REBECCA WEST

A LIFE

Rollyson (The Lives of Norman Mailer, 1991, etc.) piles on the details but never gets to the novelist, critic, and essayist known as Dame Rebecca West, born Cecily Fairfield (she borrowed her pen name from an Ibsen character). Her career stretched from 1911 when, still a teenager, she began writing for the British feminist journal Freewoman, to the publication of 1900, which appeared when she was 90 years old. West was once notorious for her affairs: Her lovers included Charlie Chaplin, writer John Gunther, and Lord Beaverbrook, the newspaper magnate. Most important though, was her long association with H.G. Wells, with whom she had an illegitimate child, the writer Anthony West. Anthony's lifelong anguish and anger are evident in his letters to his famous father: `` . . . listen, little sadist sweetheart . . . you've made me realize what a little wart you are.'' Rollyson does a solid job of showing—mostly through letters from the hitherto restricted Yale collection—how West bridled against convention and the mores of the times but was also guilt- ridden and ambivalent about her roles as mother and as Wells's ``kept'' woman. Her marriage to banker Henry Maxwell Andrews, while more conventional, was plagued by a series of illnesses and infidelities, his and hers. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941), considered West's masterpiece, a massive profile and history of Yugoslavia at the outset of WW II, ``interweaves . . . description, reportage, autobiography, literary criticism, philosophy, theology, and feminism,'' and has been been praised as everything from a travel guide to ``an account of civilization and its discontents.'' Rollyson generally does an adequate job of summing up West's works, particularly her novels. But his lifeless writing often settles for a mere catalog of illnesses, lovers, and political battles; even his use of the letters fails to bring West to life. All of the juice has been squeezed out of the details of a long, rich, unique life. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-684-19430-9

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1996

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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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