THOMAS JEFFERSON

A LIFE

In the 250th anniversary year of Jefferson's birth, Randall (History/Univ. of Vermont) offers a brilliant, magisterial, and gracefully narrated biography of the sage of Monticello—a worthy successor to the author's Benedict Arnold (1990) and A Little Revenge (1984). Randall argues that much Jeffersonian scholarship relies on misinterpretations of the Founding Father's writings, or even ignores the bulk of his voluminous papers. By drawing on this newly assembled (at Princeton University) trove, Randall makes significant reinterpretations of important, though often overlooked, periods in Jefferson's life. He contends that Jefferson's underexamined early years as a law student under legal scholar George Wythe and as a preeminent member of the colonial Virginia bar, together with his encyclopedic mastery of the works of the French philosophers, explain his emergence as the chief legal spokesman of the Thirteen Colonies. Jefferson became Virginia's leading expert on land law, largely as a result of his frequent legal challenges to titles of landed gentry, and, eventually, he fundamentally rewrote that law. His interest in land law led also to his becoming a strong proponent of westward expansion, both while ending the Revolution (the Paris peace treaty doubled American territory) and during his presidency, through the Louisiana Purchase. Randall also views Jefferson's years in Europe as significant preparation for his formulating foreign policy as President, and he argues convincingly that Jefferson's antislavery views were sincere (despite his status as a major Virginia slaveholder, he worked throughout his life to bring an end to slavery in Virginia, beginning with an emancipation measure—which was shouted down—that he'd helped introduce in 1769 in Virginia's colonial legislature). Throughout the text, Jefferson emerges as a person in whom Enlightenment rationalism battled with powerful passions, both in affairs of the heart and matters of state. A superlative contribution to Jeffersonian scholarship that rebuts some canards in recent literature (Fawn Brodie's sensational allegations about the President's personal life receive short shrift) while revealing the tensions latent in Jefferson's complex personality.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 1993

ISBN: 0-8050-1577-9

Page Count: 648

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1993

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

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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