Lacks its subject’s wit and fire, but displays Johnson in all his grime and glory.

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SAMUEL JOHNSON

THE STRUGGLE

A balanced view of the troubled yet triumphant life of one of literature’s and lexicography’s not-so-gentle giants.

Veteran biographer Meyers (Modigliani, 2006, etc.) sees Dr. Johnson (1709–84) not just as a powerful, pivotal writer but as a towering, overwhelming personality who dominated not just his associates but an entire era of British literary history. It didn’t seem to matter that he was ugly as can be. Born to a bookseller in Lichfield, Johnson suffered early from scrofula that left him facially scarred, as well as partially blind and deaf. A big man for his time, nearly six feet tall, he intimidated with his lancet wit and his looming physical presence. Meyers tells Johnson’s story in a gentle chronology, pausing to expatiate upon the rowdy, nonintellectual life at Oxford (where Johnson studied for a while), the nastiness of daily existence in 18th-century London and the contemporary literary scene. The author rarely hesitates to highlight the unpleasant facets of Johnson’s character: his temper, moodiness, peremptoriness, xenophobia, cruelty and careless hygiene. (The writer was grungy even by the standards of his smudgy era.) But he also emphasizes Johnson’s compassion, his opposition to slavery, his ferocious work ethic and his unrivaled intelligence. Meyers looks attentively but not too closely at Johnson’s publications, including his celebrated Dictionary of the English Language (1775), providing enough material to give readers a substantial taste but never to satiate. He is frank about his subject’s failures as a biographer, evident in the Lives of the Poets series, chiding Johnson for biases and insouciance about facts. Meyers chronicles with piercing poignancy the writer’s broken friendship with Hester Thrale and the losses of friends and health. Not as scholarly or as Dictionary-focused as Henry Hitchings’s Defining the World (2005), this capable portrait measures up nicely against Peter Martin’s equally solid Samuel Johnson (2008).

Lacks its subject’s wit and fire, but displays Johnson in all his grime and glory.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-465-04571-6

Page Count: 508

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2008

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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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