A coffee-table volume that someone might actually read—and enjoy. The wonders of Burns and Company never cease. (110 b&w...

MARK TWAIN

AN ILLUSTRATED BIOGRAPHY

What comes after baseball, the Civil War, and jazz? Mark Twain, of course.

Burns and Company are back with a four-hour PBS television series on America’s favorite riverboat captain and author. The companion volume, assuredly an attempt to cash in further on all that research, is nonetheless an enticing edition in its own right. It offers a sumptuous collection of photographs, reproductions of original documents, and illustrations that capture the rough-and-tumble of Twain’s life and career. Scholars in the audience might turn their noses up at the crisply informal bits of biography—some recreated so vividly that they seem ready for the stage—but even the most curmudgeonly will be enraptured by the scores of photos. General audiences will be beguiled by yet another heaping dose of Burns et al.’s sprawling yet intimate portraiture. The arc of Twain’s life is captured with sweeping flourishes of fact supplemented by intimate details of his home and family life. The letter he wrote to his children as Santa Claus, his grief over his son’s death from diphtheria, and his joy when the public library of Concord, Massachusetts, banned Huckleberry Finn illuminate the private life of 19th-century America’s most public figure. Twain’s trademark wanderlust kept the adventures coming during his life, and they make for fascinating reading today. Russell Banks, John Boyer, Jocelyn Chadwick, Hal Holbrook, and Ron Powers also contribute to the volume; the best of this bunch is Chadwick’s meditation on Twain’s use of the word “nigger” as she ponders the intersections of yesterday’s racial politics, their present-day afterlife, and the ways they affect Twain’s writing. Pick this cornucopia up for the pictures and you’ll probably end up reading the whole thing.

A coffee-table volume that someone might actually read—and enjoy. The wonders of Burns and Company never cease. (110 b&w and 40 color illustrations)

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2001

ISBN: 0-375-40561-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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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