A SONG FOR MARY

AN IRISH-AMERICAN MEMORY

A richly detailed, lovingly told memoir of the author’s tempestuous 1950s boyhood in an Irish-Italian neighborhood of New York City. Smith (Firefighters: Their Lives in Their Own Words, 1988, etc.), his older brother, Billy, and his disciplinarian mother, Mary, lived in a squalid, roach-infested tenement building on New York’s Lower East Side. The family was on welfare; their absent father resided in an insane asylum upstate, creating a “big empty hole” at the center of their impoverished existence. While brother Billy was an exemplary child, Dennis had a nose for trouble, consistently being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He would hang around with the neighborhood hoodlums, joyriding in stolen cars, fighting in drunken brawls, buying heroin in Harlem, and quitting school at 15. He was hellbent on self-destruction. Through it all, his mother fought a seemingly futile battle to save her son from a future of despair. She stayed up waiting for his return from an all-night bender, demanding an explanation. “Like a cop from the 17th Precinct,” she was the conscience that wouldn’t let him surrender to the lure of the streets. She wasn—t alone in caring for Smith: brother Billy passed out advice and the occasional beating; a respected Boys’ Club counselor named Archie demanded that Dennis stop wasting his life. Catholic school helped, bequeathing him a guilt-ridden conscience that hamstrung his adolescent sex life. By the time he was facing imprisonment for assault, smith understoond his mother’s message. By book’s end, he’s transformed his life, earning his GED, joining the New York City Fire Department, getting married, and becoming an upstanding citizen. The final few pages are a paean to the American values of hard work and caring for others. Like Pete Hamil in A Drinking Life, Smith has written an absorbing memoir that vividly re-creates the pains and joys of an impoverished Irish-American boyhood. (Book-of-the-Month Club alternate selection; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 1999

ISBN: 0-446-52447-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1998

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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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