Another of Richardson's massively thorough, massively documented, but only minimally engaging biographies of French literary lights (Zola, 1978, etc.). Richardson sorts through conflicting testimonies about the notorious poet of Les Fleurs du mal: He was a voluptuary, he was a virgin; he indulged in drink, he drank moderately. In fact, according to the author, he was a man divided against himself, unable to resist carnal desires yet feeling degraded by them—a true Catholic at heart, despite his conviction in 1857 for offending public morality with his poems. But Richardson primarily hangs her view of Baudelaire on one thread: the unhealthy symbiosis between the poet and his mother, and the poet's conflicting needs, first, to avenge himself on her for remarrying and abandoning him emotionally when he was a boy; and, second, to recover the earlier, idyllic period of her widowhood, when he was the focus of her love. Quoting liberally from the poet's letters to his mother, Richardson limns a life as wearying to the reader as it must have been to the poet: the endless cajoling and castigating requests for money (youthful extravagance by the poet-dandy had led to the appointment of a trustee to dole out his inheritance), efforts to flee creditors, writings conceived but never executed. His devotion to the prostitute Jeanne Duval was thus a revenge against his conventional mother; his chaste love for the courtesan Apollonie Sabatier was an attempt to recover the lost maternal love. This is all credible but not very satisfying, for as Richardson herself shows, this man was highly complex: rebellious, sensitive, egotistical, self-doubting, cynical, naive. Yet while highlighting Baudelaire's misery, she fails to illuminate the means by which he, as he once put it, turned the mud of life into poetic gold. Fortunately she does rely heavily on quoting letters from the time, and thus presents a heartrending picture of Baudelaire's last year, before his death at the age of 46 in 1867: Struck by hemiplegia and aphasia, the poet who had made such exquisite use of language was virtually unable to utter a word. Strictly for students and devotees of this great poäte maudit.

Pub Date: Nov. 28, 1994

ISBN: 0-312-11476-1

Page Count: 624

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1994

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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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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...


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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