No real surprises here, but a welcome reminder of the contributions of a great American social critic.

THE SINGULAR MARK TWAIN

A BIOGRAPHY

An argument that the native adventurer and high Victorian author’s life was not “twain,” as it is sometimes presented, but unified by an unflagging belief in his own luck, a fierce social conscience, and a never-ending quest for money.

Wily, outspoken, socially insecure, and immensely talented, the man born Samuel Clemens set out to become the foremost humorous chronicler of American culture and character in the years between the Civil War and the end of the Gilded Age, a designation he invented. Kaplan (Gore Vidal, 1999, etc.; English Literature/Queens College) catalogues Clemens’s adventures on and off the Mississippi in prodigious if familiar detail. Leaving behind a far-from-idyllic boyhood in Hannibal, the future literary lion drifted from small-town newspaper jobs to riverboat piloting to prospecting in Nevada’s silver mines before lighting on his nom de plume and his great talent as a brilliant comic storyteller, cultural satirist, and wildly entertaining popular speaker. Twain’s novels and foreign correspondence brought him instant, enduring celebrity, his international lecture tours brought him affluence, and his charm and determination won him a wealthy Brahmin wife and a warm place in the literary society of Emerson, Beecher, James, and Howells. But a desire for a larger share of the period’s immense wealth and a gambler’s restlessness left him easy prey for flighty dreamers and con men. Though loved by friends and by a nation of admiring readers, Twain’s final years were haunted by illness, debt, the deaths of two of his three children and his wife, and his intense, growing bitterness toward those he felt had betrayed his trust. Kaplan reports that Twain’s last heir committed suicide in 1964. Yet his literary legacy remains more vital than that of any American writer, with the possible exception of his friend Henry James.

No real surprises here, but a welcome reminder of the contributions of a great American social critic.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-47715-5

Page Count: 724

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2003

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 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

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...

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

Did you like this book?

more