SLY AND ABLE

A POLITICAL BIOGRAPHY OF JAMES F. BYRNES

This biography of South Carolina politician Byrnes offers historical insight but ultimately descends into hagiography. Robertson traces James Byrnes's rise from poverty in his native Charleston, S.C., to the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Supreme Court, a tenure as so-called ``assistant president'' to FDR during WW II, his stint as secretary of state under Truman, and, finally, his governorship of South Carolina. Robertson (who has taught creative writing at Clemson Univ.) recounts Byrnes's special relationship with FDR and his great disappointment when Roosevelt, after leading Byrnes to believe that he would be his vice presidential running mate in 1944, excluded him from the ticket. He was deemed too antilabor, and his reputation as a racist was seen as a threat to the black vote for FDR in the North. Furthermore, Byrnes who had been born a Catholic, had converted to Protestantism, and this alienated both Catholics and Protestants. Thus Byrnes ``almost'' became president, but because of his political drawbacks, it was Harry Truman who garnered that prize. Byrnes topped off his career by successfully running for governor of his home state. He is remembered as a racist who did his best to fight the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. In his latter years, Byrnes was in the vanguard of Democrats backing Republican candidates before the GOP was acceptable in Dixie. Robertson's romanticizing of Byrnes borders on hero worship. He makes the hyperbolic statement that Byrnes had better political skills than FDR, who is considered by most historians to have been the country's master politician. Robertson's writing is also riddled with clichÇs, and redundancies clog the text. Although we learn much about Byrnes and the politics of his era, this work is, in the end, disappointing. Byrnes, an important figure, deserves a better biography.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-393-03367-8

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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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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