An overly detailed but entertainingly irreverent account of two consequential men from the dawn of the American republic.

WAR OF TWO

ALEXANDER HAMILTON, AARON BURR, AND THE DUEL THAT STUNNED THE NATION

A parallel biography of two prominent figures from the Federalist era whose lives came into catastrophic collision on a dueling ground.

Alexander Hamilton had a dazzling career as a young man. Chief aide to George Washington during the American Revolution and author of most of the Federalist Papers, as the first secretary of the treasury, he performed the miracle of putting the new nation's finances on a sound footing. Aaron Burr, a lawyer of prominence and brilliance equal to Hamilton's, engaged in politics to advance his own interests rather than any cause. He came within a single electoral vote of being elected president in Thomas Jefferson's place in 1800, gaining the vice presidency and Jefferson's enmity instead. Sedgwick (In My Blood: Six Generations of Madness and Desire in an American Family, 2007, etc.) presents an emotional and psychological biography of the pair, partially inspired by Gore Vidal's satirical novel Burr (1973). In crisp, lively prose, the author presents evenhanded and insightful profiles of two highly intelligent, driven men with substantial flaws and very different characters: the hyperactive Hamilton, of volcanic output and intense devotion to the Federalist cause, the brooding and libidinous Burr, communicating in code, both attached to the contemporary lethal cult of honor. Sedgwick strives to present this as something of a Greek drama in which his characters gradually swirl closer together, increasing in hostility until their duel appears almost inevitable. The strategy is not entirely successful. Burr and Hamilton cooperated occasionally and didn't come into conflict with each other often or sharply enough to warrant the characterization as archrivals. By the time of their duel, they were both washed up, in severe financial distress, and with no political prospects. It almost seems as though they fought because they no longer had anything better to do.

An overly detailed but entertainingly irreverent account of two consequential men from the dawn of the American republic.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-59240-852-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Aug. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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