Though presented in a stilted fashion, all the portraits are rendered with sympathy and detail.

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FIRST LADIES

PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIANS ON THE LIVES OF 45 ICONIC AMERICAN WOMEN

Selections from the popular yearlong C-SPAN series exploring the lives of the first ladies, each offering conversational, somewhat truncated viewpoints by various historians.

C-SPAN history consultant and author Richard Norton Smith and moderator and senior manager Swain paired up to create the TV endeavor; this book is the severely edited version. Each first lady appears in an official picture circa her husband’s presidential era, and two historians take turns delineating her biography, not necessarily chronologically. A final word from each briefly discusses the lady’s “legacy.” Due to the need to preserve verbatim the historians’ remarks, the editing makes for clunky, disjointed reading, with the effect—more or less intentional—of a conversation rather than a history text. However, each historian offers a depth to his or her subject that helps flesh out these fairly mythical figures who inhabited the White House and give a sense of where she came from and what was truly important to her. These ladies were thrust into a national role, and how they used it to grow is fascinating: Abigail Adams was a prolific and significant writer of letters that provide enormous insight into the Revolution and early national period; savvy entertainer Dolley Madison had to “pinch-hit” as hostess in widower Thomas Jefferson’s administration, laying the important connections she would need for her husband’s subsequent presidency; Sarah Polk was unusually well-educated in her mid-1800s era and served as her husband’s “genuine political partner” (the couple was also the first to be photographed); Lucretia Garfield was the first to keep a diary of her White House days and not to destroy her papers. Several were second wives, most had children, and many lost children, while all were “helpmates” in some fashion. Among the contributing historians are Edith Gelles, Gail Sheehy and David Maraniss.

Though presented in a stilted fashion, all the portraits are rendered with sympathy and detail.

Pub Date: April 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61039-566-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

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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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UNTAMED

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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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