THE FATHER

A LIFE OF HENRY JAMES, SR.

Can a minor literary figure sustain interest throughout a major biography? In the case of Henry James Sr., the answer is yes. James is the ``blocked and monomaniacal hierophant'' who fathered perhaps America's most remarkable literary brood—Henry, William, and Alice. With equal parts psychological insight and mordant humor, Habegger (English/Univ. of Kansas; Henry James and the ``Woman Business,'' not reviewed) limns a fiercely paradoxical man constantly undermined by inner demons. Henry Sr. (181182) is little read today, but he was an intellectual when it first came to matter during the American Literary Renaissance. An eccentric philosopher, Henry Sr. had wealth and a gift for witty conversation that gave him access to many of the leading literary and intellectual men of his day, including Emerson, Carlyle, Thoreau, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, yet his bilious essays also mired him in endless controversy. Habegger traces much of his character to a childhood accident that deprived him of a leg and gave him, presumably, much to compensate for. He spent his youth in drunken idleness. He had a devastating nervous breakdown in his 30s and later embraced and then quarreled with one religion or philosophy after another, including Calvinism, Swedenborgism, and Fourierism (his advocacy of the latter's theories on sexual freedom caused a huge scandal). His family relations also bore the marks of the crackpot: He favored William, shuttled Henry Jr. from one school and instructor to another, left his two younger sons exposed to the Civil War service from which William and Henry were shielded, and, regarding women as a mere appendage to men, so smothered Alice's questing intellect that she became suicidal. How ironic that in middle age this egotist came to believe that selfhood was the principle root of evil. This deserves an honored place on the shelves with previous biographies of the James family by Leon Edel, R.W.B. Lewis, and Jean Strouse.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-374-15383-3

Page Count: 550

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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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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