A new, but not revisionist, portrait of a troubled artist.

GUILTY THING

A LIFE OF THOMAS DE QUINCEY

The trials and passions of the romantic essayist and memoirist.

Until 2009, when Robert Morrison’s The English Opium Eater appeared, Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859) had been ignored by biographers for nearly 30 years. Morrison’s fine biography offered a nuanced portrait of the opium-addicted, debt-ridden writer whose Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821) proved one of the most startling and brilliant essays to emerge from the prolific British romantics. Critic and journalist Wilson (How to Survive the Titanic; or, the Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay, 2011, etc.) mines a wealth of archival and published sources (De Quincey’s writings alone comprise 21 volumes) to produce in her own well-researched and elegantly written biography a portrait largely indistinguishable from Morrison’s. Her emphasis, she writes, is “to follow the growth” and intersection of De Quincey’s two major obsessions—murder and William Wordsworth—placing the writer’s other interests in the background. To that end, she succeeds in conveying in grisly detail the two sensational murders of December 1811 that so indelibly captured De Quincey’s imagination. Wilson also sensitively handles De Quincey’s yearning for the friendship of the author of Lyrical Ballads, which so deeply impressed him. Eighteen-year-old De Quincey’s plaintive letter to the poet, Wilson writes, was his “first masterpiece.” Although Wordsworth cautioned his admirer against conflating the poetry with the poet, De Quincey idolized and idealized Wordsworth, whom Wilson reveals as increasingly unsympathetic and self-absorbed. She is certain (where Morrison was not) that Dorothy Wordsworth, 13 years older than De Quincey, expected his marriage proposal. Overall, though, De Quincey’s addiction (Wilson documents the drops of laudanum he took at any time) and perpetual debt (a repetitive chronicle) dominate the narrative. Nor does Wilson persuasively argue for his enduring influence. He may have anticipated tabloid sensationalism, the recovery memoir, and “the fine art of character assassination,” but to assert, “We are all De Quinceyan now,” is a horrifying notion.

A new, but not revisionist, portrait of a troubled artist.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-16730-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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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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