Uneven but entertaining.

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A HIGHER PURPOSE

PROFILES IN PRESIDENTIAL COURAGE

A highly readable exercise forthrightly modeled on JFK’s Profiles in Courage, examining nine instances in which American presidents have acted against their own political interest.

Some are well known, others not—or at least not in their full details. Everyone knows, for example, that the Emancipation Proclamation aroused scorn in the rebellious states; few recall how bitterly it divided Lincoln’s nominal supporters in the North. Whalen (Social Science/Boston Univ.) opens each tale of moral courage with a mini-portrait of the president involved. Some episodes feel too large for the book’s slight frame: Andrew Jackson’s war against the aristocratic Bank of the United States, which plunged the nation into financial panic; Teddy Roosevelt’s prosecution of J. Pierpont Morgan’s Northern Securities Company as an illegal railroad combination under the antitrust laws; and FDR’s Lend Lease agreement with Britain, which frightened and angered a large portion of the mostly isolationist public. For the most part, however, the author has chosen bite-sized incidents of presidential courage perfectly suited to his theme: Truman’s firing of insubordinate World War II icon General Douglas MacArthur; Chester Arthur’s unexpected transformation from a machine politician to a civil service reformer; JFK’s 1963 address committing his administration to civil rights; Gerald Ford’s unpopular pardoning of Richard Nixon. Whalen pointedly distinguishes between presidential courage and presidential recklessness, using the example of George Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, but at the same time somewhat contradictorily laments recent presidents’ willingness “to sacrifice principle for the sake of political expediency.” He acknowledges this will not be “the final word,” and indeed one might wonder why Jimmy Carter’s relinquishment of the Panama Canal in 1977 was not every bit as morally courageous as Grover Cleveland’s principled refusal to annex Hawaii in 1893.

Uneven but entertaining.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-56663-630-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ivan Dee/Rowman & Littlefield

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2007

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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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