Lively, well-researched history focused on powerful women.



The lives of forgotten queens.

Poet and essayist Puhak makes her nonfiction debut with a dual biography of two fierce, indomitable sixth-century women: Brunhild and Fredegund, rival sisters-in-law who inspired the fictional story of the Valkyrie, immortalized in Wagner’s Ring opera cycle. Brunhild, the daughter of a Visigoth king, married King Sigibert, a son of Merovingian King Clothar; Fredegund, a slave, became the third wife of Chilperic, Sigibert’s vengeful half brother. Drawing heavily on primary sources, Puhak creates a richly detailed tapestry depicting a volatile, turbulent age. Fratricide, torture, betrayal, and execution—as well as deadly illnesses—were common: “Among the Merovingians,” writes the author, “intrafamilial violence was accepted as a hazard of the job,” and the two queens did not shrink from bloody conflict as they sought to consolidate power for themselves and their heirs and to wrest land from enemies. By the end of the sixth century, the dual queens had reigned for decades over an empire that “encompassed modern-day France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, western and southern Germany, and swaths of Switzerland. Only Charlemagne would, briefly, control more territory than these two women.” Moreover, Puhak writes, they “did much more than simply hang on to their thrones. They collaborated with foreign rulers, engaged in public works programs, and expanded their kingdoms’ territories.” They knew their worth as women who, through marriage or motherhood, could consolidate realms. After Sigibert died, Brunhild married his nephew, a strategic move: “Her new husband was to depose his father and rule Neustria; her son would remain king of Austrasia.” Fredegund’s alleged “talent for assassination” led foreign kings to solicit her services. Puhak takes a sympathetic view of their plights: widowhood that might relegate them to life in a convent; the death of children from illness or foul play; and their physical vulnerability as women. Her brisk narrative rescues two significant figures from misogynist historians who, in perpetuating rumors and scandals, have diminished their significance.

Lively, well-researched history focused on powerful women.

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-63557-491-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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Despite the whopping length, there's not a wasted word in this superb, swiftly moving narrative, which brings new and...


A great, troubled, and, it seems, overlooked president receives his due from the Pulitzer-winning historian/biographer McCullough (Truman, 1992, etc.).

John Adams, to gauge by the letters and diaries from which McCullough liberally quotes, did not exactly go out of his way to assume a leadership role in the tumultuous years of the American Revolution, though he was always “ambitious to excel.” Neither, however, did he shy from what he perceived to be a divinely inspired historical necessity; he took considerable personal risks in spreading the American colonists’ rebellion across his native Massachusetts. Adams gained an admirable reputation for fearlessness and for devotion not only to his cause but also to his beloved wife Abigail. After the Revolution, though he was quick to yield to the rebellion's military leader, George Washington, part of the reason that the New England states enjoyed influence in a government dominated by Virginians was the force of Adams's character. His lifelong nemesis, who tested that character in many ways, was also one of his greatest friends: Thomas Jefferson, who differed from Adams in almost every important respect. McCullough depicts Jefferson as lazy, a spendthrift, always in debt and always in trouble, whereas Adams never rested and never spent a penny without good reason, a holdover from the comparative poverty of his youth. Despite their sometimes vicious political battles (in a bafflingly complex environment that McCullough carefully deconstructs), the two shared a love of books, learning, and revolutionary idealism, and it is one of those wonderful symmetries of history that both died on the same day, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. While McCullough never misses an episode in Adams's long and often troubled life, he includes enough biographical material on Jefferson that this can be considered two biographies for the price of one—which explains some of its portliness.

Despite the whopping length, there's not a wasted word in this superb, swiftly moving narrative, which brings new and overdue honor to a Founding Father.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-684-81363-7

Page Count: 736

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2001

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An essential account of a chaotic administration that, Woodward makes painfully clear, is incapable of governing.


That thing in the air that is deadlier than even your “strenuous flus”? Trump knew—and did nothing about it.

The big news from veteran reporter Woodward’s follow-up to Fear has been widely reported: Trump was fully aware at the beginning of 2020 that a pandemic loomed and chose to downplay it, causing an untold number of deaths and crippling the economy. His excuse that he didn’t want to cause a panic doesn’t fly given that he trades in fear and division. The underlying news, however, is that Trump participated in this book, unlike in the first, convinced by Lindsey Graham that Woodward would give him a fair shake. Seventeen interviews with the sitting president inform this book, as well as extensive digging that yields not so much news as confirmation: Trump has survived his ineptitude because the majority of Congressional Republicans go along with the madness because they “had made a political survival decision” to do so—and surrendered their party to him. The narrative often requires reading between the lines. Graham, though a byword for toadyism, often reins Trump in; Jared Kushner emerges as the real power in the West Wing, “highly competent but often shockingly misguided in his assessments”; Trump admires tyrants, longs for their unbridled power, resents the law and those who enforce it, and is quick to betray even his closest advisers; and, of course, Trump is beholden to Putin. Trump occasionally emerges as modestly self-aware, but throughout the narrative, he is in a rage. Though he participated, he said that he suspected this to be “a lousy book.” It’s not—though readers may wish Woodward had aired some of this information earlier, when more could have been done to stem the pandemic. When promoting Fear, the author was asked for his assessment of Trump. His reply: “Let’s hope to God we don’t have a crisis.” Multiple crises later, Woodward concludes, as many observers have, “Trump is the wrong man for the job.”

An essential account of a chaotic administration that, Woodward makes painfully clear, is incapable of governing.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982131-73-9

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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