An inspired biographical and autobiographical journey.

MAKING DARKNESS LIGHT

A LIFE OF JOHN MILTON

A prismatic portrait of the canonical poet.

Oxford literature professor Moshenska takes a fresh perspective on John Milton (1608-1674), the art of biography, and the experience of reading to create a lyrical, meditative narrative about a poet who has seemed to generations of biographers and readers to be “perennially contemporary.” It’s not possible, Moshenska writes, “to separate the place of Milton’s writings in his lifetime from the questionings and imaginings that they can provoke in ours.” The author has been haunted by Milton, entangled with him as a reader and teacher, and his captivating, perceptive study reveals a deeply felt connection. Dividing the biography into three parts, the author considers Milton’s birth and early life, marked by his growing up in “a house full of music” that, Moshenska believes, made him particularly sensitive to rhythm; his experiences in his late 20s and early 30s, including a “formative and fraught” trip to Italy and meeting with the aged Galileo; and the latter half of his life, when he married, became a father, and emerged as a controversial public figure. At this point, “he presented himself as a learned, urbane, and respectable poet” whose writings on divorce “could make women leave their husbands” and whose political views “threatened the bonds between monarchs and subjects.” Moshenska follows Milton’s footsteps from his birthplace on Bread Street in London to his travels through Italy; visits Milton’s several homes; offers meticulously close, sensitive readings of poems and essays; and reveals “granular details” of turbulent 17th-century English political and religious life. Throughout, the author shares his own intimate responses to Milton’s sometimes “alien and challenging” views. Milton, he writes, “was able to be absolutely himself while remaining in some sense foreign to himself, and this strange kind of self-relation I have found rich and useful in making sense of myself.” With no aspirations to produce a definitive biography, Moshenska has crafted, instead, an incisive portrayal.

An inspired biographical and autobiographical journey.

Pub Date: today

ISBN: 978-1-5416-2068-1

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

more