Readers should be impressed by Baker’s persistence, and most will end up charmed, however obliquely, by his obsessions.

BASELESS

MY SEARCH FOR SECRETS IN THE RUINS OF THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT

The versatile author of fiction and nonfiction chronicles his “not entirely successful efforts to squeeze germs of truth from the sanitized documentary record of the U.S. government.”

In his latest, Baker, a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, among others, writes about his work from March 9, 2019 through May 19, 2019. During those months, he intensively explored mountains of documents to determine whether the government deployed illegal biological weapons during the Korean War. To search for truth about the biological weapons, Baker sent Freedom of Information Act requests to numerous government agencies, and he received radio silence. The daily diary pings between the flaws in the FIA—a 1966 law meant to encourage transparency by federal agencies—and the substance of what the author gleaned about biological warfare. To lighten a relentlessly downbeat narrative, Baker, ever articulate and witty, also introduces readers to his Maine home, which he shares with his wife and dogs, as well as the local weather, walks in the nearby wilderness, and other elements of his daily life. For readers who care about government openness, the narrative will be simultaneously illuminating and profoundly depressing. Because Congress failed to include enforcement mechanisms other than the possibility of time-consuming, expensive lawsuits, government agencies subject to the FIA violate it with impunity and suffer no penalties as a result. The custodians of the records often treat the documents as personal property rather than information financed, and thus owned, by taxpayers. The leading villains in Baker’s saga, which he aptly describes as “a sort of case study, or diary, or daily meditation, on the pathology of government secrecy,” are the Air Force, Army, and CIA, and his disclosures are rarely banal but rather consistently provocative and disturbing. Using both direct and circumstantial evidence, the author suggests that illegal weapons have been used against North Korea and perhaps against so-called enemy forces in other nations.

Readers should be impressed by Baker’s persistence, and most will end up charmed, however obliquely, by his obsessions.

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1575-7

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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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 Books

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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