There may never be a better biography of Copley than this sumptuous, exquisitely told story of a man and his time.

A majestic portrait of the American painter.

Kamensky (History/Harvard Univ.; The Exchange Artist: A Tale of High-Flying Speculation and America’s First Banking Collapse, 2008, etc.) delivers a masterful portrayal of John Singleton Copley (1738-1815), a “cautious man in a rash age,” his story “peculiarly American: hard-edged, uncloaked, impolite.” The author beautifully merges biography with history to tell the story of one of America’s earliest and finest portrait painters. Along the way, she provides insightful profiles of many of Copley’s key contemporaries, including Benjamin West and Joshua Reynolds. Born into a poor Boston household, Copley seemed destined to draw and paint. When his mother married a second time, to a portrait painter, Copley was able to take advantage of his new father’s skills and materials to teach himself to paint. It was his calling, and his business as a supremely gifted portrait painter of local businessmen and British officers took off. In the 1750s, his craft improved, with “fabrics that shimmered, almost rustled; eyes that seemed to have mind, even spirit behind them.” By 1764, he was experimenting with full-scale portraits. He painted the impressive A Boy with a Flying Squirrel in 1765, with his brother as the model. His portrait of John Hancock followed, and in 1768, he painted an iconic masterpiece, Paul Revere. At the time, Britain was relentlessly taxing items, including “painters colours,” and passing repressive acts. As a loyalist, Copley kept his politics quiet, but after the Boston Tea Party in 1773, he feared for his family. He sailed to England in 1774, never to return. He began painting large historical paintings, but, as Kamensky writes, “his insight diminished.” After signing the Treaty of Paris, John Adams sat for Copley in London for a portrait. Shortly after, Copley died “beneath a mountain of debts.” An ocean away, the painter’s halting rebirth began.

There may never be a better biography of Copley than this sumptuous, exquisitely told story of a man and his time.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-24001-6

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016


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



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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