Exhaustive and intimately connected to the English landscape, but lacking the big picture.

WORDSWORTH

A LIFE

English biographer Barker (The Brontës, 1995) sifts tediously and joylessly through the ponderous life of the great nature poet, friend to Coleridge and later laureate of England.

Wordsworth enjoyed a good, long life (1770–1850), and other than youthful forays into revolutionary politics, he led an internally focused one among his Cumberland relatives. Barker chronicles every inch of this studious span—literally, year by year—recording the subtle evolution of a sensitive child, orphaned along with his four siblings and farmed out to Penrith relatives, into a Cambridge scholar, rambler of hill and dale and keen observer of nature, both wild and human. Rejecting a career in the church, Wordsworth decided on literature, though he was hampered by his penury; his father’s estate was mired in a lawsuit that dragged on for decades. A youthful tour abroad resulted in an explosive love affair with Annette Vallon, a French royalist counterrevolutionary with whom Wordsworth conceived a child, although the war between France and England essentially alienated the lovers for good. He shared a delicate sensibility with his younger sister Dorothy, and together they established several households in England’s Lake District, cultivating new friendships with the disciples of philosopher William Godwin and with fellow literary men/republicans Robert Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who would fiercely champion Wordsworth’s genius. With Dorothy accompanying him on his vigorous rambles in search of the picturesque, the poet traversed much of England and the continent on foot, finding his humble subjects in peddlers and wagoners and his style in blank verse. Although Barker acknowledges Dorothy’s valuable selflessness, the biographer takes her to task for her “depth of insecurity and desperate longing for affection,” while the Great Poet himself comes off as a fuddy-duddy. As Ralph Waldo Emerson noted after meeting him, Wordsworth “paid for his rare elevation by general tameness and conformity.”

Exhaustive and intimately connected to the English landscape, but lacking the big picture.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-078731-7

Page Count: 567

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2005

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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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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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