A sharply drawn episode from a regrettable part of America's past.

THE LINCOLN CONSPIRACY

THE SECRET PLOT TO KILL AMERICA'S 16TH PRESIDENT--AND WHY IT FAILED

The tale of how Abraham Lincoln came close to being assassinated even before taking the oath of office.

In short, energetic chapters, Meltzer and Mensch, who collaborated on The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot To Kill George Washington (2019), fashion a brisk political thriller centered on a nefarious plot to murder Lincoln before his inauguration. Lincoln, who won a slim majority of the popular vote, was deeply hated by the slaveholding South. Six weeks after the election, South Carolina became the first state to secede; five others soon followed, and Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of the Confederacy. But secession did not satisfy a group of conspirators who gathered to devise a plan to seize the city of Washington and prevent the inauguration and even to kill Lincoln on his way to the capital, “and thus inaugurate a revolution.” The authors speculate that the conspirators were likely members of the Knights of the Golden Circle and National Volunteers, groups composed of pro-slavery white supremacists that grew in virulence after Lincoln’s election and likely were precursors of the Ku Klux Klan. They were thwarted largely through the efforts of pioneering private detective Allen Pinkerton, who was called in to investigate, and foil, the plot. The authors create an admiring portrait of Pinkerton and his staff, which included the first female detective, the sly, unflappable Kate Warne. In addition, a secret “Committee of Five,” convened by Secretary of State William Seward, gathered in Washington to ensure the peaceful transfer of power. Pinkerton was charged with logistics, which meant studying the train route for Lincoln’s convoluted inaugural journey, planning for every contingency, and eventually masterminding a plan that involved smuggling Lincoln, in disguise, onto a train days before he was expected. In addition to revealing the conspiracy, the authors vividly convey the virulent racism endemic in the South.

A sharply drawn episode from a regrettable part of America's past. (b/w illustrations)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-31747-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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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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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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