IRVING HOWE

SOCIALIST, CRITIC, JEW

A detailed and dogmatic intellectual biography of one of the leading American literary critics, political journalists, polemicists, and Jewish intellectuals of the past 50 years. Alexander (English/Univ. of Washington) seems to have read everything Howe (1920—93) wrote. His tripartite division of Howe’s work (per the subtitle) is useful, though it would have been better had he proceeded strictly thematically, rather than using a chronological approach and shuttling back and forth among his categories. Alexander is most interesting and insightful on Howe as critic, tracing the influence of such intellectual precursors as Matthew Arnold, George Orwell, and Edmund Wilson on Howe’s thinking and writing. Alexander traces Howe’s political evolution from antiwar Trotskyist polemicist in the early 1940s to a much more nuanced social democrat who cofounded Dissent in 1954 and battled the New Left during the late 1960s and early ’70s. Unfortunately, Alexander’s analysis of Howe’s political views too often is tendentious or otherwise rhetorically overcharged. Alexander praises Howe’s Jewish commitments, particularly the six anthologies on which he collaborated with the American Yiddish journalist Eliezer Greenberg, though he has some justifiable reservations about the exclusion of a discussion of synagogue and other religious life among Lower East Side immigrants in World of Our Fathers. But when it comes to Howe’s writings on Israel, particularly his pro—Peace Now pieces from 1979 until his death, Alexander waxes hysterical. He makes the untenable charge that Howe became involved in “anti-Israeli American Jewish politics”—untenable unless all critiques of Israeli policies are deemed “anti-Israeli.” In Alexander, Howe has found as rigorous, and sometimes sardonic, a biographer as he himself was a writer. But he also deserved someone far more attuned to all the dimensions of his life and his political commitments.

Pub Date: May 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-253-33364-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Indiana Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1998

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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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