A richly detailed, revealing look at the making of a playwright and a man.

ARTHUR MILLER

Copiously researched, deftly written biography that expands our understanding of a major figure in American letters.

The success of All My Sons in 1947 gave Arthur Miller (1915–2005) enduring fame and an equally enduring, bifurcated reputation. Some hailed him as an honest, forceful voice in American theater, while others dismissed him as the mouthpiece of leftist pieties. Bigsby (American Studies/Univ. of East Anglia; Neil LaBute, 2008, etc.) gives a remarkably full account of this complex and somewhat remote figure, emphasizing the first half of Miller’s life. (This makes sense, since the playwright repeatedly mined his past for subject matter.) The author draws on unpublished material and private papers, as well as numerous personal conversations and interviews with the playwright in the years before his death. Bigsby dutifully covers the major works—All My Sons, Death of a Salesman, The Crucible—their productions on both sides of the Atlantic and their critical receptions. He gives particularly illuminating attention to Miller’s university writings, his early life in the theater, his little-known work in radio and published and unpublished fiction. This helps give a fuller picture of the emerging writer, and Bigsby is good at identifying certain themes—a preoccupation with the consequences of actions, for example—that developed early on. Aided by his interviews with Miller, he writes sensitively about the lasting influence of relationships with family, friends, colleagues such as Elia Kazan, and wives, especially Marilyn Monroe. The author judiciously treats Miller’s politics, including a dramatic appearance at the HUAC hearings, and he puts the playwright’s deeply held views in the context of youthful experiences during the Depression. Without scanting Miller’s moral seriousness, Bigsby doesn’t really see him as an intellectual, writing that “he was in fact less concerned to engage with abstract ideas than with observed lives.”

A richly detailed, revealing look at the making of a playwright and a man.

Pub Date: May 15, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-674-03505-8

Page Count: 750

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2009

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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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