A sturdy, instructive, well-written book.




What a difference half a year makes—in this instance, in transforming Abraham Lincoln’s conduct of the Civil War into a war not just to preserve the Union, but to free the enslaved as well.

Journalist and one-time West Point historian Brewster (co-author, with Peter Jennings: In Search of America, 2002, etc.) comes at this project a bit late, it seems. Much of his ground was covered by Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals (2005) and the film that grew from it, Lincoln, while the evolution of Lincoln’s views on slavery and emancipation is the subject of Eric Foner’s much deeper-reaching book The Fiery Trial (2010). Still, Brewster provides a highly readable, vigorously researched account of the fraught six-month period in which the Emancipation Proclamation came into being, which inarguably changed the course of the Civil War. Brewster opens with W.E.B. Du Bois’ aperçu, somewhat inaccurate but also somewhat on the mark, that Lincoln was an illegitimate, poorly educated Southerner whose championing of abolition was politically calculated. Whether accurate or not, Lincoln’s decision brought added resolve to the battle to restore the Union, adding equality to “the American ideal of liberty.” Brewster is particularly good as a close reader of Lincoln’s drafts of the document and their evolving intent: As he notes, Lincoln’s wording, “dull, careful, lawyerly, precise,” makes it plain that only the states in rebellion were subject to the law’s harsh judgment. The extension of Lincoln’s reasoning to the Thirteenth Amendment can clearly be seen in the documents and Brewster’s thoughtful elucidation, though that extension was by no means fait accompli. Brewster offers as an interesting counterfactual what might have happened had Lincoln’s initial proposals been adopted, introducing a gradual emancipation that would not have been completed until 1900 and that would likely have involved mass repatriation of freed slaves to Africa. Instead, of course, Lincoln turned his army into “an army of liberation.”

A sturdy, instructive, well-written book.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4516-9386-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.


The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: today

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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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