An erudite lesson in embracing aloneness.



A memoir of the author’s life and a study of solitude in highbrow modern culture.

Like Thoreau and many other creatives before him, Harper’s contributor Johnson (English/Univ. of Arizona and Spalding Univ.; Everywhere Home: A Life in Essays, 2017, etc.) would prefer to be alone. “To use the term favored by the Trappist monk and mystic Thomas Merton,” he suggests the socially uninclined be referred to as “solitaries,” and he strives to reframe their stories (and his own) under society’s critical eye. “Solitude and silence are positive gestures,” he writes in defense of those in the world who would prefer to live alone and aim “for the cultivation of an interior life.” While reminiscing on his own past, Johnson explores notions of solitude as seen in the writings of a pantheon of exalted literary and creative figures. Poems by Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, along with reflections on the lives of Paul Cézanne, Nina Simone, and fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, help shape this unconventional lifestyle into a “personal, particular spiritual philosophy” that will be recognizable to even the most skeptical of readers. “In the silence of my solitary walks I hear the voices of the trees. I hear them singing of a solitude that admits no loneliness,” writes the author, seamlessly integrating a wealth of source material from his diverse and multifaceted cast of saintly solitaries. Beneath his scholarly efforts (and the occasional curmudgeonly aside), a tender memoir appears in pieces, delicately woven into his artists’ profiles. A monastic, transcendent visit to Cézanne’s studio in Aix-en-Provence suggests that particular emotional experiences can only emerge during an independent sojourn. Memories of Johnson’s childhood and parents as well as stories of friends and old lovers surface during bouts of quiet research, growing from well-chosen poems, letters, and interviews into rhapsodic recollections of a profoundly full life.

An erudite lesson in embracing aloneness.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-393-60829-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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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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