The author has a good time laughing at himself, but he needs more interesting stories to tell.

A BAD IDEA I'M ABOUT TO DO

TRUE TALES OF SERIOUSLY POOR JUDGMENT AND STUNNINGLY AWKWARD ADVENTURE

The up-and-coming comedian shares—and occasionally overshares—tales from his nerdy, manic-depressive youth.

In the introduction to his debut collection of personal essays, Gethard proclaims that he has “always wanted to charge headlong into outlandish situations at the first sight of them.” Outlandish situations are in dispiritingly short supply here, though: Gethard’s predicaments are largely of the garden-variety teen and 20-something variety, from awkward sexual experiences to moving violations. Growing up in New Jersey, the author was an introvert whose relatives were prone to violent verbal explosions, and the title story reveals how he inherited some of that barkiness. Alas, too often Gethard oversells moderately irritating experiences as hyper-wacky, emotionally cataclysmic events. When he balances his self-deprecating posture with some genuinely humiliating moments, he can be funny: In “White Magic,” he recalls an ill-fated stint playing a pimp for a Z-grade pro-wrestling league, and “The World’s Foremost Goat” is an amusing fable-like yarn about how his attempt to get an easy A in college led him to care for a goat in a harder-than-expected agriculture class. The stories run in chronological order, and as Gethard becomes more involved in the New York comedy scene the book acquires something of an arc: Self-hating funny guy comes to terms with his depression. (He breaks down on the phone with his mom more than once.) So he’s easy to root for toward the end in “Jiu Jitsu,” in which he ties his modest martial-arts success to his hard-won emotional equipoise. But to get to it, readers have to get past the self-explanatory “Colonic,” and Gethard isn’t funny enough to justify detailed discussions of his bowel movements.

The author has a good time laughing at himself, but he needs more interesting stories to tell.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-306-82030-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Da Capo

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2011

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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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