A comprehensive and moving portrait of a resurrected American icon.



A biography explores the life and work of the poet Phillis Wheatley.

Too long ignored by scholars of American poetry, Wheatley’s oeuvre is finally regarded as an indispensable part of the national heritage. It provides a glimpse into the birth of African- American literature, American women’s literature, and America itself. Using Wheatley’s poetry and other primary sources from the 18th century—including some that have only recently been rediscovered—Kigel argues for the exceptional place Wheatley inhabits in American letters. Arriving in Boston as a slave—“She could not have been more than seven years old”—in 1761, she was purchased by the wealthy Wheatley family and named Phillis after the ship that brought her across the middle passage. After receiving an unprecedented education by the Wheatleys’ daughter, Mary, Phillis started writing poetry, publishing her first book at 20 and thereby becoming a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic. Celebrating George Washington and the Revolutionary cause in her verses, Wheatley was, as Kigel argues, the de facto poet laureate of the war, serving as both a champion and the embodiment of the humanistic values that would become the basis of the American identity. With a foreword in verse by Nikki Giovanni, the book deftly blends poetry, biography, and criticism to argue for Wheatley’s pre-eminence in the American literary pantheon. Kigel (Becoming Abraham Lincoln, 2017, etc.) writes in a literary prose that summons the drama of Wheatley’s life in novelistic detail: “Like the others, she had been taken from home and family, crammed into a pit of unimaginable squalor, and left to languish there, sickened by the stench of disease and death, lonely, terrified, and utterly deprived of any human comfort.” While his treatment of his subject often borders on the hagiographic, Wheatley is one of those figures whose stories are so utterly unlikely that it is difficult not to write of them with reverence. Thoroughly researched and delightfully readable, the stirring book makes a fine addition to the growing library of Wheatley studies.

A comprehensive and moving portrait of a resurrected American icon.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: -

Publisher: Paragon House

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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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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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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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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