A difficult task crowned with mixed success.



English biographer Fraser (Pauline Bonaparte: Venus of Empire, 2009, etc.) returns with a portrayal of the relationship of America's first couple.

The author undertakes a daunting task with this book. George was famously reserved, always keeping his personal feelings under tight control, and Martha burned almost all the correspondence between George and herself before her death. For source material, Fraser had to look to correspondence to and between others and to documents such as invoices for furniture and clothing ordered from the business agents for the Washington family. The author has produced a joint biography that wisely avoids the thoroughly familiar ground of Washington's career as a general and president, except insofar as necessary to account for the couple's long absences from Mount Vernon. George's efforts to keep his plantations productive under the care of a series of overseers therefore take center stage, along with his difficulties raising Martha's children from her previous marriage, and then the grandchildren who lived with them. The less familiar Martha appears as a capable, strong-willed, affable, and utterly devoted spouse who buoyed her husband's spirits during the war by enduring long stretches with him in the army's winter quarters—not to mention the eight years spent "more like a state prisoner than anything else" in New York and Philadelphia as first lady. Fraser’s prose flows well with the voices of her 18th-century subjects. However, the impression that emerges from the copious details of plantation management, children's tutoring, and relatives born and dying is of two busy lives on parallel courses; their devotion to each other is clearly evident, but so are several potential sources of sharp conflict between them. Fraser provides no sense of how these shoals were negotiated or how these formidable individuals actually got on with each other when they could be together.

A difficult task crowned with mixed success.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-307-27278-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 25, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

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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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