This biography of a lesser Madame de SÇvignÇ proves Laclos's Les Liaisons dangereuses was not merely a fictional study of sexual politics but an accurate portrait of aristocratic behavior in 18th- century France. Marie de Vichy-Champrond was born to a noble French family in 1696. But despite her high birth and convent education, Madame du Deffand (her married name) was, by Parisian social standards, a fallen woman by the age of 32. A divorcÇe known for her affairs, including a short-lived dalliance with the regent, the Duke of Orleans, that secured her a lifetime annuity, she spent over a decade redeeming her position by serving in the court of the Duchess of Maine and as a lover to the esteemed Charles-Jean- Franáois HÇnault, president of the AcadÇmie franáaise. At 51, she established what was to become Paris's most important literary salon—frequented by Diderot, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and Voltaire- -where aristocrats and intellectuals came to trade influence and knowledge. Her correspondences with those who most engaged her passions—the Duchess of Maine, HÇnault, d'Alembert, her niece Julie de Lespinasse, Voltaire, and Horace Walpole—reveal her days to have been consumed with high-stakes social conquests and betrayals. Card games and coquetry aside, as a high priestess of the art of conversation, she exercised important influence on intellectual affairs. AcadÇmie franáaise elections became arenas for women to one-up their social competition with the seats won by their pet philosophes. Craveri (French Literature/Univ. of Tuscia, Viterbo, Italy) fortifies every supposition, almost every page, with letters to, from, or about her subject. These letters, penned by masters like Walpole and Voltaire during the glory days of literary letter writing, not only substantiate Craveri's points but are minor literary works on their own. This impressive biography and history of French aristocratic intrigue rides more on the vitality of these quoted correspondences than on Craveri's solid, academic writing.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 1-56792-001-2

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Godine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1994

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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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