A tour de force of research from the Russian archives, the book is a deeply detailed, occasionally plodding biography of one...

RASPUTIN

FAITH, POWER, AND THE TWILIGHT OF THE ROMANOVS

On the centenary of his death, a vigorous attempt to penetrate the monstrous myths surrounding Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin (1869-1916).

A historian and translator concentrating on Russian history, Smith (Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy, 2012, etc.) grapples with the legend that grew around Rasputin during his life and after his death. In this massive, winding journey, the author essentially concedes that Rasputin’s mythmaking after his gruesome murder in December 1916 by political intimates has become more important that the actual events—and most are disputed. The public excoriation of this “simple” devout Christian peasant from Siberia, who nonetheless had the ear of the Romanov dynasty, became the key to undermining the indecisive, rudderless leadership of Czar Nicholas himself. Rasputin was illiterate until his adulthood, facing a life as a hardscrabble farmer, fond of the bottle, married at age 18 to Praskovya, a woman devoted to him and the mother of his children. He was like most Russian souls at the time, “keeping the eternal rhythm of peasant life in motion.” Yet he was restless and touched by a religious vision; he set off on pilgrimages in his late 20s to become a “holy seeker,” a spiritual awakening that the author describes as certainly sincere. Further along in this overly long narrative, Smith shows how Rasputin’s fame as a “starets” (a kind of captivating pious elder) spread and the circles of his acquaintances grew ever wider, encompassing the aristocracy and the court of Nicholas and Alexandra. The royal couple desperately needed him to direct the tumultuous country and heal their hemophiliac son. Smith demonstrates how gradually the mystic lost his way in the flashy capital of St. Petersburg and was corrupted by the rapture he inspired. At the same time, he preached the importance of disdaining wealth and status to his numerous devotees, especially wives and widows.

A tour de force of research from the Russian archives, the book is a deeply detailed, occasionally plodding biography of one of history’s most malleable characters.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-24084-4

Page Count: 832

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 8, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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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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