A thoughtful introduction to a philosophically vital subject.

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JFK

THE LAST SPEECH

A collection of essays revolves around a speech President John F. Kennedy gave on the relationship between poetry and power.

In 1963, only weeks before he was assassinated, Kennedy spoke at Amherst College, commemorating the groundbreaking of the Robert Frost Library. In the rhetorically inspiring convocation address, Kennedy discussed the importance of a liberal education to democracy as well as the ways in which poetry functions as a literary check on the untethered employment of political power (“At bottom, he held a deep faith in the spirit of man, and it’s hardly an accident that Robert Frost coupled poetry and power, for he saw poetry as the means of saving power from itself. When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations”). Mills (co-author: 240 Beats Per Minute, 2018, etc.), Worth-Nelson (Night Blind, 2006), and debut editor Bicknell gathered an assemblage of essays from those who were present at the event—which included Kennedy’s remarks after his formal speech and a “convocation address by Archibald MacLeish”—that explore their remembrances. The volume features pieces that reflect on Kennedy’s political legacy and the tumultuous times within which he governed and meditations on the core message of his speech—the profound significance of liberal education for a flourishing democracy. The editors also curate concisely synoptic and illuminating essays on Frost’s career and his shifting relationship with Kennedy. The author read a poem at the president’s inauguration, but after Frost traveled to the Soviet Union, Kennedy felt stung by his betrayal. All the relevant primary source documents are included as well, including Kennedy’s handwritten edits of the speech originally prepared by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. The editors exhaustively furnish a kaleidoscopic view of the event, its historical and political context, and personal ramifications. Some of the essays speak to the inspiration Kennedy provided—activist Ted Nelson discusses his time spent in the Peace Corps, an institution created by an executive order issued by the president. And while the book focuses on Kennedy, a captivating window into Frost’s troubled but prolific life is also provided, along with a consideration of the Whitmanesque way Frost limned the democratic nature of poetry, its power neither reducible to nor independent of its political effects. The book crescendos into a discussion of the political significance of a liberal education, with commentary supplied by well-known luminaries, like journalist/author Fareed Zakaria and actor/director Robert Redford, drawn from diverse fields. While the volume is tinctured by the kind of idealism Kennedy preached, it also delivers a pragmatic acknowledgment of the challenges that face higher education. For example, economist Joseph E. Stiglitz, after observing the ways in which college education will necessarily have to change in order to meet new fiscal realities and technological innovations, argues that its fundamental mission remains unaltered: “Still, for all these changes, the humanist core of a liberal arts education remains unchanged. It is the outgrowth of the Enlightenment, the view that through disciplined reasoning we can come to a better understanding of our world, of our society, and of ourselves.”

A thoughtful introduction to a philosophically vital subject.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-64307-074-2

Page Count: 376

Publisher: Mascot Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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