Gewen has used the distance from events to refine his research into an elegant, elucidating study of comparative statecraft.

THE INEVITABILITY OF TRAGEDY

HENRY KISSINGER AND HIS WORLD

Masterly work on the making of Henry Kissinger—and what American foreign policy can learn from his dark experience and pessimistic outlook.

In this deeply thoughtful, meticulously researched work, longtime New York Times Book Review editor Gewen looks at both Kissinger's life experiences—e.g., his teen years as a Jew in Bavaria living under Nazi persecution—and his assimilation of the academic work of fellow German Jewish intellectuals Leo Strauss, Hannah Arendt, and Hans Morgenthau as he steered American statecraft in the 1970s. While Kissinger is considered by some as criminal, even evil, for his advocating for the overthrow of Salvador Allende, the democratically elected leader of Chile, and other dispassionate realpolitik decisions as secretary of state under Richard Nixon, Gewen takes a more philosophical approach to his subject, delving into the reasons behind Kissinger’s coolheaded "assessment of power" and refusal to be swayed by "high moral principles like self-determination or national sovereignty.” Because he was hounded by the Nazis during his youth, Kissinger recognized the "realities of power" and, through his own father’s “powerlessness,” began to believe that “weakness…was synonymous with death” (as he wrote near the end of World War II). Kissinger was deeply influenced by the work of Strauss and Arendt, who "opposed tyranny but nursed a deep suspicion of democracy and majoritarian processes,” and became a colleague to Morgenthau, who eschewed traditional moralistic certainties for an approach based more on “incrementalism and perfectionism,” “stability rather than justice,” and “the less bad rather than the unqualified good.” In this well-measured, beautifully written book, Gewen thoroughly considers each facet of Kissinger's evolution and how his choice of "less bad" became his modus operandi—e.g., the "Christmas bombing" of North Vietnam at the end of 1972, forcing Hanoi to the negotiating table—ultimately tarnishing his elusive, urbane legacy.

Gewen has used the distance from events to refine his research into an elegant, elucidating study of comparative statecraft.

Pub Date: April 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-324-00405-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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