A warts-and-all Missouri family album with many side trips to conflicts in the Pacific and school-administration offices.

Of Raincrows and Ivy Leaves

Debut memoirist Brown writes of his Depression-era upbringing, his World War II experience in the Pacific, and the ups and downs of his later civilian existence in education.  

Brown, an American veteran of the air war in the Pacific and, later, an educator and youth counselor, makes repeated references to newsman Tom Brokaw’s definition of “The Greatest Generation” as he reflects on his own life. He grew up in the 1930s in Depression-hit Sedalia, Missouri, as the son of a well-liked local businessman. As a child, he had only one store-bought toy (a small replica of a bank), but he says that he didn’t feel particularly deprived. A talented, wiry young athlete, he had to overeat and drink lots of fluids on short notice in order to meet the minimum weight requirements for shipping out after Pearl Harbor. He preferred piloting over the onerous routines of foot soldiers, and he flew harrowing missions in the Pacific in Patrol Bombing Squadron 33 and participated in the liberation of the Philippines. Following the war (and a welcome home with little fanfare) he taught music in hardscrabble Missouri, often working with kids with disabilities; he happily reports some success stories here. The political and generational unrest of the 1960s seemed to affect his own family, and Brown’s hasty wartime marriage ended in divorce, granted on the author’s birthday in 1974; he co-wrote this manuscript with his second wife, Judith. At times, this memoir appears to lean toward defensiveness, aiming barbs at the author’s ex-wife, his estranged adult children, and academic colleagues who fell short. Even so, Brown writes that he’s had a great and “blessed” life, despite career-crippling, late-onset hearing loss, possibly caused by his many hours near deafening aircraft engines during the war. Although many accounts of combat brag about superior technological innovations, Brown instead writes of “ordinary people doing an extraordinary job with outdated, obsolete equipment and with thin supply lines thousands of miles long.” For him, teamwork, cooperation, and his own Depression-tempered resolution and religious faith were key not only to military victories, but also to his own successful mentoring of troubled students. The “ivy” in the title is a metaphor: it refers not to elite East Coast universities but to the way that such vines support one another. 

A warts-and-all Missouri family album with many side trips to conflicts in the Pacific and school-administration offices. 

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4809-2679-0

Page Count: 364

Publisher: Dorrance Publishing Co.

Review Posted Online: June 16, 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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