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

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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

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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