Lacks the technical and stylistic sparkle of great popular history, but is nonetheless informative and even provocative.

CHARLEMAGNE

Charlemagne not only conquered much of Europe but also created the idea of “Europe,” one that has lasted far longer than the empire, which began to fracture soon after his death in 814.

Historian and novelist Wilson (The Uncrowned Kings of England, 2004, etc.) takes us on a ride back into a time that antedates the periods of his previous works by a thousand years. The author has two interests here: to tell the “truth” about the historical Charlemagne (difficult to do with primary texts written by folks not principally interested in fact) and to examine how his life has affected ensuing western history. The author does a solid job of the former, peeling away layers of mythology from the biography (there are some good passages about The Song of Roland) and revealing that more than a thousand spurious stories have been published about the emperor. Wilson shows a paradoxical Charlemagne, a Christian warrior—a man who wished to conquer in the name of the Prince of Peace; who revered both learning and the learned; who wished his vast demesne to be populated by those who embraced the teachings of Jesus; whose two favorite books were the Bible and Augustine’s City of God; yet a man whose coevals respected and feared him for his military prowess. Charlemagne dies on page 130 (simple pleurisy felled the emperor), and Wilson devotes the rest of his text to his examination of Charles’ enduring influence. We follow him through the Reformation and Renaissance; we see parallels in the lives of Louis XIV and Napoleon; we see his resurrection in the vile mind of Hitler. And—finally—we recognize his desire to unify in the formation of the European Economic Community. Many useful maps appear throughout to help readers visualize the story.

Lacks the technical and stylistic sparkle of great popular history, but is nonetheless informative and even provocative.

Pub Date: June 6, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-51670-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2006

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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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