Marie Antoinette's Darkest Days

PRISONER NO. 280 IN THE CONCIERGERIE

This scholarly work thoroughly documents Marie Antoinette’s imprisonment, trial, and execution. Bashor (Marie Antoinette’s Head, 2013, etc.), a professor of global issues at Franklin University, tells the story of Marie Antoinette’s last 10 weeks by drawing on contemporary sources as well as modern scholarship. The king was executed in January 1793; on Aug. 2, 1793, when this book begins, Marie Antoinette was taken to the Conciergerie prison in Paris. Her trial began on Oct. 14, and two days later she was found guilty and sent to the guillotine. Bashor describes the damp, filthy prison’s privations; attempts to help or rescue the queen; the revolutionary tribunal and the monarch’s trial with its prosecutor, indictment, jury, witnesses, testimony, and sentencing; and Marie Antoinette’s final moments. In all this, the author provides novelistic and empathetic attention to detail and personalities, as when he notes that Marie Antoinette recorded the heights of her children on the prison wall or how she kept busy by converting toothpicks into tapestry needles. He marshals a wide array of evidence, carefully distinguishing likely and trustworthy accounts from less believable ones and sorting out confusing episodes such as the Carnation Plot. In his readable book, Bashor shows that the Vienna-born Marie Antoinette, as a foreigner (and, probably, as a woman), became a scapegoat for the mob’s rage and that her trial was a sham. But while conceding that Marie Antoinette was “well known for her lavish expenditures and frivolous lifestyle,” he seems as puzzlingly reluctant as the queen to connect all the dots between that frivolity and the scapegoating. And while Marie Antoinette suffered in the Conciergerie, so did all his majesty’s prisoners before her, some no less innocent than herself. That the queen loved her children and went to her death with noble poise has captured much admiration—certainly Bashor’s—but this ought surely to be seen in the context of aristocratic France’s overwhelming human tragedies, which can never be told in so much detail. Extensive notes, a selected bibliography, and index are included. Impressive, well-researched, useful, and accessible, though some readers may feel that the book’s sympathies for the doomed queen remain misplaced.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4422-5499-2

Page Count: 392

Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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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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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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