A well-fed dog with no bark or bite.



Dull, pollyannaish family history of greed and general financial grubbiness in post–Gold Rush California.

Freelance journalist Dinkelspiel, great-great granddaughter of Isaias Hellman (1842–1920), discovered a trove of his papers at the California Historical Society and spent eight years digging through them and visiting collections elsewhere to reconstruct the life of her financier forefather. After a brief personal introduction and an equally brief account of Hellman’s quick move to abort a run on his Farmers and Merchants bank in Los Angeles during the Panic of 1893, the author commences a chronological journey through his life. Hellman arrived fairly penniless in Los Angeles (population under 5,000) in 1859 but soon began an archetypal soaring ascension into the stratospheres of wealth. He boasted a mansion, a summer home in Lake Tahoe, successful children and a finger in just about every pie in the California sky: trolleys, oil, water, land, newspapers, higher education and, principally, banking. He consorted with Levi Strauss and competed with the Huntingtons; near the end, he testified repeatedly before grand juries in graft and corruption cases. The author, who often begins chapters with a weather report (“the air was crisp and cold”), offers scant analysis or criticism of her ancestor; the book often reads like a report prepared and delivered by an earnest middle-schooler during Family History Week. She does not consider in any serious, systematic way the deleterious effects Hellman’s greed might have had on employees, small businessmen and farmers. (One unappreciative guy took a couple of shots at him but missed.) As she sees it, all was for the greater good of California; it just so happens that her ancestor got exceedingly rich in the process.

A well-fed dog with no bark or bite.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-35526-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2008

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?