An early political obituary or insights into the 46th president of the United States?

JOE BIDEN

THE LIFE, THE RUN, AND WHAT MATTERS NOW

A New Yorker staff writer profiles Joe Biden (b. 1942) as a historic election looms.

In this brief biography, National Book Award winner Osnos profiles the man who has "arrived at his season of history" in America's most consequential presidential campaign in decades. The author clearly admires his subject, though he oddly begins his account of the man who would be the oldest president in U.S. history with the aneurysm Biden suffered in 1988. “Biden is seventy-seven years old,” writes Osnos, “and he looks thinner than he did six years ago, but not markedly so. He has parted with youth grudgingly.” The author takes us through several well-worn Biden themes: the tragic deaths of his first wife and daughter and son Beau; his stutter; controversial roles in the Clarence Thomas hearings and the 1994 crime bill; and tendency for candor and gaffes and being thoughtlessly affectionate toward women. Osnos also highlights some gems about which many readers would undoubtedly like to learn more—e.g., his early career as a public defender; “contempt for the corrupting glad-handing of Washington”; his hard work honing his oratory skills. Many readers will be intrigued by the author’s portrayal of Biden’s dynamics with Barack Obama. Biden insisted on being able to join whatever important meetings he chose to and, unlike many vice presidents, secured an office in the West Wing. The book concludes with Biden’s plans for his presidency—not just policy, but also his commitment, after the horribly divisive Trump years, to “unify the nation” with “a language of healing.” Mostly drawn from the author’s New Yorker pieces, the text retains the feel of the originals, which occasionally detracts from the cohesion of the narrative. This book may age fast, but if you need a rapid and readable Biden briefing, it’s for you.

An early political obituary or insights into the 46th president of the United States?

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982174-02-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

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WILL

One of Hollywood’s biggest stars delivers a memoir of success won through endless, relentless work and self-reckoning.

“My imagination is my gift, and when it merges with my work ethic, I can make money rain from the heavens.” So writes Smith, whose imagination is indeed a thing of wonder—a means of coping with fear, an abusive father with the heart of a drill instructor, and all manner of inner yearnings. The author’s imagination took him from a job bagging ice in Philadelphia to initial success as a partner in the Grammy-winning rap act DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Smith was propelled into stardom thanks to the ministrations of Quincy Jones, who arranged an audition in the middle of his own birthday party, bellowing “No paralysis through analysis!” when Smith begged for time to prepare. The mantra—which Jones intoned 50-odd times during the two hours it took for the Hollywood suits to draw up a contract for the hit comedy series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air—is telling, for hidden within this memoir lies a powerful self-help book. For Smith, all of life is a challenge in which one’s feelings are largely immaterial. “I watched my father’s negative emotions seize control of his ample intellect and cause him over and over again to destroy beautiful parts of our family,” he writes, good reason for him to sublimate negativity in the drive to get what he wanted—money, at first, and lots of it, which got him in trouble with the IRS in the early 1990s. Smith, having developed a self-image that cast him as a coward, opines that one’s best life is lived by facing up to the things that hold us back. “I’ve been making a conscious effort to attack all the things that I’m scared of,” he writes, adding, “And this is scary.” It’s a good lesson for any aspiring creative to ponder—though it helps to have Smith’s abundant talent, too.

A refreshing celebrity memoir focused not strictly on the self but on a much larger horizon.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984877-92-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2021

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