A well-organized, easy-to-read biography that provides a solid introduction to one of America’s Founding Fathers.

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Ben Franklin For Beginners

An illustrated biography of Benjamin Franklin, suitable for middle-grade and young-adult readers.

Ogline’s debut provides a detailed account of Franklin’s life, complete with both realistic and cartoon-style black-and-white illustrations. Rather than offering a chronological recounting of the Renaissance man’s life, the book instead covers different aspects of his career in each chapter, with subject headings such as “Pen and Press” and “Innovator and Inventor.” As a result, only the first and final chapters read like a conventional biography. Highlighted sidebars throughout offer more detailed explanations of some scientific principles and historical events, including background information on the Boston Tea Party and how Franklin’s lightning detector functioned. A timeline at the close of each chapter offers a recap and a clear breakdown of events. A final bibliography directs readers to additional resources, including many websites. The book is rich in information, but its simple language and use of illustrations make it appropriate for younger readers. Middle and high school students, in particular, should be comfortable with the text, but it’s also detailed enough to make it useful for adults seeking a quick introduction to Franklin and his life. The book’s organization makes it easy to find specific information, which is especially helpful, as the book lacks an index; however, it does occasionally lead to repetition. For example, in the “Citizen and Statesman” chapter, a paragraph covers Franklin’s inventions and improvements, which the preceding chapter described in more detail. Ogline briefly touches on Franklin’s reputation as a ladies’ man, but he’s vague about this aspect of his personality: “The question of Franklin’s flirtations and what is fact and what is fiction is somewhat inconclusive.” This tactic may keep things safe for younger readers, but it may also lead to questions and confusion. Ultimately, the book provides a very flattering portrait of Franklin, noting only that he may not have been the most attentive family man.

A well-organized, easy-to-read biography that provides a solid introduction to one of America’s Founding Fathers.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1934389485

Page Count: 160

Publisher: For Beginners

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2015

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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A well-documented and enlightened portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt for our times.

ELEANOR

A LIFE

A comprehensive exploration of one of the most influential women of the last century.

The accomplishments of Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) were widespread and substantial, and her trailblazing actions in support of social justice and global peace resonate powerfully in our current moment. Her remarkable life has been extensively documented in a host of acclaimed biographies, including Blanche Wiesen Cook’s excellent three-volume life. Eleanor was also a highly prolific writer in her own right; through memoirs, essays, and letters, she continuously documented experiences and advancing ideas. In the most expansive one-volume portrait to date, Michaelis offers a fresh perspective on some well-worn territory—e.g., Eleanor’s unconventional marriage to Franklin and her progressively charged relationships with men and women, including her intimacy with newspaper reporter Lorena Hickok. The author paints a compelling portrait of Eleanor’s life as an evolving journey of transformation, lingering on the significant episodes to shed nuance on her circumstances and the players involved. Eleanor’s privileged yet dysfunctional childhood was marked by the erratic behavior and early deaths of her flighty, alcoholic father and socially absorbed mother, and she was left to shuttle among equally neglectful relatives. During her young adulthood, her instinctual need to be useful and do good work attracted the attention of notable mentors, each serving to boost her confidence and fine-tune her political and social convictions, shaping her expanding consciousness. As in his acclaimed biography of Charles Schulz, Michaelis displays his nimble storytelling skills, smoothly tracking Eleanor’s ascension from wife and mother to her powerfully influential and controversial role as first lady and continued leadership and activist efforts beyond. Throughout, the author lucidly illuminates the essence of her thinking and objectives. “As Eleanor’s activism evolved,” writes Michaelis, “she did not see herself reaching to solve social problems so much as engaging with individuals to unravel discontinuities between the old order and modernity.”

A well-documented and enlightened portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt for our times.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4391-9201-6

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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