A worthy but toothless consideration of one of Hollywood’s most distinctive performers.

POSSESSED

THE LIFE OF JOAN CRAWFORD

Hollywood biography machine Spoto (High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly, 2010, etc.) presents the life and career of screen queen Joan Crawford (1905–1977), a movie star whose iconic status owed as much to the actress’s sheer willpower as to her perfect bone structure and improbably large, expressive eyes.

Crawford, in marked contrast to her rival Greta Garbo, employed a maniacal determination and inhuman work ethic to earn and maintain her place in Hollywood’s firmament of stars. Born into poverty, uneducated and profoundly insecure, Lucille LeSueur parlayed a successful dancing career on Broadway into a movie work, acquiring the name Joan Crawford in a magazine contest held to christen MGM’s newest contract player. Spoto deftly analyzes Crawford’s changing persona through her long career, from plucky flapper to suffering matron to leering grotesque, and recounts her failed marriages, numerous affairs and alcoholism with great sympathy. In fact, this perhaps overly reverential treatment is a bit of a letdown, as Crawford’s outsize diva histrionics, promiscuity and alleged abuse of her adopted children are key components of her continuing fascination for film audiences. Spoto discounts or explains away Crawford’s less-than-salubrious reputation, and the result feels a bit whitewashed. Crawford’s daughter Christina’s infamous autobiography Mommie Dearest (1978), and the subsequent film, cemented the public image of Crawford, perhaps unfairly, as an unhinged martinet, obsessed with order and cleanliness. Spoto works hard to refute Mommie Dearest’s damning portrait of the actress, but Crawford’s housekeeping mania, strict discipline and emotional instability are widely acknowledged. Christina’s brother Christopher, who corroborated her account, is described by the author as a troublemaker who was constantly running away from home, which begs a fairly obvious question. Still, the book is useful for its diligent consideration of Crawford’s films and legacy.

A worthy but toothless consideration of one of Hollywood’s most distinctive performers.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-06-185600-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 10, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2010

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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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