A captivating account of a historically momentous time told from a refreshingly uncommon perspective.

DOWNSTAIRS AT THE WHITE HOUSE

A man recounts his time as a teenager working in the White House during the Richard Nixon administration in this memoir.

While a freshman at the American University in Washington, D.C., Stinson landed a job at the White House or, to be more precise, the Old Executive Office Building. This distinctive structure shares the famous address and has “its own breathtaking story to tell.” The author had set his sights on working on Capitol Hill, but the position he won was “not exactly a poor consolation prize.” He had no idea that within 18 months the nation would be rocked by one of its worst scandals in history—the Watergate affair—“the first circus I had the chance to watch from a ringside seat.” Stinson quietly, almost anonymously, watched grand events unfold, a naïve witness—“woefully short in the dashing department”— to “a certain madness in the air” that overtook the country. He provides a conventional history of those turbulent times, wisely leaving the “lengthy and often intricate details that led to President Nixon’s resignation” to scholars and other authors. Instead, he furnishes his own idiosyncratically personal perspective, brimming with tantalizing gossip, character portraiture, and the astute, if green, observations of an inexperienced youth. He reservedly allows readers to form their own opinions about Nixon and his legacy, choosing to supply his own impressions of the man at the time, movingly conveyed: “Just listening to him was exhilarating, like punching the accelerator on a Lamborghini. Perhaps I felt that way because I was very young and hadn’t yet learned to demystify the people and things we think are larger than life.” Likewise, he paints a lively picture of Vice President Spiro Agnew as well as an array of other key political figures, domestic and international.

Stinson’s prose is unfailingly clear and his tone endearingly self-effacing, though his relentless quips eventually become more grating than ingratiating. His unique perch—sort of an insider given his proximity to it all but also an outsider by virtue of his professional insignificance—is simultaneously the memoir’s chief strength and weakness: “The truth about being ‘in the know’ was that most of us at the bottom of the food chain weren’t. Ever. We rarely knew more than what we read in the newspapers or saw on television unless we stumbled across something by accident or somebody said something they shouldn’t have.” Especially because he so admired Nixon and Agnew, readers will keenly feel the weight of the author’s disappointment when both resigned. The remembrance is filled with extraordinary anecdotes—on the last evening of Nixon’s tenure, while the president was composing his resignation speech, Stinson mistakenly attempted to deliver a communication to the Oval Office intended for the flower shop. Problematically, the book often loses focus and delves too deeply into granular, quotidian details; readers really don’t need to know how the author became a Pepsi drinker.

A captivating account of a historically momentous time told from a refreshingly uncommon perspective.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-95253-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Eastern Harbor Press LLC

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2020

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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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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