A solid entry in the realm of presidential biography.



Veteran biographer Spitz (Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, 2014, etc.) offers a broad and occasionally deep cradle-to-grave examination of Ronald Reagan (1911-2004).

The author’s take on the controversial former president is mostly balanced, as he mixes the policy failures and successes with the personal shortcomings and strengths; this is neither pathography nor hagiography. However, some readers may question the book’s role within the biographic enterprise. Just three years ago, acclaimed historian H.W. Brands released a mostly lauded Reagan biography that was just as massive as this one. In 1991, master journalist Lou Cannon, an acknowledged Reagan expert, published the memorably titled President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime. Between those two books, there were several other first-rate accounts of Reagan’s life published. Nonetheless, readers seeking the freshest Reagan biography, with access to the most recently available research material, should welcome Spitz’s entry. The strictly chronological approach is easy to track, and because the author is such a skilled stylist, the narrative flows smoothly. The major strength of this version is Spitz’s consistently diligent effort to provide context beyond just his main subject (most readers already know the highlights). That broader context is especially useful in understanding the young Reagan’s family, especially his rolling-stone father; in realizing that Reagan rose above his modest family circumstances and indifferent academic performance by being the right guy at the right place at the right time, particularly with regard to the start of a movie career; and in grasping how he quickly morphed from a supporter of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal to a conservative, anti-communist zealot. Reagan resisted a career in electoral politics for a brief time, but he determined that career would play to his strengths as a handsome true believer in American exceptionalism. Spitz also skillfully portrays numerous supporting characters, especially Reagan wives Jane Wyman and Nancy Davis.

A solid entry in the realm of presidential biography.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-59420-531-6

Page Count: 880

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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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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