A vigorous, lucid biography of perhaps the most influential thinker of his day, with plenty of juicy gossip about his...

Thoroughgoing life of the often disagreeable, uncharismatic and world-transformative philosopher, he of “Mankind is born free and is everywhere in chains” renown.

The French edition of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s complete published works runs to 10,000 pages, though Rousseau, characteristically, wished late in life that he had not written a word. As Damrosch (Literature/Harvard Univ.) shows, anyone who had known young Rousseau would not have bet on his becoming world-famous in his own lifetime. Rousseau, Damrosch writes, was the motherless son of a Geneva watchmaker—no disqualification, for, as an 18th-century thinker noted, the artisans of the city “were fond of reading the works of Locke and Montesquieu” and were in many instances thoroughly radicalized. Rousseau’s father spirited away a good bit of the inheritance that was supposed to one day be the son’s, and when he remarried, Jean-Jacques presciently went out the door to seek his fortune on his own. He proved a poor apprentice though a sometimes helpful servant, and he insinuated himself in a few noble households while pondering what to do next, one observer volunteering that the best he could aspire to was “becoming a village priest.” Rousseau chose another path, devouring a few libraries with the hungriness and half-method of an autodidact, then unleashing a torrent of words on the world of the dawning Enlightenment. One of the chief virtues of Damrosch’s always virtuous biography—apart from accounting for Rousseau’s late, little-studied years—is his close reading of Rousseau’s oeuvre, from minor prose poems to major treatises such as Èmile and The Social Contract, which reconciles the events of his subject’s never easy life with the often contradictory ideas he came to espouse about such things as the noble savage and social equality, for which he is still remembered.

A vigorous, lucid biography of perhaps the most influential thinker of his day, with plenty of juicy gossip about his extracurricular life.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-618-44696-6

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2005


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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