A welcome, unique addition to our travel literature.




Relying largely on first-person accounts, Chaplin (History/Harvard Univ.; The First Scientific American: Benjamin Franklin and the Pursuit of Genius, 2006, etc.) pieces together a centuries-old story: our obsession with circling the globe.

The notion goes back to the ancient Greeks and the myth of Phaeton, whose planetary circling has been duplicated by such fictional characters as Shakespeare’s Puck, Milton’s Satan and Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg. Throughout her witty, highly readable chronicle of real-life adventurers, Chaplin pays tribute to these globe-trotters and to authors like Defoe, Coleridge, Poe, Twain, London and DeLillo, who have mined the idea of circumnavigation for its dramatic possibilities. She divides her planetary drama into three acts: first, from Magellan to Captain Cook, when the overriding theme of an around-the-world voyage was death—a shocking mortality rate accompanied almost every attempt; second, from the 1780s to the 1920s, an age marked by confidence, when technologies and political arrangements had sufficiently advanced so as to moderate the risk; third, our own era, in which the perils of air and space have reintroduced the dangers, where doubt has crept back into any calculation of safe return. Chock-full of famous names and crowded with lots of “firsts” (first woman, first American, first cyclist, first motor car, first nuclear sub) Chaplin’s story features grand enterprises (Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet), solo stunts (Francis Chichester’s tiny sailboat, Gipsy Moth) and even animals (Cook’s famous goat and the Soviet dog Laika). The sheer scale of the endeavor, the singular space, time and mind-warping nature of circumnavigation, almost guarantees interesting reading, but Chaplin, an informed and perceptive guide, adds greatly to the fun.

A welcome, unique addition to our travel literature.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4165-9619-6

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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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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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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