Well-researched, but the plodding treatment keeps this powerful, important story from soaring. (4 maps, not seen)

A doctoral dissertation recycled as a literary biography of the legendary abolitionist and feminist.

Sixty years have elapsed since the last full-length portrait of Harriet Tubman (1822–1913), and first-time author Larson must be commended for uncovering many new facts about the astonishing life of a woman once called “the Black Joan of Arc” and “the Black Moses,” a woman who knew John Brown, Frederick Douglass, Lucretia Mott, and countless others involved in the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the women’s suffrage movement. Larson’s handling of these remarkable materials, however, is unrelievedly conventional and often dull; she even fails to animate Tubman’s remarkable single encounter with fellow activist Sojourner Truth. After an introductory sketch of her subject’s life, the author returns us to antebellum Maryland, where young Harriet grew up as the property of Edward Brodess, a stereotypical white slave owner. Although an 1852 fire in the Dorchester County Courthouse destroyed key documents, Larson was nonetheless able to trace the history of Tubman and her family. Harriet fled slavery in 1849, but risked her life to return numerous times (sometimes disguised as an old man) to rescue relatives and others, some 70 people in all. She became well known on the abolitionist circuit and returned to the South when the Civil War broke out to nurse the wounded, recruit freed blacks for the Union Army, and spy for the North. Amazing success greeted all her efforts, and after the war, Tubman spent years trying to coax a pension from the government. She devoted her final years to family, public speaking, and assorted social causes; slender proceeds from early biographies helped her stay alive until she finally got her pension. Unfortunately, Larson’s artless prose never equals Tubman’s achievements, and the text often resembles what it once was—an academic assignment.

Well-researched, but the plodding treatment keeps this powerful, important story from soaring. (4 maps, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2004

ISBN: 0-345-45627-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2003


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



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

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