A sensitive, spirited investigation of the ancient world.



The Roman Empire comes to life through the biographies of two influential men.

Classicist Dunn (Catullus' Bedspread: The Life of Rome's Most Erotic Poet, 2016, etc.) creates a vivid tapestry of the Roman world focused on naturalist Pliny the Elder (23/24-79 C.E.), who perished when Vesuvius erupted, and his nephew—and adopted son—Pliny the Younger (c. 62-133 C.E.), a lawyer, senator, landowner, and poet who lived “at the very center of things in the first and early second centuries.” Drawing largely on the Elder’s encyclopedic, 37-volume Natural History and the Younger’s prolific letters and speeches, Dunn depicts them as “Renaissance men in their own time,” revered among their peers and by later generations. Darwin, for example, a member of the Plinian Society as a medical student, owned a "well skimmed translation” of Natural History, which influenced his thinking about heredity. Although both Plinys shared “an enquiring mind, an eye for minutiae, obsessive diligence,” and a “love of stories, not only of the natural world, but of extremes of human behavior,” the younger man could be pompous, self-centered, “attuned to detail and hard fact, obedient to protocol. Where his uncle was creative,” Dunn notes, “Pliny was pedantic.” He worked happily in solitude, preferring his rural villas—served by some 500 slaves—to the bustle of the city. Like his uncle—and also Cicero, Virgil, and Emperor Marcus Aurelius, among many other prominent Romans—Pliny adhered to Stoicism, “a philosophy for achieving equilibrium in a frantic world, through which you learned to become master of yourself and your emotions.” Besides exploring his philosophical beliefs, Dunn examines Pliny’s attitudes about medicine, agriculture, and marital relations along with his role in the political intrigues and rivalries that marked the reigns of the cruel Emperor Domitian, who exiled philosophers from Italy, and Emperor Trajan, a popular ruler for whom Pliny served as deputy. Their correspondence reveals the tensions that arose from the burgeoning of Christianity, portending “a change that was to come at the heart of Rome’s empire.”

A sensitive, spirited investigation of the ancient world.

Pub Date: Dec. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63149-639-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 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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