Intelligent, albeit conjectural; rangy yet concise—thoughtful work from an experienced Sinologist.


Tightly structured, nimble pocket portrait of China’s First Emperor.

Qin Shihuangdi (259–210 BCE), who took power in 246 BCE, has had many mantles draped across his shoulders: founder of imperial China, enemy of the intellect, seeker of immortality, father of the world’s most elephantine bureaucracy, tyrant of the first order. But primary-source material about him is not thick on the ground, points out Wood, head of the Chinese Department at the British Library—certainly not as thick on the ground as the 8,000-man terracotta army the Emperor had buried with him. (That’s the subject of John Man’s The Terra Cotta Army, 2008, which makes a nice complement to this more straightforward biography.) Wood judiciously relies on the archaeological record, on a trove of bamboo-slip documents found at the Place of the Sleeping Tiger and on The Grand Scribe’s Records, the work of a court astrologer writing a century later under a different dynasty. The Emperor’s accomplishments suggest a strong, autocratic character, someone who could bring the anarchic Warring States to heel. He was a book-burner, wanting to focus his subjects’ attention on the present rather than some mythical, golden past. (Squelching Confucianism and Daoism was probably an additional motive.) He initiated the Great Wall, described here in captivating archaeological detail. He brought bureaucratic order and standardization to a great state in which agriculture and military prowess were of primary importance. Wood also provides colorful social-history tidbits: Peasants were forbidden to dye their clothes; a third-century BCE feast would have included “plump orioles, pigeons and geese, flavoured with broth of jackal’s meat.” He also paints in broad strokes such topics as the debate between Confucianism and legalism, the boasts Mao made about having outdone Qin Shihuangdi (“He buried 460 scholars alive; we have buried 460,000”) and the role of the afterlife in Chinese history, always with an eye as to how they illuminate the First Emperor.

Intelligent, albeit conjectural; rangy yet concise—thoughtful work from an experienced Sinologist.

Pub Date: June 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-38112-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2008

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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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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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