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SAMUEL JOHNSON

A BIOGRAPHY

Why, some will ask, another biography of that print-drenched Englishman, especially so soon after John Wain's acclaimed contribution? Quite simply, because this one is by Harvard's W. Jackson Bate, Pulitzer Prize-winner (John Keats) and a scholar who believes, with Johnson, that biographies should be not just entertainments or theses but reassuring lessons in the hard job of living. While Wain's cool, sharp study connected Johnson's moral voice to 20th-century depravity, Bate gravely and warmly embraces Johnson's life-and-writings as an inspiring, personal touchstone for all times: "Whatever we experience, we find Johnson has been there before us, and is meeting and returning home with us." There is little that's new—there's been little new since Boswell, Thrale, and Hawkins—in the facts Bate presents: the awkward, half-blind, half-deaf, tic-ridden, pockmarked body; the decades of hack writing, poverty, and camaraderie; the prodigious feats of self-education, speed-writing, the Dictionary; the tender attachments to an elderly bride, the gifted (Garrick, Goldsmith, Reynolds), and the wayward. But, using a homely blend of psychoanalysis, scholarship, and sheer empathy, Bate draws from the life its universal quandaries: the fight against sloth, the impossible pressures of self-demand, the fear of insanity, the pursuit and distrust of religion, the quest for self-management. Johnson's breakdowns—in his twenties and at mid-life—resound with implicit, contemporary echoes. And, in the works, Bate finds Johnson's intuitive understanding—in himself and others—of the terrain later charted by Freud: the "stratagems of self-defence"; the nature of wishing, boredom, envy; the admission that the mind is not a serene, rational instrument. Even Bate's most professorial critiques (counting verbs, diagramming the Johnsonian sentence) are linked, gracefully, to the real—"the real issues are still not dead." At one point, Bate reminds us that Johnson's formal, idea-laden poem, "The Vanity of Human Wishes," was known to have drawn 18th-century tears from the sort of readers immune to sentimental assaults. This compassionate, dead-center biography, quietly gathering hope for us all as it follows its handicapped "heroic pilgrim. . . through this strange adventure of life," should have a similar impact on readers in our own time and in times to come.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 1977

ISBN: 1582435243

Page Count: 370

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1977

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NIGHT

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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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

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

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