A somewhat useful historical reference driven by an idiosyncratic definition of “titan.”




An encyclopedia of “individuals who have each somehow changed the course of world events,” in which murderers and criminals find prominent places.

Award-winning historian and novelist Montefiore (Red Sky at Noon, 2018, etc.)—assisted by Bew (History and Foreign Policy/King’s Coll. London; Citizen Clem: A Biography of Attlee, 2016, etc.), Frampton (Modern History/Queen Mary, Univ. of London; The Muslim Brotherhood and the West, 2018, etc.), Jones (The Templars: The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God’s Holy Warriors, 2017, etc.), and Renton (Those Wild Wyndhams: Three Sisters at the Heart of Power, 2018)—has assembled a wide-ranging compendium of short biographical essays of nearly 200 men (and a few women) who “created the world we live in today.” Admitting that the list is “totally subjective,” Montefiore tends toward the monstrous and murderous. While many entries are predictable, including canonical philosophers and religious figures, political leaders, and too few artists and scientists, some choices may baffle readers. Why Jack the Ripper, for example, but not Thomas Edison? Why Al Capone but not Sigmund Freud? Basil II, a ruler of the Byzantine empire, impresses the author as “the ultimate hero-monster,” a man with an “explosive temper” who earned the epithet “the Bulgar Slayer.” Vlad the Impaler was “a murdering sadist who displayed cruelty so savage that he inspired the legend of Dracula.” Nikolai Ivanovich Yezhov “organized and coordinated Stalin’s Great Terror, during which a million innocent victims were shot and millions more exiled to concentration camps.” Lavrenti Pavlovich Beria, a Soviet secret policeman, was a “psychopathic rapist and enthusiastic sadist” as well as “a perverted thug.” Even when choosing figures from the arts, Montefiore tends toward the swashbuckling (Byron, Hemingway, Picasso) or tormented (Oscar Wilde, Toulouse-Lautrec). Jane Austen seems out of place in their company. Although the entries are lively and informative, the author does not make the case that all of these individuals deserve recognition among historical giants such as Galileo and Newton, Gandhi and Churchill, or even Elvis Presley.

A somewhat useful historical reference driven by an idiosyncratic definition of “titan.”

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-56446-1

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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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

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.


The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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