A fact-driven, scholarly account that lacks slightly in narrative drive.

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PAUL ROBESON

A WATCHED MAN

The story of the U.S. government’s persecution of entertainer and peace advocate Paul Robeson.

In his latest work, Goodman (The Devil and Mr. Casement: One Man's Battle for Human Rights in South America's Heart of Darkness, 2010, etc.) recounts the life of Paul Robeson (1898–1976), “one of the most famous African Americans of the twentieth century.” Though he was initially most well-known for his rendition of “Ol’ Man River,” among other tunes, Robeson soon began employing his voice not merely for entertainment purposes, but also to share with the world the truth of America’s social injustices. While in Paris, the communist-leaning Robeson remarked that it was “unthinkable” that African-Americans “would go to war on behalf of those who have oppressed us for generations.” His remarks were poorly received back in America, where both the African-American and white presses placed Robeson squarely in their cross hairs. The U.S. government was equally perturbed by what they deemed to be his disparaging remarks; as a result, Robeson soon found his passport revoked. Newly grounded, the controversial figure remained a lightning rod for civil rights, and much to the government’s chagrin, all attempts to silence him only managed to further the reach of his voice. “They can keep me from going overseas,” Robeson remarked in a 1957 Ebony interview, “but they can’t keep news of Emmett Till and Autherine Lucy from going over.” Goodman’s meticulous research provides the underpinnings for a compelling story, though his propensity for the tangential often distracts more than contributes. While Robeson’s story is indeed engaging, the author’s inability to bring the man to life keeps his carefully researched work from hitting the perfect note.

A fact-driven, scholarly account that lacks slightly in narrative drive.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-78168-131-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Verso

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2013

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 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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