A focused, fresh spin on Jeffersonian biography.



The lives and times of the most important women in Thomas Jefferson’s life.

Jefferson’s much-discussed affair with his slave, Sally Hemings—one which allegedly produced several children—is well-known, but Scharff (History/Univ. of New Mexico; Twenty Thousand Roads: Women, Movement, and the West, 2002, etc.) is quick to point out that her book is not “an inquiry into the history of Thomas Jefferson’s progenerative body parts.” Instead, she delivers a series of nuanced portraits of Jefferson’s mother, Jane Randolph, who outlived not only her husband, but four of her children; his wife, Martha Wayles, whom Jefferson married when she was a 23-year-old widow, and who died just ten years later; Hemings, who was both a slave and Martha’s half-sister by blood; Jefferson’s daughters, Patsy and Polly; and his granddaughters. The author brings out each of the women’s importance in Jefferson’s life and, along the way, looks at what life was like in America for women of their various social stations. Scharff is often forced to do her best with limited sources—for example, nearly all the correspondence of Jefferson’s mother and wife has been lost or destroyed. As a result, documentation is often frustratingly sparse or nonexistent when it comes to major, life-altering events, but available and specific on commonplace ones. For example, details are scarce regarding a miscarriage by Martha Jefferson, while her housekeeping habits are covered in relative detail. Despite these unavoidable difficulties, however, Scharff illuminates her impressive research, and she effectively contextualizes each of these women’s stories, using them to illustrate the times and traditions in which they lived.

A focused, fresh spin on Jeffersonian biography.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-06-122707-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2010

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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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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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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

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