It seemed like a great match: one historian fascinated by the paradoxes of power writing about a great predecessor. But...

HENRY ADAMS AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA

Wills (The Rosary, 2005, etc.) may have attempted something beyond even his considerable powers in this overly ambitious examination of the great American historian Henry Adams (1838–1918).

When remembered at all, Adams’s multi-volume, epic history of the administrations of Jefferson and Madison, collectively referred to here as the History, has been criticized (notably by historian Richard Hofstadter) for its negativity. Wills argues that this is a willful misreading derived from considering only the works’ first chapters, which focus on the largely unformed America of 1800. Moreover, Adams’s The Education of Henry Adams looms so large in the Adams canon that all his other works are subsumed in its penumbra of pessimism. Though righting the balance by underscoring Adams’s essential nationalism and optimism, Wills unnecessarily bogs down his analysis with a long recapitulation of his subject’s narrative. In the first third of his book, Wills discusses the elements that prepared Adams to write his masterpiece, including a fascination with the South and extensive travel. Rebutting the charge that Adams was continuing longstanding family feuds with the Democratic-Republicans, Wills convincingly points out that this great-grandson and grandson of Presidents John and John Quincy sometimes displayed hostility to his fabled forebears. And he makes a great case that Adams’s epic is a “nonfiction prose masterpiece of the nineteenth century in America,” one that pioneered the use of foreign and domestic archival sources, blended intellectual, military, diplomatic and economic history, and distilled it all in a richly ironic voice. Ultimately, however, in the last two-thirds of this book, Wills merely covers the same ground as Adams, and pulls from his own “Negro President”and James Madison.

It seemed like a great match: one historian fascinated by the paradoxes of power writing about a great predecessor. But Wills loses his focus—and, oddly enough, even his own familiar provocative voice.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2005

ISBN: 0-618-13430-1

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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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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