Of interest to Milosz completists—and antimodernists.

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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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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