Not nearly as soporific as most classical studies—a captivating look at imperial Rome’s roots in the making of the modern...

CAESARS' WIVES

THE FIRST LADIES OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE

A groundbreaking study of some of the most powerful women in early Western civilization.

Latin teacher Freisenbruch examines how Rome’s leading ladies were expected to perform two millennia ago. Drawing from sources both classical and current, the author explores the biographies of Rome’s imperial women during a 500-year period, from the flourishing of the empire to its demise—roughly 40 BCE to 450 CE. Freisenbruch convincingly argues that many of these women—Livia (wife of Augustus and first Empress of Rome), Agrippina Minor (wife of Claudius and mother of Nero), Messalina (wife of Claudius), Helena (mother of Constantine)—actually figured large in the political rise and fall of their husbands and sons, as well as in laying the foundation for female conduct at the highest level as empress and in subsequent generations of the patrician or senatorial class. Freisenbruch shows that their influence extended not only to behavior but to all areas of fashion—from dress to hairstyle—and commerce, with their depictions on Roman currency often contributing to the political spin of the day. Classical biographers faced with the challenge of constructing a coherent life from fragmentary or conflicting sources must overcome the additional hurdle of having to gaze through the centuries-thick male lens when trying to portray female subjects. Freisenbruch ably rises to the occasion, taking an “agnostic approach to the eclectic array of narrative choices and prototypes that face us.” Providing well-chosen, scintillating details—e.g., enemies being boiled alive, familial bonds savagely snapped in an instant—alongside careful historical analysis, the author breathes new life into these overlooked subjects.

Not nearly as soporific as most classical studies—a captivating look at imperial Rome’s roots in the making of the modern stateswoman.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4165-8303-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2010

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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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