Droll, almost instructive and quite entertaining.



According to this less-than-authoritative history, there was once an American president named Millard Fillmore. Who knew such a clueless, forgettable chief executive could have had such epic adventures?

If we remember anything at all about Millard Fillmore, it is that he is credited with the invention of the rubber band. So asserts Pendle, an inventive biographer in the grand slapstick tradition of Bill Nye, Elbert Hubbard and other forgotten wits. As he tells it, Fillmore’s life was quite remarkable indeed, and very much the archetype for that of an equally powerful intellectual force, the extraordinary Forrest Gump. Based on the recently unearthed first 53 volumes of Fillmore’s journals, the present book fills more pages of Millardian history than any other text properly could. It traces the ascent of the United States’ largely ignored 13th president from back-country primitive and congressional yokel to White House rube and beyond. Throughout, whether under the Whig banner or that of the Know-Nothings, Fillmore never wavered in pursuit of the ephemeral Masonic menace. It’s an addled story, well suited to today’s needs, as we follow the accidental president’s encounters with the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Samuel F.B. Morse and Ralph Waldo Emerson. From New York to the Alamo, from California to Egypt, feckless Fillmore took part in all the signal events of the 19th century, we discover in this landmark salute to anti-factual historiography. Like a real history, the text is adorned with footnotes of significant dubiety. Appended, though, is a guide to actual factoids upon which the silliness is constructed. Happily, it’s all consistently funny, although like any strong purgative, the comedy might best be taken in small doses. We await Pendle’s next—perhaps a biography of Thurlow Weed, the forgotten Whig wag.

Droll, almost instructive and quite entertaining.

Pub Date: April 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-307-33962-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Three Rivers/Crown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2007

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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 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 19, 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...


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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