Less engaging than Asimov’s autobiography, which remains a standard, but still a welcome account of the development of an...

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ROBERT A. HEINLEIN, VOLUME 1

LEARNING CURVE (1907-1948)

First volume of a two-part biography of legendary sci-fi writer Robert A. Heinlein (1907–1988).

It may surprise readers schooled in Heinlein’s stern, even quasi-fascistic visions of the future to learn that their author was a sometime liberal Democrat involved in postwar party politics in his adopted California. It will not surprise them to know that Heinlein, on the road to a lifetime’s service in the Navy until being drummed out for medical reasons, was infamous among subordinates as a by-the-book disciplinarian of a Captain Bligh—or perhaps Queeg—bent. By Heinlein aficionado Patterson’s account, he discovered science fiction early on, but initially took to it as a means of having to work a real job. World War II robbed him of that escape, but he worked intently to write stories for pulp magazines that criss-crossed the genres of science fiction and fantasy until building up the skills and stamina to begin the huge novels for which he would become famous. “Just before Pearl Harbor,” writes Patterson, “he had intended to raise his sights…to the slick magazines and book publication, which pretty much implied then that he would leave science fiction behind.” Yet science fiction would flourish after the war, with its futuristic visions as wrought by contemporaries such as E.E. “Doc” Smith, Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague de Camp. Patterson pays fitting homage to those writers as mentors and competitors, also giving due to longtime editor John Campbell, who advised Heinlein of what would work (plenty of plot complications) and what wouldn’t (leave religion out of it). The author clearly has a handle on every moment of Heinlein’s life, including the unpleasant (a nasty divorce) and controversial (trash-talking L. Ron Hubbard) episodes, but sometimes trips over awkward, overworked locutions.

Less engaging than Asimov’s autobiography, which remains a standard, but still a welcome account of the development of an important popular writer.

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-7653-1960-9

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2010

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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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