Raphael is imposingly erudite and at pains to demonstrate it, yet there is a remarkable clarity to the writing, many elegant...

A JEW AMONG ROMANS

THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS

Novelist, screenwriter and biographer Raphael (Ifs and Buts, 2011, etc.) succeeds admirably in recovering the reputation of much-maligned historian Titus Flavius Josephus (37–100).

Born to a prominent Jerusalem family, and deeply opposed to a ruinous war with imperial Rome, Josephus provided the sole existing account—The Jewish War—of the Great Revolt of Judaea against the empire. It is a unique chronicle, Raphael insists, in that no previous losing general in a war ever crossed the lines to describe the defeat of his own side. Retained by the Flavian emperors, first as seer and negotiator, and accorded a Romanized name (he was born Joseph ben Mattathias), Josephus would be accused of treachery against the cause he once served, reviled as a Judas by contemporaries and modern detractors alike. Raphael is inclined to support Josephus’ veracity, albeit with pointed disclaimers. He argues that to dismiss this adroit survivor as a traitorous collaborator underrates not only Josephus’ desire to save Jewish lives, but also his subtlety as a secular historian who smuggled brutal truths about Roman conduct into his work. As Raphael is chiefly concerned with Josephus’ character and writing, his extensive references are almost entirely literary and biographical, many dealing with Jewish writers and intellectuals (Spinoza et al.) through the centuries who echo Josephus’ life as an apostate and alienated observer. Informed by scrupulous, sometimes exhaustive footnotes and addenda, the book is not simply an arresting biography, but a persuasive history of an era. Like his subject, Raphael’s breadth of intelligence works against single-mindedness. Throughout, he quotes the conclusions, often opposed to his reading, of other historians.

Raphael is imposingly erudite and at pains to demonstrate it, yet there is a remarkable clarity to the writing, many elegant turns of phrase and a measure of sly humor.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-37816-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

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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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