Lively, intelligent and interesting—a look inside not just a single family, but also an entire artistic tradition now...

RED BRICK, BLACK MOUNTAIN, WHITE CLAY

REFLECTIONS ON ART, FAMILY, AND SURVIVAL

From Benfey (English/Mount Holyoke Coll.; A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade, 2008, etc.), a lyrical but unsentimental family memoir, taking in art, memory and time.

The circumstances of the author’s youth are not entirely rare: On one side, the bloodline extends far back into the American colonial past, on the other to just a few decades in the lives of refugees and exiles. Thus our narrator, as a boy, found himself at a basketball awards dinner where trophies were followed by a father-and-son game, his German-accented father dressed in coat and tie, awkward. “He could no more play basketball than fly to Mars,” writes Benfey. However, his American grandfather was a more practical sort, a bricklayer who once traveled from North Carolina to the Benfey home in Indiana just to lay in a mantelpiece, showing his grandson how to apply mortar, “spread with a pointed trowel like icing on a cake.” Disappointments gave way to understandings as the years passed. Forging links to a deeper past, the author looks at great naturalist William Bartram and explores the hidden past of his parents—he discovered, for instance, that his mother had been engaged to be married before meeting his father, a fact that would rattle any sensitive kid. Benfey’s account, as he puts it, is more geological than chronological, bound together by the clay worked by his artful ancestors and, in one extended section, by the against-the-grain teaching that took place at Black Mountain College in North Carolina courtesy of a small troupe of brilliant European exiles. “Black Mountain had seemed almost a mythical place during our upbringing, a tether linking our flat Midwestern childhood to the vivid summers of artistic innovation and adventure,” he writes—how many other childhood homes had a painting by Josef Albers in the dining room?

Lively, intelligent and interesting—a look inside not just a single family, but also an entire artistic tradition now largely forgotten.

Pub Date: March 19, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59420-326-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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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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