“If I ever had a plaque,” James confesses, “I would like it to say: He loved the written word, and told the young.” Until...

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A book lover’s musings.

Australian-British poet, essayist, critic, and memoirist James (Poetry Notebook: Reflections on the Intensity of Language, 2015, etc.) begins this book by disclosing his frail health. Diagnosed with leukemia in 2010, already suffering from emphysema, he “could hear the clock ticking, and I wondered whether it was worth reading anything both new and substantial, or even rereading something substantial that I already knew about.” Describing himself as “book crazy,” he did both, responding to his reading journey in brief, often witty and insightful, sometimes slight, essays. Recovering from pneumonia, he staved off boredom by rereading Conrad’s Lord Jim, a book he had once found uninteresting. His second reading only somewhat revised that view: the book offered “an international historical picture” but was “not quite enthralling enough” to earn his admiration. Nostromo, on the other hand, he deems “one of the greatest books I have ever read.” Also great are Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey novels, to which James became addicted after his daughter gave him Master and Commander. “She was like a drug dealer handing out a free sample,” he writes, and he was hooked. Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises once made James envious; now, although still “enchanted” by Hemingway’s prose style, he finds the dialogue too repetitious and wonders if the book is “a thing for eternity.” V.S. Naipaul, according to James, is notable “for his fastidious scorn, not for his large heart”; Naipaul’s revelations about his colonial experience elicits memories of James’ youth in Australia and makes him realize “how complex it has all been, this birth, growth, and breaking up of an empire.”

“If I ever had a plaque,” James confesses, “I would like it to say: He loved the written word, and told the young.” Until the plaque is cast, this slim book will suffice.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-300-21319-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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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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