A superbly nuanced portrait of a tortured character.

SIMONE WEIL

A PENGUIN LIFE

A lucid portrait of the enigmatic French writer and mystic.

With this volume, Gray (At Home with the Marquis de Sade, 1998, etc.) adds to the considerable success already achieved by the Penguin series of brief biographies. Weil makes for a challenging subject: Her writing is relatively unknown in the US, and in many respects her life was her most ambitious work. Born into a prosperous Jewish family in 1909, she eventually found fulfillment through a combination of extreme asceticism, solidarity with the working class, and Catholicism. At 16 she wrote, “Sacrifice is the acceptance of pain, the refusal to obey the animal in oneself, and the will to redeem suffering men through voluntary suffering.” And suffer she did: lifelong migraines, anorexia, and a tendency—perhaps subconscious—towards self-mutilation. As Gray observes, for Weil “the cult of self-mastery could all too readily become self-destructive.” Despite her cultivation of personal misery, Weil achieved a great deal. A brilliant student, she went on to considerable success as a schoolteacher, and offered free courses to working people in her spare time. She also spent a year working in various factories, where she attempted (with increasing disillusionment) to help the workers organize. Despite her sympathies with the working class (and her service with the Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War), Weil was an early critic of Stalin and the Communist Party. Her position reflected a deep suspicion of power: A keen student of Machiavelli and Hobbes, she realized that those in power, whatever their professed beliefs, quickly become concerned primarily with self-perpetuation at the cost of social advancement. Towards the end of her brief life (she died at 34), Weil became deeply attached to Catholic doctrine, but she was reluctant to identify herself with any religion and deliberately chose not to be baptized. Many of her most important essays date from her final years and concern her search (never fully realized) for redemption.

A superbly nuanced portrait of a tortured character.

Pub Date: June 25, 2001

ISBN: 0-670-89998-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2001

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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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