Next book



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

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 Books

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2008

Next book


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

Next book



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

Close Quickview