Candid but not especially compelling.

A former speechwriter for an ex–South Carolina governor offers a glimpse into what it really meant to be a “fashioner of words” for a self-obsessed politician who fell from grace.

When Swaim went to work as Mark Sanford’s speechwriter, he was a naïve English doctorate with romantic notions of what his job would entail. He believed that his position would not only provide him with all the “gratification of being a writer,” but also give him “political power, or at least a veneer of it.” Within just a few weeks, though, the author went from feeling that he was indispensable to realizing that he was working for a hypercontrolling narcissist with a tin ear for language. Swaim transcribed Sanford’s often inarticulate letters to learn the governor’s syntax and the “ungainly phrases” that characterized it. In between Sanford’s half-comic, half-terrifying “bouts of rage,” Swaim also learned that in the political world, what mattered more than clarity and grammatical precision was the ability to sound “consequential” to both constituents and the media. The author soon became just another bureaucrat with no special investment in either the success of Sanford’s administration or in his political ambitions, which at one point included the presidency. Only when the governor admitted to both an affair with an Argentine woman and to using state funds to visit her did Swaim realize just how much he had invested in his job. With melancholy bitterness, he writes, “everything we’d worked for was discredited.” The author briefly and incompletely sketches out the story of the colorful Sanford and his political fall. The narrative is strongest in its quiet reflection of the end of Swaim’s political innocence. As he came to realize, democracy—with its promise of liberty and justice for all—is ultimately based on rhetorical manipulation of the masses.

Candid but not especially compelling.

Pub Date: July 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4767-6992-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015


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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998


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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