Entertaining historical excavation.




A nicely spun yarn of religious chicanery on the frontier in a nearly forgotten historical episode.

Harvey has a pronounced fondness for obscure characters from American history. In this book, the center of his attention is James Strang (1813-1856), a scoundrel to most, a saint to others, who “vanished into the night” in western New York in 1843 only to appear some time later in Nauvoo, Illinois. There, though previously a professed atheist, he was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by none other than Joseph Smith. Strang, Harvey allows, may have come there in order to bilk Latter-day Saint settlers, as he had apparently done to New Yorkers before. However, Strang quickly realized that there was more to be made by being a religious leader, and when Smith was killed, Strang asserted that he was heir to his throne. Brigham Young prevailed, but Strang kept up his campaign while establishing an offshoot of the church first in Wisconsin, then on an island in Lake Michigan, fulfilling his “plans to lay claim to a kingdom all his own.” Strang, “always alert to the possibility of making a buck,” took that kingship seriously, siting his kingdom at a place that steamers plying the Great Lakes would dock in order to refuel on the island’s abundant wood. He also horned in on other businesses, including the fishing trade that had sustained inhabitants before Strang’s arrival, along with several hundred of his followers. The conflicts that Strang sowed right and left—e.g., he condemned others for adultery while abandoning his repudiation of polygamy and taking multiple wives—soon caught up with him. Harvey notes that the end of Strang’s realm coincided with Herman Melville’s writing his great novel The Confidence-Man, and the author hazards that there could have been no better model for a character who outshone P.T. Barnum in profiting from gullibility, if only for a short while. Harvey’s narrative is a page-turning exercise in popular history perfect for fans of Devil in the White City.

Entertaining historical excavation.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-46359-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.


The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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