More engrossing work from a gifted practitioner of narrative nonfiction.

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 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016


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

Close Quickview