Worth a sequel when this deeply introspective author is further down the road.

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OUR LIVES IN THE LIGHT

A BOOK OF LIFE

In this discerning memoir of self-discovery, a veterinarian and farmer from Zambia unveils her inner workings and concludes that faith, hope, love, God and family are what matter most.

Debut author Kingdom hints early on that sex, violence and bad language may crop up as, at age 37, she looks back at her life thus far. This opening caution seems unnecessary. Sexual escapades are few and rendered in circumspect fashion. Violence is mostly confined to certain harsh veterinarian procedures, including the intrauterine dissection and piece-by-piece removal of a dead or undeliverable livestock fetus to save the mother’s life and spare the farmer the cost of a cesarean. Otherwise, violence lurks as a threat, as when the author, who is white, is warned to stay out of the black part of Pretoria while a student there. And rather than bad language, there are high-minded and even quirky chapter-ending philosophical discussions Kingdom imagines having with a younger sister (“Each religion needs to be seen as an internal organ on the body of earth”). The memoir is unconventionally organized by themes (births, deaths, growth, lessons, disease, fears, fires, rhyme, love, death and beliefs) rather than by chronology. Fears range from deeply etched memories of venomous snakes and giant spiders to musings about whether God is really good. A chapter on disease lists the author’s physical and mental ailments. But Kingdom, without saying so herself, emerges not as a sufferer but as a sturdy type perfectly attuned to the rigors of life in the Zambian bush, ensconced in family and essentially happy to be alive beneath the deep blue African sky. Readers should not expect much about contemporary Zambia or her veterinarian practice; these are hardly her main topics. Nor are the lessons she learns always profound. In one typical example, her chapter on disease builds to the realization that “we get sick.” Though raised in a secular family, she more recently conceived a deep faith in God and felt his presence. But she makes clear that she is still a work in progress with far to go on her journey of self-understanding.

Worth a sequel when this deeply introspective author is further down the road.

Pub Date: July 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1492797647

Page Count: 200

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2014

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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 sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

THE ROAD TO CHARACTER

New York Times columnist Brooks (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement, 2011, etc.) returns with another volume that walks the thin line between self-help and cultural criticism.

Sandwiched between his introduction and conclusion are eight chapters that profile exemplars (Samuel Johnson and Michel de Montaigne are textual roommates) whose lives can, in Brooks’ view, show us the light. Given the author’s conservative bent in his column, readers may be surprised to discover that his cast includes some notable leftists, including Frances Perkins, Dorothy Day, and A. Philip Randolph. (Also included are Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall, Augustine, and George Eliot.) Throughout the book, Brooks’ pattern is fairly consistent: he sketches each individual’s life, highlighting struggles won and weaknesses overcome (or not), and extracts lessons for the rest of us. In general, he celebrates hard work, humility, self-effacement, and devotion to a true vocation. Early in his text, he adapts the “Adam I and Adam II” construction from the work of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Adam I being the more external, career-driven human, Adam II the one who “wants to have a serene inner character.” At times, this veers near the Devil Bugs Bunny and Angel Bugs that sit on the cartoon character’s shoulders at critical moments. Brooks liberally seasons the narrative with many allusions to history, philosophy, and literature. Viktor Frankl, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tillich, William and Henry James, Matthew Arnold, Virginia Woolf—these are but a few who pop up. Although Brooks goes after the selfie generation, he does so in a fairly nuanced way, noting that it was really the World War II Greatest Generation who started the ball rolling. He is careful to emphasize that no one—even those he profiles—is anywhere near flawless.

The author’s sincere sermon—at times analytical, at times hortatory—remains a hopeful one.

Pub Date: April 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9325-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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