Such a compelling subject demands a better telling.

NELL GWYN

MISTRESS TO A KING

Nell Gwyn, daughter of a boozy, brawling bawd and a missing father, rises to fame on the English stage and to fortune in the court of her lover, King Charles II.

In this uneven debut, Beauclerk, a direct descendent of Gwyn and Charles II (a dull 27-page epilogue charts the three-and-a-half-century Beauclerk history), examines the sometimes sordid lives of his randy Restoration ancestors. Beauclerk does not favor understatement. On the first, page he declares that the relationship between Nell and Charles was “one of the great love stories of our history,” and that it had a “mythic” dimension. He succeeds only moderately in marshaling supporting evidence. There is very little known, for example, about Gwyn’s childhood, and so the author invites us to imagine it along with him. To add flesh to the very few bones he has unearthed, he writes much about the English Civil War, the death of Oliver Cromwell, the Great Fire. Beauclerk describes Restoration playhouses, menus, clothing, houses, medical practices, religious and political conflicts and intrigues. He quotes from Pepys’ diary and scandal sheets and some letters. He offers long summaries of the plays Gwyn appeared in. He tells the stories of Gwyn’s rivals, both on and off the stage. By all accounts, she was a dazzling young actress, a crowd favorite, and her rise from an urchin selling oranges to headliner to bedmate of a sovereign has appeal. The volume of detail increases when Gwyn is picked as one of the King’s official lovers, as court record-keepers charted her possessions, her expenses (she was not a lucky gambler) and her comings and goings. These chapters are the richest. Beauclerk’s style is conversational (most chapters have fewer than ten endnotes), trite at times and even adolescent—there is a naughty pun about “members” standing up in church.

Such a compelling subject demands a better telling.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-87113-926-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2005

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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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