A clear account of one man’s failure to recognize the fanged creatures that swim in waves of passion and popularity.

THE GIANT OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION

DANTON, A LIFE

The rise and fall of Georges-Jacques Danton (1759–1794), whose booming voice and fervid passion animated both the French Revolution that honored him and the Terror that took his head.

Former Economist correspondent Lawday, who first developed an interest in Danton while working on a previous biography (Napoleon’s Master: A Life of Prince Talleyrand, 2007), recognized that his subject presented challenges. Danton didn’t like to write and left virtually no revealing personal documents. Nonetheless, the author ably assembles a convincing portrait of a man of giant stature, appetite, ability and ego. Lawday begins in 1789 on the day after the fall of the Bastille as young Danton, just 29, arrives at the site and, his voice roaring, immediately announces his presence on the revolutionary stage. The author then sketches Danton’s early story: his birth in the Champagne region and some early childhood experiences that sound almost mythic (he was suckled by a cow, wounded in the face by a bull. Big, strong and ugly, Danton was also bright and ambitious and soon began the pursuit of a legal career in Paris. Lawday rehearses the principal causes of the Revolution and gradually introduces the principal players, including Mirabeau, Lafayette, Madame Roland, Marat, Thomas Paine, Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette and the unsmiling villain of the piece, Robespierre. The author also tracks Danton’s personal life, which included his beloved first wife (who died in childbirth—Danton’s reaction is horrifying and wrenching) and his 16-year-old second wife, whom he swiftly married. “He was thirty-three years old,” writes Lawday, “and he needed the closeness of a woman’s body.” The author ably follows his subject’s maneuvers into positions of authority, his confounding combination of cruelty and compassion and his underestimation of Robespierre, who engineered Danton’s death shortly before his own date with the national razor.

A clear account of one man’s failure to recognize the fanged creatures that swim in waves of passion and popularity.

Pub Date: July 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8021-1933-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2010

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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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