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A superbly personal biography that pulsates with intelligence, scholarship, and heart.

An intimate but unblinking look at Gore Vidal (1925-2012), the gifted essayist, playwright, novelist, and public personality, who, for a time, seemed ubiquitous in the popular culture.

Poet, novelist, and biographer Parini (English/Middlebury Coll.; Jesus: The Human Face of God, 2013, etc.) met his subject in the mid-1980s, and he begins his chronicle with that encounter. They became fast friends as well as professional colleagues, though Parini continually reminds readers of Vidal’s often difficult personality. Petty, jealous, judgmental, and imperious—all applied to him. But so do others, as the author ably shows: Vidal was generous, brilliant, assiduous, and innovative. Like many other fine artists, Vidal worked until he could no longer do so. Parini precedes each chapter with a vignette, a focused memory from his own experiences with Vidal. They range from amusing to deeply moving. Parini is a wise general biographer of a literary figure. He tells us about each of Vidal’s major works (and the major reviews thereof) but never in prose choked with jargon or self-importance. The goals are exposition and elucidation, and he achieves them gracefully. Like other critics, Parini believes Vidal’s essays surpassed his other work. We learn some quirky details about the writer, as well—his fascination with Billy the Kid (and, later, with Timothy McVeigh), his fondness for celebrities of all sorts, his discomfort with academics, and his rivalries with Norman Mailer (with whom he reconciled) and William F. Buckley Jr. (with whom he didn’t). There is also a lot about Vidal’s sexuality (he preferred anonymous sex with male partners) and his drinking problems. Finally, the author examines Vidal’s sad decline and death. Parini uses detail in agile, unobtrusive fashion—though he erroneously reports that John Brown was killed at Harpers Ferry (he was hanged later in Charles Town).

A superbly personal biography that pulsates with intelligence, scholarship, and heart.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53756-8

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: July 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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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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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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