ANTON CHEKHOV

A LIFE

Short on literary and historical perspective, Rayfield's exhaustive work nevertheless will be the definitive biography of Chekhov the private and family man. Rayfield, an established Chekhov scholar (Univ. of London), approached this project with a specific agenda: to offer an account specifically of his private life. Within this scope, Rayfield's goal is to provide a picture of Chekhov more complex than that suggested by other biographers or by the incomplete archival materials previously available. The cumulative impact of its 700 pages confirms Rayfield's claim that ``the complexity, selflessness and depth of the man become even clearer when we fully account for his human strengths and failings.'' This is a biography full of surprises. Although it is peppered with famous and colorful personalities such as the writers Gorky, Tolstoy, and Bunin, as well as figures from Russia's publishing and theater worlds, it is Chekhov's family members who make the most lasting impression: the tyrannical father, the bohemian and unreliable brothers, the dependent and jealous younger sister. The unexpected pleasure of Rayfield's biography is that the bountiful, sometimes overwhelming detail of Chekhov's private life—his own and his four siblings' habits, careers, movements, and finances—provide a fascinating and intimate look at this tendentious, temperamental family. As the extent to which Anton was his family's pivotal emotional figure and provider becomes clearer, one senses the value of Rayfield's endless evidence of financial arrangements, constant changes of domicile, and Anton's various real-estate adventures and debacles. The book suffers stylistically from too many mere listings. Still, Rayfield conveys what he succinctly states at the outset: Chekhov's life is, ``above all, a life enthralling for its own sake.'' Some may take issue with Rayfield's Joe Friday (``Just the facts, ma'am'') approach, but it will be difficult to fault or outdo his meticulous research. (24 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: March 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-8050-5747-1

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1997

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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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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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