More an intellectual history than a biography, this sweeping study explores the life and times of the self-invented and self- destroyed wit, philosopher, and playwright Chamfort (1740-94), whose aphoristic style and enigmatic personality influenced, among others, Nietzsche and Camus. Born the illegitimate son of an aristocrat and a canon, Chamfort was raised by a grocer, his beauty, wit, and charm ingratiating him with an aristocracy insatiable for the sexual and verbal prowess he exhibited. At age 25, this lover who had been called a ``Herculean Adonis'' suffered a disfiguring disease and, in a period famous for its furniture, fashion, and conversation, became a writer, entering the petty intellectual wars among the now forgotten wits and scribblers competing for a place in the French Academy. Although supported by noble patronage, Chamfort was allied with no one, and embodied the contradictions of the age—reason and passion, irony and sentiment, elitism and egalitarianism, a love of both civilization and of solitude. In 1789, he began to negotiate the conflicting and changing ideologies of the Revolution, in which he believed intensely. By 1791, he renounced his comforts, titles, and prerogatives for an austere life as a ``citizen,'' and in 1792 he became director of the Bibliothäque nationale, which he turned into a repository of national treasures. The following year, caught in the vagaries of revolutionary leadership and ideology, he attempted suicide rather than be imprisoned for his defense of Charlotte Corday (assassin of Jean Paul Marat)—an act that left him alive but hideously mutilated. Chamfort died several months later, a ``cultural double agent'' as Arnaud (Art and History/Centre Pompidou, Paris) calls him: both participant and spectator, aristocrat and populist—but, above all, an enigma, a stranger, an ``exemplary case of illegitimacy.'' In his foreword, Joseph Epstein describes the peculiar conditions—sociological, psychological, philosophical, political- -that create the aphorist. In his careful analysis of every stage in Chamfort's metamorphosis and the worlds in which he lived, Arnaud re-creates those conditions and gives them credibility. (Fifteen halftones—not seen.)

Pub Date: May 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-226-02697-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1992

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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 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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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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