A moving, significant narrative that affords both an elegantly produced glimpse of 19th-century prison life and a new...

THE LIFE AND THE ADVENTURES OF A HAUNTED CONVICT

An obscure, newly unearthed 19th-century memoir details the prison life of an African-American inmate.

Discovered at an estate sale by a rare book dealer and authenticated by a Yale curating team, Reed’s handwritten, hand-sewn manuscript dated 1858 is now duly recognized with publication in its entirety. A lengthy discussion provided by the book’s editor, Caleb Smith, supplies vital details on the lengths taken to authenticate the document’s history and its genesis as the first-known penitentiary narrative by an African-American writer. Smith pieces together Reed’s life through prison records and varied archival sources to establish a complementary preface to the author’s narrative self-portrait. Written for public consumption, Reed’s lyrical, dramatic prose describes his incremental descent into the New York penal system and a life in legal captivity, by way of a rebellious youth tarnished by the death of his father and a cursory upbringing by a struggling, widowed mother who sent him to work on a farm at a young age. This is the first of three stories of imprisonment Reed depicts. Defiant and uncooperative, he writes of being severely beaten by the farmer, who then met his demise during a revenge plot, which landed the author in the New York House of Refuge reformatory, his second confinement, at 12. Reed toiled and received an education but remained defiant, as evidenced by a botched escape attempt with other inmates. Returning to the clutches of sadistic constables, the author describes their corporal punishments in feverish detail. A repetitive pattern of larcenies and thefts earned him subsequent sentences served at the Auburn state penitentiary during the unreformed antebellum years; Reed endured frequent episodes of dehumanizing punishment. “Rendered with a haunting eloquence,” much of the memoir’s allure is derived from Reed’s poetic, lyrical, passionate voice.

A moving, significant narrative that affords both an elegantly produced glimpse of 19th-century prison life and a new chapter in African-American history through a convict’s eyes.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9709-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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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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