A finely hewn portrait of the wizard Merlin from the 12th to the 16th centuries, when, in the eyes of the times, he was very much a real historical personage.

In the early years of the 12th century, Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote a book known as the History of the Kings of Britain. It was a hoax, but it was a book very much of its time, a huge best-seller, writes Lawrence-Mathers (Medieval History/Univ. of Reading) in this deeply satisfying survey of the famed magician. The author discusses Geoffrey and the other contemporary or near-contemporary historians at work, and she notes that one of the things that gave Geoffrey’s book such instant popularity was the fact that the emerging political entity known as Britain needed a history with substance, lineage and heroes, something to shore up its many dynastic insecurities. Merlin was just the man to deliver: an omniscient magician yet fallible and vulnerable, reader of the stars and the flights of birds, and, most of all, a prophet. Yet Merlin was a figment of Geoffrey’s imagination. He was not a figure at court, but arrived when needed; there is no intimation he was bedecked in pointed cap and astrological robes, but lived simply in near hermitlike circumstances deep in the woods. Thanks to Geoffrey's book, Merlin became a fixture in the popular, theological, political and romantic imagination. He was the right man in the right place, and other historians tapped into his popularity to buttress their work; his deeds didn’t stop with Geoffrey, but were embellished for another 400 years. Out of Merlin and his many gifts and prophesies, Geoffrey et al. made a history of a place, and there also emerged a dangerous theological and political edge comprised of fusing the magical tradition of the ancient world, the early Christian Church and the Celtic past. Lawrence-Mathers nimbly brings readers into the Middle Ages, during which most people believed in prophecy and magic as real, active things, when the Merlins of the world surely walked the land and saw what most did not.

Sharp and enchanting.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-300-14489-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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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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