A colorful, richly detailed overture to Lincoln’s odyssey.

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LINCOLN ON THE VERGE

THIRTEEN DAYS TO WASHINGTON

On Feb. 11, 1861, three weeks before his inauguration, President-Elect Abraham Lincoln boarded a train for Washington, D.C. This lively account describes that eventful journey.

“Lincoln’s safe delivery,” writes Widmer, “would become, over the next thirteen days, a powerful symbol for the survival of democracy in America. As he traveled his circuitous route, Lincoln carried the aspirations of millions on his shoulders. Around the country, they were waiting for him.” No one doubted the occasion’s historical significance, so the train overflowed with reporters, officials, friends, and fans. The author describes Lincoln’s wandering, 1,900-mile journey, with well-wishers lining the tracks and huge crowds whose members clamored to shake his hand and hear a speech. Not every speech was memorable, nor were the many encounters, mishaps, and demonstrations, so Widmer wisely cuts away to deliver histories of the cities and states along the route, their citizens’ reactions to the impending crisis (multiple states had already seceded from the Union), and the impressions of witnesses. Plenty of Southern sympathizers proclaimed murderous intentions, and newspapers published breathless reports of hidden bombs, efforts to sabotage the rails, and cabals of sharpshooters. Concerned railroad officials called on Alan Pinkerton, head of the famous detective agency, whose operatives swarmed over the route and reported numerous plots to harm Lincoln. Widmer is not certain if any competent assassins were at work, but Pinkerton and rail officials had no doubt. They convinced a reluctant Lincoln to depart from his schedule at the end of his trip and travel incognito through Maryland to Washington on an ordinary passenger train. This passed without incident, but news of the furtive journey produced an avalanche of bad publicity before greater events took over. While general readers may lose interest during the journey, Lincoln buffs will undoubtedly devour the book.

A colorful, richly detailed overture to Lincoln’s odyssey.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-3943-4

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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

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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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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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