A robust, immensely entertaining portrait from a master biographer.



A shimmering portrait of a tempestuous monarch.

British novelist and biographer Wilson (The Potter’s Hand, 2012, etc.) has written on a wide variety of major historical figures, from John Milton to Leo Tolstoy to C.S Lewis to Adolph Hitler. Here, he lends a lively expertise to his portrayal of the forthright, formidable, still-enigmatic sovereign. In 1837, 18-year-old Victoria, a rather “ignorant little child,” acceded to the throne, delighted to be independent of her overbearing mother but hardly schooled in political and constitutional matters. Wilson gradually reveals the unfolding of her true self apart from her marriage to the beloved Albert, prince consort. The author examines her platonic yet significant relationships with succeeding prime ministers and her mysterious Scottish manservant, John Brown. Aside from didactic correspondence from her uncle, King Leopold of Belgium, Victoria was first taught about the affairs of a head of state by Lord Melbourne, who was also her first crush, until her marriage to Albert of Coburg, her German-speaking cousin whose solid Protestant intellectual ideals helped “establish monarchy as a workable modern political institution” in England. Their family of nine children, all of whom survived childhood and were used to cement familial ties to the neighboring monarchies, created a bulwark against the forces of revolution overtaking Europe. Yet Wilson also notes how the marriage caused Victoria to surrender “her own freedom and personality.” She was not a happy mother, always scolding her children, and she was immensely volatile, especially after Albert’s death, when she largely retired from court to her estates in Scotland or the Isle of Wight. In the company of Brown, she resisted her official public duties, preferring instead to write in her journals. During her long reign, Victoria had come to embody the experience of an entire age, overseeing great reform and the strengthening of ties between India and the British Empire.

A robust, immensely entertaining portrait from a master biographer.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-1594205996

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 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 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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