An uneven book that gains surprising power as it moves toward the end.

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REMEMBERING SMELL

A MEMOIR OF LOSING--AND DISCOVERING--THE PRIMAL SENSE

Combination popular-science book/memoir of a gardener who lost her sense of smell.

The Garden Letter publisher Blodgett (Midwest Top 10 Garden Guide, 2004, etc.) discovered one day that her olfactory sense had gone haywire. All the worst odors she could think of—rotting garbage, decaying flesh, animal waste—were invading her nose in nauseating waves. The author learned from a doctor that her olfactory receptors had been wiped out, probably by the burning blast of an over-the-counter homeopathic nose spray that she had taken to fight off a head cold. What she smelled, the doctor informed her, were actually olfactory hallucinations due to a condition called phantosmia. It was as though her nose and brain were trying desperately to remember what the world smelled like. Within weeks, however, all olfactory sensations ceased, just in time for Christmas. Gone were the aromas of fir branches, candles, cookies and sweets. The progression of her condition into anosmia—total absence of scent—led Blodgett into a black hole as she pondered what she had lost and how hopeless she felt to convey it. Her loss, however, is the reader’s gain, as it inspires by far the best writing in the book. Perhaps overcompensating for the condition, the author became a sponge, soaking up everything she could read and learn about “the primal sense,” from medical research to Proust. Her book, which starts unpromisingly in the chirpy tone of a magazine feature, suddenly develops depth, pathos and poetry as it progresses. Blodgett succeeds in raising awareness about this misunderstood, underappreciated sense and how it heightens the pleasure of being alive, even as it plays a subtle role in keeping us alive. “Smells may be slow to register cognitively,” she writes, “but they operate with superb efficiency subliminally.” So, too, does Blodgett in this book, as she develops from a slightly dizzy suburban gardening enthusiast into a three-dimensional, suffering, intellectual human being.

An uneven book that gains surprising power as it moves toward the end.

Pub Date: June 16, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-618-86188-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2010

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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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