An engaging, evocative work, despite its split personality.

Into the Carpathians


Sparks (Dreaming of Wolves, 2010) recalls trekking through the Carpathian Mountains in this memoir and history of Eastern Europe.

An expedition called “The Way of the Wolf” offers a 2,000-mile journey through the Carpathians from Romania to Germany. During the trek, a group of wildlife professionals and eco-volunteers take an inventory of wolves and other animals that inhabit the range, track their movements, and collect scat samples for analysis. It’s the brainchild of Peter Sürth, the chief wolf tracker and technician at the Carpathian Large Carnivore Project, whom the author met while volunteering for the organization in Transylvania (as described in his previous book). Sparks’ latest offering takes a similar tack, recounting the day-to-day experiences of the expedition’s support team, describing the sweeping vistas of the surrounding landscape, and offering razor-sharp vignettes of Slavic village life. These observations often have the roughness of diary entries, and herein lies their candid charm. During an evening stroll, for example, the author overhears “the riffs of Take Me Home, Country Roads booming from a neighboring house”; he notes wryly, “John Denver’s voice occasionally managed to transcend multi-gendered, Romanian-accented shouts, hoots, hollers, and screams that accompanied the familiar and comforting melody. Take me home indeed.” However, the author’s attempts to combine a travelogue with a walking history of the territory are less successful. The research is detailed, accurate, and supported by a wealth of secondary sources, and it brings to life the rich history of the Carpathians and its people. Yet the diary sections become swamped by long, unwieldy historical digressions. As a result, there’s a sense that there are two books on offer here, each with its own merits—one, a charmingly disheveled travel narrative; the other, a straight-laced historical thesis— and the author struggles but ultimately fails to make a seamless connection between the two. Still, this book, punctuated by stunning color photography, will attract those with an interest in wildlife and Eastern Europe.

An engaging, evocative work, despite its split personality.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2015


Page Count: -

Publisher: Koehler Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2015

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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 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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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