A useful work that elucidates both the U.S. role in China and some elements of the contemporary conservative mindset.

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JOHN BIRCH

A LIFE

A serious probe into the life of the Baptist missionary to China who posthumously (and thus unwittingly) served as the right wing’s poster child.

Who was the real John Birch (1918-1945)? Academic Lautz, who grew up in Taiwan and later became a scholar of Asia, was curious enough to delve deeply into the brief life of this young missionary and U.S. intelligence officer who was killed by the Chinese communists at the age of 27. The author situates Birch—who made his way to China in 1940 at the behest of a charismatic preacher to take up the work of training Chinese children to become Christian—squarely in the center of the political tensions between U.S.–backed Nationalists and Mao Zedong’s Communists, both battling the Japanese invaders. Although Birch, brought up by a strong-willed mother and failed missionary father, only desired to be a simple fundamentalist preacher saving souls in rural China, he volunteered for the U.S. military in 1942 and was put to work in gathering intelligence for the Office of Strategic Services, which eventually led to his untimely death. Lautz also explores the co-opting of Birch’s life by conspiracy-minded conservatives like Republican California Sen. William F. Knowland, who believed the “loss of China” would spell a communist conquest of the whole region and first mentioned the young man’s name in a speech in Congress in September 1950 as “the first casualty of World War III.” Subsequently, Birch’s name would become synonymous as a martyr to the Cold War, ardently endorsed by his mother. His life was appropriated by businessman Robert Welch, who broadcast the myths about him and started the John Birch Society in 1958 (“less government, more responsibility, and a better world”). Lautz sorts the real story from the “lunatic fringe.”

A useful work that elucidates both the U.S. role in China and some elements of the contemporary conservative mindset.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-19-026289-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 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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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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