Breezy and enthusiastic but resting on a sturdy rock of research.




The author of Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II (2012) returns with a sweeping intellectual history viewed through two ancient Greek lenses.

Herman, who has taught history at an assortment of universities, whips his thesis for all it’s worth—which is considerable. After telling us the little that’s known of the biographies of his principals, he marches steadily forward through the history of philosophy and culture, showing how Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” and his beliefs about our imperfect knowledge and about ideal government have waxed and waned, inspiring great art, noble theories and, in ways, totalitarian governments. He does the same for Aristotle, noting the ways his approach to the world has led to tremendous advances in science and technology, as well as egregious excess. “This book will show that Plato and Aristotle are alive and all around us,” he writes. “Their influence is reflected in every activity and in every institution…as well as on the Internet. They have taken us to the moon and probed the innermost secrets of the human heart.” Throughout, the author sprinkles allusions to contemporary events and popular culture, from Playboy to The Da Vinci Code to the Kardashians. (Sometimes he alludes to things long gone from the popular radar—Dragnet, for example.) On the journey, we meet just about every notable in intellectual history and learn how, in the author’s view, they leaned toward (or antedated, learned from or rejected) the two long-gone Greeks. Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Epicurus, Cato, Cicero, Abelard, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Luther, Calvin, da Vinci, Bacon (Roger and Francis), Locke, Rousseau, Byron, Coleridge, Darwin—these and countless others dance in the bright light of Herman’s narrative beam. Herman’s own preferences quietly emerge now and then. He appears to embrace the value of a spiritual life and has some unhappy words for Karl Marx.

Breezy and enthusiastic but resting on a sturdy rock of research.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-553-80730-1

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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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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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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