A lively, lucid, and opinionated history, and his research supports his skepticism on some historical claims. The book...

STANTON

LINCOLN'S WAR SECRETARY

An exhaustive biography of the most controversial figure in Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet.

Lincoln’s secretary of war, Edwin Stanton (1814-1869) has not lacked historical attention. Already an expert on the president and his era, historian Stahr (Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man, 2012, etc.) seems reluctant to leave out any piece of his expansive research, but readers will forgive him. A self-made lawyer and pugnacious litigator, Stanton was well-known by the 1850s. While previous historians have turned up anti-slavery credentials in Stanton’s life, Stahr is skeptical. He notes that Stanton was on friendly terms with national figures on both sides but remained loyal to the Democratic Party, which tried to remain neutral. In December 1860, President James Buchanan appointed him attorney general. The author dismisses efforts to portray Stanton as a hard-liner, placing him among those who tried, tactfully, to discourage the dithering president from giving away the store. He left office in March 1861 and returned as secretary of war in January 1862, when he efficiently oversaw an immense military effort. He was overbearing, widely detested, and prone to arresting officials and harassing newspapers for endangering the Union. When Lincoln was shot, he took charge. He remained in office under Andrew Johnson, who tried to fire him for refusing to withdraw troops from the South. After Johnson’s failed impeachment trial in 1868, Stanton resigned, dying the following year, days after the new president, Ulysses Grant, appointed him to the Supreme Court. Readers may prefer to skim lengthy quotes from speeches and letters in this massive tome, but they will agree that Stanton lived in exciting times. The author provides a chronology and 8-page cast of characters to help keep names and dates straight.

A lively, lucid, and opinionated history, and his research supports his skepticism on some historical claims. The book should be Stanton’s definitive biography for some time to come.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4767-3930-4

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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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