Next book



An occasionally rambling but effective dual biography.

An odd but appealing combination of memoir and biography of two significant French sibling intellectuals, André Weil (1906-1998) and Simone Weil (1909-1943).

Novelist and former Texas Observer editor Olsson (All the Houses, 2015, etc.) admits that her life, viewed on its own, might not suffice for a memoir. Seemingly marked for a career in the humanities, she entered Harvard and was drawn to the concrete, right-or-wrong nature of mathematics. At that time in life, she notes, “so much is up in the air, open to question, unreliable. I think part of what I liked about math, she writes, “was simply that it seemed like a sure thing, as sure as a thing could be, a solid mass of true and rigorous and irreproachable knowledge that I could grab like a pole on a bus.” The author held her own and graduated but chose to pursue a career in journalism while never losing her fascination with creativity, the epitome of which is the abstract purity of mathematics. Stirred by reading the Weil memoirs, letters between the two, and a series of internet lectures by a Harvard mathematics professor, Olsson delivers a mixture of philosophy with an account of their lives and her own. Simone was an activist, philosopher, and later mystic, little known during her short life but immensely influential to the postwar generation. Her intense sympathy for the oppressed was accompanied by an obsession with sharing their suffering (working at miserable jobs; semistarvation), ineffectual, often self-destructive efforts to help, and much introspection. She was close to her brother, a brilliant mathematician who often responded to her appeals to explain his work. The responses were no more comprehensible to Olsson than Simone, but they encouraged her to muse about the nature of creativity and write this unique meditation.

An occasionally rambling but effective dual biography.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-28761-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

Next book


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

Next book



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

Close Quickview