A pale companion piece to Operating Instructions.



Being a grandparent is harder than it looks.

Such is Lamott’s (Imperfect Birds, 2010, etc.) message in this angst-ridden, occasionally neurotic diary of her grandson’s first year. After gaining a large audience for Operating Instructions (1993), which chronicled her son Sam’s first year of life, the author sets out to do the same after Sam became a father at age 19. Sam and erstwhile girlfriend Amy are parents to a healthy baby boy named Jax.  In nearly daily entries, Lamott shares details of her life beginning with Jax’s first full day after birth. Filled with a variety of characters—Sam, the young father in over his head; Amy, the beautiful mother whose strength Lamott seems to envy; Jax, the almost-perfect baby; various friends and family—the book is mostly about the author and her seething river of insecurities and anxieties. At nearly every turn, Lamott comes up with some new thing to worry about, a new facet of herself to loathe or a new characteristic of those close to her to deride and belittle. She struggles constantly with boundaries as a grandmother, and she bemoans her lack of control over situations. Another source of near-constant anxiety is the prospect of Amy moving away with Jax. Other fears are less grounded in reality: “I have these morbid, terrifying fantasies—but I had the same ones before Jax was born, that the baby would die and Sam would commit suicide.” Eventually readers will grow tired of the author’s angst, self-doubt and general negativity.

A pale companion piece to Operating Instructions.

Pub Date: March 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59448-841-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 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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