Vibrant, entertaining, and brightly informative.

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THE GOLDEN THREAD

HOW FABRIC CHANGED HISTORY

Fabrics tell a story of human development from the prehistoric world to the space age.

Journalist St. Clair (The Secret Lives of Color, 2017) focuses her spirited, illuminating cultural history on essential fibers that have been spun, knitted, and woven throughout time, from traces of thread discovered in Neolithic caves to the multilayered “one-person spaceships” worn by American astronauts. In each of the chapters the author presents an engaging narrative about plant- and animal-based textiles with particular significance to place and historical period. In ancient Egypt, for example, flax was harvested, beaten, and combed in a laborious process to produce fiber woven into linen, a fabric that became essential for trade, clothing, and mummification. Just as linen was associated with Egypt, silk, produced by worms feeding on mulberry trees, became a lucrative Chinese export. Fragments of the textile have been found in 8,500-year-old tombs and needles, looms, and shuttles unearthed from Neolithic sites. Some fabrics were pressed into surprising use: Although wool is heavy and porous, Viking seafarers depended on it for their sails. Sheep were abundant, and wool was woven to withstand fierce winds and rain. “By some estimates,” writes the author, “the sailcloth of the Norwegian Viking–era fleet would have required wool from up to two million sheep.” In the stratified society of medieval and Renaissance Europe, when “clothing defined who you were, what you did and your social status,” lace signified wealth and power. St. Clair stresses the importance of cotton to 19th-century America’s economy as well as its connection to slavery. Besides economic importance, fabrics can mean the difference between life and death for humans confronting extreme environments. The push to create new fabrics has led to synthetics, beginning with nylon and followed by many other materials that proved hugely profitable for manufacturers. Chemicals involved in synthetic production, however, expose workers to serious health risks, spurring the need for environmentally friendly methods of producing biodegradable fibers. The most fascinating research St. Clair reports is the effort to manufacture spider silk, coveted for its incredible strength.

Vibrant, entertaining, and brightly informative.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63149-480-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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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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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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