A close, unblinking look at a bright star with some internal darkness.

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AMERICAN TITAN

SEARCHING FOR JOHN WAYNE

A veteran biographer of pop-culture icons (Cary Grant, Walt Disney, Clint Eastwood) returns with an account of the astonishing film career of Marion Robert Morrison (1907-1979).

Eliot (Nicholson: A Biography, 2013, etc.) dispenses with much one might expect in a thick biography—e.g., interviews with those who knew Wayne, sordid sexual details (the author does show us an actor who enjoyed relations with myriads of women) or pompous declarations about what Wayne symbolized. Instead, he focuses on the career of the Duke (the name of a boyhood dog), carefully charting his rise from a modest Iowa family—his father, who frequently failed and eventually left, was sometimes a druggist—to his enduring status as one of Hollywood’s most popular actors, despite his intransigent right-wing political views in a left-wing community. Nothing happened quickly. Wayne worked behind the scenes and took modest walk-on parts before gradually finding his place as an actor. It was John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939) that ignited his career, though even then he did not leap to stardom. More minor (and bad and horrible) films followed, and Eliot, to his credit, pulls no punches in his assessments of Wayne’s performances. However, the author also agrees with Wayne’s conviction that the liberal Hollywood establishment denied him Oscar nominations even for his finest roles—in The Searchers, for example, a 1956 film (and Wayne performance) that Eliot continually praises. Eliot is careful to quote reviews of key performances, to let us know the box office successes (and failures) and to give us a peek at Wayne’s behavior on the set. We also see his relationships with key directors John Ford and Howard Hawks, and there are plenty of touching moments—e.g., Wayne’s final appearance at the Oscars shortly before he died of stomach cancer.

A close, unblinking look at a bright star with some internal darkness.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-0062269003

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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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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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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