An intellectually dense and well-researched yet brisk journey into one of history’s most persuasive dissenters.

DIDEROT AND THE ART OF THINKING FREELY

A lively biography of Denis Diderot (1713-1784), provocateur, polymath, and central figure in the French Enlightenment.

Ironically, the philosopher whose name is strongly associated with freethinking kept his freest thoughts under wraps: Thanks to an early lesson in the consequences of candor, he intentionally left mountains of unpublished writings to be discovered after his death. Early writings skewering organized religion and questioning God’s existence earned him public book-burnings and a three-month prison stint. In the ensuing years, he would save his most provocative thoughts about sex and politics for the drawer; his posthumous novel The Nun questioned the immorality of incest and adultery. But he put some of his most challenging ideas in plain sight, if subtly, through his life-consuming, multivolume Encyclopédie, which tweaked the sensibilities of religious leaders while also striving to “pull back the world’s curtain” through anatomical and mechanical illustrations that were rarely available to the public. Curran (Humanities/Wesleyan Univ.; The Anatomy of Blackness, 2011, etc.) gamely sifts through the mountain of Diderot’s output—he was a prolific art critic, lead writer of the Encyclopédie, and an inveterate correspondent—without for a moment making it feel burdensome. Rather, he ably balances the details of Diderot’s life with thoughtful considerations of the source and depth of his philosophical byways, taking his more peculiar ideas seriously but not literally. Curran’s mission is served by his subject’s wealth of experiences: In addition to his run-ins with state and religious leaders, he found a patron and intellectual sparring partner in Catherine the Great and corresponded with Benjamin Franklin before the American Revolution his writings helped inspire. As Curran writes, Diderot argued that kings and religious leaders “were complicit in running a massive illusion factory”; a more skeptical world may be Diderot’s greatest legacy.

An intellectually dense and well-researched yet brisk journey into one of history’s most persuasive dissenters.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-59051-670-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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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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