Thanks to radio, radar and GPS, the “golden era” of lighthouses is over, but Levitt’s century-and-a-half saga of an...

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A SHORT BRIGHT FLASH

AUGUSTIN FRESNEL AND THE BIRTH OF THE MODERN LIGHTHOUSE

Homage to the man who turned feeble-and-far-between harbor lights into a global multitude of brilliant beacons.

Levitt (History/Univ. of Mississippi) trains the spotlight on Augustin Fresnel (1788–1827), a French civil engineer whose early-19th-century optics experiments demonstrated that light traveled in waves, challenging leading scientists who defended particle theory. He went on to develop the Fresnel lens system, a series of triangular-shaped glass prisms in circular arrays, each prism angled to refract light into a single strong beam that projected to the horizon and beyond. Fresnel died of tuberculosis at age 39, but his legacy survived. Fresnel lenses would eventually replace the far-less-efficient lighthouses that shined light reflected from silver-mirrored parabola-shaped enclosures. However, Fresnel lenses were costly and required quality glass and precision grinding at a time in Paris when a horse powered the glassmaker’s machines. Levitt’s scrupulous scholarship and contextual setting serve readers well. She reminds us of how dangerous the sailor’s life was and how low-intensity reflectors fell far short of the brightness and depth that ships required to prevent their foundering. The author also neatly contrasts Britain with France and America. Britain was ahead of France in Fresnel’s time, already replacing horses with steam power and soon competing with the French in manufacturing Fresnel lenses. Meanwhile, America remained decades behind, thanks to a bureaucracy in which lighthouse management was in the hands of a treasury department auditor who would not use the Fresnel lenses. That changed in the 1840s with a new generation of progressives and the presidency of James Polk, ushering in massive lighthouse building with Fresnel installations—until the Civil War, when the Confederacy hid or destroyed many of them.

Thanks to radio, radar and GPS, the “golden era” of lighthouses is over, but Levitt’s century-and-a-half saga of an innovator whose ideas were at times fostered, at times thwarted, by politicians or leading scientists, is most welcome.

Pub Date: June 3, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-393-06879-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: March 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2013

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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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