A balanced, welcome new addition to the Wilson shelf.

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THE MORALIST

WOODROW WILSON AND THE WORLD HE MADE

O’Toole (When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt After the White House, 2005, etc.) adds to a long list of Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) biographies with a skillfully crafted account of the president’s life and legacy.

As suggested in the title, Wilson considered himself the moral conscience of the United States, and he acted accordingly. After earning a doctorate in political science from Johns Hopkins, he went on to serve as president of Princeton University, a position he approached with an inflexible certainty that he would carry into the White House, a stance that eventually led to impassioned opposition from many fellow Democrats and almost all Republicans. The author narrates the saga chronologically, and her use of anecdotes, foreshadowing, and foils to Wilson results in a lengthy book that is nonetheless a compelling page-turner; the author also has a pleasing prose style. As expected, the majority of the chapters focus on the debate over whether the U.S. should surrender its neutrality to enter World War I, the progress of the war from an American perspective, and the agonizing aftermath as Wilson failed to push through the League of Nations he conceived. Though not exactly groundbreaking news, many readers will still be shocked by the massive coverup of Wilson’s declining health by his wife, Edith, and some of his advisers. O’Toole softens her subject’s hard edges by showing his romantic side with his first wife, who died young, with Edith, and with his three daughters. In addition, the author pays adequate attention to Wilson’s early domestic legislative achievements as well as his tendency toward racism and his overbearing public certainty, which he maintained despite frequent private doubts. Many of O’Toole’s revelations break fresh ground, including the unreliability of Wilson adviser Edward M. House as a source. A bonus derives from the obvious relevance of the Wilson presidency to 21st-century politics. The ways in which Wilson expanded presidential powers bring to mind presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.

A balanced, welcome new addition to the Wilson shelf.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7432-9809-4

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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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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