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ADVENTURER

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GIACOMO CASANOVA

An authoritative, richly detailed portrait of a fascinating historical character and another top-notch work from Damrosch.

A vivid chronicle of the passions of an 18th-century libertine.

Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798) has been the subject of many biographies, based largely on edited and sometimes sanitized versions of his Histoire de ma vie, in which he recounted more than 100 sexual conquests, relentless travels, and a lifetime spent perpetrating scams and cons. Damrosch, an award-winning biographer of Jonathan Swift, William Blake, and others, offers a close critical study of the original manuscript and of supplementary texts that include hundreds of pages of unpublished works. The result is a nuanced, deftly contextualized biography of an adventurer, an opportunist, and a man of voracious appetites who was determined to free himself from all manner of repression. He was, Damrosch writes, not “just a bad boy, he was a particular kind of bad boy” whose sexual encounters were “opportunistic and [sometimes] disturbingly exploitative.” He engaged in pedophilia (though, as Damrosch explains, the age of consent at the time was 10), incest, and gang rape; claimed to have occult powers; and lost fortunes gambling. Born to actors in Venice, Casanova imbibed the spirit of the swarming, culturally diverse city. The major industry, Damrosch writes, “was pleasure,” and Casanova, drawn to role-playing, fascinated by cross-dressing, and an “instinctive improvisor,” thrived there. Damrosch hews closely to the narrative of the Histoire, testing Casanova’s version—and the analyses of previous biographers—against available historical evidence. Still, his portrait is not a corrective to what is already well known but rather an amplification. Although he states at the outset that “the story of a notorious seducer needs to be addressed frankly and critically,” Damrosch ably demonstrates his subject’s energy and intelligence, “the joie de vivre, the enormous risks and hair-raising escapes, the lifelong struggle to invent and reinvent himself,” as well as his impressive talent in creating a memoir “bursting with vitality”—an apt description for this beautifully illustrated biography.

An authoritative, richly detailed portrait of a fascinating historical character and another top-notch work from Damrosch.

Pub Date: May 24, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-300-24828-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022

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GENGHIS KHAN AND THE MAKING OF THE MODERN WORLD

A horde-pleaser, well-written and full of surprises.

“The Mongols swept across the globe as conquerors,” writes the appreciative pop anthropologist-historian Weatherford (The History of Money, 1997, etc.), “but also as civilization’s unrivaled cultural carriers.”

No business-secrets fluffery here, though Weatherford does credit Genghis Khan and company for seeking “not merely to conquer the world but to impose a global order based on free trade, a single international law, and a universal alphabet with which to write all the languages of the world.” Not that the world was necessarily appreciative: the Mongols were renowned for, well, intemperance in war and peace, even if Weatherford does go rather lightly on the atrocities-and-butchery front. Instead, he accentuates the positive changes the Mongols, led by a visionary Genghis Khan, brought to the vast territories they conquered, if ever so briefly: the use of carpets, noodles, tea, playing cards, lemons, carrots, fabrics, and even a few words, including the cheer hurray. (Oh, yes, and flame throwers, too.) Why, then, has history remembered Genghis and his comrades so ungenerously? Whereas Geoffrey Chaucer considered him “so excellent a lord in all things,” Genghis is a byword for all that is savage and terrible; the word “Mongol” figures, thanks to the pseudoscientific racism of the 19th century, as the root of “mongoloid,” a condition attributed to genetic throwbacks to seed sown by Mongol invaders during their decades of ravaging Europe. (Bad science, that, but Dr. Down’s son himself argued that imbeciles “derived from an earlier form of the Mongol stock and should be considered more ‘pre-human, rather than human.’ ”) Weatherford’s lively analysis restores the Mongols’ reputation, and it takes some wonderful learned detours—into, for instance, the history of the so-called Secret History of the Mongols, which the Nazis raced to translate in the hope that it would help them conquer Russia, as only the Mongols had succeeded in doing.

A horde-pleaser, well-written and full of surprises.

Pub Date: March 2, 2004

ISBN: 0-609-61062-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2003

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THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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