Early in this massive biography, Ambrose makes the ironic statement that, at 25, Nixon was considered to be so honest, scrupulous, and upright that had he opened a used-car lot, his peers would have flocked to buy cars from him. The statement captures the tone of this, the definitive biography of an enigma. Ambrose, whose career as a historian has seemed to gel in recent years as the primary biographer of Eisenhower, captures Nixon as a prisoner of ironies in this first of two volumes that takes us up to the "last press conference" after Nixon's 1962 California gubernatorial defeat. Nixon's rise was meteoric. (Consider the equivalent: a freshman representative entering Congress this year would be elected Vice-President in 1992!) But, as Ambrose shows, this was only typical. Within months of joining any organization, from grade school on, Nixon would so shine that he would be granted the presidency. It was only natural that he should consider the Vice-Presidency and Presidency as plausible career steps. But it wasn't just a matter of brutal ambition. Friends and enemies alike conceded that the man possessed a brilliant political mind. And this, in turn, was fed by a remarkable memory and sheer hard work (Nixon could go days without sleep in preparing for important trips or events). It was unfortunate for him that he had to ride the coattails of Eisenhower, whose feelings for Nixon were fatherly in the best and worst sense of the word. While grooming Nixon to take on the burdens of the Presidency, he never quite considered him mature enough. Nixon's tireless and great service to the Republican Party often irked Eisenhower, who cared not a whit for party affiliation. Ambrose brings out other ironies'. The supposed campaign of vilification against Helen Gahagan Douglas in 1950, for instance, was actually begun by Douglas, who first tried to besmirch Nixon's voting record! And the conception of Nixon as an extreme right-winger depended too heavily on Nixon's partisan lambasting of Democrats who were "soft on Communism." Ambrose convincingly demonstrates that in domestic policies, Nixon was actually one of the more progressive Republicans of the 1950's, but he had to quell that spirit because of Eisenhower. Nixon's progressivism was particularly apparent in his promotion of black rights. In this regard, Martin Luther King, Jr., actually voted for the Eisenhower ticket in 1956 because of Nixon. Most previous biographies of Nixon have either been admiring political studies or hatchet jobs by obvious enemies. Ambrose rights both of their wrongs and gives us a wonderful preliminary to the final volume, which will chronicle Nixon's resurrection, triumph, and fall. Masterful biography.

Pub Date: April 1, 1987

ISBN: 0671654381

Page Count: 752

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1987

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.


A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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