It would be criminal for lovers of historical nonfiction to miss this story of theft, sadness, and obsession.


Stealing Sisi's Star


Bahney (Longhairlovers: Healthy Hair Secrets Revealed, 2nd Ed., 2014, etc.) dissects the real-life theft of a spectacular jewel and the life of an Austrian empress.  

The hair of Empress Elisabeth of Austria—known as “Sisi” (pronounced “Sissy”)—wasn’t quite as long as Rapunzel’s, but it did nearly reach to the floor and took an entire day to clean. As befitted a coiffure of that length and thickness, Sisi would occasionally adorn it with an accessory mounted with about 30 diamonds of various sizes and one large pearl. The result was a spectacular “glittering halo” effect that made her a sensation. (One element of the piece, the Kochert Diamond Pearl, was housed in Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace museum until it was stolen in 1998.) Famous in her prime as one of the most beautiful women in the world, Sisi and her spectacular hair stars were immortalized in a painting that became popular in Europe. Bahney details her tragic life, telling of her sadness at being in the royal Austrian court, her apparent eating disorders, and her fanatical exercising so that she could maintain her “wasp waist.” The book also covers Gerald Blanchard, the master thief who stole the Kochert Diamond Pearl, and Bahney tells his story as fully as she does Sisi’s. The book provides a fascinating peek at 19th-century thinking, such as the widespread belief that if a pregnant woman looked at animals too long, her baby would likely be born looking like one. Bahney, a journalist, populates the book with engaging supporting characters, such as Sisi’s domineering mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie, and her beleaguered husband, Emperor Franz Joseph. Ultimately, however, this is a book about robbery: both of a jewel and of a lonely young woman’s life.

It would be criminal for lovers of historical nonfiction to miss this story of theft, sadness, and obsession.

Pub Date: June 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-7864-9722-5

Page Count: 212

Publisher: McFarland Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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