An elegantly written, absorbing portrait of a visionary man and his age.



The story of Christopher Columbus’ illegitimate son who became a humanist and scholar in the age of Renaissance and Reformation.

In 1502, 13-year-old Hernando Colón (1488-1539) accompanied his father on his last trans-Atlantic voyage, a disastrous expedition marked by mutiny, betrayal, storms, and starvation. Columbus returned to Spain a broken man, though no less a hero in his son’s eyes. Wilson-Lee (English/Sidney Sussex Coll., Cambridge; Shakespeare in Swahililand: Adventures with the Ever-Living Poet, 2016), drawing on rich historical and archival sources—including Hernando’s writings—creates a thrilling narrative of the perils of 16th-century exploration, where the atmosphere onboard ship was rife with panic, paranoia, and rebellion; giant lizards crawled the shore; sharks circled menacingly in the waters; and sweltering, mosquito-infested islands were inhabited by hostile tribes. The author’s focus, though, is not on Columbus but rather on Hernando, who became obsessed with two missions: to burnish his father’s reputation and to amass a vast, comprehensive library of printed matter: books, images, pamphlets, and all manner of ephemera. For Hernando, his father’s quest of circumnavigating the Earth was akin to “enclosing its knowledge in one library” and thereby gaining power and control over the unknown. Traveling extensively, he acquired thousands of books: 1,674 from Venice; 4,200 from a trip to northern Europe, and, eventually, 3,204 printed images, the largest collection in the world. His library swelled to over 15,000 volumes, making it the largest private collection in Europe. But even more astonishing than the sheer number of items was Hernando’s intricate system of ordering. From an early 20-page handwritten index, an alphabetical key to the people, things, and concepts in Suetonius’ Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Hernando developed several encyclopedias and inventories as well as a card catalog that enabled readers “to digest many volumes at a sitting, sorting relevant material from irrelevant.” As Wilson-Lee aptly notes, with “profound intuition” about the potential of burgeoning printed information, Hernando created, in effect, the first “search engine.”

An elegantly written, absorbing portrait of a visionary man and his age.

Pub Date: March 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-982111-39-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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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 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...


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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