A sturdy, sympathetic biography about one of pop culture’s rangiest creators.



A full-dress biography of a quintessential artist who mastered stage, screen, and (especially) comedy.

Mike Nichols (1931-2014) was a one-man argument against auteur theory: What aesthetic sensibility unifies his spiky routines with Elaine May, the gentle Neil Simon comedies he directed, films like The Graduate and Working Girl, and his epic TV adaptation of Angels in America? In this thorough and compassionate life, Harris doesn’t search too hard for a common thread; more than anything, it seems, Nichols was hungry for an audience’s attention and had an innate enough grasp of staging and actors to (usually) get it. The son of German immigrants, he was a college dropout who formed a tight (but not romantic) bond with May, who shared his taste in brainy comedy and disaffection with 1950s supper-club stand-up. Their success in New York gained him entry to Broadway and then Hollywood, where his acclaimed adaptations of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate made him a household name. Just as important for Nichols, success opened doors to high society, where he was guided by photographer Richard Avedon. (Harris debunks reports they had a sexual relationship.) Nichols ran hot and cold professionally, and the author is refreshingly honest about creative low points like Day of the Dolphin as well as his mercurial, addictive personality. He could be snappish and patrician with casts and crews, and by the 1980s, he had developed a Halcion addiction and a crack habit. Nichols’ scattershot output makes him difficult to pin down, and by structuring the biography around his projects, Harris underdevelops his subject’s inner character; we learn nearly as much about his prized Arabian horses as his children. It may simply be that Nichols’ life was his work, but focusing on his creative triumphs at times obscures the man who made them.

A sturdy, sympathetic biography about one of pop culture’s rangiest creators.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-399-56224-2

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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More thought-provoking work from an important creator.


The acclaimed graphic memoirist returns to themes of self-discovery, this time through the lens of her love of fitness and exercise.

Some readers may expect Bechdel to be satisfied with her career. She was the 2014 recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, and her bestselling memoirs, Fun Home and Are You My Mother? both earned universally rave reviews, with the former inspiring a Broadway musical that won five Tony awards. But there she was, in her mid-50s, suffering from “a distinct sense of dread” and asking herself, “where had my creative joy gone?” Ultimately, she found what she was seeking, or at least expanded her search. In what she calls “the fitness book,” the author recounts, from her birth to the present, the exercise fads that have swept the nation for decades, from the guru-worship of Charles Atlas and Jack LaLanne through running, biking, hiking, “feminist martial arts,” yoga, and mountain climbing. “I have hared off after almost every new fitness fad to come down the pike for the last six decades,” she writes. Yet this book is about more than just exercise. Bechdel’s work always encompasses multiple interlocking themes, and here she delves into body image; her emerging gay consciousness; the connection between nature and inner meaning; how the transcendentalists were a version of the hippies a century earlier; and how her own pilgrimage is reminiscent of both Margaret Fuller and Jack Kerouac, whose stories become inextricably entwined in these pages with Bechdel’s. The author’s probing intelligence and self-deprecating humor continue to shimmer through her emotionally expressive drawings, but there is so much going on (familial, professional, romantic, cultural, spiritual) that it is easy to see how she became overwhelmed—and how she had to learn to accept the looming mortality that awaits us all. In the end, she decided to “stop struggling,” a decision that will relieve readers as well.

More thought-provoking work from an important creator.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-544-38765-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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