An intimate, richly detailed, and candid portrait of the dramatic life and times of Napoleon’s wife, Empress Josephine. Erickson (Bonnie Prince Charlie, 1989, etc.), with well-received books on the Tudor monarchs and Queen Victoria, has herself become the queen of royals” biographers. But queenship isn—t always foreordained. The aristocratic (yet not high-born) Josephine Tasher de la Pagerie, for example, made her way to the top of Parisian society despite being born to a failed plantation owner in the colony of Martinique. Her biographer shows how this rough and sultry island background well served Josephine, molding her into a durable survivor. For all her power, grace, and charm, the empress emerges, too, as someone to pity. This woman who used men once wrote in a letter, “I will behave like the victim I am.” And while a reader might sympathize with Josephine’s circumstances—e.g., her barrenness and her struggles with her aristocratic heritage amid revolution—Erickson also unveils damning dismissals of the woman by some of those within and outside the Bonaparte clan who considered her “venal, calculating,” and worse. Perhaps Josephine’s flirtation with the swarthy, moody general of the republic was for her but a career move, with adultery an essential social institution that she could not ever give up, not even as an empress. Erickson’s writing, sometimes dominated by details of the era’s fashion and lavish imperial finery, is strongest when depicting the murderous frenzy of revolutionary times. The author’s academic background in history helps to give weight and depth to her portrayal of a tumultuous period. The many notes and works cited attest to Erickson’s exhaustive research. Moreover, her scholarly insights combine superbly with a mastery of period manners more often found in the best historical fiction. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-312-20001-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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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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