WALT WHITMAN'S AMERICA

A CULTURAL BIOGRAPHY

This absorbing portrait of America's greatest poetic personality contains multitudes, all right. It opens onto a vast panorama of the United States in the 19th century, redefining the horizons of literary biography in the process. Reynolds (American Literature and American Studies/Graduate School of the City Univ. of New York; Beneath the American Renaissance, 1988) completes the project begun by Whitman, who sought to transform himself into the representative man of his America. In a manner that will intrigue as well as inform the general reader, Reynolds maps out historical settings from the Era of Good Feelings, which collapsed in the panic of 1819, the year of Whitman's birth, through to the Gilded Age, in which Whitman's life came to a close. A superb scholarly resource, this study also features a compelling narrative. Reynolds traces the roots of Whitman's appreciation for nature to his rural Long Island upbringing, while exploring his love for city life in Brooklyn and Manhattan. In fashioning a popular aesthetic that he hoped would unify his nation, Whitman adapted innovations from across the arts into a response to the political crises of the preCivil War era. Reynolds treats Whitman's legendarily multifarious sexuality at length, linking the poet's actions, thought, and works to the important controversies of his time over masturbation and free love. He shows how, in life as well as in art, Whitman contradicted himself: as an adept of various religious systems, as a champion of Lincoln and emancipation who all the same harbored deeply racist beliefs. Finally, Reynolds highlights Whitman as a literary celebrity who strategized to sell himself and his inner life for higher ends. On one level, it is disappointing that Reynolds seldom offers close readings that might underline the powerful effect of his works. On another level, however, the work of art on display here is Whitman himself, whose brilliance Reynolds illuminates fully. Perhaps then, this may be exemplary scholarship not just for our time, but for all times. (Book-of-the-Month Club/History Book Club/Quality Paperback Book Club selections)

Pub Date: April 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-394-58023-0

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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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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