More engrossing work from a gifted practitioner of narrative nonfiction.

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A TRUCK FULL OF MONEY

The Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner tells the story of a maverick software engineer and entrepreneur’s remarkable life.

The digital revolution was in its infancy when Paul English’s talent for computers revealed itself in the mid-1970s. With only rudimentary computer training, the teenage English created programs that let him alter his computer teacher’s attendance files. However, writes Kidder (Strength in What Remains, 2009, etc.) in this brief but well-told biography, he was an unmotivated student who got into fights and graduated high school near the bottom of his class. Exceptional SAT scores earned him a tuition-free education at the University of Massachusetts, which English only decided to attend because “the school had a student jazz band.” His attitude changed after he discovered the UMass computer science department. What he learned there, as well as in the programming jobs he had outside the university, gave him insight into the emergent “society of programmers,” which included individuals who were as introverted, eccentric, and awkward as English. After earning his master’s degree, English worked briefly as a coder before moving into management at Interleaf, a company that created software products for technical publishing. During this early period in his career, he discovered that he also had a flair for entrepreneurship. At the same time, he learned that the energy that drove him to extended bouts of manic coding came from bipolar disorder. After he left Interleaf in the mid-1990s, English co-founded a high-tech firm, Boston Light, in 1998, which he then sold for a profit the next year. His greatest financial coup came a decade later, when his travel site, Kayak, sold for $1.8 billion. Yet English ultimately found that his greatest fulfillment came not from his work as an engineer and entrepreneur but from using his fortune to help the homeless in Boston and underprivileged in Haiti. While eminently readable as a biography, Kidder’s book is also a trenchant study of the new American economy and the technological world that built it.

More engrossing work from a gifted practitioner of narrative nonfiction.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9524-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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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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