A disturbing theme explored by a capable historian.



An examination of hero worship via thoughtful biographies of George Washington and four contemporary leaders who were all idolized at the time.

No artist portrayed Elizabeth I or Louis XIV mingling with adoring crowds, but Princeton history professor Bell points out that their nonroyal successors enjoyed a far more personal relationship with the people. They were, in the modern sense, celebrities. Ordinary citizens, writes the author, “could feel a powerful emotional connection to them—a connection heightened by their sense of the figure’s sublime, transcendent, extraordinary qualities.” The first—and least-known—of Bell’s men on horseback is Pasquale Paoli (1725-1807), a Corsican who fought for his island’s independence and became celebrated as the first apostle of liberty, aided by James Boswell’s worshipful bestseller, written long before his biography of Samuel Johnson. George Washington became America’s icon upon his appointment as commander in chief, and “even 240 years later, it is easy to take this initial surge of idolatry for granted.” Bell agrees with historians that his sense of transcendence was mostly a facade but admits that he alone of the five achieved long-lasting success. Napoleon referred to himself as the Washington of France, but he was merely a brilliant general; like most talented generals who don’t die prematurely, he self-destructed. Simón Bolívar (1783-1830) was the Washington of South America because he fought for his people’s freedom. Sadly, his elevation occurred after his death because the independent nations hated his attempts to rule, and he ended life reviled and alone. In Haiti, Toussaint Louverture (1743-1803) led a bloody slave rebellion that won admiration in revolutionary France, which subsequently outlawed slavery in its colonies before Toussaint’s death under the rule of Napoleon, who tried, unsuccessfully, to reinstitute it. Bell concludes that the rise of autocrats today indicates that charismatic leaders, especially those who maintain that achieving national glory trumps boring institutions like laws, are finding a receptive audience.

A disturbing theme explored by a capable historian.

Pub Date: July 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-20792-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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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 19, 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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