A proficient, readable life, though McGrath does not convincingly explain why a new biography on Monroe is necessary now.

The life of “the last Founding Father to hold the presidency.”

In this deliberative take on Monroe (1758-1831), McGrath, a two-time winner of the Commodore John Barry Book Award, mines the Revolutionary and post-1812 eras, concentrating on Monroe’s two-term presidency. A mentee of Thomas Jefferson and Revolutionary War hero in his home state of Virginia, Monroe served as a delegate on the Continental Congress and notably voted against the ratification of the Constitution. He was partly embroiled in the revelation of Alexander Hamilton’s being blackmailed for his affair with Maria Reynolds—did Monroe reveal it to Jefferson? The bad blood would nearly cause them to fight a duel a few years later. As the author shows, Monroe certainly helped stoke the political animosity between Jefferson’s supporters and Hamilton’s Federalists. Serving as George Washington’s ambassador to France when the mood in Paris was still dangerously revolutionary, Monroe was recalled due to his handling of the Jay Treaty, and his veneration of Washington was deeply shaken. McGrath follows Monroe from his time as governor of Virginia to his role as Jefferson’s envoy in negotiating the Louisiana Purchase. Later, he served as James Madison’s secretary of state and secretary of war, at the same time, while war with Britain raged. As president, he was able to defuse political tensions between the parties, and the Federalists were neutralized. Under his tenure, “he sought an Indian policy that would please both white and Native Americans, and came up woefully short,” and he freed only one of his more than 200 slaves. McGrath, whose wide-ranging research is evident from the extensive list of primary sources, considers Monroe's legacy as “put[ting] his country on the world stage, for better and worse, for all time.” It’s a sturdy, straightforward text that will appeal to fans of presidential biographies, if not general readers.

A proficient, readable life, though McGrath does not convincingly explain why a new biography on Monroe is necessary now.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-451-47726-2

Page Count: 736

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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