A smart book of straight talk where laughter and logic meet.



An actor’s comedic exploration into America’s most gumption-exemplifying citizens.

Offerman (Paddle Your Own Canoe, 2013), best known as the hilarious Ron Swanson in Parks & Recreation, delivers 21 profiles of the men and women he admires most. “I am always hugely inspired (and personally relieved) to learn of the hard work that was required of any of my heroes before they could arrive at the level of mastery for which they ultimately garnered renown,” writes the author, an ethic reflected throughout his examples. From well-known historical figures (George Washington and James Madison) to more obscure men (boat builder Nat Benjamin, toolmaker Thomas Lie-Nielsen), Offerman smartly infuses history with humor, the result of which is an entertaining, educational reading experience. Though his tone may rile historians (“Young Theodore [Roosevelt] was, for lack of a better term, a wuss”), it’s a trespass easily forgivable for the comedic reward. Surprisingly, however, the author is at his best when he momentarily deviates from humor to reflect on society’s more serious problems. From partisanship to homophobia to the separation of church and state, Offerman utilizes his heroes as entry points to explore a range of subjects. The success of this tonal shift is exemplified in the chapter on writer and environmental activist Wendell Berry, a chapter that Offerman notes contains “less hyperbole than I would sophomorically like to apply to it.” Yet the risk pays off, proving to readers that the author is after much more than a chuckle, but concerted conversation as well. Though a bit bloated—the literary equivalent of Ron Swanson after a robust meal at Charles Mulligan's Steakhouse—Offerman’s book is nonetheless satisfying. His ability to vacillate between gruff history teacher and concerned citizen gives readers a reason to demonstrate their own gumption and follow him to the end.

A smart book of straight talk where laughter and logic meet.

Pub Date: May 26, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-525-95467-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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


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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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