Accessible and impressive in scope.




Historian Strathern (Napoleon in Egypt, 2008, etc.) explores the decisive influence of a ruthless Renaissance prince on both a diplomat and an artist.

Amid the shifting alliances and vulnerable kingdoms of 15th-century Italy, Cesare Borgia (1475–1507), the illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI, assumed unchecked power at a young age when his father put him at the head of the warring papal forces. Aided by the invading army of France’s Louis XII, Borgia was urged by his father to carve out his own power base in Romagna, and by 1500 he had duly subdued it, along with Urbino and other city states. Florence bordered this region and was essentially defenseless, so able negotiator Niccolò Machiavelli was sent as part of a three-man delegation to press for Florence’s protection. Up close, Machiavelli could observe this exemplary warrior, known for his treachery, depravity and brilliance, and the diplomat later made Borgia the subject of The Prince. As part of his effort to appease the rapacious ruler, Machiavelli offered the services of Florentine native Leonardo da Vinci, an expert military engineer as well as celebrated painter and designer. During the next eight months, da Vinci toured Borgia’s fortifications and suggested improvements, as evidenced by the notebook sketches reproduced here. At the same time, the artist/humanist was digesting the moral ramifications of aiding Borgia’s military engine and finding them deeply repugnant. Meanwhile, Machiavelli was using the experience derived from diplomatic duties in the service of purely self-interested rulers like Borgia to set forth a new “science” of statecraft. Both artist and philosopher were irreparably marked by personal contact with “humanity’s evil nature,” argues Strathern in this rigorous and scholarly yet readable study of the confluence of three major Renaissance figures.

Accessible and impressive in scope.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-553-80752-3

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2009

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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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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...


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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