A lovely, elegant book of interest to historians and biographers as much as to general readers.

A LIFE DISCARDED

148 DIARIES FOUND IN THE TRASH

An affecting, bittersweet portrait of an anonymous person rescued—if rescued it is—from obscurity quite by accident.

The yarn begins when British social worker Masters (Simon: The Genius in My Basement, 2012, etc.) discovered a load of books thrown out in a skip—what we’d call a dumpster—in one of those eureka moments for bibliophiles: “Clustered inside a broken shower basin, wedged into the gaps around a wrenched-off door, flapping in the breeze on top of the broken bricks and slates, were armfuls of books.” But not books, really. Instead, they were the diaries of someone who, with hurried hand and buffeted heart, filled 148 volumes from margin to margin with the marginalia of life, thousands of words. Tracing them back to a half-century earlier, Masters set to wondering about the identity of the author. It would be ungallant to reveal what he discovered in his quest for that identity except to say that the writer, whom he ultimately sniffed out, wasn’t opposed to being uncovered, and for subtle and complicated reasons. Part of Masters’ account is an entertaining tale of scholarly detection during which he relied on the talents of a graphologist of a sort who might have been put to work at Bletchley Park a couple of generations earlier. In a Sherlock-ian flash, she lists many of the writer’s details, to which an amazed Masters asked, “you can tell from the handwriting?” The reply: “I can tell that from reading what she’s written. Haven’t you tried doing that yet?” But part of his account is also a gentle meditation on lives of profoundly quiet desperation—the lives of most people, in other words, who will never be enshrined in diaries, even discarded ones, to say nothing of books about them. The sad developments in Masters’ own life as he researched and wrote make a poignant counterpoint.

A lovely, elegant book of interest to historians and biographers as much as to general readers.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-17818-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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

NIGHT

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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