Better Grant biographies are not in short supply; readers should seek them out instead of this one.

TO RESCUE THE REPUBLIC

ULYSSES S. GRANT, THE FRAGILE UNION, AND THE CRISIS OF 1876

The latest book of pop history from the chief political anchor for Fox News.

The Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, which Baier witnessed in his capacity as a political reporter and anchor, gave new meaning to the turmoil surrounding the 1876 presidential election. In this conventional biography of Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) designed for general readers who have not studied the era, the election occupies only 50 pages near the end. A mediocre West Point cadet, Grant achieved little glory in the Mexican-American War, resigned his commission, and struggled to earn a living. The beginning of the Civil War found him clerking in a leather goods shop and farming. The only West Point graduate in the area, he was chosen to lead local units; after six months of intense activity against minor Confederate posts and lobbying by his congressman, a friend of Lincoln, Grant became a general. He turned out to be the most aggressive and imaginative Union commander. A national idol after Appomattox in 1865, he easily won presidential elections in 1868 and 1872. Recent historians have upgraded his performance in office, but Baier holds the traditional view that Grant was an honorable man but a poor politician surrounded by scoundrels. Scandals occurred regularly, and his final months in office were preoccupied by the mess following the 1876 election, which saw a closely contested battle that the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, barely won. As in his previous books on FDR, Eisenhower, and Reagan, Baier relies heavily on other biographies, including Ron Chernow’s superior Grant (2017), and Grant’s own memoirs, a straightforward and plainspoken history. Throughout, the author can’t resist the use of invented dialogue and conjectures of historical figures’ inner thoughts, but he gets the facts right.

Better Grant biographies are not in short supply; readers should seek them out instead of this one.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-303954-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Custom House/Morrow

Review Posted Online: Aug. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

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A well-documented and enlightened portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt for our times.

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ELEANOR

A LIFE

A comprehensive exploration of one of the most influential women of the last century.

The accomplishments of Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) were widespread and substantial, and her trailblazing actions in support of social justice and global peace resonate powerfully in our current moment. Her remarkable life has been extensively documented in a host of acclaimed biographies, including Blanche Wiesen Cook’s excellent three-volume life. Eleanor was also a highly prolific writer in her own right; through memoirs, essays, and letters, she continuously documented experiences and advancing ideas. In the most expansive one-volume portrait to date, Michaelis offers a fresh perspective on some well-worn territory—e.g., Eleanor’s unconventional marriage to Franklin and her progressively charged relationships with men and women, including her intimacy with newspaper reporter Lorena Hickok. The author paints a compelling portrait of Eleanor’s life as an evolving journey of transformation, lingering on the significant episodes to shed nuance on her circumstances and the players involved. Eleanor’s privileged yet dysfunctional childhood was marked by the erratic behavior and early deaths of her flighty, alcoholic father and socially absorbed mother, and she was left to shuttle among equally neglectful relatives. During her young adulthood, her instinctual need to be useful and do good work attracted the attention of notable mentors, each serving to boost her confidence and fine-tune her political and social convictions, shaping her expanding consciousness. As in his acclaimed biography of Charles Schulz, Michaelis displays his nimble storytelling skills, smoothly tracking Eleanor’s ascension from wife and mother to her powerfully influential and controversial role as first lady and continued leadership and activist efforts beyond. Throughout, the author lucidly illuminates the essence of her thinking and objectives. “As Eleanor’s activism evolved,” writes Michaelis, “she did not see herself reaching to solve social problems so much as engaging with individuals to unravel discontinuities between the old order and modernity.”

A well-documented and enlightened portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt for our times.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4391-9201-6

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

THE COMFORT BOOK

Bestselling author Haig offers a book’s worth of apothegms to serve as guides to issues ranging from disquietude to self-acceptance.

Like many collections of this sort—terse snippets of advice, from the everyday to the cosmic—some parts will hit home with surprising insight, some will feel like old hat, and others will come across as disposable or incomprehensible. Years ago, Haig experienced an extended period of suicidal depression, so he comes at many of these topics—pain, hope, self-worth, contentment—from a hard-won perspective. This makes some of the material worthy of a second look, even when it feels runic or contrary to experience. The author’s words are instigations, hopeful first steps toward illumination. Most chapters are only a few sentences long, the longest running for three pages. Much is left unsaid and left up to readers to dissect. On being lost, Haig recounts an episode with his father when they got turned around in a forest in France. His father said to him, “If we keep going in a straight line we’ll get out of here.” He was correct, a bit of wisdom Haig turned to during his depression when he focused on moving forward: “It is important to remember the bottom of the valley never has the clearest view. And that sometimes all you need to do in order to rise up again is to keep moving forward.” Many aphorisms sound right, if hardly groundbreaking—e.g., a quick route to happiness is making someone else happy; “No is a good word. It keeps you sane. In an age of overload, no is really yes. It is yes to having space you need to live”; “External events are neutral. They only gain positive or negative value the moment they enter our mind.” Haig’s fans may enjoy this one, but others should take a pass.

A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313666-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin Life

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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