A lively and edifying narrative with lessons for today.



In her first book, Purnell gets our nerve endings tingling with an exploration of the interplay of mind and body as seen through the lens of the Enlightenment.

The author, a history instructor and “lover of bizarre facts,” presents 10 episodic chapters plumbing the effects of 18th-century ideas and technologies on human culture. Of particular interest are her considerations of the philosophes, polyglots whose studies were not confined to formulating esoteric principles but rather practical applications, girded by the Enlightenment's belief in human perfectibility. For Purnell's purposes, the 18th century is defined as the period from 1690 to 1830, a time when societies were fascinated with every aspect of the senses, often ascribing to us more than the five basic ones recognized today. Purnell demonstrates how Enlightenment thinkers, building on new theories of the brain and nervous system, began with the premise that all we have of knowledge derives from the uses of our senses and then avidly pursued an understanding of their relationships to each other. The author presents the senses as a complex weave, and her book, a fine companion to Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses (1990), is by turns thoughtful, quirky, and richly—sometimes excessively—detailed. It can be surprisingly moving, as in the chapter chronicling the rise of philanthropic societies, which created a dramatic shift in the way the handicapped were viewed, reflecting the Enlightenment's impulse to engage all citizens in society. Purnell effectively scrutinizes modern perceptions of the Enlightenment as a time wholly dominated by reason and the scientific method. She also examines the dark side of the era's theories of physical perfectibility while reacquainting readers with Enlightenment thinkers both famous and forgotten. If not all of her arguments are convincing, they remain succinctly rendered: “The senses not only allowed access to pleasure, but they also lifted Nature's veil, allowing humans to understand the deeper patterns of the world.”

A lively and edifying narrative with lessons for today.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-393-24937-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 23, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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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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