A breezy and inviting biography from a self-described “zealot.”

A compact and incisive portrait of the great dancer and choreographer.

In 2015, after Lesser (You Say to Brick: The Life of Louis Kahn, 2017, etc.) saw one of Robbins’ (1918-1998) final works, The Goldberg Variations, she sat “in a state of stunned amazement.” She welcomed the offer to write a biography for the publisher’s Jewish Lives series because she sees him as a “genius worth championing.” The author begins with Robbins as perhaps “the most hated man on Broadway.” Actors and dancers famously feared his “vicious outbursts” and “cruel perfectionism.” Others loved him deeply. He was always “high-strung and tormented,” according to one of his rehearsal pianists, and conflicted about his skills, homosexuality, and Jewish roots. Born Jerome Wilson Rabinowitz—he changed his name at the urging of a ballet teacher—to a “rarely affectionate” father and “forceful” mother, he possessed perfect pitch and an excellent sense of rhythm. He could “move naturally and expressively.” A stint at Camp Tamiment in the Catskills confirmed his first love, choreography. Throughout, Lesser focuses on Robbins as a “narrative artist,” perhaps one of the century’s “most powerful exemplars.” George Balanchine cast him in a musical in 1938, and Robbins soon began working with Leonard Bernstein. In 1951, he joined up with Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II on The King and I and developed a new style of dance, a “fusion between Eastern and Western modes.” A low point in his career came in 1953, when he named names for the House Un-American Activities Committee, something he later deeply regretted. The hits kept coming: Peter Pan, an “amazing achievement,” Gypsy, Fiddler on the Roof, and, with now close friend Bernstein, West Side Story, where he worked with a young Stephen Sondheim, who called Robbins the “only genius I’ve ever met.” As Lesser concludes, his “influence lives on even where his name may not.”

A breezy and inviting biography from a self-described “zealot.”

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-300-19759-4

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018


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

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