught up in a cheating scandal that put him two years behind in school. There’s not much of serious note that other biographers and historians haven’t addressed, and much better, and the authors’ intent often seems to be simply to shame their subjects: “ ‘Kennedys don’t fail,’ his uncle Ted tells him. Yet David has failed sobriety over and over.” “Trust me, that one is all smoke and mirrors,” says Ethel Kennedy of Carolyn Bessette. And so on—and on and on. A tabloid-worthy approach to a subject that has filled many shelves with more substantial works.

Pub Date: April 13, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 432

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2020

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 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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