A compelling, cleareyed portrait of a dictator whose politics have unfortunate relevance for today.

LENIN

THE MAN, THE DICTATOR, AND THE MASTER OF TERROR

An illuminating new biography of the cold, calculating ruler on whom the subsequent Soviet state modeled itself.

“Secretive, suspicious, intolerant, acetic, intemperate.” Such is the essence of the portrait of his subject that Budapest-born journalist Sebestyen (1946: The Making of the Modern World, 2015, etc.) extracts from the considerable record. The author does not overwhelm with detail, and he focuses especially on how Lenin’s most important relationships were with women, such as his mother, his wife, Nadya, and his mistress, Inessa Armand. From his beginnings as a brilliant youth to his maturation as a driving, relentless intellectual whose favored method of leadership was merciless carping, Lenin was consistently concerned with the nitty-gritty of power and how to attain it. He was also criticized for fleeing from trouble, as he believed he was too important to the struggle to get arrested. Radicalized at the age of 18 after the “violent drama” of his beloved older brother Sasha’s execution by the czar’s police force in 1887 for attempting to assassinate the czar, Vladimir Ulyanov, as he was then known, “was heir to a long tradition of revolutionary opposition to the Tsars.” Prohibited from studying at university, sent briefly to Siberia, closely monitored by the czar’s police state, the Okhrana (from which Lenin’s Cheka would subsequently and ironically derive its model), and largely supported in every way by his mother and wife, Lenin moved about in exile honing the revolutionary message. Although not as eloquent a writer as Marx or Trotsky, Lenin created a style of argument altogether his own; as the author writes, “he was nearly always domineering, abusive, combative and often downright vicious.” Operating brutally but haphazardly, rather than by a truly coordinated effort, and not averse to using a “criminal gang” to steal on the party’s behalf, Lenin prevailed by sheer force of will. Sebestyen ably captures the man, “the kind of demagogue familiar to us in Western democracies.”

A compelling, cleareyed portrait of a dictator whose politics have unfortunate relevance for today.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-87163-8

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Sept. 25, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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

NIGHT

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

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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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