Though weighed down by excessive detail and infelicitous prose, it’s an entertaining yarn whose ending is yet to be written.

THE TSARINA'S LOST TREASURE

CATHERINE THE GREAT, A GOLDEN AGE MASTERPIECE, AND A LEGENDARY SHIPWRECK

The story of a 1771 shipwreck off the coast of Finland that contained Dutch masterpieces bound for Catherine the Great.

Gerrit Dou (1613-1675) was one of the most prominent artists of the Dutch golden age. An apprentice to Rembrandt, he eventually surpassed his teacher in fame and wealth. Over the centuries, however, Dou’s reputation has shifted repeatedly with the tides of fashion in the arts. His story makes up one strand of this mostly engaging new book by Easter and Vorhees. Another is the tale of Catherine the Great, who, during her reign, became a prominent art collector, gathering scores of European masterpieces and carting them to St. Petersburg. The authors describe how Catherine acquired Dou’s masterpiece triptych, The Nursery, and engaged a Dutch merchant ship to transport the painting, and many others, to the east. That ship, the Vrouw Maria, sank in the Baltic Sea, carrying Catherine’s paintings down with it. The authors trace the numerous attempts, over the centuries, to find the shipwreck (and the paintings trapped inside) and bring it to the surface. In 1999, a wreck hunter discovered the ship perfectly preserved, but Russian and Finnish officials have disputed the ownership of its contents. While the intriguing narrative contains a fine collection of eccentric characters, the style doesn’t always live up to the appealing subject matter. The authors have an unfortunate penchant for alliteration—e.g., “the apprehensive adolescent,” “stoic soldier,” and “preaching patriarch”—and they occasionally overreach by including too many minor characters, from 17th-century aristocrats to 20th-century Finnish divers. Still, they are largely successful in their synthesis of a massive amount of complicated material, creating an often suspenseful tale that should please the many “treasure hunters, marine archeologists, art historians, financial investors, and adventure-story lovers [who] continue to contemplate the fate of the [ship’s] precious cargo.”

Though weighed down by excessive detail and infelicitous prose, it’s an entertaining yarn whose ending is yet to be written.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64313-556-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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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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A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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