COOLIDGE

AN AMERICAN ENIGMA

If Coolidge were alive, he would see no reason to say this much about himself. Sobel (Dangerous Dreamers, 1993, etc.) is a man on a mission. He considers the conventional wisdom on Calvin Coolidge—that he was a naive simpleton manipulated by political bosses, servant of business and the rich, a do-nothing president whose inactivity set the stage for the Depression—unfair trivialization that reflects the failure of American historians to take Coolidge seriously. His revisionist effort confronts two problems, however. First, Coolidge had his personal papers destroyed, leaving very little documentary basis on which to write a biography. Sobel notes that “Coolidge . . . kept his cards close to his vest, and we know little about what he knew or thought.” Nevertheless, a lack of evidence doesn—t deter Sobel, who relies extensively on the ex-president’s slim autobiography and his own ability to make confident assertions when confronted with matters requiring interpretation. Second, the contemporaneous put-downs of Coolidge are not only much more colorful and memorable than anything that can be extracted from “silent Cal,” they are compelling as well. This imposes a need for heavy mental gymnastics if Sobel is to support his thesis. Consider a statement by Walter Lippmann quoted by Sobel in response to the charge that Coolidge slept away his time in the White House: “Inactivity is a political philosophy and a party program with Mr. Coolidge, and nobody should mistake his unflinching adherence to it for a soft and easy desire to let things slide.” Sobel sidesteps the sarcasm, concluding that “This is quite different from sleeping away five years in office.” Resting one’s case on a distinction between doing nothing for lack of a purpose and doing nothing on purpose illustrates the daunting nature of Sobel’s task, as well as raising concerns about why he is actually pursuing it. Most readers will find it difficult to stifle a yawn.

Pub Date: June 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-89526-410-2

Page Count: 517

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1998

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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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