Of interest to Milosz completists—and antimodernists.

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LEGENDS OF MODERNITY

ESSAYS AND LETTERS FROM OCCUPIED POLAND 1942-43

Essays that anticipate themes that Polish-born Milosz would develop in The Captive Mind.

“When someone begins to admire totalitarianism, I look at him as if he’s a madman.” Thus the future holder of the Nobel Prize in Literature, at about the age of 30. Thoroughly schooled as a Catholic intellectual, Milosz had formulated an anti-modernist view of the world that opposed the individual to the state and presupposed that the individual would forever be adrift outside of the nurturing community of the church. The first essay in this collection, written in 1942, centers on Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and a lawless world in which the hawk tears apart the bird (“that’s me,” he writes) and armies of ants clash. Crusoe’s island is less perilous to body and soul than modern times, though, and Milosz, sounding here like Solzhenitsyn and there like John Paul II, weighs in on the soullessness that permits a virus like Nazism or Stalinism to flourish. Blame it on the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche. And of the then-influential French writer André Gide, whose “depravity does not reside in his homosexuality . . . [but] on having draped a cloak of beauty around the most poisonous and destructive intellectual currents, which prepared a worldwide cataclysm.” And not just Gide, the former apologist for the Soviet regime, but also Marinetti, the Italian Futurist who “offended the public with his roars in honor of energy and brutality and called for the destruction of museums,” and all the other European nihilists who paved the way for the dictators. Denouncing the exuberant anti-intellectualism of the day, Milosz layers in learned references to Catholic thinkers who are little known except to students of theology today, quotes from authors and philosophers, and urges that the life of the mind is to be prized over the active life, even though the latter “is far more attractive to the masses.”

Of interest to Milosz completists—and antimodernists.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2005

ISBN: 0-374-18499-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2005

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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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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