Gail Sheehy 1937-
American nonfiction writer, journalist, biographer, and novelist.
The following entry presents an overview of Sheehy's career through 2000.
Sheehy is best known for her popular series of books that examine the psychology of aging and the major stages of transition in adult life. She established her writing credentials with the best-selling Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life (1976), in which she argues that adults pass through four distinct phases during their lifelong maturation. Subsequent books in the Passages series explore such topics as menopause, male aging, and changing social perceptions of the aging process. Sheehy has also attracted attention for her biographies and character studies of major twentieth-century politicians and political candidates, such as Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in The Man Who Changed the World: The Lives of Mikhail S. Gorbachev (1991) and U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton in Hillary's Choice (1999).
Sheehy was born on November 15, 1937, in Mamaroneck, New York, to Harold and Lillian Merritt. She graduated from the University of Vermont in 1958, earning her bachelor's degree. In 1960 she married Albert Sheehy, whom she divorced in 1968. She later married Clay Felker, a journalist. Sheehy has two children, one daughter from her first marriage and a second adopted daughter from Cambodia. She received a fellowship to attend graduate school at Columbia University in 1970, where she studied under noted anthropologist Margaret Mead. Sheehy began working as a journalist and freelance writer during the early 1960s, serving as fashion editor for Democrat and Chronicle from 1961 to 1963, feature writer for the New York Herald Tribune from 1963 to 1966, and contributing editor to New York Magazine from 1968 to 1977. Sheehy additionally worked as a contributing political editor to Vanity Fair and contributed articles to such magazines as Cosmopolitan, McCall's, Glamour, London Sunday Telegraph, Paris Match, and New York Times Magazine. She has won several awards and accolades, including the National Magazine Award for reporting excellence in 1972, the Penny-Missouri Journalism Award in 1986, and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Spirit of Survival (1986). She is also a seven-time recipient of the New York Newswomen's Club Front Page Award for distinguished journalism.
Passages is the first in Sheehy's series of commercially successful nonfiction works that trace the psychology of the various stages of development in adult life. Sheehy draws on the theories of psychologist Erik Erikson to chart four separate periods of crisis in adulthood, marking transition points between each distinct stage of development. She terms these stages “pulling up roots,” “the trying twenties,” “passage to the thirties,” and “the deadline decade.” By identifying the major emotional and social changes that men and women typically encounter as they enter middle age, Sheehy argues that individuals need to confront these milestones and persevere past them to grow as human beings. Passages uses several case studies to illuminate its central argument and also incorporates research studies from a range of experts, including Yale psychologist Daniel Levinson, Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant, U.C.L.A. psychiatrist Roger Gould, and Margaret Mead. In The Silent Passage: Menopause (1992) Sheehy focuses on the effect of menopause on the lives of middle-aged women. Sheehy asserts that menopause is one of the few remaining taboos in modern society and that women need to demystify its onset and approach the change positively. New Passages: Mapping Your Life across Time (1995) revisits many of Sheehy's conclusions from Passages in an effort to revise and update her ideas based on the social and cultural changes that took place during the two decades since the work's initial publication. Sheehy renames her stages of adult development, referring to them now as “provisional adulthood” (from age eighteen to thirty), “first adulthood” (from thirty to forty-five), “second adulthood” (from forty-five to seventy-five), and “third adulthood” (from seventy-five on). New Passages also coins the term “middlescence” to describe what Sheehy refers to as the second adolescence, during which adults find themselves reevaluating their lives and redefining their priorities. Understanding Men's Passages: Discovering the New Map of Men's Lives (1998) offers a discussion of the special challenges that men face during the aging process. Sheehy addresses the major changes that are often associated with the male aging process such as hair loss and decline in sexual potency.
Though Sheehy is best known for her Passages series, she has also written several notable works of fiction, journalism, and biography. Lovesounds (1970), Sheehy's first published and only fictional book, is a psychological novel that deals with the dissolution of a marriage. In an attempt to portray the reality of modern marriages, neither the husband nor the wife are notably flawed or insensitive people. They both love their children and pursue rewarding careers, but nevertheless, the couple loses their emotional bond and decides to separate. During the 1970s, Sheehy released several books of journalism, including Panthermania: The Clash of Black against Black in One American City (1971), which follows the murder trial of activist and Black Panther founder Bobby Seale, and Hustling: Prostitution in Our Wide Open Society (1973), which explores the prostitution industry in New York City. However, many consider Spirit of Survival to be Sheehy's most personal journalistic work. In 1981 Sheehy traveled to Thailand to research a story on Cambodian refugees. She met an eleven-year-old girl named Mohm, whose family had been killed by the Pol Pot regime. Sheehy formed a relationship with Mohm and eventually brought her to America and adopted Mohm as her daughter. The work also recounts many of Mohm's experiences in Cambodia before she was able to escape the country. Sheehy has also received notice for her biographical character studies of modern politicians and political candidates. In Character: America's Search for Leadership (1988) Sheehy examines the integrity of a variety of American political figures, including President George Bush, Sr., Senator Bob Dole, Vice President Al Gore, Senator Gary Hart, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and President Ronald Reagan. The Man Who Changed the World: The Lives of Mikhail S. Gorbachev creates a biographical portrait of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, using many of Sheehy's theories of adult development to assess Gorbachev's evolution as a politician and leader. Hillary's Choice explores the life of former First Lady and New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Sheehy addresses questions regarding Hillary Clinton's past, her ability to balance her family and career, and her personal relationship with her husband President Bill Clinton.
Sheehy's Passages series has enjoyed considerable popular success, with Passages remaining on the New York Times best-seller list for over three years. However, critical response to the Passages series has been widely divided and, at times, controversial. Several scholars and researchers whom Sheehy interviewed for Passages have claimed that she used their statements out of context or did not sufficiently credit them for providing some of her central ideas. Although several reviewers have commended Sheehy for bringing a positive perspective to the aging process, many have argued that her works indulge too heavily in “pop psychology” and self-help cliches. Sheehy's biographical portraits have also received a mixed response from critical audiences, with reviewers routinely criticizing Sheehy's application of psychological analyses to her subjects without sufficient information or qualification to do so. While some commentators have argued that Character offers little insight on Sheehy's subjects, others have asserted that the book provides a fresh and intriguing examination of modern politicians. Critics of The Man Who Changed the World have charged that the work is filled with factual and conceptual errors, mostly due to Sheehy's insufficient knowledge and understanding of Soviet history, culture, and politics. Russian critic Tatyana Tolstaya has asserted that, “the number of illiterate mistakes in this book is beyond counting.” Hillary's Choice has been faulted by some critics for offering an insignificant amount of new information on a topic that has already been overworked by the mass media. Minette Marrin has disagreed with this assessment, noting that Hillary's Choice “makes very good light, sensational reading, with plenty of sharp, plausible insights.” After the publication of Hillary's Choice, several critics have become increasingly vocal about Sheehy's habit of putting forth factual errors and inaccurate reportage in her books and magazine articles. Franklin Foer has commented that, “[b]y the time Sheehy wrote her 1999 biography of Hillary Clinton … finding her errors had become a kind of journalistic game. The Washington Post's ‘Reliable Source’ column kept a running tab, called ‘Gail's Goofs Corner.’ Pieces in the New York Observer and The Nation, uncovering a slew of other slipups, piled on. And a list of eminences came forward to claim that Sheehy had either invented quotes or twisted them out of context.” Despite these accusations about the validity of her research, Sheehy's books have continued to attract a wide commercial audience.
Lovesounds (novel) 1970
Panthermania: The Clash of Black against Black in One American City (journalism) 1971
Speed Is of the Essence (journalism) 1971
Hustling: Prostitution in Our Wide Open Society (journalism) 1973
Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life (nonfiction) 1976
Pathfinders (nonfiction) 1981
Spirit of Survival (journalism) 1986
Character: America's Search for Leadership (nonfiction and biography) 1988
The Man Who Changed the World: The Lives of Mikhail S. Gorbachev (biography) 1991
The Silent Passage: Menopause (nonfiction) 1992; revised and expanded, 1998
New Passages: Mapping Your Life across Time (nonfiction) 1995
Understanding Men's Passages: Discovering the New Map of Men's Lives (nonfiction) 1998
Hillary's Choice (biography) 1999
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SOURCE: Hassenger, Robert. Review of Passages, by Gail Sheehy. New Republic 175, no. 12 (18 September 1976): 30-1.
[In the following review, Hassenger observes that Sheehy addresses several important issues in Passages, but fails to offer workable ideas about how individuals may successfully negotiate the “passages” through adulthood.]
This book [Passages] is getting a lot of attention. The personality theorists from whom journalist Sheehy has learned—some allege stolen—are dismissing it as pop psychology. Paperback rights have already been sold for a quarter million. Can Truffaut and the Maysles be far behind?
I'd have to go with Woody Allen. For, while important, this book is too damn serious. It will scare the pants off a lot of people. For Sheehy has hit many of us where we live—or used to. Before, that is, we hit the “Dead-line Decade” of the mid-30s (for women) and early 40s (more typical of men). This is the time, according to Sheehy, when we seem to discover we are going in different directions. As the man's professional (Sheehy is concerned primarily with the middle class) aspirations begin to level off and perhaps even to seem fraudulent, the woman's are often just emerging. Couples long out of sync seem to discover this for the first time, and find their gears—most dramatically, their sexual ones—increasingly unable to mesh. As he...
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SOURCE: Lasch, Christopher. “Planned Obsolescence.” New York Review of Books 23, no. 17 (28 October 1976): 7, 10.
[In the following review, Lasch offers a mixed assessment of Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life, commenting that the work “rests on medical definitions of reality that remain highly suspect.”]
Psychiatric self-help, the twentieth century's equivalent of “self-culture,” commends itself as the shortest road to health and happiness, at least for those who can't afford regular visits to a psychiatrist. The market for books of psychiatric advice and consolation appears inexhaustible. The style of these manuals, however, has recently undergone a certain refinement. Exhortation has yielded to analysis, positive thinking to study of the laws of psychological development. The popularization of psychiatric jargon and concepts has created a half-knowledgeable readership that can no longer be satisfied with slogans and proverbs, formulas for winning friends and influencing people, injunctions to keep smiling.
The agreeable fiction that life begins at forty no longer invites a willing suspension of disbelief. We know too much about the “mid-life crisis” to find comfort in such pieties. Today we insist that our doctors tell us the worst; we find our chief comfort in the knowledge that others get the same diagnosis. Others share our fears, dread the prospect...
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SOURCE: Bundesen, Lynne. Review of Spirit of Survival, by Gail Sheehy. Los Angeles Times Book Review (6 July 1986): 5.
[In the following excerpt, Bundesen asserts that Sheehy's subject matter in Spirit of Survival is important, but that the focus of the book is too diffuse, the discussion is weakened by overgeneralizations, and the narrative is overly concerned with Sheehy herself.]
Gail Sheehy is probably best known in this country as the author of Passages. Her work is in the genre usually referred to as “pop sociology.” Sheehy describes herself fearing loneliness and middle age, and when “the man in her life” urges her to join him in Southeast Asia just as she has completed a cross-country book tour and is about to suffer what she calls “writer's paralysis,” she goes along with the idea.
Over breakfast after an amorous first night in the Oriental Hotel of Bangkok, she reads on the veranda a newspaper story that begins, “Thousands of children, most of them under twelve, orphaned by the genocide in Cambodia, have been existing in holding centers in Thailand for over two years. … They have scant hope of being adopted or resettled in third countries.”
Sheehy goes to a refugee camp [in Spirit of Survival]. She meets a beautiful young girl, and eventually the girl arrives in New York and becomes Sheehy's daughter. She also...
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SOURCE: Kaus, Mickey. “Not Tonight, Dear.” New Republic 197, no. 3793 (28 September 1987): 43.
[In the following excerpt, Kaus criticizes Sheehy's article on Senator Gary Hart published in the September 1987 issue of Vanity Fair.]
In her widely publicized article on Gary Hart in the September issue of Vanity Fair, Gail Sheehy spends 12,000 words trying to explain why a 50-year-old man would want to have sex with a succession of gorgeous models. She seems to think this is a great mystery. Maybe it was his mother. He “grew up in a severely restricted manner.” Part of him “could not believe he deserved to be successful, because he was a sinner and a backslider.” It seems Hart could “be very intense … but once the passion was consumed, the fantasy fulfilled, and the specter of the start of a relationship reared its head,” he would “shrink back” and the “inner steel door between his two selves would slam shut.” He'd promise to “get together very soon.” And then he didn't call! (They never do.) This, Sheehy speculates, was because he had a “compulsion rooted not in seeking illicit sex but in proving he was so utterly worthy that he could break all the rules.” Yet “he could never believe he was worthy enough.”
Psst, Gail. I have an alternative hypothesis: men don't have sex with women like Donna Rice to prove they are worthy, or unworthy, or because...
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SOURCE: Sheehy, Gail, and Beth Levine. “Gail Sheehy.” Publishers Weekly 233, no. 20 (20 May 1988): 65-6.
[In the following interview, Sheehy discusses her research methods and writing process for Character: America's Search for Leadership.]
Character. Crisis. Survival. Growth. These are the words that have fascinated Gail Sheehy throughout her long writing career. How is one's character shaped by crisis? How does the survival of devastating circumstances afford opportunity for growth? Passages, Sheehy's landmark bestseller of the 1970s, studied predictable adult life crises; Pathfinders profiled people who have emerged victorious from crises or accidents of life; and her last book, Spirit of Survival, is her account of her adopted daughter's survival of the Cambodian genocide.
This singleminded passion of Sheehy's has recently culminated in another examination of character titled, appropriately enough, Character: America's Search for Leadership. She has spent the last two years flying around the country, interviewing present and now former presidential candidates (George Bush, Michael Dukakis, Bob Dole, Al Gore Jr., Gary Hart and Jesse Jackson) and their friends, families and colleagues for a series of revealing psychological profiles for Vanity Fair which have been collected and substantially expanded in Character, her eighth book. About...
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SOURCE: Rubin, Merle. “Portraits of Six Men Who Would Be President—and One Who Is.” Christian Science Monitor (5 August 1988): 18.
[In the following review, Rubin comments that Sheehy provides a more complete portrait of the political candidates she covers in Character: America's Search for Leadership than is available from other sources, concluding that Sheehy expresses a genuine concern for “the quality of America's leadership” and the future of the nation.]
Surveys show that voters care more about a candidate's character than his politics. But what, in fact, is character, and how, in this age of image consultants, do we get to see it as it really is?
Character is a reassuringly old-fashioned-sounding word implying ethical judgments. From classical times to the neoclassical 18th century, character studies were portraits of moral fiber—or its lack. But with Rousseau's Confessions (1767), the ethical notion of character was subverted by the emergence of a more elaborate psychological model that explored the shadowy areas between deed and desire. In our century, psychology has become the dominant mode of explaining character. Critics may question the true value of psychology, but psychologizing has become so “natural” to most of us that few readers will be surprised that a book like Gail Sheehy's Character is—like her previous best sellers,...
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SOURCE: Scheer, Robert. “How the Other Half Lives.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (16 December 1990): 1, 11.
[In the following review, Scheer criticizes The Man Who Changed the World, finding fault with the “full-throated arrogance” of the work.]
Mikhail Gorbachev arguably has changed the world more dramatically and with less bloodshed then any leader since Christ, and he certainly deserves something better than Gail Sheehy as a biographer. Hers is a pop-psychology genre of journalism in which the journalist's own odyssey becomes the dominant subject and the historically important figure is reduced to reader bait for the purpose of sales.
The full-throated arrogance of this paltry effort [The Man Who Changed the World] is summarized by Sheehy's boast that “this book is an X-ray of history—some of which I witnessed up close.” This from a writer with no knowledge of local languages, barely aware of regional history and who, after a few month-long visits, always accompanied by translators and government-supplied guides, considers herself a regular John Reed in the stormy streets of Petrograd.
What Sheehy has going for her is the strength of her naiveté and a commercial hook in recycling the angle of her bestselling Passages. “I have been undertaking character studies of American and world leaders for many years,” she writes. But to...
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SOURCE: Scully, Matthew. “A Soviet Life.” National Review 43, no. 2 (11 February 1991): 48, 50-1.
[In the following review, Scully comments that Sheehy seems overawed by Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev's celebrity status in The Man Who Changed the World, arguing that Sheehy mistakes complexity for depth of character.]
The opening sentences of The Man Who Changed the World do not augur well for those wanting a sober, level-headed study of Mikhail Gorbachev: “The eyes. Everyone is struck by the gleam that blazes behind his dark eyes … as if with the intensity of his belief he had burned his image of a new world into their own retinas and they will never be quite the same.”
They're forever “gleaming with adventure,” those eyes, even as the voice remains “a steady, reassuring center in the maelstrom of events”—the sum effect being, quite simply, “dazzling” and “electrifying.” Even a reluctant George Bush finally came around to admitting that, yes, “some strange chemical reaction seemed to have taken place between him and the Soviet president.” It was as if, writes Mrs. Sheehy in her concluding paragraph, “with the intensity of his belief Mikhail Gorbachev had burned his image of a new world onto the retina of the President of the United States. The old Gorbachev magic was still in evidence.” The dustjacket should perhaps carry an...
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SOURCE: Smiley, Xan. “Mystery Man.” New York Review of Books 38, no. 7 (11 April 1991): 35-8.
[In the following excerpt, Smiley discusses Sheehy's analysis of Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev's character in The Man Who Changed the World, asserting that Sheehy unconvincingly applies psychological theories from her earlier book Passages to her examination of Gorbachev.]
For all the millions of words consigned to the unwrapping of the Gorbachev enigma, the real man remains a riddle. Indeed, over the past six months—since the two books under review [The Man Who Changed the World, by Gail Sheehy, and The New Russians, by Hendrick Smith] went to press—his performance may have become even more baffling, as the once universally hailed democratic savior of the East is observed creeping back into the clammy embrace of the Army, the KGB, and the Party apparatus.
Both Hedrick Smith and Gail Sheehy rightly imply that, whatever the immediate future of the Soviet Union, there can be little doubt now that Gorbachev deserves to be seen as one of the great leaders of the century, although perhaps a transitional one. The transition for which he has been the catalyst, and maybe even the prime mover, is so momentous that the entire world must forever be in his debt. Even if the hard right—we must, it seems, accept the strange convention whereby the antidemocratic...
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SOURCE: Dallin, Alexander. Review of The Man Who Changed the World, by Gail Sheehy. Political Science Quarterly 106, no. 3 (fall 1991): 512-13.
[In the following review, Dallin observes that The Man Who Changed the World is fair, readable, and generally accurate, but notes several factual errors in the book.]
Gail Sheehy, a seasoned, polished, and enterprising writer, turns out to have a special fascination with Russia, which she put to good stead in producing this biography of Gorbachev [The Man Who Changed the World]. She spent time in the Soviet Union, interviewing over one hundred people, from Central Committee staffers to Misha's former classmates in his native Stavropol region and his fellow students in law school. She also had good research assistance with published materials in addition to interviewing some fifty journalists, officials, and academics in the West.
To those who know some of her earlier writings, it is not a surprise to find that she is persistent and sensitive and has a good eye for vivid detail and an ear for a well-turned phrase. Her indefatigable enthusiasm appears to have led her to dig up all sorts of previously unrecorded trivia about the lives and times of MSG. “Lives” indeed is not a misprint here: the subtitle gives the clue to the special angle she wishes to explore. She writes: “The theory in my book Passages is that...
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SOURCE: Frank, Joan. “Germaine, Gail and Gloria: Gladiatrix Redux.” San Francisco Review of Books 17, no. 1 (January 1992): 6-8.
[In the following review, Frank compares Sheehy's Silent Passage to two other books on menopause by prominent feminist authors—The Change, by Germaine Greer and Revolution from Within, by Gloria Steinem.]
The last photo I remember seeing some years ago of feminist writer Germaine Greer showed her watching television with her lover. It was in profile: he relaxed in an armchair, she at his feet, her lanky frame backed up cozily between his knees, her mop of dark hair framing eyes that flashed easy, mocking brilliance, her bluejeaned knees drawn up like a teenager's. Both were grinning at some inanity on the tube, and Greer looked, in the words of Gary Trudeau's “Doonesbury” characters, like she was truly Having It All.
Now I gaze at the author on the back of her latest contribution to feminist thought, The Change: Women, Ageing and the Menopause, and I do a double take. Staring from the jacket photo is a face set in grim decision: hair brittle and frizzed with gray, skin taut and drawn, deep lines tracing the brow and mouth, dark circles underscoring the eyes—which are lucid with tragic anger. Her gaze stops and holds the viewer with its thunderous challenge: “This is the stand I make, arrived at directly from Hell. Take...
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SOURCE: Taylor, John H. “Nixon and Sheehy.” American Spectator 28, no. 1 (January 1995): 54-5.
[In the following essay, Taylor, director of the Richard Nixon Library, criticizes an article by Sheehy in Vanity Fair in which he alleges Sheehy reported misinformation about Nixon.]
Two tenets of Richard Nixon's Weltanschauung were that liberals hated to be proved wrong—and that they hated Nixon because he had proved them wrong so often. In his view, it had been his enemies' anger that magnified the spark of Watergate into the wildfire that consumed him.
Even those who believed that Nixon's us-against-them attitude was regrettable conceded the implacability of the Nixon-haters. Alger Hiss's 1950 perjury convictions have been vindicated by recent revelations about links to the Soviets first suggested by Congressman Nixon in 1948. The Cambodian incursion in 1970 and the December bombing in 1972 that provoked massive protests are now seen as having saved many American and South Vietnamese lives. Yet few Nixon critics have made a practice of apologizing for being wrong about these errors, or anything else (although recent biographers Herb Parmet, Jonathan Aitken, and Joan Hoff have weighed his life on its merits).
In fifteen years working for him, many spent handling his press relations, I learned that the old man was right: By and large, the liberal press...
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SOURCE: Kaye, Elizabeth. “A Passage through Middlescence.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (23 July 1995): 13.
[In the following review, Kaye asserts that although Sheehy offers some interesting insights in New Passages, several of her ideas are unoriginal and poorly written.]
I cannot say it surprised me to read in Gail Sheehy's New Passages that the syndrome she termed “Catch-30 for Couples” in Passages, her best-selling book published in 1970, could now be termed “Catch-40 for Couples.” Sheehy has long been established, after all, as a writer with a facility for what some might describe as beaming light on a murky path and what others may view as taking old clichés and making new clichés of them.
Further, New Passages is predicated on the notion that life has changed considerably since the appearance of the old Passages, a fortuitous circumstance for Sheehy, not to mention for us. “People today” she writes, “are leaving childhood sooner, but they are taking longer to grow up and much longer to die. … True adulthood doesn't begin until thirty. … Fifty is now what 40 used to be.”
Elsewhere she notes, “The old demarcation points we may still carry around—an adulthood that begins at 21 and ends at 65—are hopelessly out-of-date. Many of us feel a little lost. We need some new markers.”
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SOURCE: Wolfe, Alan. “The Age of Anxiety.” New Republic 213, no. 21 (20 November 1995): 33-9.
[In the following excerpt, Wolfe discusses New Passages in the context of current societal attitudes about aging.]
Being old in a young country was never easy. Nineteenth-century America—forward-looking, pressed for time, anxious for efficiency, proudly mobile—had little patience with the frail. Homage may have been paid to their wisdom, but contempt defined their treatment. The old, as Thomas Cole reminds us in his cultural history of aging in America, constituted an implicit rebuke to Victorian morality. Albert Barnes, a New School Presbyterian, said it best: “One task alone remained for the old man: to tread his solitary way, already more than half forgotten, to the grave. He has had his day, and the world has nothing more to give him or to hope from him.”
Such harsh images of sinful decay came to be moderated by a Romantic view of aging, in which, as Cole writes, “death was fast becoming a kindly nurse who put old people to bed when their life's work was done.” Closely linked to ideals about personal hygiene, the active life and good character, such visions of innocent senescence and sweet death may have sounded pleasant, but they were, if anything, even more contemptuous of the elderly than the Revivalist messages that they replaced. For the romance of aging implied...
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SOURCE: Marrin, Minette. “Spoiled for Choice.” Spectator 283, nos. 8941-8942 (25 December 1999): 57-8.
[In the following review, Marrin asserts that Sheehy offers some interesting and insightful observations in Hillary's Choice, but faults Sheehy for unreliable narration based on unfounded psychological analysis.]
There must be many people who feel that they have long since heard more than enough about Hillary Clinton and her preposterous husband. There must be others whose slight remaining interest has been sated by recent newspaper extracts from Gail Sheehy's new biography, Hillary's Choice, which printed all the best bits. The need for the book itself, therefore, is perhaps rather doubtful, in this country at least. However, the rise and fall of the Clintons, as high tragicomedy or as a great American bestiary, is such an extraordinary spectacle that it is worth reading any account of it that makes such ambitious claims as this one. Years of observation, thousands of hours of taped interviews and a huge research team have, according to the author, revealed the real, the unknown Hillary Clinton.
I doubt whether that is true, but the book makes very good light, sensational reading, with plenty of sharp, plausible insights. The story of a dumpy, frumpy girl from a miserable home in suburban Chicago rising to the dizzy heights on which she now so alarmingly teeters is...
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SOURCE: Tomasky, Michael. “The Woman Who Would Be Senator.” Nation 270, no. 5 (7 February 2000): 25.
[In the following review, Tomasky points out several factual errors in Sheehy's reporting in Hillary's Choice, but observes that Sheehy does offer some plausible and convincing psychological insights.]
As you may have heard once or twice, we have a little Senate race going here in New York. The candidate on the Democratic side, by the middle of January, had subjected herself to many of the self-abasing rituals Democrats seeking statewide office in New York must submit to: The call on Al Sharpton; the obligatory trips upstate to prove that the aspirant is not merely the cat's-paw of urban liberals; the appearance before a power-broking Orthodox Jewish group to pledge fealty to Israel, even though there's no chance in hell that said group's members will vote Democratic. And she has subjected herself to one ritual most candidates don't have to submit to—moving here. The stage furniture, then, is set in place; the next nine months will bring character development, action, climax, coda.
Hillary's Choice, Gail Sheehy's new psychobiography of Hillary Clinton, was evidently intended by its author as an important piece of that stage furniture. It has not, of course, been received in quite so generous a spirit. You've probably read by now some of the sport the media have been...
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SOURCE: Hitchens, Christopher. “What She Wanted.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5059 (17 March 2000): 13.
[In the following review, Hitchens offers a positive assessment of Hillary's Choice, noting Sheehy's “expertise.”]
The old joke goes like this, and appears on page 270 of Gail Sheehy's book, Hillary's Choice. The Clintons are motoring through Illinois and stop at a wayside gas station. The pump attendant recognizes Mrs Clinton as an old high-school date, and they chat briefly. As the couple drive on, Bill Clinton says: “Imagine if you'd married him. You could have been pumping gas.” “If I'd married him”, she replies glacially, “you'd be pumping gas and he'd be the President of the United States.” My own version of this involves imagining what might have happened if Hillary Rodham had remained the way she was in her early life: a stern Goldwater Republican from an affluent white suburb. It is easy to imagine her as a conservative Senator or even First Lady, starched and coiffed, standing up for family values and traditional decencies, and tireless in her committee work. As a girl, she seems to have been prissy and preachy and over-achieving, probably in an effort to please her cold and austere yet demanding father. Gail Sheehy's expertise lies in the charting of rites of passage; her portrayal of life du côté de chez Rodham shows us that Daddy is, and always...
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SOURCE: Foer, Franklin. “Analyze This.” New Republic 223, no. 15 (9 October 2000): 12, 14.
[In the following review, Foer criticizes Sheehy's factual errors and sensational reporting in Hillary's Choice.]
For two days this month, the media fixed its attention on George W. Bush's ability to read. On at least three separate occasions, the Texas governor was asked point-blank if he suffers from dyslexia, as an article in Vanity Fair had suggested. And, on three separate occasions, he denied it. But his denials didn't stem the speculation, which found its way into The New York Times, USA Today, the Associated Press, the Chicago Tribune, Larry King Live, Good Morning America, and numerous other organs of the Fourth Estate.
There were many reasons to pay the story no mind. For starters, there was the flimsy supporting evidence: a quote from the former head of the Maryland branch of the International Dyslexia Association (who made no claims to have met Bush); Bush's idealization of Winston Churchill, who was likely dyslexic; and the author's observation that “dyslexics are sometimes the loudmouths in school. At Andover, Bush was nicknamed ‘the Lip.’” But there was an even better reason to ignore the story—the author herself, Vanity Fair correspondent Gail Sheehy, a journalist with a world-class reputation for getting it wrong....
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Acocella, Joan. “Shrink to Fit: A New Biography Puts Hillary Clinton on the Couch.” New Yorker 75, no. 38 (13 December 1999): 98-100.
Acocella evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of Hillary's Choice.
Douglas, Claire. “Shrink-Wrapped.” Washington Post Book World (2 January 2000): 3.
Douglas asserts that Sheehy fails to offer a rational, consistent, or original point of view in Hillary's Choice, but notes that Sheehy does provide some interesting new information about Hillary Clinton's college and law school years.
Tolstaya, Tatyana. “President Potemkin.” New Republic 204, no. 21 (27 May 1991): 27-30, 32-5.
Tolstaya criticizes Sheehy for being insufficiently knowledgeable about Soviet culture, history, and politics in The Man Who Changed the World.
Additional coverage of Sheehy's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 1, 33, 55, 92; Contemporary Popular Writers; Literature Resource Center; and Major 20th-Century Writers, Ed. 1.
(The entire section is 142 words.)