Serviceable but ultimately uninspiring.



Biographer/novelist/journalist du Plessix Gray (Them, 2005, etc.) brings her personal and professional expertise in French culture, letters, politics and history to a short biography of the celebrated liberal writer and political provocateur.

The vivacious and scholarly daughter of Jacques Necker, Louis XVI’s director general of finance, Germaine de Staël (1766–1817) gained notoriety as the flamboyant doyenne of salons she hosted in her elegant homes in pre-Revolutionary France. An early and ardent champion of women’s rights, the unhappily married Staël also enjoyed a series of sexual liaisons with a procession of suitors young and old enchanted by her wealth, charm, intelligence, candor and liberal ideals. She eventually drew the ire of Napoleon Bonaparte, who took umbrage at the progressive views she espoused in her prolific writings in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Staël’s forthright condemnation of the emperor might well have drawn harsh punishment, but she was careful to cultivate powerful protectors, including his foreign minister; Napoleon had to settle for periodically exiling her from Paris in the latter years of her life. Du Plessix Gray delivers insightful passages on Staël’s addiction to opium, noting that it was commonly used for medicinal purposes throughout Europe in the late 18th century and that the French iconoclast shared her affinity for the drug with such fellow writers as Coleridge, Baudelaire, Dickens, Poe and Keats. For all her flair and élan, Staël remains a shadowy figure here. Upstaged by her biographer’s musings on Necker, the French Revolution, her nonstop parade of lovers and the insecurities of Bonaparte, Staël never stands at the forefront of her own life story. Still, the book is likely to find an audience among devotees of French politics, literature, feminism and salon culture.

Serviceable but ultimately uninspiring.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-934633-17-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Atlas & Co.

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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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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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