A gentler companion to Harlan Ellison’s The Glass Teat (1970), the only flaw of which is that it’s too short, leaving...

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A BINGEWATCHER’S NOTEBOOK

Eminent literary and cultural critic James (Latest Readings, 2015, etc.) comes back to an old beat: reviewing the offerings on the small screen.

The TV critic for London’s Observer from 1972 to 1982, the author briefly revisits some of the standards of the time, such as Hill Street Blues, while allowing that the landscape has much changed: time-shifting technology affords us the leisure of devouring a season or two of Game of Thrones or The West Wing at a sitting, binge-watching not what the networks necessarily want us to watch but what we wish to. Part of the critic’s work is to tell us precisely what we should wish to watch, of course, and here James, though doffing high-toned intellectualism, settles for the more elevated fare, about which he writes with unfailing insight. What makes The Sopranos, a James favorite, tick? There is a grammar of genre, and Tony Soprano is not entirely free to operate outside of it, even as David Chase broke some of the old rules; just so, James writes, the captains of the Star Trek franchise are all generic representatives of the “principal elder” archetype, even the youthful James Kirk “back in the innocent days of William Shatner’s first hairpiece.” Ranging among box sets of Band of Brothers, Mad Men, The Tudors, and the like, James delivers sometimes-profound aperçus (“the new mythology gets into everything, and the first thing it gets into is the old mythology”) and humorous asides: David Tennant, the erstwhile Doctor Who, will probably not be pleased to be described, with respect to another series, as “the only weirdly half-bearded middle-ranking policeman in England,” though Téa Leoni, of Madam Secretary, might appreciate James’ remark that “she looks the part, her lithe grace rising in stature from not being chased by Jurassic raptors.”

A gentler companion to Harlan Ellison’s The Glass Teat (1970), the only flaw of which is that it’s too short, leaving readers wanting more.

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-300-21809-1

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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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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