Rich in source material and historical detail, the book suffers from the author's pulpy prose style. Still, worth reading...

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MY MOTHER'S WARS

Faderman (Naked in the Promised Land, 2004, etc.) reconstructs her mother's experiences as a Jewish immigrant in 1930s New York.

The author has a knack for tracking down details that bring a story to life, and her descriptions of her mother Mary's journey from a Latvian shtetl to the garment factories and Bronx apartment buildings of 1930s New York are vivid and memorable—as are her descriptions of the dangers faced by the relatives Mary left behind in Latvia. Unfortunately, the fascinating raw material falters under the weight of Faderman’s ponderous prose. The author’s overreliance on heavy-handed foreshadowing saps the narrative energy, and the constant invoking of her mother's "destiny" feels contrived. Faderman's simultaneous resentment of the father who treated her mother badly and gratitude for the man who helped make her is a tension worth exploring; however, the author merely (and repetitiously) asserts it. Faderman's scrupulousness in constructing a faithful historical narrative is admirable, but her writing is overheated and cliché-ridden: moments lead “inexorably” to “what she would pay for to her last rattling breath,” the spread of the “cancer” of fascism is “inexorable,” Americans turn “a blind eye and a deaf ear” to Hitler's aggressions, etc.

Rich in source material and historical detail, the book suffers from the author's pulpy prose style. Still, worth reading for those interested in the lives of Jewish immigrants in New York and the spread of fascism in Eastern Europe in the 1930s.

Pub Date: March 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-8070-5052-1

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2013

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Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

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EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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

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