Unparalleled research, transparent prose, and wide eyes can serve as a model for other biographers—indeed, for all other...

The third in the author’s series of riveting titles about the histories, activities, duties, and effects of biographers.

Holmes (Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air, 2013, etc.), who has written major biographies of Shelley, Coleridge, and others, has published previously on his current themes (Footsteps and Sidetracks), and his new volume brings together thoroughly rewritten pieces that had earlier incarnations as speeches, essays, and various ruminations. Early on he reiterates his fundamental belief that biographers must pursue their quarry: follow their footsteps and explore their sidetracks. Holmes proceeds to do so again here in sections that revisit the lives of the celebrated (Wollstonecraft, Shelley—both Mary and Percy Bysshe—Coleridge, Keats, Blake), but he also reacquaints us with some lesser-known notables like Margaret Cavendish, Isabelle de Tuyll, and Mary Somerville. The author’s focus remains sharp throughout, as he sketches his individuals’ lives, discusses the published biographies of them (from the earliest to the latest), and reveals his theories and beliefs about the writing of biography, beliefs that he has used to develop graduate courses in biography. Holmes proves to be a generous critic of the work of his predecessors and contemporaries—the word “superb” appears more than once—and he evinces awe when he considers what some early biographers experienced and endured to complete their work. In a few chapters, the author revises what we have previously thought about Coleridge’s early lectures and about the importance of Shelley’s drowning. Most impressive, though, are Holmes’ erudition—is there a relevant text he has not read or a significant site he has not visited?—and his clear, sharply focused prose. Throughout, he manifests the patience and the persistence to do right by his subjects.

Unparalleled research, transparent prose, and wide eyes can serve as a model for other biographers—indeed, for all other writers.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-307-37968-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017


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



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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