A failed tour de force: picturesque but amateurish history by a professional novelist. Potok did a great deal of research and a fair amount of traveling for what was obviously a labor of love, but the end result is misproportioned and unreliable. He spends too much time on biblical, and early post-biblical, Israel, and crams everything from the Enlightenment to the present into the final tenth of the book. He recreates the atmosphere of life in Sumer, ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome with lavish scene-painting, but says next to nothing about the ghetto in medieval Europe, the shtetl, or even the Holocaust. He writes at length of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, but never mentions Felix Mendelssohn (because he converted to Christianity?), Martin Buber, Marc Chagall, Isaac Babel, S. Y. Agnon, etc. He quotes lumpy translations of Solomon ibn Gabirol and Judah Halevi, but passes over all of modern Hebrew (and Jewish) poetry. He dismisses Karl Marx with a cryptic reference that makes one wonder if he realizes Marx was a Jew. And then-inevitable hazard for any work pieced together from secondary sources—Potok often gets his facts wrong. He confuses Ethbaal (father of Jezebel) with Eshbaal, or Ishbosheth (son of Solomon). He claims that the "original creativity" of Hellenism died around 200 B.C. (Plutarch? Plotinus?) He translates the Latin term plus (dutiful, godly) as "likable." He generalizes recklessly. The Olympian gods are all "cool, rational, remote." "Hanging was a German contribution to human civilization." With its several hundred paintings, drawings, and photographs, Potok's book appears designed as a gift item, for Hanukkah, say. But with the many good scholarly and popular treatments of Jewish history on the market, there's no real need for this one.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 1978


Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1978

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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 19, 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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