AGRIPPINA

SEX, POWER, AND POLITICS IN THE EARLY EMPIRE

One of history's most notorious monsters is rehabilitated as a politically successful woman whose power and reputation in first-century Rome fell victim to Roman sexism. Barrett (Classics/Univ. of British Columbia; Caligula, 1990) begins with a brief history of powerful Roman women before Agrippina, including her great-grandmother Livia, wife of the first Roman emperor, Augustus. Much of this section is overly familiar, reading at times like a recap of I, Claudius. But this background gains significance once Agrippina the Younger makes her appearance. Barrett persuasively argues that Roman chroniclers were unable to see Agrippina or her predecessors except through the stereotype of the politically ambitious woman: a seductive poisoner with no sense of moral bounds. By carefully weighing the historical record, taking into account the distorting power of misogynist folklore, the author disputes such commonplaces as the idea that Agrippina murdered her husband, Claudius, and slept with her son Nero. His Agrippina is a politically adroit consensus-builder whose influence over two emperors contributed to the most enlightened portions of their reigns. Her diplomatic skill falters only in the handling of her teenage son—a miscalculation that leads to her execution in 54 a.d. on his orders. That Agrippina's murder was celebrated as a just comeuppance demonstrates the persistence of the ``age-old resentment of powerful and ambitious women.'' Though Barrett draws no contemporary analogies, the reader may easily do so. Despite the high-mindedness of his central theme, the author is always alert to the pleasures of ``juicy anecdote[s]'' (such as Agrippina's supposed incest with her brother Caligula), and recounts them in full, if only to discredit them. A scholarly yet accessible biography that largely succeeds in replacing Grand Guignol with something more satisfying: the tragedy of a natural leader born female in a society afraid to be led by women. (illustrations, not seen) (History Book Club selection)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-300-06598-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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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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