A well-meaning but frustrated attempt to pierce the veil of history.



Media commentator Shirley (Citizen Newt: The Making of a Reagan Conservative, 2017, etc.) confronts the problem faced by all of Mary Ball Washington’s biographers: lack of material.

“Much of her life was a mystery,” writes the author, leaving him to speculate about her personality, appearance, beliefs, and especially her relationship with her eldest son, George. “Was she part helicopter mother, part ‘Mommie Dearest,’ ” he asks, using popular, if anachronistic, allusions, “or was she a saint and a joy for George? Historians down through the years have portrayed her as both.” Shirley looks to several earlier historians for their conclusions, making his biography “just as much a historiography of Mary Washington as it is a history.” Those historians, though, also worked with scant evidence, and their portraits were shaped by their own assumptions about how Colonial women must have, or should have, behaved as wives, mothers, and citizens. Hagiographical portraits depicted Mary as “the grandmother and redeemer of America” while one of Washington’s early biographers portrayed Mary as an ardent Loyalist, fiercely opposed to the Revolution. Shirley finds a sympathetic reading in Nancy Byrd Turner’s The Mother of Washington (1930), to which he frequently refers. He dismisses Marion Harland’s Story of Mary Washington, published in 1893, as being so hagiographical that it “glossed over” the death of Mary’s infant daughter “as if it was a distraction to the grand character of Mary and her relationship to her children.” Shirley thinks that Mary “must have been beside herself” because of the “inseparable and deeply unique connection between mother and daughter.” However, neither historian knows for sure. Throughout, Shirley guesses what Mary probably, might have, or perhaps felt. Although he draws on archival material from the papers of George Washington, the resources of the Mary Ball Washington House, and many biographies of Washington, at best, he offers more about Mary’s times—likely familiar to readers of Colonial history—than details of her life.

A well-meaning but frustrated attempt to pierce the veil of history.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-245651-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


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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