Maraniss stresses that Obama’s Muslim ancestors encompass only one facet to his complex, fascinating makeup. Another in the...

BARACK OBAMA

THE STORY

An exhaustive, respectful study of the president’s “shattered genealogy,” from Kansas to Kenya, Hawaii to Indonesia.

Washington Post associate editor Maraniss (Into the Story: A Writer's Journey Through Life, Politics, Sports and Loss, 2010, etc.) painstakingly constructs a sensible, solid grounding beneath the mythology of the current president. However, note that Obama only reaches age 27 in this long biography. Accepted to Harvard Law School, his political future “still amorphous but taking shape,” he resolved finally to visit the land of his absent father, Kenya, and make sense of his African heritage. “Leaving and being left” had become the themes of his childhood, and Maraniss has certainly done his homework, delving both into the original Kansas Dunham clan, marked by the suicide by poisoning of Obama’s great-grandmother Ruth Dunham, in 1926, and the prideful rise and tortured demise of Obama’s father and namesake, the Harvard-educated economist who was undone by hubris and alcoholism. Considering the many tangled strands of Obama’s story, it is extraordinary that he did not lose himself. Yet these same “misfits” in his family, especially his hardworking mother and her Kansan parents, Stanley and Madelyn, embraced the biracial grandson unconditionally, shielding him from the bigotry of the era by entertaining the tale that he descended from Hawaiian royalty. Maraniss’ portrayal of Barack Obama senior, from astute political mind to abusive husband and self-destructive drinker, is masterful and moving, while “Barry” the son emerges very gradually from the cocoon of his elite Honolulu boarding school to grasp his identity as an African-American young man at Occidental College and then Columbia in the 1980s.

Maraniss stresses that Obama’s Muslim ancestors encompass only one facet to his complex, fascinating makeup. Another in the author’s line of authoritative biographies.

Pub Date: June 19, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4391-6040-4

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012

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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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