Unger’s edged prose shows us a clear Michelangelo emerging from the stone of history.



Art historian and journalist Unger (Machiavelli, 2011, etc.) organizes his life of Michelangelo by focusing on six masterpieces of varying media that compose the pillars of his creative life.

Michelangelo di Lodovico di Buonarroti Simone (1475-1564) was a cantankerous genius whose works emerged not just from Italian marble, but from the even more adamantine stone of the political realities of his time. The six works that Unger focuses on include Pietà, David, the Sistine ceiling, Medici Tombs, Last Judgment and St. Peter’s Basilica. The author tells us about the idea, the creation (Michelangelo was notoriously secretive about his work and did not like others, especially his patrons, looking in and making suggestions), the political and interpersonal difficulties he faced, and the public receptions. This last varied widely: The Sistine ceiling brought cries of admiration; Last Judgment elicited cries of another sort—another painter disguised some nudity. Unger excels at showing us the artist at work: his reluctance, his caginess, his temperament (easily hurt and angered, he sometimes tried to run away) and his jealousies (da Vinci and Raphael among them). We marvel, too, at his mastery of so many different types of media. Unger describes his contentious relationships with members of his own family, especially his hectoring letters to his siblings. Readers will find it astonishing how many of Michelangelo’s letters remain; he died in 1564, the year of the birth of Shakespeare, who left no letters (or other manuscript material). We also see Michelangelo’s ferocious work habits and perfectionism and his ascetic lifestyle, which didn’t really change until later in his life when his financial situation became more comfortable. Michelangelo outlived numerous popes (his relationships with them were significant), local rulers and families, and other notable artists.

Unger’s edged prose shows us a clear Michelangelo emerging from the stone of history.

Pub Date: July 22, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4516-7874-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.



In her first nonfiction book, novelist Grande (Dancing with Butterflies, 2009, etc.) delves into her family’s cycle of separation and reunification.

Raised in poverty so severe that spaghetti reminded her of the tapeworms endemic to children in her Mexican hometown, the author is her family’s only college graduate and writer, whose honors include an American Book Award and International Latino Book Award. Though she was too young to remember her father when he entered the United States illegally seeking money to improve life for his family, she idolized him from afar. However, she also blamed him for taking away her mother after he sent for her when the author was not yet 5 years old. Though she emulated her sister, she ultimately answered to herself, and both siblings constantly sought affirmation of their parents’ love, whether they were present or not. When one caused disappointment, the siblings focused their hopes on the other. These contradictions prove to be the narrator’s hallmarks, as she consistently displays a fierce willingness to ask tough questions, accept startling answers, and candidly render emotional and physical violence. Even as a girl, Grande understood the redemptive power of language to define—in the U.S., her name’s literal translation, “big queen,” led to ridicule from other children—and to complicate. In spelling class, when a teacher used the sentence “my mamá loves me” (mi mamá me ama), Grande decided to “rearrange the words so that they formed a question: ¿Me ama mi mamá? Does my mama love me?”

A standout immigrant coming-of-age story.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6177-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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