Extraordinary: full of insight into the minds and rucksacks of our latter-day warriors.

JARHEAD

A MARINE’S CHRONICLE OF THE GULF WAR AND OTHER BATTLES

War is hell. And maybe just a little fun, once some of the shock has worn off. So this literate and nuanced if sometimes self-conscious coming-of-age tale instructs.

Swofford’s debut covers all the bases: a stint in basic training with a brutal drill instructor, drunken episodes with prostitutes, fights with sailors, explosions and their attendant airborne body parts, postwar trauma and depression. Yet there’s not a clichéd moment in this rueful account of a Marine’s life, in which the hazards are many and the rewards few. Swofford, for instance, recounts a bout with one of those hazards, dysentery, earned by consuming a stolen vat of salad greens while awaiting orders to attack the opposing Iraqi line along the Saudi border: “The lettuce came from Jordanian fields where they use human feces as fertilizer. So here we are, defending a country none of us gives a shit about, eating its neighbors’ shit, and burying ours in the sand.” Another hazard, we learn, is the presence of battle-deranged fellow squad members, one of whom takes to systematically disfiguring a fallen Iraqi fighter: “He says the look on the dead man’s face, his mocking gesture, is insulting, and that the man deserved to die, and now that he’s dead the man’s corpse deserves to be fucked with.” Still another hazard, quite apart from dangerous food and dangerous psychopaths, is the endless politicking of the brass, one of whom keeps Swofford, a sniper, from assassinating an Iraqi officer and perhaps inducing that officer’s charges to surrender rather than fight on. And so on. For all the dangers, the author allows, a certain exhilaration attends the facing of a deadly enemy and living to tell the tale, a joy that no civilian can possibly understand—though Swofford does his best to explain.

Extraordinary: full of insight into the minds and rucksacks of our latter-day warriors.

Pub Date: March 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-7432-3535-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2002

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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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