On two consecutive days—Monday, June 10, and Tuesday, June 11, 1963—President John F. Kennedy gave two speeches that led to what many regard as the most significant achievements of his presidency, one in diplomacy and the other in civil rights. Both speeches were unprecedented and politically risky.
A few years ago, I taught Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild in a college freshman writing class. I thought the story of Chris McCandless, who turned his back on civilization to hike into the Alaskan wilderness, would resonate with undergraduates. Chris’ tragic journey may have ended with his death, but his quest for purity and adventure was inspirational. Or so I thought.
“Running a totalitarian regime is simple: tell the people what they’re going to do, shoot the first one to object, and repeat until everyone is on the same page.” Such was life in Ukraine for young Lev Golinkin and his family, and it might have been tolerable had he not also suffered daily beatings in school for being a Jew. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the family fled to Austria where they lived in a refugee hotel before immigrating to the U.S. A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka is the story of that journey and of Golinkin’s struggle to reclaim his identity.
One of the first artists featured in Sarah Thornton’s fascinating 33 Artists in 3 Acts is American Jeff Koons, who tells her that he never wants people to feel small when they view his art. Clearly Thornton ascribes to a similar principle. In this witty, smart follow-up to her 2008 bestseller, Seven Days in the Art World, Thornton generously cracks the sometimes perplexing code of modern art.
From “Game of Thrones” to The Pillars of the Earth, popular culture offers up medieval stories where royals grab for power, where crucial alliances are built between church and state, where important people suddenly fall over dead after a sumptuous meal, poisoned by a hidden rival. But this world did, in fact, exist, and the subject of Kirstin Downey’s fascinating new biography, Isabella: The Warrior Queen, maneuvered through it with unlikely and thrilling success.
To imagine what life was like growing up in a French village in the early 15th century, don’t think of A Year in Provence. Think of modern-day Syria.
During the years after World War II, a group of ambitious, idealistic, affluent and well-connected young people settled in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. Until at least 1975, their strong influence was felt, for good or ill, in virtually every aspect of government, especially foreign policy decisions, and in shaping public opinion on such issues as the founding of NATO, the military and covert actions of the Cold War, the Cuban missile crisis and the war in Vietnam.
A harried reader could get the gist of The Secret History of Wonder Woman by opening it just past dead center and reading through the 16-page comic-book version of the story.
Bryan Stevenson was fresh out of Harvard Law School when he embraced—first in Georgia, then in Alabama—the mission of defending death row inmates and others facing undeserved or disproportionate prison sentences. An African American from a poor family in Delaware, Stevenson accepts as a starting point the maxim, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
In mid-19th-century America, newspapers were the primary sources of information and opinion. Most newspaper publishers and editors were closely aligned with politicians and, with few exceptions, opinions were emphasized more than news and loyalty to political parties more than the public interest. It was a time of significant change for the newspaper industry with technological innovations such as steam-driven printing presses and, most importantly, the telegraph, making delivery of the news much faster.