Conor Cruise O'Brien may or may not be ``the greatest living Irishman'' or ``the most important Irish nonfiction writer of the 20th century,'' but he has certainly found a splendid biographer in historian Akenson (History/Queen's Univ., Ontario). Born in 1917, O'Brien could seemingly do everything but math. He supported himself with prizes at university; wrote literary criticism; was on the fast track in the Irish Foreign Office until he jumped off it, carrying out too exactly the unattributable wishes of UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjîld; was vice chancellor of the University of Ghana, a New York academic, an Irish Cabinet minister, editor-in-chief of The Observer, and the author of seminal books on Ireland and Edmund Burke. Along the way he became the enfant terrible of the UN, not only revealing in his To Katanga and Back how it worked but doing it in such entertaining fashion that Akenson calls it ``the first successful picaresque novel of postcolonial Africa, but...a novel that is built almost entirely of fact.'' He showed enormous courage in Ireland, denouncing the constitutionally asserted right of the South to exercise jurisdiction over Ulster as ``essentially a colonial claim'' and campaigning ceaselessly against the romanticization of violence. It would be surprising, in a life devoted to journalism and crusades of one kind or another, if O'Brien had not gone off the rails from time to time as he did in the late 1960s: His castigation of Western imperialism as ``one of the greatest and most dangerous forces in the world today'' and his statement that containing communism was one of the greatest dangers to world peace suggest his limitations. But his courage, his honesty, his restless mind, and his eloquent writing assured him of a wide audience, and his States of Ireland and The Great Melody have both been remarkably influential books, the latter, according to Akenson, ``among the great biographies of the 20th Century.'' This, too, is a very fine biography, full of wit, verve, candor, and a critical appreciation of its subject.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-8014-3086-0

Page Count: 563

Publisher: Cornell Univ.

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 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...


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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