An ambitious but overlong history.

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THE RAREST BLUE

THE REMARKABLE STORY OF AN ANCIENT COLOR LOST TO HISTORY AND REDISCOVERED

With his wife, dye expert Sterman delivers a history of a blue dye mentioned in ancient texts but only recently recreated in the modern era.

The Stermans trace the history of tekhelet, a blue dye derived from the glands of certain types of snails that they describe as the “sacred, rarest blue.” The Talmud and other texts of Judaism mention tekhelet; the Book of Numbers in the Bible, for example, requires Jewish people to tie a tekhelet-dyed thread to the corners of their clothing. Tradition specifically dictated that the tekhelet had to be “sky blue,” write the authors, and the use of other blue dyes, such as indigo, was prohibited. But tekhelet was expensive, difficult to make and even illegal during the era of the Roman Empire. As a result, the tradition waned, and many details of the tekhelet-making process were lost for hundreds of years. The Stermans delve into Jewish history, showing how doctrinal skirmishes erupted over the use of the dye and how figures such as the first chief rabbi of Israel and other researchers explored tekhelet’s mysteries. The authors also recount their efforts to mass-produce authentic tekhelet-dyed strings, with the authors traveling to far-off places to collect the snails required. While their dedication is admirable and their research comprehensive, the prose simply isn’t engaging enough to bring an entire book about an obscure blue dye to life. The latter sections, especially, which include technical descriptions of snails’ physical processes and multiple molecular diagrams, may be tough going for casual readers. That said, the book may hold some appeal for aficionados of either religious history or the study of mollusks—surely one of the few books for which that may be said.

An ambitious but overlong history.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7627-8222-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Lyons Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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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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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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