A fresh, incisive, and uplifting biography/social history.

JAMES BALDWIN

LIVING IN FIRE

A concise biography of the celebrated black author’s radical voice.

Mullen (American Studies/Purdue Univ.; W.E.B. Du Bois: Revolutionary Across the Color Line, 2016, etc.) believes the time is right for a new biography of Baldwin (1924-1987), one that focuses on his political life and development. He argues that Baldwin’s role in campaigns for social justice has been “underappreciated,” and his emergence as an “icon of the global Black Lives Matter movement” requires a new assessment of him as a popular-culture touchstone. Also, as a queer black man, he is now seen as a forerunner in today’s debates on gender and race issues. Mullen’s approach is chronological: He moves from Baldwin’s youth as the oldest of nine children in a poor Harlem family to his radical student years and development as a writer to his years abroad (Paris, Istanbul) and his return to America to become a tireless, politically astute spokesman for civil and sexual rights, including AIDS. As poet Amiri Baraka noted at his funeral, Baldwin served as “God’s revolutionary black mouth.” Paralleling Baldwin’s personal story, Mullen deftly recounts the historical backdrop—the Vietnam War and protests, the Young People’s Socialist League, the Communist Party in America, the Palestinian liberation movement, the Nation of Islam, Black Power, Malcolm X, and the FBI’s relentless and crushing surveillance of Baldwin and black radicals—to more clearly assess Baldwin’s substantial role in the political and literary worlds from the 1940s to the 1980s. Throughout, Mullen discusses Baldwin as an influential novelist, playwright, essayist, and critic, quoting generously from his works. Giovanni’s Room was an “avatar of contemporary gay literature.” In The Fire Next Time, “Baldwin’s combined role as mentor, historian, and advocate for struggle on the streets found its literary complement.” A “somber, simmering, angry novel,” If Beale Street Could Talk is his “most damning single fictional indictment of the criminal justice system.”

A fresh, incisive, and uplifting biography/social history.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7453-3854-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Pluto Press

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 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 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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