Art, greed, and stealth make for a lively tale of intrigue.



The journey of a Renaissance painting reveals secrets of the contemporary art world.

Art critic and documentary filmmaker Lewis (Horizons, Zones and Outer Spaces: The Art of John Loker, 2019, etc.) crafts a richly detailed mystery surrounding one striking 15th-century portrait—“a piece of junk, a thrift-store picture sold at a rock-bottom price”—bought by two dealers in 2005 for $1,175, sold for $80 million in 2013, and, in 2017, auctioned at Christie’s New York for $450 million, making it the world’s most expensive painting. The work is Salvator Mundi, depicting Christ, his hand raised in blessing, holding a glowing orb: Christ as the Savior of the World. The mystery is its creator. To prove that the artist was Leonardo da Vinci, the dealers spent years investigating the work’s provenance, a record of ownership that shows how it was identified, the esteem in which it was held, and its value through the years. They also consulted with da Vinci experts, art historians, and an esteemed restorer who took on the challenge of painstakingly bringing the relic back to life. The work of restoration proved central to the painting’s fame and value. “The restorer,” Lewis notes, “spends hours at a stretch in a closed-off world, peering through magnifying visors, engrossed in the most minuscule details of a painting.” With the Salvator Mundi, though, the restorer’s work broached a border “between conservation and invention.” Controversy over attribution raged, inflamed by concern over the extent of the restoration, experts’ evaluation of brushwork and style, and, not least, professional rivalries, academic ambitions, and financial interests. Even after London’s National Gallery placed it in a da Vinci exhibition, some believed it at most da Vinci–esque, perhaps emanating from his studio. As Lewis chronicles the quest to attribute the painting to da Vinci, he uncovers an astoundingly dysfunctional world of museums, galleries, auction houses, collectors—a Russian oligarch and a Saudi prince among them—and unscrupulous middlemen, a world plagued by mistrust, suspicion, and the irresistible lure of financial rewards.

Art, greed, and stealth make for a lively tale of intrigue.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984819-25-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

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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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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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