A quirky study that intriguingly snapshots a city in time as well as a life.

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MONK EASTMAN

THE GANGSTER WHO BECAME A WAR HERO

Hanson (Unknown Soldiers: The Story of the Missing of the First World War, 2006, etc.) pursues the glamour in New York City’s Lower East Side gangland.

The author can be indulged for his fascination with the teeming criminal underside of turn-of-the-century immigrant New York because his descriptions of the slums, gang warfare, corruption and police raids are contextually rich and wonderfully convincing. Hanson delves into the clutter surrounding the elusive “facts” of Eastman’s life to create a portrait of an evidently intelligent character who had a keen eye for opportunity and possessed a sense of honor. Born in 1873, young Eastman scraped by with a pet store and sold pigeons. His education was gained on the street, first in Brooklyn, then the LES, and he soon became a young tough, lured into the “sum of human misery.” Built like a pugilist, he moved from being a bouncer to dance-hall “sheriff” to racketeer and chief of his own gang, extending in territory from the Bowery to the East River. By the turn of the century, his gang had more than 1,000 members, carving a lucrative protection racket from street vendors, settling labor disputes and acting as repeat voters for the Tammany Hall men. Eventually too many returns to the rogues’ gallery and a stint at Sing Sing inaugurated a period of waning fortunes, rendering his next move shocking. In 1917, just as the United States entered World War I, Eastman enlisted. Though 43, he was in fairly robust physical condition, despite numerous gunshot wounds and scars. Therein follows the bizarre second half of this devoted biography, tracking Eastman’s fierce combat duty in France with the 106th Infantry, made up of working-class Brooklyn boys. Eventually they valiantly penetrated the Hindenburg Line and Eastman distinguished himself in combat.

A quirky study that intriguingly snapshots a city in time as well as a life.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-307-26655-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2010

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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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