An outstandingly fresh look at well-trodden ground.

PHILIP AND ALEXANDER

KINGS AND CONQUERORS

Superb biographies of royalty’s greatest father-son combination.

Countless books have covered the lives of Alexander the Great and his energetic father, Philip of Macedon, but this dual biography, one of the first for a popular audience, not only gives them equal weight, but emphasizes that “both men were able, and Alexander won the war planned and prepared by Philip.” Prolific British historian Goldsworthy reminds readers that Macedonia, north of the classical Greek cities, was long viewed as a nation of uncultured barbarians. When not warring against neighbors, kings fought off rivals and were frequently murdered. No one held great hopes for the 22-year-old Philip, who took over leadership in 359 B.C.E. after his uncle died in battle. Yet, during a 23-year reign, he secured his throne and turned his army into a trained, professional fighting force that made him the de facto leader of all Greece. Few objected to Philip’s plan to invade Persia, still a wealthy superpower, although his murder interrupted the project, which was already underway. Goldsworthy’s Alexander spent two years dealing with rivals and the usual rebellions before marching off in 334, never to return. Despite the plethora of accounts of Alexander’s campaign, readers will still enjoy this riveting one. His army enjoyed dazzling victories accompanied by the accepted mass murder, looting, and rape. They grumbled over their hardships and disliked Alexander’s increasing love of foreign customs and ceremonies. As paranoid as most ancient rulers, he regularly discovered plots and executed friends and subordinates, not all of whom were guilty. Most scholars deplore his neglect of a succession plan, and his empire fell apart following his death. Goldsworthy is the best sort of writer on ancient times. He eschews psychohistory, explains the wildly unfamiliar culture of that era, and speculates carefully. Because so few sources survive and most are untrustworthy, the author, who includes a chronology and maps, also keeps readers informed of the probability that a historical event actually happened.

An outstandingly fresh look at well-trodden ground.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5416-4669-8

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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