A worthy treatment of recovery movements in American history, unsung heroes and all.

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DRUNKS

AN AMERICAN HISTORY

An appropriately harrowing account of booze and its discontents.

Alcohol has been with us always and, with it, day-after regrets. One early regret, writes Finan (From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America, 2007, etc.), director of the American Booksellers for Free Expression, came from a Seneca leader named Handsome Lake, who saw what ravages alcohol was wreaking among his people and preached a gospel of abstinence: “Whiskey is the great engine which the bad Spirit uses to introduce Witchcraft and may other evils amongst Indians.” So effective was the message that Handsome Lake was able to deter a generation of followers. Today, Native people, as well as Americans of all ethnicities, turn to AA for help, and Finan tells a respectful, demythologized version of the story of Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, who founded the organization in an effort to keep each other sober after some scarifying cold-turkey moments led them to realize “that they had been at their lowest point when they discovered a power greater than themselves that made it possible for them to stop drinking.” Some of Finan’s case studies are a little repetitive and tedious, but they all add up to a trajectory of recognition that alcohol is a cause of social and physical harm, with huge repercussions. The author notes that whereas AA members cloaked themselves in anonymity precisely because of the prejudice against hiring drunks, whether wet or dry, alcoholism has lost some of its stigma as it has been recognized as a medical condition. With that, however, peer support has given way to professionalized treatment, crowding out “the sober alcoholics who had once played such a prominent role as counselors.” Finan closes with a gimlet-eyed look at some of AA’s alternatives, including the recent movement to transform alcoholic drinking into social drinking, forgoing the old model of complete abstinence.

A worthy treatment of recovery movements in American history, unsung heroes and all.

Pub Date: June 27, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0179-0

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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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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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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