“I am in the pigeon-hole marked ‘no threat,’ ” Bennett writes of his reputation for niceness. “And did I stab Judi Dench...

KEEPING ON KEEPING ON

The third installment of diaries from the celebrated dramatist and author.

For a butcher’s son from Leeds, Bennett (Smut: Two Unseemly Stories, 2011, etc.) has done exceedingly well for himself. From his early days as a member of Beyond the Fringe—he modestly calls himself “a less talented performer” than Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, or Jonathan Miller—he has since become the author of such celebrated plays as The Madness of George III and The History Boys. To many readers, he may be just as famous for his diaries, which have appeared annually in the London Review of Books for 30 years. Like its predecessors, Writing Home (1995) and Untold Stories (2006), this book contains a decade of his diary entries. Fans will recognize Bennett in these pages: riding his bike, buying antiques, visiting medieval churches, and, as always, enjoying his lovingly described sandwiches. Part of the charm of these entries is the mix of the mundane and the glamorous. In a senior moment, he can’t find a favorite sweater, and his partner has to tell him he’s wearing it. Next, he’s meeting the likes of Judi Dench, Tom Stoppard, Elizabeth Taylor (who sat on his knee at a party, although he doesn’t remember why), and John F. Kennedy. The second half of the book includes introductions to his later plays, speeches, and two unproduced scripts, but the highlights are the diaries. Bennett makes just about everything sound poetic, as when he writes that a routine colonoscopy reveals “a little fairy ring of polyps, innocent enough but ruthlessly lassoed and garrotted by the radiographer.” And who wouldn’t smile upon reading that, at the post office, an elderly customer recognized Bennett and commanded, “Say something whimsical”?

“I am in the pigeon-hole marked ‘no threat,’ ” Bennett writes of his reputation for niceness. “And did I stab Judi Dench with a pitchfork I should still be a teddy bear.” That may be debatable, but the good-naturedness in these engaging pages is proof of his current standing.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-374-18105-5

Page Count: 736

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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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 wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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