Contrary to its expectation-raising subtitle, a sad story of no compelling current import. For more historical context, see...

AMERICA’S GIRL

THE INCREDIBLE STORY OF HOW SWIMMER GERTRUDE EDERLE CHANGED THE NATION

Workmanlike biography of the first woman to swim the English Channel demonstrates that fame is fleeting and a moment of youthful glory is no guarantee of a glamorous life.

Associated Press sports columnist Dahlberg (Fight Town: Las Vegas—The Boxing Capital of the World, 2004), aided here by his subject’s niece and by business writer Greene, bases much of his account on newspaper clippings in the personal archives of Gertrude Ederle (1905–2003), supplemented by her unfinished, unpublished memoirs. The authors begin with Ederle’s failed Channel crossing in 1925 and her disappointing performance at the 1924 Olympics (only one gold medal and two bronze). The details of her preparations for the cross-Channel swim in the summer of 1926 and the challenges of the feat are entertainingly recounted, but the narrative begins to falter after that. Dahlberg presents Ederle as an agent of change, citing her design of a body-hugging two-piece silk bathing suit in an era when women wore heavy wool “swimming costumes” that concealed their bodies, and noting the enthusiasm with which feminists greeted her achievement in breaking the men’s speed record for a cross-Channel swim. She was given a ticker-tape parade in New York City and had a brief career in vaudeville before the public lost interest in the shy, stocky, hearing-impaired young woman whose genuine talent for swimming was difficult to capitalize on. Not only was Ederle’s manager a poor businessman, but there was little interest in swimmers for stage or screen. Adding to her difficulties, she broke her pelvis in a fall in 1933. Ederle’s decline into obscurity was halted briefly when Billy Rose hired her for his Aquacade at the 1939 World’s Fair, but the woman who had been named top athlete of the year in 1926 was not even on the ballots in 1944.

Contrary to its expectation-raising subtitle, a sad story of no compelling current import. For more historical context, see Gavin Mortimer’s The Great Swim (2008).

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-38265-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2009

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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